Archive for April, 2012

Silent Auction to benefit Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv

On Saturday, March 24th, 2012 a silent auction was held at the historic Ukrainian Institute in New York City to benefit the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. Headed by the Rt. Reverend Borys Gudziak, the Ukrainian Catholic University, or UCU, serves to encourage modern learning and intellectualism in Ukraine, a country that has struggled to free itself from its post-Soviet bonds for over two decades.

UCU is the first Catholic university to exist in Ukraine. Fittingly, its current headquarters is located on the site of a former Communist KGB headquarters in Lviv. The beautiful, architecturally modern building contains very few walls to symbolize togetherness and unity, and also to encourage intellectualism and education—they must not be separated from each other. UCU is currently one of the most important Catholic learning centers in the world, and it is pushing Western values into the East. The University recently ran a successful outreach program in which Fordham students visited UCU to encouraged open borders between the United States and Ukraine. The trip was so successful that Fordham’s Global Outreach program will continue to send students to Ukraine to visit UCU.

Olena Dzhedzhora, one of the speakers are the auction, is the International Academic Relations Director at the Ukrainian Catholic University. Ms. Dzhedzhora, who has been working at UCU for nearly 20 years, spoke about how the University is working to reverse the negative effects that Communism has had on Ukraine.  She explained that the University’s goal is to re-create Ukrainians who value intellectualism, openness, the Church, and art. Another speaker at the event was Alex Kuzma, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation. Mr. Kuzma emphasized that the University is instrumental in creating a democratic society, since change will not happen in a “top-down” fashion. “Real change must come from the ground up,” says Mr. Kuzma. If a nation wants to change its circumstances, then its people must work together to do so, he continued. The students of UCU are those kinds of people. One prime example is the fact that UCU students were among the front line during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004.

by Andrea Kebalo

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photos by Olena Sidlovych

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Pysanka the Ukrainian Easter Egg

On Sunday, April 1st, 2012 at the Ukrainian Institute of America, artist Sofika Zielyk demonstrated the traditional batik process of the Ukrainian Easter Egg and discussed the history, legends, symbols and myths of this ancient and unique art form.

Sofika, a native New Yorker, started making pysanky and ceramics when she was six, having learned the basics of these traditional Ukrainian art forms from her mother. What began as a hobby has through the years developed into a professional pursuit. She has lectured and exhibited her work most notably at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the American Craft Museum in New York and the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, D.C. Interviews with Sofika have been published in New York Newsday, The World and I and The New York Daily News. In 1993 a bilingual book on “The Art of the Pysanka” by Sofika was published in Ukraine.

The art of the decorated egg, or the “pysanka” (from the Ukrainian verb “pysaty” or “to write”) dates back to pagan times. Folk tales reveal that people who lived in the region now known as Ukraine worshipped the sun. It warmed the earth and therefore was a source of all life. Eggs decorated with symbols of nature were chosen for sun worship ceremonies and became integral to spring rituals as benevolent talismans. With the acceptance of Christianity in 988 AD, the decorated pysanka (plural – pysanky) continued to play an important role in Ukrainian rituals. Many symbols of the old sun worship survived and were adapted to represent Easter and Christ’s Resurrection.

A pagan legend maintained that the sun god was the most important of all the deities; birds were the god’s chosen creatures for they were the only ones who could get close to him. Humans could not catch the birds, however, they could obtain the eggs laid by the birds. Thus, eggs were magical objects, a source of life. The Hutsuls — mountain people of Western Ukraine – believed that the fate of the world depended upon the pysanka. As long as the egg-decorating custom continued, the world would exist. If this custom was abandoned, evil – in the form of a horrible monster, forever chained to a mountain cliff – would overrun the world. Each year this monster-serpent would send out his henchmen to see how many pysanky were created. If the number was low, the serpent’s chains were loosened and he was free to wander the earth causing havoc and destruction. If, on the other hand, the number of pysanky increased, the chains were tightened and good would triumph over evil for yet another year.

Throughout the centuries, symbols on the pysanky, created using a batik (wax-dye) method, have endured and adapted to reflect changes. The triangle, which in pagan times meant air, fire and water or birth, life and death, in Christian times took on the meaning of the Holy Trinity. Grapes, a symbol of good harvest became a symbol for the church. Wheat or pine branches continue to signify health. Flowers and birds stand for happiness and spring. Hens and chickens symbolize fertility. Roosters are identified with masculinity and strength, as are oak leaves. Infinite lines signify fertility. Deer are strength and prosperity. Fish, also symbols of prosperity, represent Christianity as well. According to custom older people should receive pysanky with darker colors and/or rich designs for their life has already been filled with experiences. It is appropriate to give young people pysanky with white as a predominant color because their life is a blank page ready to be filled.

Girls should never give their boyfriends pysanky that have no design on the top or bottom of the egg – the baldness on either end signifies that the boyfriend will soon lose his hair.

by Sofika Zielyk 

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