Malanka in Vashkivtsi and Chernivtsi

The time was 9:30 a.m. The place was the side of the road outside the village Vashkivtsi. The obstacle was a group of people in costumes blocking our van, demanding money.

We obliged, they threw wheat in our van for good luck, we got out of the van for a shot of horilka (vodka), then we carried on.

Thankfully someone handed me some cheese and kubasa as chase for my morning  horilka  shot. Photo by  Natalya Shevchuk .

Thankfully someone handed me some cheese and kubasa as chase for my morning horilka shot. Photo by Natalya Shevchuk.

Malanka (Old New Year's Day) in Ukraine was unlike anything I've ever experienced. It was part dream, part nightmare, part fairy tale, part parallel universe, and part scene from Season 2 of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

On Jan. 14, we drove from Chernivtsi to Vashkivtsi, a village known for its Malanka celebrations. Along the way, people dressed as clowns, pirates, and Egyptians stood in the middle of the road and stopped us a few times for money.

They all put on a bit of a show, playing music, dancing, being goofy in general. That is, except for the pirates, who seemed to have gotten into the rum a little early. They didn't really try to stop us  — one was busy drinking straight from the bottle and another was going to the bathroom near a bush.

The pirates confirmed for me that the day was a day for celebrating. For partying.

An accordian-playing roadblock.

An accordian-playing roadblock.

We got to the village by 10:15, but the official celebrations didn't start until 11. That didn't matter though. There was still plenty to see.

The main attraction was a parade, people having made elaborate costumes — including handmade masks — and floats, each one with a theme. You can read more about Malanka traditions here and here and here, like how people dress up and get together New Year's Eve to go house to house performing plays and getting up to mischief.

We wandered around a bit checking out the floats, and then the parade started. It was one of the slowest moving parades I've ever seen, since there were so many people and so much interaction between those in the parade and spectators.

It's likely not an event for everyone, since you can't really escape the crowds, nor can you escape being picked on. People tried to steal my hat, look under my "skirt" ( ... or in this case, coat) using sticks and axes, and at one point when we were taking a photo, a chort (devil) grabbed my legs and lifted me up, my camera getting caught in his hat somehow, making my escape even more difficult.

This kind of event just wouldn't happen in Canada (Example #1 of 500: People drank in the open without trying to hide it. Example #2 of 500: Some costumes were not culturally sensitive).

After walking around for a couple hours, eating some shashlyk, and drinking some mulled wine, we called it a day and headed home.

But that wasn't it for Malanka celebrations. The next day, the festivities came to Chernivtsi. The floats (some the same and some different) filled the streets, and people performed on a stage.

Malanka in Ukraine was a site to see and an atmosphere to experience. It was one of the weirdest, wildest, most confusing, most surprising, and best days of my life.

Scroll on below for more photos from Vashkivtsi.