Easter in Ukraine

People jump up at a willow tree in a public square, grabbing low hanging branches to be blessed in church.

A boy laughs and runs around his grandma, trying to hit his dad with pussy willows.

Hundreds of people gather, ladies with their heads covered in scarves, waiting for their turn to go into church.

Христос Воскрес!

These are just a few scenes from Easter in Ukraine. I saw some Easter celebrations in Lutsk, like Palm Sunday and a large pysanky display, but I went to Lviv for Orthodox Easter weekend (April 7 to 9). Cobblestone Freeway Tours had a couple things planned for us girls, and my parents joined too.

Hannah, Natalya, and Kaitlyn explore the Easter market.

Hannah, Natalya, and Kaitlyn explore the Easter market.

We got there Saturday and put the finishing touches on our Easter basket for the next day. There's an Easter market set up in front of the opera house, much like the one during Christmas. The souvenir market was also open, though there weren't as many vendors as other months I've been there.

I met up with my parents at П'яна Вишня/Pyana Vyshnya (Drunken Cherry), which seemed to be the clubhouse for the weekend. After lunch at one of my favourite restaurants, Kryivka, my parents and I wandered around a bit. Actually, more like waddled, since it was so crowded near Rynok Square. We had plans in the evening so we didn't want to venture too far, but I pointed out a few highlights and made a few stops near the square, like the Lviv Candles Manufactory, the Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacturer (make sure you take a walk down into the "mine"), and the top of city hall for a bird's-eye view of Lviv.

Walking around, we saw priests blessing baskets, and near the Dominican Church, there was a pysanky display.

We went to Pravda for a couple drinks and a couple dances (OK, so maybe it wasn't a very traditional Easter weekend), then the girls and I went back to Pyana Vyshnya before calling it a night.

Sunday we put together our basket and took it to Saints Peter and Paul Garrison Church to be blessed. We took the Chudo Tour bus (a hop-on-hop-off bus) to Shevchenkivsʹkyy Hay, an outdoor museum. We had a lovely picnic lunch with the food from our basket, then walked around a bit to see what else was going on.

There were musical performances on a stage, youth demonstrating spring dances, and traditional houses where you could learn about how people lived in each Ukrainian region.


It was a warm day, around 20 C, and the heat took a bit out of us, so some of us headed back to the city centre. My parents and I went to the markets again and to a couple stores, then had dinner at Trout, Bread, and Wine before my friends and I yet again went to Pyana Vyshnya.

And then came Wet Monday (Поливаний Понеділок or Обливаний Понеділок).

Wet Monday takes place on Easter Monday. Traditionally, boys would chase down girls, soaking them in water. People believed water to be healing and cleansing. I also read that boys would target unmarried girls. If a girl got drenched, then it was likely she would soon wed. And if by the end of the day she was still dry, then it was a sign of bad luck.

In modern times, cities set up large public water fights, like in Lviv. Walking to Rynok Square, we didn't have much of an idea of what to expect. We heard stories of people carrying around buckets, soaking you out of nowhere. But when we got to the square, it didn't seem that way ("seem" being the key word).

There were a few fountains with attached hoses set up, and there also was what appeared to be a bathtub. Since the event didn't seem to have started yet, we grabbed a beer at a nearby patio.

And then it happened. It was noon or so by this time. The square was full of people with water bottles, buckets, and water guns. We went to the centre of the crowd, unequipped. Luckily, there was a bag of public bottles to use, so we grabbed some of those, filled them up as best we could, and went at it.

Filling the bottles was difficult enough. As you're filling your 500 mL water bottle, someone would dump their entire bucket of water on you. And near the fountains, they'd direct the hose right at you, so again, there was no real chance of staying dry.

It was an actual organized event, with a host and all. A couple times, as directed, we divided ourselves into girls and boys, seconds later charging at each other with one arm over your face and the other going wild with the water bottle.

And then I made the best shot of the day. A guy was running by me, chasing his friend, and since he wasn't paying attention to his surroundings, I soaked him good.

Thirty seconds later someone, who I later realized was this same guy, grabbed me and lifted my feet off the ground. He carried me then threw me into a bathtub of ice-cold water. So I guess you could say we're even.

A TV reporter came up to me after this, asking if I could wring out my dress for a shot. So I did. But then, even though I said I know very little Ukrainian, she asked me and my friends a few questions, which we stumbled through. But we ended strong by reciting a couple of our favourite phrases. (Нема слів, одні емоції — No words, just emotions. Повеселились на повну — We had a blast.)

It was definitely unlike a day I've ever experienced. (I said the exact same thing about Malanka in Vashkivtsi.)

Later that day, my parents and I went to the beer museum Lʹvivarnya — partly because it's one of my favourite museums (you learn about the history of Lviv and brewing beer, so a win-win), and partly because I couldn't handle the crowds near the city centre anymore.

This was my second time at the museum (the first time I went was with my sister), and it was just as interesting because there's so much to learn. But it's still small enough that you don't feel overwhelmed with information. Like I mentioned, you learn about the history of Lviv and of beer brewing. And at the end of your time, you can have a flight of beer to sample different types.

That evening we of course went back to Pyana Vyshnya for one final cherry liqueur before heading out of town the next morning. I said goodbye to my parents (don't worry, it's only two months until I'm home now!), and we went to our next destination: Tulova.

I first visited the village, which is in the Ivano-Frankivs'ka oblast, during the Christmas season. This second visit, it felt like we were visiting family, since our hosts welcomed us into their homes and their lives right from the start.

We toured the village, ate delicious food, and drank a lot of samohon (homebrew). Do I dare tell you how many shots we had? Let's just say, try guessing, and it's probably higher. But don't worry — due to the amount of food we ate, we were all in tip-top condition.

After dinner, we went to the church where hundreds of people from the village gathered to participate in spring songs and games.

We linked arms with girls from the village and walked in circles and circles, trying to sing along a word or two when we could.

A couple of the girls spoke a bit of English. Yulia, a nine-year old, talked to us right away, showing us photos of her family and talking about her pets. She, along with some of the other kids, took us out to the field near the church to play a game similar to Duck, Duck, Goose. But in this game, instead of tapping the person who is "it", you drop a handkerchief behind them.

After a few rounds of that, we went back to the church yard for more singing and dancing, this time with boys too. When we were done singing, we all held hands and ran around the church three times then into the field to play the next game.

We split up into two teams. Each team took a turn hiding a ring on one of their teammates, and then the other team tried to find it. Everyone huddled together so you couldn't see who they were putting the ring on. You could hide it in a pocket, on a belt, in a scarf — wherever you think the other team wouldn't find it, or where you think they would be too shy to look.

In our case, it was a draw, since no one found the ring for either team.

And then for the grand finale game: the drop the handkerchief game we played with the kids. The older teens formed a large outer circle while the younger kids played the same game in the middle.

Halya made us feel right at home. Photo by  Cobblestone Freeway Tours.

Halya made us feel right at home. Photo by Cobblestone Freeway Tours.

We called it a night and headed back to our host's home for a bit more food and drink before calling it a night again, for real this time. There were eight of us total, and we split up between three homes to spend the night.

Hannah, Kaitlyn, and I slept at Halya's house, and gosh, I think I had the best sleep of my life. Hannah was determined to help feed the animals in the morning, so we set our alarm for 5:30 a.m. But Halya wasn't up yet, so we went back to sleep.

Well, at least you tried to help, Hannah. (Kind of.)

In the morning, Halya served us hot milk with honey. It was the best milk and the best honey I have ever had. From time to time, randomly the thought of that milk and honey pops into my head. I can still remember the taste.

We took the shortcut across the field to meet up with the others in the morning.

We took the shortcut across the field to meet up with the others in the morning.

After breakfast with everyone, we said our goodbyes and headed on the road to the Ternopil region to go caving. (And caving we did — in my next post, I'll write all about how we squeezed between and under rocks for two hours.)

People often ask me why I love living in Ukraine. I could go on and on, but to sum it up, I love Ukraine because of the people. From visiting my family village, to being welcomed into dance groups, to being smiled at on the street, people have been incredibly hospitable during my time here.

And of course, the same goes for the people of Tulova. Thank you for welcoming me into your village for two important celebrations this year. I've been away from my family and friends for a long time, but because of people like you I never feel lonely.