All About Pysanky: The Ukrainian Easter Egg Tradition

pysanky - Ukranian painted Easter eggs
pysanky - Ukranian painted Easter eggs


With Easter approaching this Sunday, and amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, renewed interest is arising in one of the country's most celebrated Easter traditions.

Think you're good at coloring eggs with some grocery store food coloring? Yeah, take a look at Pysanky (pronounced "pih-sahn-KIH"), the intricately decorated Ukrainian Easter eggs.

Made using a wax-resist method called batik, these colorful pieces of artwork become miniature jewels, and are kept safe for countless generations.

In addition, there are ritualistic and magical elements involved in which gifting and celebrating these eggs calls out to the gods and goddesses for health, fertility, love, wealth and much more.

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According to a Wall Street Journal story on the tradition, "design motifs on pysanky date back to pre-Christian times. Many date to early Slavic cultures, while some harken to the days of the Trypillians and others to paleolithic times."

And though some of those motifs have remained with the same meaning, many others have changed. "A triangle that once spoke of the three elements, earth, fire and air, now celebrates the Christian Holy Trinity," the outlet explained. "And the fish, which spoke of a plentiful catch and a full stomach, now stands in for Christ, the fisher of men."

As for how wax-resist process works, the artist uses a stylus called a kistka to deliver an ink-like flow of melted beeswax as they essentially "write" the design onto the egg. The initial wax lines resist the first dye and remain white. As more wax designs are added, the egg is dyed repeatedly with successively darker dyes.

The wax is then melted away, revealing myriad patterns: wheat, fire, animals, the tree of life. Patterns can vary from simple and geometric, to colorful and florals.

pysanky - Ukranian painted Easter eggs
pysanky - Ukranian painted Easter eggs


In a story from ABC Channel 6 this month, the channel interviewed Ukrainian-born Helen Badulak, an 84-year-old artist who specializes in making these festive designs all year round.

"Practice makes perfect," Baldulak said, as she focused in her studio.

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The artist, who has learned how to make the craft since the 70s, tries to get one egg completed in every three days. "I have used all kinds [of eggs], from the smallest finch, to the largest which was an ostrich," Badulak said.

She added, "the colors have meanings and also the symbols. Yellow is spirituality, white for purity, birds for peace."

According to ABC Channel 6, receiving a decorated egg grants you "luck, love and peace." For Badulak, making these eggs allows her to share her culture, "I wanted people to know about Ukraine, we love everybody and we love to share things."

On April 12, NPR published an interview with Sarah Bachinger, the founder Pysanky for Peace — a group that sends proceeds from psanky workshops to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine in their fight against the Russian invasion.

"The workshops I've been doing in my local area have garnered so much interest," Bachinger said to NPR. "People have seen this type of work before, but have never really looked into how it's done in the history and culture behind it. So there's been a very big increased interest in how this work is done and how it relates to Ukraine and Ukrainians."

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Bachinger, who is Ukrainian-American herself, went on to detail how the workshops have brought people together, both for "folks who grew up with this tradition and those who are learning for the first time."

"The community aspect that has kind of sprouted from this is just really beautiful," she said. "It's just creating a space where people can come together to the table and learn from each other, focus their intention on something good, and just relax and connect."

According the company's website, Pysanky for Peace has raised over $7,500 in funds for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and counting.