Preserving culture: Pysanka Workshops bring new life to Ottawa’s Ukrainians

A girl wearing glasses holds up an orange coloured painted Easter egg
The Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Assumption of the Blessed Virgin on Byron Avenue has been offering Pysanky making workshops. The hand painted eggs are a symbol of the rebirth of nature in spring, and the rebirth of Christ at Easter. Photo by Ellen Bond

By Mykyta Budnyk

Canada is home to the largest Ukrainian diaspora in the world, one which strives to preserve its cultural and national identity. This happens through the efforts of Ukrainian and Canadian volunteers. 

Workshops for Ukrainian Easter egg painting at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Ottawa show how ordinary people are changing the community for the better – they have organized “Pysanka” (meaning egg-painting) workshops to support Ukrainian culture during the Russian invasion.

Easter egg-making workshops began in Ottawa March 18 by the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Assumption of the Blessed Virgin with the support of its community. They were attended by dozens of Ukrainian families with children recently arrived in Canada to escape the Russian military. Their goal is to help the newcomers preserve their culture in Canada.

Tamara Rudenko-Charalambij, the Pysanka workshop co-ordinator, was born in South America and has lived in Canada since 1955. Some of her relatives remain in Kyiv, under Russian shelling.

“It was a shock for us and we finally realised that the Russians want to destroy Ukrainian culture and history,” she said.

Pysanka-making is an ancient tradition, rooted in paganism, and the symbolism of Easter eggs gives a sense of spiritual enlightenment. The word comes from a verb meaning “to write,” because the designs are written onto the egg with beeswax, not painted on.

“Each pysanka depicts its unique story and wish, Rudenko-Charalambij said. “Some people paint and pray, while others see it as art and an opportunity to share it with each other. They realize that they are in Canada … and here in Canada we do not forget the Ukrainian language. We honour it and want it to be preserved for our children and grandchildren.”

Volunteer Iryna Kapralova recently arrived in Canada but is already involved in helping her community, introduced by her niece. She is also a member of the Ukrainian Orthodox choir.

She teaches newly arrived Ukrainians how to make Easter eggs, a skill she herself learned from Ihor Nikolayevsky, a painter and master of folk art in her homeland. She said Easter Pysanka workshops will help newly arrived Ukrainians preserve their national culture and traditions.

“Instructors taught Ukrainians and Canadians to paint Easter eggs and understand the secret meaning of these symbols,” she said. Painting wheat for example is a sign of good health, rakes symbolize prosperity, and ribbons stand for everlasting life. 

Kapralova said every time she paints an Easter egg she makes a wish. She said they always come true. 

This kind of involvement is interwoven throughout the history of Ukrainian emigration to Canada, and Ukrainian women’s have been a prominent part of it. A current example is Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

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