Vyshyvanka: Ukrainian embroidered activism

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Ukraine Heritage Spotlight 03

Vyshyvanka: Ukrainian embroidered activism

Vyshyvanka is traditional Ukrainian embroidery. Its colourful patterns on shirts and other garments are more than just about beauty and high craftsmanship skills, however. In this feature episode, we explore how vyshyvankas have now taken on a deeper symbolism.

Vyshyvankas have always had a symbolic meaning, referring to prosperity, luck and protection. Now, at a time of war with Russia, vyshyvankas have gained an even deeper symbolism – they signify the continuation of Ukrainian culture in the face of destruction of cultural heritage.

Ukrainians believe that vyshyvankas have a magical power, and take vyshyvankas with them as a token of protection. Similarly, soldiers have gone to war with the embroidered shirts. The war introduced new military textiles and patterns – alongside geometrical and floral ornaments, patterns of tanks, drones and bombs have also started to appear.

Our guide through the meaning and value of vyshyvanka, Ukraine’s treasured intangible heritage, is Dr Lesia Voroniuk, head of the NGO World Vyshyvanka Day and co-creator of the Museum of Ukrainian Embroidered Shirts in Chernivtsi. The World Vyshyvanka Day received the European Heritage Award | Europa Nostra Award 2022, which in turn expanded its impact throughout Europe.

Produced and hosted by John Beauchamp. Additional production: Dr Katarzyna Jagodzińska, head of the Europa Nostra Heritage Hub in Krakow.

At the same time, we invite you to watch the conversation with Dr Lesia Voroniuk, whom we hosted at our Hub on December 15, 2023. During the meeting, we discussed a similar topic, placing embroidery in a broader cultural, social and artistic context. The meeting was accompanied by the promotion of the ethnographic photo album ‘Imperishable. Ukrainian state symbols in the folk embroidery and weaving’.