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Vashkivtsi: Ukrainian carnival
Malanka in Vashkivtsi-2008
Malanka in Vashkivtsi-2008
Malanka in Vashkivtsi-2008
Malanka in Vashkivtsi-2008

When the New Year and Christmas holidays end, it is time for carnivals. Soon Rio de Janeiro will burst with samba, and Mardi Gras will walk along the streets of New Orleans. Ukrainian carnival is not so famous, so it is time to get better acquainted with it. The old traditions of carnival costumes and celebrations are preserved best in the Carpathian region. To see them in all their beauty, head to the Chernivtsi region on January 13-14, on the holidays of Malanka and St. Basil’s Day

The Capital of Bukovyna Carnivals

The largest celebrations of Malanka are in Vashkivtsi, a small town in the Chernivtsi region (also known as Bukovyna). The Malanka carnival in Vashkivtsi is a very peculiar local tradition performed here since old times. Even on the way, it is clear that the coming of the local carnival in the Bukovyna villages makes people enthusiastic. “Old women” in bright kerchiefs sweep the thresholds of houses, broad-shouldered “angels” greet drivers, and their wings, made from remnants of curtains, wave on tempo. Musicians accompany “devils” and “bears”, and youth in carnival costumes enact Robin Hood round-ups, stopping cars and fining drivers for soberness.

Why does Vashkivtsi Malanka claim the title of main Ukrainian carnival? Because of… Austrian aristocracy. The former owner of the town, Count Petrino was a great admirer of old times. Thanks to him, Vashkivtsi dove into carnival on St. Basil’s Day. Men vied to create the costume that would impress the count most of all (women were not allowed to change clothes, like today.) The generous master would reward each team of participants with a barrel of beer, and the bearer of the best mask was honored until the next year.

Though the Soviet government tried to destroy the old spirit of the carnival and, in spite of police round-ups, the holiday survived. And Soviet Father Frost and his Snow Maid never were welcome in Vashkivtsi.

If our carnivals were promoted abroad a little bit better, Vashkivtsi would shine as a luxurious diamond among the winter offers of travel agencies. However, even without promotion, many guests come to this Ukrainian carnival: Odesa and Kyiv, Chernivtsi and Lviv always send their “troops” to Malanka.


The Carnival’s Characters

Today Malanka is re-enacted as in the times of Count Petrino, with the traditional participants of the ritual: the beauty Malanka, her boyfriend Vasyl, the Goat, the Old Man, the Old Lady, Bears, Gypsies, Devils and Doctors. Everybody has their duties: the Old Man offers something to drink, the Old Lady sweeps the devils out, and the Gypsy leads the Bear on the chain. Each Vashkivtsi district has its team of Cossacks, Vulan (a kind of officer), typical of Bukovyna, Bukshandar in a gala uniform and a hat with peacock feathers, and Malanka herself. From the first three they elect the most senior – Kalfa (they say that the word derives from “caliph” from the time when Bukovyna was part of Turkey). Kalfa was traditionally responsible for costumes and the itinerary of the carnival procession, and also he collected kolyada – a financial prize, which the whole company would use to treat itself in a tavern afterwards.

In old times, the costumes were made by the male participants. Women were only allowed to decorate the costumes of “Cossacks” and “vulans”. The technique of costume production is not very complex: a sheepskin coat, turned inside out, is a bear's body, sleeves cut off from an old coat and sewn to the “bear body” are paws. The chain was well-fastened to the body: the “bears” had to wrestle, and it would not do to see a paw slip under the chain.

The unique craft of masks production also has deep traditions in Vashkivtsi. They tried to make them so that nobody would recognise the participant. Those recognised and named had to take their masks off in shame.

Medicine Against Influenza

In old times, the participants of Malanka visited not only the Count’s manor, but also every house. If the participants of Malanka passed any dwelling by, it was a great shame for the owner. And if they entered, it was compulsory to hide! They would turn furniture over, take the gates off, make a mess, let the dog loose, court the daughter, manhandle the master, and the poor man had to remunerate the jokers. The participants of Malanka start walking across Vashkivtsi on midnight on January 13, and the ritual finishes on the next day by swimming in the local Teplytsia River (needless to say: it is freezing cold outside.) However, the participants of the carnival have to bathe. According to folk legends, a devil’s tail can grow after two days of wild fun, so all sins should be washed away by water. They say that nobody gets sick after this icy swimming.

It is worth seeing how the participants of Malanka enact the most painful and relevant issues of life in Ukraine and elsewhere! For instance, in 2002, Vashkivtsi were visited by “ben Ladin”, and in 2006-2007 the streets saw parades of gypsies in hooded carts, noisy “Serduchka”, sultans impressed by Ukrainian beauties, terrorists in camouflage and corrupt judges. People created carnival centuries ago in order to ridicule social disadvantages and get rid of their coldest fears.

The holiday ends with the traditional bathing. Spectators in fur coats and kerchiefs look, charmed, at how the participants rub each others’ backs with icy water. Frost and winter has no power over humour and a thirst for life. Spring will come soon after Malanka. It is not too long a wait.

And meanwhile, go to Vashkivtsi to see an authentic Ukrainian carnival! How will the participants of Malanka amaze us this year? We will see on January 14.



Take one of the regular buses from Chernivsti-Vyzhnytsia or Chernivsti-Putyla that go through Vashkivtsi (50 km).

Tours to Malanka carnival are organized by “Aratta-Tour” agency: 61 Ivana Franka Str., office 608, Lviv . Tel.: +38032 220 1282, е-mail: office@aratta.tur.


© Blacky

© Panorama Magazine


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