Bayville resident Alina Blakesley has been painting Ukranian eggs at Easter for decades. This year, the parallels between what is happening to the people of Ukraine and their country, and what her parents experienced when Russia invaded their homeland of Poland, weighed on Blakesley’s mind.
“The Polish people suffered under the Russians. My parents were sent to the gulags in Siberia,” Blakesley said. “What we, the Polish people understand, is the fight for freedom. The legend of pysanky (meaning, to write) has to do with making sure that evil does not win in the world ... that darkness does not overcome light. This war inspired me to not forget this beautiful ritual.”
Blakesley learned the art from a Ukrainian woman she met after moving to Maine from England 42 years ago. Ukrainian egg designs, she explained, are more intricate, bolder in color, and use flowers more than Polish Easter eggs do. Each choice of a symbol and its color is deliberate. The eggs are organic canvases used to convey messages of hope, courage, strength and love.
“It’s a lovely way to teach children, in these times, too,” said Blakesley. She used to bring Ukrainian Easter eggs to local schools for that purpose. “You’re still wanting new things to grow. The women they are preparing for spring. It is still cold outside, but there is this feeling of hope. And when you have a whole country doing (pysanky), that’s quite powerful, don’t you think?”
Blakesley picks up a goose egg designed with Ukraine in mind: The azure blue and golden yellow represent the country’s flag. The flag’s colors symbolize the blue skies above and the wheat fields below. Ukraine is known as the world’s breadbasket. The egg’s nets symbolize separating good from evil; the diamond shapes around the center of the egg bear squiggly lines called Mary’s Tears symbolizing how very long the journey is to freedom from oppression. Her tears are the suffering. And then there are the ladders, short lines moving upward symbolizing the ascension to heaven and prayer.
“When I was doing the ladders I was thinking of the Ukrainian people sacrificing their lives and they were departing … it reminded me of how Poland fought for freedom and how many died for that freedom. People have to sacrifice their lives for freedom. When you do these eggs, you think about what the symbols mean.”
After each year’s eggs are finished they are taken to a priest to be blessed. Blakesley said some are given away, some are buried outside the front door of the family home to ward off evil; some are buried near a gravestone for remembrance; and others are kept for the next year’s Eastertide.
The symbolism of Ukrainian Easter eggs begins with the egg, a universal symbol of hope, rebirth and new beginnings; wheat or grain motifs, a good harvest; never ending or meandering lines, eternal life; triangles, Holy Trinity (pointed end down) and three periwinkle leaves; pussy willows, coming of spring; dots, stars in heaven; spirals, divinity and eternal life; wavy line, water, which symbolizes wealth for without water there would be no crops; five arched dots, from sorrow can come unexpected blessings; Heavenly gates are represented by a line of arrow-like points facing up or down and representing the gates newborn souls and departing souls pass through. Dots and small circles denote constellations; rose and five-pointed star, ancient symbols of Christ and signifying rebirth; and ladders, prayers and ascension to heaven.
The bold colors used for Ukrainian pysanky are symbolic as well, but are secondary to the symbols: orange, endurance; green, breaking bondage; spring, hope; black, eternity, darkest time before dawn; brown, earth, harvest; purple, faith, trust; yellow, sun, stars, moon, perpetuation of family; white, purity, light; and four or more colors on one egg, family happiness, peace and love.
“Easter is a time of hope and the whole world has a need for it; we are united in our longing for it,” Blakesley said. “I had this inspiration to do something hopeful for the Ukrainians, for their freedom, their country. And every year I will continue to do these eggs.”