London, Ont., teacher Michael Drul has been creating traditional pysanky, above, adorned with sunflowers (the national flower of Ukraine), oak leaves and the eight-pointed star symbolic of the sun, Jesus and His resurrection. Photo courtesy Michael Drul

Easter tradition aids Ukrainian homeland

  • April 14, 2022

Michael Drul has been making  and selling pysanky — the decorative Easter eggs in the Ukrainian tradition believed to ward off evil — to raise funs for those affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian legend says an evil monster chained to the centre of the Earth will be bound if pysanky are made, and evil loosed the world over if they are not. A second-generation Ukrainian, Drul has decorated over 25 dozen eggs since the invasion began in late February. The London, Ont., teacher has sold the eggs to people in the community and to date has raised over $2,000 which has been donated to humanitarian organizations in support of Ukraine.

“I wasn’t planning on doing that, in the sense of raising funds, but I did and it just blew up,” said Drul. “I actually had to put my foot down and say, that’s enough because I have to move onto other things like making Easter bread. I’m very pleased that worked out so well, and I could at least contribute in some way to uphold the tradition.

“Whether that evil in the world is going to be contained or not over there, at least it makes me feel a little bit better that every little bit helps.”

Making pysanky was taught to him by the women of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church growing up. Drul has been practising the tradition since he was five years old and now shares it with his own two children and Grade 4 students. He’s lived in London for over 30 years and has 30 years of eggs to show for it, including some more than 70 years old, passed down to him from his late parents. 

Adorned with various symbols, the eggs Drul designed are decorated with sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine, and oak leaves representing strength and protection. For his Easter basket, eggs are adorned with the eight-pointed star symbolic of the sun, Jesus and His resurrection. The colour red is also used as a symbol of resurrection, along with white for purity, black for eternity and green for spring. Other Lenten symbols include the triangle representing the trinity, a net symbolic of Christ as a fisher of men and dots for the tears of Mary.

After the Second World War, pysanky decorating was deemed a religious practice and banned by Soviet authorities. The Ukrainian diaspora around the world, however, made sure the tradition survived and it has re-emerged after the nation gained independence in 1991.

For Drul, keeping the tradition alive has been a celebration of culture he feels blessed as a teacher to be able to pass down to Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike. 

“I incorporate it into my math lessons and things like that because it’s very geometry based,” said Drul. “It’s also art, science and math, because there’s a process of learning how it all works. It’s kind of nice to share that tradition and culture with others.”

Traditionally not cured, the raw eggs are decorated with a special dye made from plants and minerals found in nature. The eggs dry out naturally over time and as long as they are ventilated can last indefinitely.

With decades of practice under his belt, Drul says after all these years, he continues to improve.

“I still do not consider myself perfect,” said Drul. “Every year they just seem to get better. It’s just a tradition that is very dear to me and many others of Ukrainian background to do, especially at this time of year.”

Drul is currently preparing his Easter basket which in addition to pysanky will include items such as coloured hard-boiled eggs, butter, salt, horseradish, sausage, ham and others to be blessed by a priest.

In Ukrainian tradition, after Easter service, families go home and break their Lenten fast eating everything in the basket, except of course for the pysanky.

“I think that with Easter and making pysanky, it surpasses anything that has to do with any of the other holidays we celebrate within the Church. It’s just such a special thing to celebrate, to prepare and look forward to with joy. The once a year renewal, rebirth of spring — everything. It’s just so fitting and so lovely to have and to be a part of.”

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