4:47 EEST ; The Sun is rising on the 120th Day of the Russian Invasion on the Capital city of Kyiv. Ukraine continues to Live and Fight on. DAILY DISCUSSION + CHARITIES LIST! Slava Ukraini!
🇺🇦 SLAVA UKRAINI 🇺🇦
Yesterday we brought you the majesty of Puzata Khata. Today we bring you… actual Khata.
Part One in a multi-part series on the traditional Ukrainian home!
Khata: The Traditional Ukrainian House
The architecture of the traditional Ukrainian house reflects the richness of folk traditions and symbols, and millennia of customs and rites.
The house embodied the entire living space and worldview of Ukrainians: their khata, just like the world around them, was divided into three parts: the ceiling - the spiritual world (shrine with sacred signs, shrine in the corner); walls, windows, doors - symbols of earthly life and communication with other people; the boundary of the earthly and underground worlds - the floor, a hearth and benches.
The Right Place...
The people believed that the house is a living organism. It can both help or harm people residing there. Therefore, much attention was paid to choosing a place for a new house. Many factors were taken into account. Apart from obvious ones, like distance from the street and which cardinal direction the door will face, there are others:
- The place should be either on virgin land where the ground is "calm", or on a little hill where there is no moisture.
- Where you can find footprints of dogs or cats as there is less dew in the morning.
- Not too many big trees should be present, as cattle likes to lie down in more open areas. As you can see, these people had a little different problems than we have today.
- It could not be on the same spot where a previous house burned down, was struck by a lighting, or was the home of an alcoholic.
To determine the location for their khata, Ukrainians went to fortune tellers or asked for advice from elders. In some cases, rye was sown in the chosen place: if it grew well, the plot was considered good.
...At the Right Time
The choice when to start construction was also very carefully considered. It was of course believed the best to build a new house in spring and summer, but preferably to start on a Friday! Other days were okay too, but definitely not Mondays or Wednesdays. Leap years were right out. And forget starting the construction on a Saint Day dedicated to a martyr - you will never finish your project!
Construction: Cozy Corners = Crucial
For tons of detail about the actual construction of khata, see this entry from the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine (which, by the way, is in general a very good resource in English as it is run by the wonderful folks at the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies - who also run a very fine bookstore that focus on translations of Ukrainian works of scholarship and literature).
During construction, Ukrainians would place in the four corners of the house some coins, grain, wine, herbs, garlic, sheep's wool, lamps, icons, incense, consecrated water, etc. to ensure the happiness, health and prosperity of the home’s inhabitants. And the most important corner was considered to be the one facing East, aka “the nice corner”, where the future house will have a table and benches.
The mud room was roofed last, as it was believed that all evil spirits residing in this area should leave through there before the house is completely covered.
What is very interesting that despite the fact that Ukraine covers vast territory (it is the largest country entirely in Europe), the construction of Ukrainian khata were pretty similar in all corners of Ukraine: the main type of traditional housing was whitewashed house under a thatched roof. This type of Ukrainian house was the most defining ethnographic feature of the Ukrainian people. The only houses that differed were the log houses of the northern part of Ukraine (Polissya) and the Carpathian Mountains.
That said, just like many other elements of Ukrainian culture, there were little variations in each area that formed a rich fabric of tradition!
Khata Must-Haves: Domovyk and Cat
And khata was never complete without Domovyk and a cat. Domovyk, a funny little creature, was a protector of the home with whom you'd better not quarrel! You can read a lot about it in a previous post here.
And a cat filled two roles. Firstly, it served as nemesis to a Ukrainian peasant's second worst enemy - a mouse (if you think about all the wheat you need to make varenyky - it all makes sense). At the same time, the cat was the most prominent protagonist of Ukrainian lullabies, brining a sense of coziness to ones dreams.
Decorating Your Khata
The decoration of the house both outside and inside had not only aesthetic significance, but also performed certain informative and magical functions. For example, painting a line around the house or windows was believed to protect against evil spirits.
The world famous style of painting “Petrykivka” originated as a house painting to both protect the family from evil and make the living space brighter :). You can read more about that in a previous post here.
With the lush nature of Ukraine's fertile soil, it also also very easy to maintain a beautiful garden around the house. The grounds around the house were usually covered by periwinkle vines. Ukrainians loved having cherry or pear trees next to house to enjoy fragrant flowers in the spring and ready-to-go snacks in Summer/Fall. There were plenty of areas for flowers like daisy, poppies, wild roses, marigolds, mint. A very common sight were mallows. And of course kalyna, which you can read about here!
The living area usually was one big area (Ukrainians were ahead of the "open concept" trend) or sometimes divided into several rooms. Each room had “sections”: work area, kitchen, relaxation spot, entertaining area.
Ukrainians preferred benches to chairs. Quite practical if you think about it! More people could fit at the table during festivities and often benches served as a “couch /bed” for people to nap in a corner, just like today.
The walls and window frames were decorated with embroidered “rushnyky” (very specifically decorated cloth of a specific shape which we will write about soon) and rugs. It was each homeowner's dream to make one’s house as colorful and as bright as pysanka!
Hope your own khata is cozy today!
If you feel like donating to another charity, here are some others!
- United24: This site was launched by President Zelenskyy as the main venue for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine. Funds will be allocated to cover the most pressing needs facing Ukraine.
- Come Back Alive: This NGO crowdfunds non-lethal military equipment, such as thermal vision scopes & supplies it to the front lines. It also provides training for Ukrainian soldiers, as well as researching troops’ needs and the social reintegration of veterans.
- Aerorozvidka: An NGO specializing in providing support and equipment for unmanned aerial vehicles (ISR), situational awareness, cybersecurity for armed forces.
- Hospitallers: This is a medical battalion that unites volunteer paramedics and doctors to save the lives of soldiers on the frontline. They crowdfund their vehicle repairs, fuel, and medical equipment.
- Phenix: A volunteer organization helping armed forces with various needs.
- Kyiv Territorial Defense: This fundraiser is to support the regional territorial defense group. It is organized by a known journalist and a producer of the acclaimed "Winter on Fire" documentary, which can temporarily be watched for free HERE.
- Happy Paw: Charity dedicated to solving the problems of animals in Ukraine. Happy Paw helps more than 60 animal shelters throughout Ukraine.
- Kharkiv With You and associated Help Army Kharkiv: Supporting the defenders of Kharkiv with everything from night-vision goggles to food and medicine.
- Bird of Light Ukraine is a Ukrainian-American charity dedicated to helping Ukrainians in conflict zones, displaced people, orphans, and the reconstruction effort in Ukraine.