Steeped in ancient symbolism and decorated in hot wax, pysanky
(pronounced pie-sun-key) is a colorful folk art tradition in Ukraine
that harkens back to pagan times.
These days, the ancient tradition is celebrated at Easter, when
Ukrainian churches and community groups gather to decorate eggs in
intricate, painstaking detail.
Decorating eggs is more than just a pastime for those who lived
in Ukraine when it was under the control of the Soviet Union, from
1922 to 1991. For them, it's a symbol of expressive freedom.
"This was one of the few traditions in the Soviet era that we
were able to keep, so it's important to us," said Hanna Dziamko, a
Mt. Lebanon pharmacist and native Ukrainian who came to the U.S. in
Every year, Ms. Dziamko teaches the pysanky tradition with her
sister, Svetlana Tomson, who emigrated to the U.S. after perestroika
in late 1989. The family, including mom Maria Dziamko -- who came to
the U.S. in 1996 -- hails from the Zakarpatya region in western
Ms. Tomson remembers arriving at John F. Kennedy Airport in New
York on the day after Thanksgiving. She lived for a time in New
Jersey but moved to Pittsburgh because it reminded her of the
Zakarpatya region, with rolling hills and greenery.
She married the Rev. Tim Tomson, of St. Mary Ukrainian Orthodox
Church in McKees Rocks, and together, the family teaches their
children -- and the community -- about the ancient Ukrainian
"You have to know where you are and where you come from," Father
Tomson said during a recent egg-decorating workshop at the church.
"That's the great thing about America, we keep our ethnic traditions
alive. And it gets more important as you get older."
Ms. Tomson and her sister founded the Ukrainian Community of
Western Pennsylvania, which sponsors the egg-decorating workshops
and other programs aimed at preserving Ukrainian tradition.
Val Ivanova, a cardiologist from Wexford, brought her husband
Tariq Cheema and 8-year-old daughter Milla Ivanova to the workshop.
"I did this when I was little with my grandmother," said Ms.
Ivanova, who came to the U.S. 12 years ago from Ukraine.
A third-grader at Marshall Elementary School in the North
Allegheny School District, Milla said she loves learning about the
traditions and coloring the eggs. She gave some of her egg art to
her great-grandmother on a recent trip to Ukraine.
"It's always fun," Ms. Ivanova said. "We always did it before
"I like it!" Milla agreed.
But you don't have to be from Ukraine to appreciate the art of
Bethaney Krzys and her husband Jerry Krzys drove to the church
from Youngstown, Ohio, to participate in the workshop.
"I remember these eggs when I was little," said Ms. Krzys, who is
"I'm just the good husband," Mr. Krzys said.
Terry Maddox of Ross and her granddaughters Madison Dalton, 14,
and Kennedy Dalton, 6, aren't Ukrainian, but they appreciate the
folk art designs and beauty of the fragile eggs.
"Pittsburgh is unique with all the ethnic communities," Ms.
Maddox said. "I think a lot of this gets lost over the years."
But why create such priceless designs on such a delicate canvas?
Historians think they have the answer.
The egg as life
In their attempt to understand creation, "ancient people
developed myths in which the egg was perceived as the source of
life, the sun and the universe," according to the website of The
Ukrainian Museum in New York City.
"The Ukrainian pysanka (from the word pysaty, to write) was
believed to possess an enormous power not only in the egg itself,
which harbored the nucleus of life, but also in the symbolic designs
and colors which were drawn upon the egg in a specific manner,
according to prescribed rituals," according to the website. "The
intricately colored eggs were used for various social and religious
occasions and were considered to be a talisman, a protector against
evil, as well as harbingers of good. …