Culture and History »

[11 Sep 2009]

Not unlike King Arthur from the British legends, Ilya Muromets is the type of hero that straddles the lines between legend and reality. A hero of old Kievan Rus, Ilya Muromets was undoubtedly real to a certain point – his grave still stands in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery, but like many notable figures from the early myths, his exploits were likely derived from a combination of different people throughout history. Allegedly born the son of a farmer east of what is today Moscow, Ilya Muromets was stricken with disease as a youth due to a family curse and was unable to walk until adulthood. Being magically healed by two Pilgrims and receiving supernatural strength from a giant knight named Svyatogor, Illya Muromets became a Bogatyr, the equivalent of a Knight-Errant in medieval Russia and led a group of Bogatyrs including other legendary knights such as Dobrynia Nikitich and Alyosha Popvich. Serving Prince Vladimir, the ruler who introduced Kievan Rus to Christianity, Ilya’s legendary exploits included defending and rescuing various cities including Kiev and Svyatogor from Turkish invaders and the Mongolian Golden Horde and slaying the monstrous Nightingale the Robber and Zmey Gorynych the three-headed serpent. Ilya Muromets’s legendary adventures seem to take place over hundreds of years. In many of the stories, he interacts with rulers and notable people throughout the centuries and as previously mentioned he is likely a combination of many different adventurers from history and fiction. This did not stop the Russian Orthodox Church from making Ilya a Saint many years later.

Culture and History »

[10 Sep 2009]

While officially frowned upon, Russian outlaw music managed to survive the oppression of the government and even develop its own culture and urban legends... [More]

Culture and History »

[2 Sep 2009]

When the Soviet Union fell apart and Ukraine gained its independence, many thought that much of the infrastructure that had been built under the regime would collapse with it. This was not the case and the Ukrainian space program was a perfect example of this. Originally established under the Soviet Space program, Ukraine’s space initiative was officially named National Space Agency of Ukraine after the country’s secession. The program finally had a chance to establish itself as a separate entity from the Soviet and Russian programs in 1995 after the launch of the Sich-1 satellite, making Ukraine the world’s tenth Space Power. Today the National Space Agency has constructed and launched a total of six satellites. Ukraine’s first manned mission occurred in conjunction with a NASA (US), NSAU (UKR) and NASDA (Japan) joint mission in 1997. Ukrainian cosmonaut Leonid Kadeniuk was launched into space on NASA’s Columbia space shuttle for almost 16 days as part of mission STS-87. Leonid started his career in the Soviet Air Force in 1976 and was moved later on to the Cosmonaut group. He had applied for and received citizenship of Russia after the fall of the Societ Union but returned to Ukraine in 1995 to assist with the Ukrainian Space Program. After returning from space, Leonid moved into politics. He was elected to the Ukrainian parliament in 2002.  

Culture and History »

[1 Sep 2009]

In the old Slavic myths of Russia and Ukraine, Rusalka (plural: Rusalki) are similar to Sirens in the Greek tales and Mermaids in English sea legends. The Rusalki are female ghosts who live at the bottom of lakes and rivers. During the day they must stay underwater, but after nightfall they are able to leave their watery prison and walk on land, dancing in the moonlight. In most of the legends they would mesmerize the young men who came across them and take them down to the bottom of the river to live with them. Rusalka are normally depicted with green fire in their eyes, or no pupils at all. They will have golden or even green hair and one of the recurring themes is that when they are on dry land the Rusalka must keep her hair wet or she will die. The Rusalki were frequently viewed as vengeful spirits of young girls who had died under unfortunate circumstances and could move on from the earth if their deaths were avenged. In early June, the holiday of Semik would be celebrated (this is sometimes known as “Trinity Week” in modern times as it precedes Trinity Sunday). At this time of year, due to the spring, the Rusalki would be at their most dangerous. Swimming was banned every year during this week as the Rusalka were said to drag the swimmers down to their doom and offerings were hung from the trees around the river to appease them.

Culture and History »

[31 Aug 2009]

Chernobog, also sometimes referred to as Czernobog among other names, is a diety in Russian Folklore representing the night and darkness. Chernobog is mysterious in the fact that there is not much surviving information about him; the only definitive historical mention of him came from the German Priest Helmold who wrote a record called “Chronica Slavorum” which was about the history and culture of the Slavs who resisted conversion to Christianity. Helmold mentions Slavs cursing “The Black God” Chernobog during feasts for misfortunes they had suffered. As time has gone on, Slavic Folklore’s introduction into popular culture has allowed the vague legend of Chernobog to grow. The nonspecific nature of the God has allowed modern writers and artists to put their own spin on the nature of the diety, even speculating that a White God counterpart named Belobog may have existed. Sometimes he is depicted as a cursed and tormented character, while in other depictions including most famously Chernabog from Walt Disney’s Fantasia show him to be the devil himself.  

Culture and History »

[28 Aug 2009]

In Slavic folklore, the Firebird was a magical glowing bird, often said to be from far away and mysterious lands that was the center of many quests and tales. Shaped like a small peacock, each of the bird’s many feathers would glow along with its eyes and its crest making it a prize that many heroes would be said to attain for their Kings. Much like the Albatross was in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; the Firebird was, upon capture, a magnet for trouble and bad luck. The hero in the tales (normally, but not always Ivan Tsarevich) would blame the caged Firebird for every obstacle he would come across on his way home. The Firebird would often be depicted as a scavenger that develops a taste for the golden apples that grow only in the orchard of a King. The Prince would be sent, sometimes along with two other “false heroes” to capture the bird. Sometimes they would succeed, and in other stories they would not, merely catching a single feather that they would take home and use to illuminate dark rooms.  

Culture and History »

[27 Aug 2009]

Sergei Mikhalkov, who wrote the lyrics to the Soviet and Russian national anthems, persecuted dissident writers and fathered two noted film directors, has died at age 96. [More]

Culture and History »

[24 Aug 2009]

Every year on August 24th, Ukraine celebrates its Independence Day! This year marks the 18th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence.   The history of Ukraine originated with the creation of the state of Kiev in the 9th century. After the decline of this state’s formation and disintegration into small princedoms in the 17th century, the Cossack-Hetman state was created which existed until the end of the 18th century and from then, up until the 20th century, the independent Ukrainian state did not exist.   In August, 24th, 1991, the Supreme Rada of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic proclaimed Ukraine an independent, democratic state and presented “The Certificate of Declaration of independence of Ukraine” for approval by the Ukrainian referendum on December, 1st, 1991.   On Sunday, August 23rd, on the Day of the National Flag of Ukraine, with the assistance of President of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko, the solemn ceremony of raising the National Flag of Ukraine took place on the Constitution square. Then, the head of the state, officials, representatives of the public of Kiev and regions put wreaths on the monuments of the poet Taras Shevchenko, the first president of Ukraine Michael Grushevsky, Duke Vladimir and hetman Bogdan Khmelnitskiy.   On Monday, August 24th, at 9 o'clock in the morning in the Sofia cathedral and in other churches, temples of the capital will hold services and worships all morning. Heads of the state, representatives of the capital power and the citizens will pray for Ukraine and its people.   At ten o'clock in the morning on Kreschatik Street, the traditional army parade will take place. The march includes divisions of all combat arms; also, tanks and self-propelled guns will be presented in a stationary exposition - from the European square to Institute Street.   Participation in military parade and in other actions will accept 17 best military musical collectives from different regions of Ukraine.   After the parade, the President of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko will address to the Ukrainian people with a speech. In the evening, on the city central square there will be a celebratory concert with participation of creative collectives and stars of the Ukrainian Variety. And, certainly, the holiday will end with an artillery salute. This is unbelievable beautiful scene and you definitely need to see this!   In preparation for this holiday, national flags have been updated on buildings in capital. A pedestrian zone on the central city street have been decorated with flowers, established missing urns and benches and repaired lighting devices. On a Maidan of Nezalezhnosti, the city authorities have prepared for citizens and visitors to Kiev a surprise – a working clock created from almost 50 thousand natural flowers. And the dial of this masterpiece reaches 19 meters! Hours will start to show an exact time since August, 23rd.   Over the Central part of Kiev, 35 units of aviation technics flew, in particular 8 helicopters, three civil planes An-225 , An-124 "Ruslan", An-148, and also planes of destroyer, assault, bombardier, prospecting, military-transport and sea aircraft aviation.   The same parades can be seen in every big city of Ukraine on this day! All the people celebrate and appreciate the freedom of their native country.   National holidays, like Independence Day of Ukraine, bring people closer, allowing them to feel a sense of participation and unity with the great Ukrainian nation. On August 24th it is better to discard routine, soar over trivial problems and celebrate this day together with your compatriots!         

Culture and History »

[24 Aug 2009]

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has congratulated Ukrainians on the Day of Independence of Ukraine. The premier noted that Ukraine is currently living through hardships, as the international financial turmoil hasn't bypassed the country. However, the premier believes this to be temporary. [More]

Culture and History »

[21 Aug 2009]

Are you curious about Slavic cooking but not sure where to start?  Whether it's to celebrate Ukraine's Independence Day or to impress your Russian Bride-to-be, we have a few easy, classic recipes that are sure to please your palate.  Be sure to start your meal with pickled cucumbers, salted herring, salad and caviar, and don't forget to invite your guests to each offer a toast with vodka during the meal!   Borsch 1 cup chopped fresh beets 1 cup chopped fresh carrots 2 cups green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces 3 or 4 medium potatoes, cubed 1 quart chopped or shredded cabbage 1 pint fresh or canned tomatoes, chopped 1/2 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup fresh dill weed, chopped salt to taste 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion 2 tablespoons oil 2 tablespoons flour cream minced garlic, to your taste   Put the chopped beets, carrots, and green beans into a 6-quart kettle with about 2 quarts of water and cook a little while. Then add the rest of the vegetables, dill, and salt and cook until vegetables are tender, adding more water for the desired consistency. Saute the finely chopped onion in oil in a small frying pan and add flour. Stir until smooth. This is used as a thickener; add this to borsch when vegetables are cooked. Add some cream and the freshly chopped garlic and cook for about 5 minutes more. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve.     Cabbage Leaf Holubtsi 1/2 to 3/4 cup onions, chopped and sauteed oil or meat drippings 1 cup meat, ground  4 cups cooked rice 1 teaspoon salt 1 large head cabbage 1-1/2 cups tomato juice 1/2 cup cream or sour cream   Saute chopped onions in meat drippings and add to cooked ground pork and rice. Sprinkle with salt. Roll this mixture up into a wilted cabbage leaf and place into pan. Cover this with tomato juice and cream or sour cream and meat drippings. Cook until done. Serve.     Berry Compote 1 pound fresh berries (strawberries or raspberries) 3/4 cup sugar 1 cup water   Wash and drain the fruit. Bring the sugar and water to a boil. Pour the boiling syrup over the fruit, and let it stand for several hours before eating.     Cherry Crepes   1 cup flour1/4 teaspoon salt1-1/4 cups milk2 eggs2 tablespoons butteroil  Mix together the flour, salt, milk and beat until smooth. Add the eggs and mix well. Add the melted butter and mix again. Let this batter stand for a while. Brush the bottom of a frying pan with oil and put over medium heat until it is just hot but not smoking. Pour about 2 tablespoons crepe batter into pan and quickly tilt the pan in all directions so that the batter covers the pan with a thin film. Fry for about 1 minute. Lift the edge of the crepe to test it for doneness. The crepe is ready to be flipped when it can be shaken loose from the pan. Flip the crepe and cook for about 30 seconds on the other side. (This side of the crepe is usually a little spotted brown and is the side the filling is put on.) As each crepe is done, spread the filling over the inside and fold the first two sides over each other and then the other two sides over each other. Place the finished crepe carefully on a plate. Keep doing this until all the crepes are made. It is easier to make with two people working. One makes the crepes, one fills the crepes. Use home canned pie cherries that have been drained of liquid for the filling.

Culture and History »

[21 Aug 2009]

On Monday, August 24th, 2009, Ukraine will be celebrating the 17th anniversary of their independence with parades, races, art exhibitions, fairs and concerts. Even if you are not able to travel to Ukraine to take part in the celebrations, here’s how you can share in the excitement and pride your special Ukrainian lady will be feeling on this inspirational day.

Try your hand at a traditional Ukrainian dish. Borscht, dumplings, roast meat, cabbage rolls…there are many delicious and easy to prepare Ukrainian recipes waiting to delight your palate. If you have family or friends who would like to join the celebration, why not have a picnic to celebrate and enjoy traditional Ukrainian fare together? [More]