Ukraine’s flora and fauna play an important role in the country’s folklore. Trees and flowers represent timeless human qualities like strength, beauty, fertility, and passion, while animals take on the roles of invaluable helpers or irritating mischief makers.
However, not all creatures in Ukrainian folklore are true to life. Here are 7 legendary beings and their role in Ukraine’s history and culture.
A domovyk is a spirit said to keep peace and order in a household. Every home traditionally has a domovyk which may help out with chores or warn family members of danger. However, poor housekeeping and profane language angers the spirit which shows it displeasure by rattling objects, banging on walls, and leaving muddy footprints in the home. According to legend, a domovyk is a small creature covered in hair, though it may also take on the appearance of cat or dog or even the homeowner himself.
Dancing with the Stars’ Karina Smirnoff believes she was once attacked by a domovyk. The Kharkiv-born dancer shared her creepy experience on a 2010 episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories.
A vodianyk is a male water spirit said to drown humans and destroy dams when angry. Descriptions vary by region, but a Ukrainian vodianyk typically resembles a very old man with a long, bushy beard. The spirit reportedly travels on a half-sunken log and may kidnap children to serve as his underwater slaves.
Similar to the vodianyk, a rusalka is a mermaid-like creature known for drowning men and children. According to legend, women who die in or near a river might return as a rusalka. Unbaptized children born out of wedlock and drowned by their mother might also share this fate. A rusalka spends most of her time at the bottom of a river, but she may come out at night to comb her hair and sing hauntingly beautiful songs. A rusalka typically has translucent skin, perpetually damp hair, and no discernible pupils.
The lesovik is a male woodland spirit said to protect animals in the forest. Known for his pale skin, piercing eyes, and beard made of grass and vines, the lesovik travels in the company of wolves or bears and orchestrates mass migrations. Though the lesovok isn’t evil, he’s a mischievous being who hides woodsmen's axes, kidnaps young women, and tickles men to death in his cave. Farmers and shepherds try to get in the lesovik’s good graces by giving him cross pendants and making pacts to protect the woods.
In Ukrainian folklore a zhar-ptytsia, or firebird, is a large bird with magical qualities. Its majestic feathers emit dazzling red, orange, and yellow lights, like a fire, and the bird is often the object of a difficult quest.
Zmiy is the Ukrainian word for dragon. In Russia and Ukraine, a fire-spitting creature known as Zmey Gorynych is said to have three heads and walk on its two back paws. A zmiy’s severed head may grow back if all three aren’t removed.
The indrik is a majestic creature that lives on a holy mountain unsullied by humans. The creature has the powerful body of a bull, the legs of a deer, the head of a horse, and an enormous horn.
Many creatures in Slavic folklore have counterparts in Western mythology. Visit Wikipedia.com to learn more about Ukraine's legendary creatures.