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Olha Sakhno, master of folk art

“I was born in the village of Kvitky, Cherkasy region, and came to Kyiv in 1974. It was important to me to be in the capital, as it made fulfilling my teenage dreams and aspirations possible. Besides, my older sister was here, so I felt particular support. I dreamed of becoming a tailoring designer, but I failed an exam and hesitated to apply for a second time. I worked at Kyiv shoe factory #6 in Lukianivka while becoming an engineer-technologist of leather products at Kyiv Technological Institute of Light Industry. Even at that point, I strived to pursue my passion for design, so I designed dancing shoes.

Kyiv was fully Russian-speaking in the 70s. I couldn’t understand why I had to speak Russian in the capital of Ukraine.

All classes in college were taught in Russian. My colleagues at the factory spoke Russian. Only three out of 2600 employees spoke Ukrainian! Ninety-nine percent of people coming to Kyiv instantly switched to Russian. At some point, I even considered moving to Lviv, as I struggled to deal with Russified environment.

It was my eighth year in Kyiv when I found like-minded people. Those people brought me into the heart of the Ukrainian community. They were all members of the Ukrainian Cultural Club — the first independent non-governmental organization in Soviet Ukraine. They introduced me to an underground socio-political magazine called The Ukrainian Herald. I listened to the illegal Voice of Freedom and clearly understood the true essence of the communist party. They warned me that security officials might use direction-finding equipment to detect the houses playing the Voice by tracking radio waves. I lived in Tatarka at the time and stayed in my nine-square-meter room in a communal apartment. I would hide many club members’ illegal literature at my place because their homes were constantly searched. Was I scared? Absolutely. But I had a clear idea of how much effort and commitment went into creating an independent Ukrainian State, so I aimed to contribute (even on a small scale) every step of the way.

Our Ukrainian community would get together at night in the boiler room at Mostytskoho street, where the Young naturalists’ station and Research institute were located, to read poetry and forbidden literature.

That was our kind of romance. We could stay up for three days in a row, overjoyed with our activities. 1987 and 1988 had passed, and in 1989 Viacheslav Chornovil, Slava Stetsko, and Ivan Svitlychnyi were released from prison. The desired independence became closer.

When I was young, we used to go on dates to Volodymyrska Hill, which offered a magnificent view over Dnipro. I would come to the Botanical Garden at Druzhby Narodiv to dream and reflect. It was my place of power. Kyiv at night was filled with the aroma of chestnut and lilacs. There were not a lot of cars, so the air was clean, and we were free to wander around. I was an activist of the Voluntary People’s Guard at the time and patrolled the city at night. We would walk around in groups of five or six people and keep order on the streets, wearing red armbands.

In the early 90s, I started working in archeology and exploring Ukrainian culture, history, national identity, and traditions. I became interested in pysanka writing, the most significant and perhaps most fascinating chapter of my artistic life. Today I have an opportunity to represent Ukrainian folk culture in different parts of the world.

To me, Kyiv is the heart of development. Here, one can acquire many knowledge and skills and become strong and determined. Kyiv transforms minds.

Personally, I think you can contribute to state-building in Kyiv. Here you have an opportunity to actively participate in all significant social, cultural, and political events. Kyiv is different from other Ukrainian cities. It mirrors the development of the Ukrainian State from the time of the Kyivan Rus to the present day, from Ukrainian medieval history and Ukrainian baroque to postmodern. Its architecture is just as complicated and unique as its history.

I’m happy that today I can speak Ukrainian without people giving me strange looks.

I’m happy to see more and more young people switching to Ukrainian, to hear young mothers talking to their children, and hear them respond in Ukrainian. At such moments, I just want to hug them.

For it’s not artificial. It’s our nature, our pillar. It’s what sets us apart from other nations. Our language, our culture, our traditions, our land, and obviously, our territory”.

Olha Sakhno, master of folk art


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