The third Thursday of May is always a special one for Ukrainians, but this year’s was especially poignant. With the Russian invasion about to enter its third month, Ukrainians worldwide were marking Vyshyvanka Day – a celebration that symbolizes their love for Ukraine and respect for its traditions.
The vyshyvanka is an embroidered item, which can also serve as a charm, with a centuries-old history. Each region has its own distinctive pattern that adds an extra layer of self-identification and allows Ukrainians to celebrate their own particular city or town.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the terrible losses Ukraine has suffered since the war began on February 24, with at least 3,811 Ukrainians killed according to the United Nations, over 2,500 people attended the Vyshyvanka Day event in central Tel Aviv, organized by the Israeli Friends of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Embassy.
People marched along Rothschild Boulevard to Habima Square to honor destroyed cities such as Mariupol, where about 95 percent of the city has been decimated. They also lit candles in remembrance of the war victims. Many attendees were proudly wearing vyshyvankas as a symbol of hope and resistance.
Haaretz spoke to some of them about their unique clothing and what the day means to them.
Yury, from Kharkiv
“I’m from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. This vyshyvanka is 70 years old, it’s handmade. My mom made it for my dad when she married him. It was later passed on to me, and I will pass it on to my son. It symbolizes my belonging to Ukraine, no matter where I am – and that’s great.
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“We support Ukraine, and firmly believe in its victory because Ukraine is fighting on the side of God. Unfortunately, Russia is now fighting on the side of evil, and it is doomed to defeat.”
Lena, from Moscow
“This is, in fact, a Palestinian vyshyvanka. I lived in the occupied territories for two years. First, I came to volunteer at a kindergarten, and then I got married and my then-husband’s aunt gave me this thing. It was made before the State of Israel was founded.
“The use of rhombuses and flowers is common in Christian art and symbolizes man’s connection to the land, to the sowing of fields. It’s something dear to both Ukrainians and Palestinians.
“For me today, this vyshyvanka is a symbol of resistance and simply a very beautiful thing. I really want the new Russian empire to fall apart as soon as possible. In Russia, I engaged in street protest art – on the fringes of theater and provocation. When I was told I would get three years in prison, I left there. It’s a bit more difficult to protest from here, but I do what’s in my power.”
Hanna, from Mariupol
“I arrived here in 2015 [after the annexation of Crimea], and then my mother joined me. My vyshyvanka is from Mariupol, the embroidery of the Donetsk region. It’s very dear to me.
“After two months without being able to contact my childhood friends in Mariupol, they started calling me and telling me stories I would never wish upon anyone. It’s so heartless to take away people’s homes and lives, or maybe leave them alive but with no choice to live as humans. In this war, I lost my grandmother after a direct strike on her home. I’m here so the world knows what war is, and that it needs to stop. I’m here to show that our people cannot be destroyed, and we will survive.”
Sergey, from Kyiv
“A talented Israeli guy came up with the design of the Star of David and a Hanukkah menorah, and in the early years they were embroidered in Lviv. I’m Jewish but was born in Ukraine, so for me this vyshyvanka signifies the connection between Israel and Ukraine. I love both countries. Part of my family is there.
“Today, honestly, Israel lacks the sense of unity that Ukraine has. In Israel, unfortunately, people have scattered. Then again, it’s good to see how many people are at events like this. And how both Ukrainians and Russians who support Ukraine connect, in order to show the world the real picture of what’s going on.”