Exploring Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online


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An image from Ivan Honchar's Historical Ethnographic Art Album, 'Ukraine and Ukrainians,' volume 'Poltava region.' Ivan Honchar Museum, https://honchar.org.ua/en/collections/detail/3070.

Around the world, clothing and jewelry play important social roles in demonstrating religious affiliation, nationality, wealth, status, beauty and marital eligibility. This has especially been so in Ukraine. Ukrainian women have traditionally worn extensive, distinctive and highly attractive jewelry and other adornments. Most prominently, by the modern era, women and girls who were able usually wore a multilayered necklace of polished coral beads called a namysto koralove (намисто коралове). The coral beads were often of graduated sizes, with the smallest on the ends of the chain, and the largest in the middle, often with an engraved silver bead as the centerpiece or along the sides. These brightly colored adornments exhibited the family’s wealth and status. A wealthier woman would have more stringed layers to her necklace since the beads were expensive; they were often passed down as important family heirlooms or given to a prospective bride as an intent to betroth. The necklaces were also perceived as warding off harmful spirits, and so of showing the well-being of the wearer. These coral necklaces were often paired with a balamuty (баламути), a single or sometimes multistringed necklace made from larger beads of mother of pearl; these were especially prominent in the Eastern Podillia region. Often coral necklaces and balamuty were worn together with a metal pectoral cross pendant, or with a dukach (дукач), a large metal bow and medallion or coin pendant, strung on ribbon. Other important items include the syli͡anka (силянка), or kryza (криза), a brightly colored choker necklace made from glass beads, and the gerdan (ґердан) necklace, a long, thick beaded necklace with elaborate designs. Other traditional items include wedding crowns or vinok (в інок), worn at the wedding ceremony to symbolize purity and health, fabric head ornaments, and crescent shaped hanging silver earrings. 

Compiled here are several examples of these traditional necklaces and crowns as well as other forms of Ukrainian adornments. These stretch back from the ancient world, beginning with a bronze age pendant discovered in the Trostyanets region, and silver items and jewels from the ancient Sarmatians, as well as to the Kyivan Rus era in the 10th -11thcenturies. We have also included some beautiful Ukrainian jewelry from the 21st and late 20th centuries, as important Ukrainian jewelers have made variations on traditional jewels for the modern age.  

This exhibit was curated by a class from the University of New Hampshire called Humanities 440B(H): “That Belongs in a Museum!” Museums and the Ownership of Antiquities, which studied the importance of material cultural heritage for understanding identity and self-determination. Due to the war, we have been able to see in real time the ways that ownership of Ukrainian cultural objects is related to Ukrainian identity, as well as how theft and destruction of those objects are implicitly attempts to erase a uniquely Ukrainian identity. We curated this exhibit in an effort to lift up the beauty of Ukrainian cultural objects and by extension, the beauty of Ukraine.

Dr. Nicole Ruane, Senior Lecturer in Classics, Humanities and Italian Studies at the University of New Hampshire.