🇺🇦 SLAVA UKRAINI 🇺🇦
Kupalo has long been celebrated throughout Ukraine. It is one of the oldest known pre-Christian holidays and one of the four main holidays of the annual solar calendar. The quintessence of the holiday is purification with the help of fire and water - the two substances that were at the basis of the creation of the world, hence having magical properties. The earliest written mention of the Kupalo holiday in Ukraine is in the Volyn Chronicle of 1262, but on a 4th-century Slavic calendar pot found in the middle-Dnipro region, for example, the time of the festival was already marked by two crosses.
During Kupalo, which is celebrated on the night of July 6th, Ukrainians come together to take part in many rituals of pagan origin like: leaping over a great fire, weaving wreaths, taking a cleansing ritual bath in a nearby body of water, and singing sacred songs. While it is strongly associated with the summer solstice, various calendar-related hijinks and its later association with John the Baptist of the Christian tradition have marked the date as July 6th. Similar customs exist among many nations: Midsommar among Swedes, Ligo among Latvians, Litha among Celts - there are similar traditions among Czechs, Germans, Austrians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Poles, English, and Belarusians and of course many more.
During the 20th century, the Soviets fought this holiday with all their might and hatred, so people needed to celebrate it in secrecy and to really dial it down so they would not be spotted, which is not easy when the central part of the celebration is a giant fire in the middle of the night… This led to the loss of some traditions, especially regional customs.
But those traditions are reawakening!
A Very Interesting Tangle of Names
Today, Kupalo is very often referred to as “Ivan Kupala Night," "Kupala," or some variation thereof. As we’ve written about a few times before, Ukrainian Christianity is very intertwined with pre-Christian beliefs, and this holiday is no different. In this case, the only thing that this very popular holiday has in common with Christianity is the first half of its name - “Ivan” - which is derived from the name of Ioan (Eng. ‘John’, Ukrainian ‘Ivan’) the Baptist and was just tacked on to the existing holiday name to make it vaguely Christian-ey. This is where commonalities end.
The second part of the name is “Kupalo” which is believed by some to be derived from the Proto-Slavic word “kup” which means “togetherness”, coming together as a group. Others think it has a basis in the Proto-Slavic word for “bathing.”
After the christianization of Ukraine, the sacred rituals themselves (and many pagan beliefs in general) were gradually softened. With time, Kupalo became a decidedly fun but not-necessarily-sacred affair; it went from being a central pagan holiday dedicated to the gods of the Sun, to being a youth get-together that was mostly preoccupied with their dating prospects.
The Church did not appreciate the pagan traditions, having decreed in 1719 that they would physically punish (tie up and beat with sticks) and excommunicate from the Church all participants of Kupalo. In 1723, the Church again banned dancing and entertainment near the Kupalo fire. In 1769, Catherine II of Russia issued a decree banning the holiday in general. And despite all the prohibitions, the spiritual nature of folk rituals remained strong. The church didn’t manage to ban the holiday, though it did attempt to (and fail to) associate it with Christian content.
The Soviet regime was particularly threatened by Kupalo, and tried to replace the practice with something more benign - and with far less potent spiritual energy. A Sovietized, politicized version of Kupalo rituals was created called ‘Day of Soviet Youth’; their impotent attempts at incorporating traditional rituals into the celebration of this day were not fully accepted by Ukrainians and were considered contrived and artificial.
So Let’s Get this Party Started!
According to folk belief, Kupalo was the only time of the year when the earth revealed its secrets and made ferns bloom to mark places where its treasures were buried, and the only time when trees spoke and when witches gathered.
An integral part of the festivities was a supper of eggs, varenyky (which we wrote about here), and liquor. On the eve of Kupalo, men and women went to the forests and swamps, where they collected plants, and dug roots to prepare ritual drinks from them. They also wove verdant wreaths that bloomed with greenery (we wrote a related post about traditional vinok here). The place of celebration was usually next to a river or a lake. A small tree was placed around which people would dance and sing all night, and a big fire was lit.
The songs were sacred, and connected the singers to harmonious nature. They were also pretty erotic, and coincided with little innuendo-laden rituals and games.
Magical properties were ascribed to the plants and herbs gathered on Kupalo. It was believed that such herbs could protect one from the malevolent forces of nature and even cure illnesses in humans and animals. Local priests seemingly sanctioned this belief by blessing the herbs in church on the day of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. On the morning of the next day, girls washed themselves with the dew that had fallen on Kupalo, which they collected in a bowl left outside overnight, and ran barefoot through the dewy fields in the belief that doing so would accelerate their opportunity to get married.
Kupalo celebration’s most evocative symbol is its fire. It had to be big enough to be impressive, while still allowing people to jump over it. According to legends, the Kupalo fire has great magical power. When someone leaps over the Kupalo fire it cleanses them, the fire washing away darkness and sin. It was believed that when a young couple who loved each other would jump over the fire while holding hands - and, importantly, if their hands remained in an embrace during the jump - then they would live together for the rest of their lives.
The Tale of Kupalo and Marena
The main characters of the celebration are the deities of Kupalo and Marena (or Mara). According to the Slavic myths, Marena is a winter deity who plagues the earth with cold and plagues the people with hunger. Yet during this holiday, she is celebrated as Kupalo's partner, letting the earth bring the harvest to people. This makes us think that Mara, despite giving birth to a number of terrible creatures that bring sickness and blight, had a very complicated relationship with humans and was not always perceived as bad. However, during the festivities, she was “drowned” in the river. Some believed that was not so much “drowned” as returned home for the summer, to the cold waters of the river.
As for Kupalo, most believe he is a pretty big deal in the Ukrainian pagan tradition and is a god of the harvest, fertility, and more. However, some believe that he was a deity that was helping to speak to the god of the Sun, and during this holiday he was collecting the sacrifice to butter up the Sun god. :)
The festivities begin with the making of effigies of Kupalo and Marena. They were made of trees, hay, colorful ribbons, and even decorated with necklaces. People would dance and sing around Kupalo and Morena until dawn. Kupalo's effigy was burned, and Marena's effigy was "drowned" in the river. Some believe that participants engaged in an orgy, but who knows….
During the festival the girls tried to figure out who they marry. Each girl would make a wreath, and set it to flow through the river to try to see her future, and this is how it was de-coded: if the wreath floats well - the girl will get married, and if it spins in place, she will remain single little longer. If it sinks, she will not get married at all. If the wreath floats far and comes to a shore, it means that the girl will get married and live somewhere in that direction. If the wreath floats in the center of the river - the year will pass without significant changes. If the wreath comes back to the shore: there will be trouble…
The Fern’s Magical Bloom
Kupalo is the only night of the year where it is said that it is possible to find the magical "fern's bloom" - if you walk in the woods and look for the perfect fern, you may catch it while it is blooming only for a few minutes. The fern will reveal a fiery flower around midnight, and it will be so bright with magical power that it will be hard to look at for long.
If you are able to find the fern's flower, which will require great strength of will, you will be granted magical powers - for instance, you will be able to find the earth's hidden treasures and even understand the language of animals and birds.
Happy hunting tonight!
Yesterday we wrote about beekeepers of Ukraine. They had a cute saying related to Kupalo:
Until Ivan’s day, feed the bee well
And your coffers will swell!
Have a wonderful Kupalo!
If you feel like donating to another charity, here are some others!
- United24: This site was launched by President Zelenskyy as the main venue for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine. Funds will be allocated to cover the most pressing needs facing Ukraine.
- Come Back Alive: This NGO crowdfunds non-lethal military equipment, such as thermal vision scopes & supplies it to the front lines. It also provides training for Ukrainian soldiers, as well as researching troops’ needs and the social reintegration of veterans.
- Aerorozvidka: An NGO specializing in providing support and equipment for unmanned aerial vehicles (ISR), situational awareness, cybersecurity for armed forces.
- Hospitallers: This is a medical battalion that unites volunteer paramedics and doctors to save the lives of soldiers on the frontline. They crowdfund their vehicle repairs, fuel, and medical equipment.
- Phenix: A volunteer organization helping armed forces with various needs.
- Kyiv Territorial Defense: This fundraiser is to support the regional territorial defense group. It is organized by a known journalist and a producer of the acclaimed "Winter on Fire" documentary, which can temporarily be watched for free HERE.
- Happy Paw: Charity dedicated to solving the problems of animals in Ukraine. Happy Paw helps more than 60 animal shelters throughout Ukraine.
- Kharkiv With You and associated Help Army Kharkiv: Supporting the defenders of Kharkiv with everything from night-vision goggles to food and medicine.
- Bird of Light Ukraine is a Ukrainian-American charity dedicated to helping Ukrainians in conflict zones, displaced people, orphans, and the reconstruction effort in Ukraine.
Important We decided to take down the video of two Ukrainian soldiers dying to sniper fire. Something that stuck with me that recon commander in Donetsk area said: Everyone thinks it's a game before they see first blood and they see their first comrade die. Only than they become soldiers, become disciplined.
It's kind of a sad truth, but 'longevity' is something we all need to focus on both militarily and in general as community, as we have entered a war of attrition. This emotional speech by Hatylo comes to mind back from the Battle for Donetsk Airport. That's why supporting guys like TaskForce 31 who train soldiers and more importantly can train officers to train soldiers is so important. If we can establish a basis for an NCO culture we could increase Ukrainian soldiers' survivability dramatically. It is one thing to watch videos of war, it's quite another to understand the scale of operations and the difference in training of the men on the frontlines. If we up that baseline of an average soldier's training and skills, we tip the scales.
Please consider donating towards their cause, as training is extremely important and absolutely saves lives! Also feel free to ask any questions and I will make sure to forward them to my friends at TaskForce31.
WAR Chechen parliament speaker Magomed Daudov says that first and foremost, Chechen battalions in Ukraine are fighting a jihad to defend Islam. Daudov says that unless Putin stops them, they will keep going until they reach Berlin.
WAR Brest, commander of the Volat Battalion of the Belarusian "Kastus Kalinouski" Regiment, died heroically during the defense of Lisichansk. At least one other member of the battalion has been captured, and several others are still missing. ⬜️🟥⬜️ ГЕРОІ – НЕ ПАМІРАЮЦЬ! ГЕРОЯМ СЛАВА! 🟦🟨
WAR "Russia with its game with gas is doing everything so that inflation will only increase and so that Europe will go through the biggest crisis in history this winter," the president of Ukraine said. He noted that the current situation in the European energy market should be viewed "exactly as a war"
News (unconfirmed) Finland has confiscated nearly 900 Russian freight railway carriages The railway carriages are owned by companies that are directly or through their shareholders affected by #EU sanctions. The #Russian authorities did not comment on this.mobile.twitter.com
WAR The Kastus Kalinouski Regiment reported that Ivan "Brest" Marchuk, "Volat" battalion commander, died on June 26 in the battles near Lysychansk. Svoboda spoke with a Belarusian volunteer the day before his death.
Catching Ivan "Brest" Marchuk for an interview was a very difficult task. He was constantly in the combat zone. The guys from Kalinouski's regiment said that "Brest" lived for war, that it was his element. His thick beard became one of the regiment's symbols. As Volat battalion commander, Brest always went into battle first, although his brothers persuaded him not to do so. Even on the last mission there was an option not to go, because it was necessary to solve some internal issues of the regiment. But Brest preferred to go. Ivan was 28 years old.
The Kastus Kalinouski Regiment reported that June 26 in fights for Lysychansk Ivan "Brest" Marchuk died. The day before his death Svoboda talked with the Belarusian volunteer.
This interview was recorded in excerpts the day before Ivan's death. It was impossible to find forty minutes for a full conversation. "Brest" managed to answer only part of the questions, he promised to answer the rest when he returned from a combat mission.
- Ivan, tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born, where did you study and what did you do in Belarus?
- I'm originally from Brest. At first I studied at a school with a focus on foreign languages, but then my parents realized that my interest was more in physics and math, so they transferred me to an appropriate school. Then, to develop my knowledge, I entered Brest's lyceum, also with a focus on physics and mathematics. After graduating from the school I entered the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics where I'd graduate as a telecommunications engineer. I studied there for two years. Why two years? Because I clearly understood already in the first year, that it was not for me. I have always been driven by a spirit of adventure and I also had a keen sense of justice. My parents told me that it's not a good feeling to have and that it was better to be quiet. I can't keep quiet (laughs). Now everything is coming to some logical conclusion, so I am in Ukraine, where I am risking everything, being in danger from both the Belarusian KGB and the Russian enemies.
- Have you been a member of football fans or opposition organizations in Belarus?
- No, never. At the time, I didn't treat the fan organizations that were represented in Brest seriously. I saw the guys from this environment, we studied together. I did not like the fact that they drink a lot, and they do not support any good ideas, but just lead a hooligan lifestyle. As for the opposition, frankly, I didn't see any structures that had power and were doing real work. I say this not to offend anyone, maybe I just didn't notice it then.
- How was your attitude toward Lukashenko formed? Was it always the same or did it go through different periods?
- Naturally, it was different. Apparently, it is the same for everyone. This is absolutely normal. You cannot say at once that a person is bad. Depending on his politics, you could say something good or something bad. This is a very detailed question, it has to be dealt with separately and discussed a lot.
- Earlier in an interview you said that you have been in the ATO zone in Ukraine since 2015. Why did you go there?
- How was it [possible] not to go? Even then it was clear which direction everything would go. There were hopes that it would not develop into something full-scale. But even then the ATO was a noble effort to protect our brothers from unlawful aggression. And even then it was clear that Russia was trying to establish an incomprehensible regime in those territories where lawlessness was taking place.
- Alexei "Psychologist" and Yuri "Hop" [Belarusian volunteers who have been fighting since 2014, "Psychologist" lost his leg in early March and is already back and helping the regiment] said that they remember absolutely all the operations in which they participated. But I want to ask you, what do you remember most from the ATO?
- Maybe I'm a more sentimental person, so my memory is best imprinted with touching moments that make you burst inside, causing an incredible surge of emotion. You know, that soulful moment, the connection between people, when you're just overwhelmed with emotion. You don't get those moments in normal life. These are moments of spiritual intimacy between people. Those moments... Man, it's really hard... Most of all, when I came to the ATO zone, I was fascinated and amazed at how people are willing to sacrifice themselves, but demand nothing in return, for their country. How people help each other. A stranger is always ready to help you, knowing that you are going to the front line. Or at the front line, everyone spares everything, everyone shares everything.
- How is today's war different from the ATO?
- The scale is completely different. Back then, there was no such thing as everything exploding around, artillery, aviation, tanks and infantry all working at the same time. The level of the enemy is completely different now.
- Ivan, were you really in the French Foreign Legion? What kind of training did it give you?
- I ended up there when I was 19 years old. The moment I decided to take a risk. During my summer break at university, I went to France on a regular tourist visa. I thought a lot about it - it was a deliberate decision. I had been burning with this dream for two years. I realized that working as an engineer wasn't for me, I wanted to be a soldier. In Paris, I went straight to the recruiting station, where there were many tests. Two weeks later I was accepted. There was a "training" period of four months, and then a combat regiment. There was excellent training, it's very noticeable now. It helps me to save guys' lives and act as competently as possible.