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In Ukraine, midsummer celebrations are both respite and a cultural weapon

Ivana Kupala in Ukraine
Ivana Kupala in Ukraine Copyright AP Photo / Efrem Lukatsky
Copyright AP Photo / Efrem Lukatsky
By Euronews and AP
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Against a backdrop of regular blackouts and a nightly curfew, Ukrainians marked their third midsummer of the war – full of folk dancing, fire jumping and flowers.

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Sunday saw thousands of Ukrainians make the drive an hour’s south of the capital, Kyiv, to celebrate the festival of Ivana Kupala.

The midsummer celebration, which is similar to St John’s Eve or San Juan in some other European countries, is a fusion of fire, water and nature that ties pagan traditions to the Christian calendar.

Surrounded by windmills, thatched houses and traditional buildings – reassembled after being dismantled and transported from all regions of Ukraine – festival goers mill around the national heritage park, wearing shirts and dresses embroidered with traditional patterns.

Ivana Kupala in Ukraine
Ivana Kupala in UkraineAP Photo / Efrem Lukatsky

The harmonious singing, dancing in circles around a bonfire to the strains of violins and bagpipes, making of flower crowns, and leaping over bonfires feels a world away from the daily reality of Ukraine. Here, men under age 60 cannot leave the country due to draft restrictions and notifications from an air raid app, monitoring the danger from Russian missile and drone strikes, dictate much of life.

Heritage park director Oksana Poviake thinks the festival offers crucial respite, helping people to forget their worries – but also something of a weapon in an existential fight.

“People can relax in a coffee shop, at a restaurant or at home,” she said. “But here, together in a large community, they feel a sense of belonging, belonging to their people, who right now are fighting for their identity.”

Ivana Kupala in Ukraine
Ivana Kupala in UkraineAP Photo / Efrem Lukatsky

Kyiv resident Kateryna Harnik was also glad of “the opportunity to come together, to bond together”, but agrees that the celebration offers something even more during this “terrible war” that is challenging Ukrainians’ statehood and identity.

“One of key weapons used by Russia in this war is the destruction of our Ukrainian culture,” she said. “So it’s important to remember our traditions, to make sure that we remember our heritage and that we won’t let anyone take it away from us.” 

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