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Save your granny’s language and culture – Ukrainian children secure future of folk traditions

Feb 27, 2024 | Featured, Arts & Culture

Ruslana Lotsman with folklore collective Krynychenka from Velyke Verbche, Rivne oblast

Yuri Bilinsky and Ruslana Lotsman for NP-UN.

The fate of the Ukrainian language and, in particular, the state of the language's folk foundations with all its lexical and phonetic richness, carefully passed down through centuries in numerous generations of Ukrainians, has long been a cause for concern. The latest generation of carriers of pure linguistic sources is passing away, and the current large-scale war has exacerbated this problem, depopulating entire dialectical regions.

It is precisely at such a time that the Canadian-Ukrainian project Save your granny’s language and culture began to work, aimed at preserving the original pure language and folk culture in the Ukrainian youth masses. The new phase of the program, which we have already written about (, has shown that in many cases, Ukrainian rural youth have strayed quite far from the original dialects spoken by their grandmothers. And returning to those linguistic sources, from which the present literary Ukrainian language originated, is quite challenging for our youth.

Due to well-known social reasons, the connection between generations has been severed to a large extent and the language and songs that inspired our literary and musical masterpieces are at risk of remaining on the shelves of archives and in the least visited corners of the Internet. It's difficult for today's children to reproduce the pronunciation natural for their grandmothers; folk songs performed by today's youth mostly sound quite different from how they sounded when their grandmothers attended pre-dawn parties 70 years ago. Even in many children's folklore groups, this problem often remains unresolved.

But our work has shown that our children can and, most importantly, want to return to their linguistic and cultural roots. Through dozens of classes, phonetic exercises, and sometimes tears (what true learning is without tears), our children bring their grandmother's language to life:

As Victoria Nikolaenko from Helmyaziv said to her mentor Vira Lobunets, “I will now speak this language even at school.” Vira Mykolaivna, being the leader of folklore groups, offered the members of her collective “Kalinyata” authentic song pearls from the region of the city of Zoloti Noshi in the Cherkasy region. Marusya Samovol and Sofia Skubenko now sing these songs exactly as their grandmothers did at the same age. And the stories about how the ancestors dug the channel of the mythical Supiy River and built those same white houses from Shevchenko's paintings (with all the technical terms and the unique Poltava pronunciation) will now become textbooks for their peers and descendants:

Hanna Riznyk and Yelyzaveta Andrusenko from Novoorzhytske, Poltava Oblast, recorded local carols and folk songs as an example of how carefully one should treat folk singing traditions, pronunciation, and even movements. They did it so beautifully that it was worth recording a whole cycle of songs performed by them, for replication by the wide masses of youth:

“Verbychenka” from Nova Vodolaha, Kharkiv Oblast, recorded songs and stories based on the rich material collected in the region over the years by the leaders Olha and Tetiana Koval. Now it is up to these children to convey to the next generations all the details of the beautiful Slobozhanskyi dialect and the wonderful Slobozhanski songs. At a time when the Russian aggressor plunders Slobozhanshchyna, the children of Nova Vodolaha make an invaluable contribution to ensuring the continuity of the traditions of their region:

Replicating the grandmothers' speech and songs turned out the easiest for the children from Rivne region (“Krynychenka,” Velyke Verbche village, led by N. Dobrovolska) and Khmelnytskyi region (“Perlynka” from the city of Slavuta, led by M. Saipel). The children – members of these groups – practice those dialects and those ancestral songs in their everyday lives. They set an example for the whole of Ukraine of how these treasures should be treated with respect.

The repertoire of “Perlynka” is unique, formed based on expeditionary recordings of the leader and participants of the group. Calendar-ritual, lyrical, humorous, socio-domestic, insurgent songs, domestic dances, and other works are composed into stage compositions and reflect the calendar-ritual cycle of holidays from spring calls to Easter fun, Kupala, harvest, wedding rituals, and Christmas programs. Most of the materials were recorded in Slavuta and neighboring districts, and the leader M. Saipel, like the entire “Perlynka,” carefully preserves the dialectal features of the singing tradition of his region. In that singing, we will hear a lot of “hakannia” (adding the phoneme “h” before a vowel at the beginning of a word: hurky, hoves, hopienky, etc.), “ukannia” (replacement of the phoneme “o” with “u”: hudyla, rubyla, etc.), “tsakannia” (use of “tsa” instead of “tsia”: nravytsa, pryhladaietsia, etc.). In each village, there is its own dialect and dialectal words that “Perlynka” takes from the locals and reproduces. The peculiarity of “Perlynka” is the family atmosphere of classes and concert events, as the parents of the participants join the expeditions and event preparation, prepare costumes, etc. The meeting with “Perlynka” took place in September 2023:

A month after our visit to Slavuta, we received news that the premises, where our video shoot took place, had been damaged by enemy drones. Many houses of the city's residents, including the families of “Perlynka” participants, were left without roofs. Therefore, the awards we paid to the participants of “Perlynka” were very timely after what happened. Temporarily displaced from the Children's Creativity Center to other premises, “Perlynka” continues to study the expeditionary materials of their native land and record videos.

The participants of the folklore group “Krynychenka” from the village of Velyke Verbche in Rivne region use their native dialect every day in their family lives. So, we consider the videos performed by Petro Kalenyk, Khrystyna Kulish, Oksana Kalenyk, Daryna Davydiuk, Khrystyna Kalenyk, Ivanna Kravchuk, Polina Rudyk, and others, exemplary for replication by other youth. Petro Kalenyk from Velyke Verbche set an example for the whole of Ukraine of how to preserve the language and culture of one's grandmother:

Now it's up to all of us. Children in five regions of Ukraine have shown true love for their linguistic and cultural heritage and the ability to reproduce it in every detail. We will work to ensure that this does not become a one-off event, so that our intangible wealth takes root in the mass of Ukrainian youth and thrives in the future.

We invite Ukrainian youth to send us videos of folk songs and stories on (fill out the form at the bottom of the homepage). On our website you will find the best examples of your peers' rendition of Ukrainian songs and stories. Make your video at the same level of quality as the folk original (ideally, also send a video of the original performance of the corresponding song or story by an elderly person, a bearer of the original language and song tradition, so that we can compare your video with the original). We will pay you 3000 UAH (including tax) if your video passes the selection criterion for compliance with folk standards.

We sincerely thank the Canada-Ukraine Foundation for supporting our culture and its carriers in this decisive time of struggle for freedom and national identity of Ukraine.

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