ua en ru

Vyshyvanka Day in Ukraine: History of international holiday

Vyshyvanka Day in Ukraine: History of international holiday Photo: Vyshyvanka Day in Ukraine (Getty Images)
Author: Liliana Oleniak

Vyshyvanka Day 2024 is celebrated in Ukraine and abroad on May 16. In a fairly short time, this holiday has evolved from a student event to an international one. For Ukrainians, vyshyvankas (embroidered shirts - ed.) are a symbol of national identity. However, they are now worn all over the world as a sign of support for Ukrainian culture and traditions, which has gained special meaning during Russia's war against Ukraine.

In the article below, RBC-Ukraine explains who founded Vyshyvanka Day and what is the significance of the holiday.

Sources: Wikipedia, World Vyshyvanka Day NGO, Evening Kyiv, and Radio Liberty.


Students' action. Where and how the Vyshyvanka holiday originated

Today Ukraine celebrates Vyshyvanka Day. The holiday appeared quite recently, in 2006. The idea to honor Ukrainian traditional clothing came from students of the Faculty of History, Political Science, and International Relations at Chernivtsi University.

The initiators of the holiday, Oleksandr Tkachuk and Lesia Voroniuk, say that one day during a break they saw a friend wearing an embroidered shirt, and then they decided to invite everyone to come to the same day wearing embroidered shirts.

Initially, only 10 students supported the action, but the following year, students and teachers from other faculties of the university joined them.

Soon, the holiday grew to a nationwide level, and nowadays, Vyshyvanka Day is celebrated in more than 100 countries, which is why it is called World Vyshyvanka Day.

Nowadays, embroidered Ukrainian shirts are worn by presidents of other countries, politicians, and public figures as a sign of solidarity with Ukraine. Famous designers use embroidered shirts when creating clothing collections.

The date of the holiday was not set immediately. However, the initial idea was to choose a weekday to emphasize that vyshyvanka is an element of everyday life for Ukrainians - at work and school.

Subsequently, it was decided to set the Vyshyvanka Day on the third Thursday of May. In 2024, it is May 16.

Vyshyvanka Day celebration

The holiday is intended to preserve the ancient folk traditions of creating and wearing ethnic embroidered Ukrainian clothing, so it is celebrated by wearing an embroidered shirt.

In peacetime, on the occasion of Vyshyvanka Day, mass events dedicated to the history and culture of embroidered shirts were held. There were educational exhibitions, lectures, flash mobs, mega marches in embroidered shirts, concerts, and movie screenings.

Vyshyvanka Day in Ukraine: History of international holidayPhoto: mega-march of embroidered shirts in Kyiv (Vitalii Nosach, RBC-Ukraine)

In 2011, on the 5th anniversary of the holiday, a record was set in Chernivtsi for the number of people wearing embroidered shirts. Back then, 4 thousand people in traditional Ukrainian shirts gathered in the central city square. The building of Chernivtsi University was also dressed in embroidery. For this purpose, a shirt measuring 4 by 10 meters was sewn.

In Chernivtsi, there is a tradition of giving embroidered shirts to babies born on this day. Later, the event spread to other cities across the country, and since 2023, embroidered shirts have been given to young Ukrainians in Canada.

In 2015, the Give an Embroidered Shirt to a Defender campaign was launched. Ukrainians started sending embroidered shirts to the front line to serve as a talisman.

Embroidering Victory. Events for Vyshyvanka Day 2024

This year, the holiday will be held under the symbolic slogan Embroidering Victory. Due to the war, there will be no mass events, but various thematic events are planned.

Kyiv will host a presentation of the Combat Drone embroidery, which features a drone, a Cossack cross, and a trident. The presentation will take place at 11 a.m. at the Values Center for Psychological Recovery.

At 6 p.m., the Sense bookstore on Khreshchatyk will screen a documentary about embroidered shirts, The Nation's Heritage, with the participation of Oleksandr Tkachuk, director and co-founder of the World Embroidery Day.

At the event Poetry of Victory at 9 p.m., well-known cultural figures, volunteers, military personnel, and relatives of fallen soldiers will recite poems by contemporary authors and classics. Viewers will be able to watch a video projection of the performances on the facade of the Kyiv City State Administration.

Symbol of Ukrainian identity. History of Vyshyvanka

According to historical data, embroidered shirts appeared on Ukrainian lands before the sixth century.

In the old days, embroidered shirts were made from homemade self-woven cloth. The whiter and thinner the material was, the higher the value of the shirt. Wealthy families embroidered with colored silk with the addition of gold and silver threads, while those who didn't have much money made do with ordinary threads.

People always believed that embroidery would serve as a talisman for the person wearing the shirt. Embroidery was a woman's occupation and before taking up the needle, girls would pray and wash their hands, and in some cases even fast.

Vyshyvanka Day in Ukraine: History of international holidayPhoto: Embroidery Day is celebrated every third Thursday in May (Vitalii Nosach, RBC-Ukraine)

Each region of Ukraine boasts its own unique embroidered ornament. Among them are various geometric shapes, squares, rhombuses, crosses, as well as flowers and animals.

Researchers of Ukrainian embroidery count more than 200 ancient stitches based on 20 embroidery techniques (satin stitch, spikelet stitch, bottom stitch, knots, lace, twisted stitch, cutting, piercing, goat, braid, lace).

  • Black is the predominant color in embroidery in the Ternopil region. According to legend, in ancient times the Tatars killed all the men in the region. The land became black with spilled blood. The surviving women swore to the dead that for the next 7 generations, they would wear only black embroidery.
  • The central regions of Ukraine often used white thread embroidery, and the emphasis was more on the relief of the pattern than on the color scheme.
  • White-on-white embroidery was used in the Poltava region.
  • In the Zhytomyr region, geometric patterns were widespread, mostly with red thread on a white background. The shirts depicted grapes, a symbol of family, and viburnum, which personified Ukrainian spirituality.
  • Embroideries from the Sumy region depicted birds and flowers.
  • Chernihiv region is characterized by a clear and small cross.
  • In the Kyiv region, a combination of white, red, and black shades of floral motifs was valued.
  • In the South, distinctive cross-stitch designs were predominantly floral.
  • The West of Ukraine is rich in floral and bright ornaments.
  • In the eastern regions, red and black (Donetsk region) or red and blue (Luhansk region) colors were more often used in embroidery, and lush flowers and trees were depicted.

The types of ornamentation and techniques differed not only from region to region but also from family to family. They were passed down from generation to generation.

Thus, vyshyvanka became an integral element of the culture, history, and genetic code of the Ukrainian people.