Ukrainians in Warsaw jump over a bonfire, float braids to celebrate solstice custom away from home

Ukrainians in Warsaw jump over a bonfire, float braids to celebrate solstice custom away from home

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Ukrainians in Warsaw jumped over a bonfire and floated braids to honor the vital powers of water and fire on the Vistula River bank Saturday night, as they celebrated their solstice tradition of Ivan Kupalo Night away from war-torn home. Hundreds joined the event, most of them war refugees.

“We are doing this traditional thing here to keep up our culture which needs all our support now because Russia is trying to kill everything that is Ukrainian,” said Viktoria Pogrebniak, 29, of the Euromaidan-Warszawa social initiative of the Ukrainians that organized the festivities.

“We want the people who have left Ukraine to remember their tradition and to remember that they have a bond with Ukraine,” Pogrebniak told The Associated Press.

Families came with children and dogs for the relaxed event, which also included a small fair with goods and fried sausages to buy. Some people were wearing traditional embroidered shirts and dresses. Women made and wore flower-and-grain ear braids. Proceeds from the event are to help buy drones for the Ukrainian army battling Russia’s invasion.

“People have come and that is really cool that they have not forgotten our traditions and that we are meeting here, even though it’s in Poland and not in Ukraine,” said festively dressed Anastassia Haydamaka, 20, from the western town of Khmelnytskyi.

Rooted in a pagan Slavic tradition of love and fertility, the Kupalo ceremonies mark the advent of summer and are supposed to bring a good harvest and help young girls and boys find good partners in marriage for life. Couples who jump off fire together will live in harmony. Girls float their braids hoping that boys who see them will become their loved husbands.

Linked to water, the tradition was later also associated with St. John the Baptist in Christianity. In Poland, floating off the braids on the year’s shortest night is called St. John’s Night.

Millions of Ukrainian refugees sought safety in Poland after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of their country on Feb.24, 2022. Some have moved on, but nearly 1.5 million are now officially registered for work and social benefits. Some 100,000 Ukrainian children attend schools in Poland, and another 100,000 are in pre-school age here, according to government figures.


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