Destinations, Europe, Travel Blog

How I ended up making Motanka dolls in Ukraine

February 11, 2014
Ukrainian Dolls

Yes, you read it right, dolls. I never thought that I’ll be making dolls and especially in a country like Ukraine.

After walking around Kiev, I, Claudia, a fellow traveller, and Natalya our Active Ukraine tour guide travelled 20 minutes to the outskirts of the city for lunch and our handicrafts session. The last time I did serious handicrafts was in high school, and I remember that I was pretty bad at it.

Yulia, our host, greeted us as we entered her home. Yulia, her boyfriend and their dog welcomed us to their humble apartment.  We were hungry and fortunately to my relief, she ushered us immediately to the dining table for lunch.

Yulia prepared varenyky (potato dumplings), borscht (beet soup) and salo (cured pork fat) . And yes, you guess it, the food was delicious. I particularly can’t get enough of salo especially when eaten with salt and raw garlic cloves.

Over lunch, we chatted about Kiev, the city and their culture. Yulia does arts and crafts as her profession. She paints and sculpts eggs and makes dolls for a living. She even crafted dolls for display on one of Kiev’s biggest Church. And she does this travel session together with her sister as part of their sidelinebusiness. So I’m happy to see that we have experts to teach an amateur like me.

After the hearty meal, we proceeded to the living room to start the doll making action.

We were brought to create a Motanka doll – a traditional handmade doll that was once use as a symbol for fertility and procreation. In Ukrainian tradition, the doll acts as a talisman that symbolises wisdom and protection for home.

We were handed the materials – cloth, thread, cotton balls, rice and flowers to stuff our doll. We had to first make the head and stuff it with rice. Once it pretty much look like a head, we went on tying knots for the hands and the body.

After, we had to tie in two strings around the head, alternating to make a square in the centre of the face. Ukrainian dolls are not your typical doll, it has no eyes nor a face, just a square that made it look like a cyclop. Yulia told us that there was no face as they don’t want dolls to reflect much of the human form, as they are afraid of it being use for black magic (=Voodoo dolls in some culture). Instead,of a face it has cross that is symbolises the sun.

It was an arduous task to do that required some patience and magic slight of hands. I finally made the face of my doll and we put in some clothes and a head band.

My verdict? I don’t think I’m seeing myself doing dolls for a living. But definitely, it was an activity that is out of the ordinary and I enjoyed doing on a Sunday afternoon.

But one thing is for sure, I’ll stick back to communications as a day job.

I had an amazing time with Active Ukraine who arranged this doll making activity as part of the Kiev’s Off The Beaten Path tour. Many thanks to Oksana and Natalya for the amazing experience. All views however are my own.

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