Today is the 32nd anniversary of Ukrainian Independence. It is also day 546 since Russia began its war in Ukraine. On August 24, 1991, Ukraine regained its independence from the Soviet Union. The day is a powerful reminder of Ukrainian democracy and self-rule, and we celebrate the courage and bravery of the Ukrainian people.
Last week, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, I participated in a ritual performance that featured goddesses from around the world offering messages to the audience, each one wearing a beautiful mask hand-made by artist Lauren Raine.
Each of us was tasked with writing something that spoke to the challenges we see around the planet: pollution, starvation, inequality, war.
It was my honor to wear a mask of the goddess Lada, as well as my embroidered folk costume from Ukraine. I carried bread and salt on top of an embroidered rushnyk, in a traditional greeting.
In Ukraine, bread and salt are offered as a sacred tradition, incorporated into celebrations that include weddings, funerals, and holidays. I asked my aunt Katia Hrynewycz, who is a baker and the owner of Chicago Cake Art, to bake a special circular bread (korovai) that could be used in the performance and then shared with the audience.
There are so many ancient ideas and stories tied to bread in Ukrainian culture: The grain is symbolic of prosperity and fertility, the circle a symbol of eternity and community, the salt exemplifies wealth and also protection. The bread may be adorned with trees, braids, birds, and more, depending on the occasion. As is the case with Ukrainian pysanky and embroidery, every object that adorns Ukrainian bread is symbolic of a blessing or intention for the people who will receive it.
On Ukrainian Independence Day, I wanted to share Lada’s message:
We come to the threshold with bread and salt,
our greeting since before maps and borders.
We say Vitayemo to welcome guests
and offer communion with treasures of
the rich black soil we call chornozem:
grains we grind to bake this holiness,
salt precious and pulled from the ground,
to preserve, to give life flavor.
Everything we have loved and grown
and lost and buried, is in that black earth.
When we say Vitayemo, we are inviting you
into our home and into our story,
with wheat grown from the heart of our Mother,
and salt from her seas and stones,
We are sharing a part of ourselves,
a part of our ancestors, our roots deep in that fertile soil.
When we say Vitayemo, we are telling you that we see you.
and we will remember the way you receive our gifts:
Will you show gratitude?
Will you take nothing more than what was offered?
Will you share something of yourself?
Will you leave the space better than when you entered?
We are living the legacy of betrayal—
what happens to bread and salt
when all is blood and butchering?
When we say Vitayemo, we enter into relationship—
I am saying that I am open to you.
Can you feel the opening of my heart?
Do you see the ripping open of my heart?
Will you watch the bleeding of all who are held in my heart?
How will you cross the threshold?
Слава Україні! Героям слава!