Since early ages, more than the main source of subsistence or an important source for the national economy, in the past and present times, Ukrainian identity as a whole is strongly associated with the natural world and with plants in particular.
For the American horticulturist Brendan Keegan, who lived in Ukraine for several years, “botanically inclined people” from different nationalities might even be envious of Ukraine’s calendar! And he can explain! According to Keegan, in Ukraine, the names of months coincide with natural events. For example, Berezen’ (March) means “birch” and indicates the time to tap the birches for their sweet sap. Kviten’ (April) is a “flower” when the earliest blooms appear. Lypen’ (July) is “linden,” marking the long summer evenings when this tree’s sweet aroma bathes Ukrainian towns. Zhovten’ (October) means “yellowing,” referring, of course, to changing leaves, while Lystopad (November) translates literally as “leaf fall.” Examples such as these abound in Ukrainian culture.
Plants are also widely featured in Ukrainian poetry and literature, especially in the work of Ukraine’s national poets, such as Taras Shevchenko, but also in popular jokes! Alina starts laughing when reminded that growing plants get a familiar place even in their jokes. The joke: “Ukrainians in Siberia asked locals: ‘Why don’t you grow?’ and their answer was ‘Не ростёть’ (a funny ‘it doesn’t grow’ is how it sounds to Ukrainians), and then after a season, Ukrainians grew and harvest all around” – it’s a joke because a lot of Ukrainians, even being forced displaced to different parts, sometimes inhospitable places, they found a way to cultivate and plant gardens. “My grandfather always told this joke and laughed with sad eyes”, says Alina, remembering that hardship and displacement have been part of her family and other Ukranian families for so long.
By the way, Alina Biellun is a Ukrainian visual artist passionate about plants and the coordinator of the Road of Hope project to welcome Ukrainians in the Netherlands called “Together”. In a brilliant attempt of expressing the Ukrainian attachment to nature, always present as an inner manifestation of resistance and survival, she created the Art Project called “Rootless”. Here is the “open call”, in her own words:
<< An artist from Ukraine, temporarily located in the Netherlands, invites temporarily displaced Ukrainian men and women to join the creation of participative work in the Art Project “Rootless”. Through conversations, memories, drawing, research, growing plants, creating gardens. >>
It seems that forced displaced Ukrainians will always call to cultivate and grow, no matter where they might be. Not by chance, Alina’s personal favourite month is “Traven” (May), which means “Grassy“ – when the greens are growing.
If you are a Ukrainian who loves plants and was forced to relocate due to the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, you have the opportunity to become part of this Art Project by filling out this registration form.