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American Folklife Center Collections: Ukraine

This guide provides access to ethnographic resources documenting expressive culture in Ukraine, and in the Ukrainian diaspora, at the Library of Congress.


Fleischhauer, Carl, photographer. Image of Mrs. Maria Brama, Egg Decorator, Chicago, IL, 1977. Chicago Ethnic Arts Collection. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

The Ukrainian collections stewarded by the American Folklife Center (AFC) demonstrate the powerful role of traditional culture in the lives of Ukrainians and among Ukrainian diasporic communities. The AFC holds 23 collections with Ukrainian materials. The collections include sound recordings, interviews, photographs, videos, and musical transcriptions spanning from 1909 to the mid-1990s. The collections prominently feature Ukrainian communities in the United States. Photographs from Chicago’s Ukrainian community and interviews with Ukrainian-Americans in Rhode Island, are examples. Several collections feature music, chant, and prayer by Jews of Ukrainian descent.

The American Folklife Center's research and public programs also feature a wealth of Ukrainian traditions. The AFC has created six podcasts/blogs, hosted four public programs, and sponsored three lectures about Ukrainian traditional culture. These programs range from a scholarly lecture on post-Chornobyl Ukraine to a concert performance by Ukrainian American bandura player, Julian Kytasty.

This research guide provides an overview of these collections. The guide details featured collections and provides digital access to nearly all of the AFC's Ukrainian holdings. Given the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, we hope these collections demonstrate the resilience of Ukrainian people and inspire others to carry forward these traditions to sustain Ukrainian identity.

A special thanks to Regina Lyahovestskaya, Darka Lassowsky Nebesh, and Ann Hoog. In 2011, they created a finding aid for Ukrainian materials in the collections of the American Folklife Center. This research guide quotes, borrows from, and extends their work.


Rylskyi Institute Ukrainian Cylinder Recordings

One of the most important collections stewarded by the American Folklife Center is the Rylskyi Institute Ukrianian Cylinder Recordings. From 1909 to 1939, Ukrainian folklorists and musicologists associated with the Rylskyi Institute of Art Studies, Folklore, and Ethnology in Kyiv, recorded songs, folk music, and oral traditions from two areas of Ukraine -- Kharkhiv and the Carpathian region of Eastern Galicia. At the time of the recordings, Kharkhiv was part of Soviet Ukraine and the Carpathian region of Eastern Galicia was in interwar Poland. Today, both areas are part of Ukraine. What is significant about this collection is that they feature recordings of Ukrainian kobzar musicians from the late 1920s to the 1930s. A kobzar, or lirnyky, is a bardic musician who, during the recording period, was usually blind. Kobzaris specialized in two musical genres. They played dumi, a genre of epic songs, and psal’my—a repertory of religious songs based on non-liturgical texts found in village settings. During Stalinist purges of the 1930s, many kobzaris were killed or arrested by Soviet forces. Undoubtedly, this silenced others who played this music. These collections are significant as they document an important musical culture that was nearly erased by imperial state violence.

In 1992, staff at the American Folklife Center digitized the Rylskyi Institute Cylinder Recordings for preservation. Copies of the recordings were sent back to the Ril's'kyi Center in Kyiv, Ukraine. In 1994, AFC staff member Joe Hickerson visited Kyiv, meeting with colleague Dr. Valentyna Borysenko and others working with the collections. He documented his experiences in this edition of Folklife Center News -- a former publication of the American Folklife Center.

To learn more about the collections, visit the collections record and finding aid.

Collections of Interest

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

Podcasts and Blog Posts

In the video below, Roman Kovbasniuk teaches viewers how to make holubtsi (Ukrainian stuffed cabbage leaves). Kovbasniuk, a Ukrainian-American living in Whippany, New Jersey, learned to cook Ukrainian food from his family and surrounding community. New Jersey boasts a sizeable Ukrainian community, even as it is sandwiched between New York and Pennsylvania -- states with largest populations of Ukrainian-Americans. Kovbasniuk learned how to make holubtsi from his grandmother, Nina Kovbasniuk, when she was in her mid-90s. To read the recipe, visit the Folklife Today blog highlighting Kovbasniuk's work. The video below is a part of the American Folklife Center's Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey initiative, which celebrates how foodways are essential to create, reinforce, and reinvent community.

Additional Podcasts and Blog Posts

This podcast provides an overview of Ukrainian collections in the AFC, with links to interviews, photographs, and concerts of Ukrainian traditions.

This blog post, by AFC Folklife Specialist Michelle Stefano, honors the work of Taissa Decyk. Decyk was an Ukrainian American artist who specialized in pysanky -- the tradition of Ukrainian egg decoration -- while living in Rhode Island.

This blog post, by AFC Folklife Specialist Stephanie Hall, argues for the importance of material culture traditions. She features examples of Ukrainian pottery, made by Michael Huminiak, collected for the Chicago Ethnic Arts Collection.

This blog past, by AFC Folklife Specialist Stephanie Hall, gives a history of egg decorating traditions. Ukrainian egg decorating (pysanky) is featured in the post.

This blog post, by AFC Folklife Specialist Stephanie Hall, provides a history of Nina Tarasova, an "interpreter of Russian folk songs," who was famous in the late 1910s and early 1920s in the United States. Tarasova was born in the town of Novo-Nikolayevka, which now lies in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast of Ukraine.

Public Programming

Gerdan is a musical ensemble specializing in the traditional music of Ukraine. The group is led by Dr. Solomiya Gorokhivska and Dr. Andrei Pidkivka. Gorokhivska was born and raised in the musical communities of Ukraine. She moved to the United States to pursue a PhD in musical performance at Catholic University of America. Pidkivka is also a native of Ukraine and earned a Doctorate of Music Arts degree from Michigan State University. The group has performed in Europe, South America, and Asia, and are often found on stages in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. The concert below is from a 2014 performance in the Whittall Pavilion at the Library of Congress. The concert was presented as a part of the Homegrown Concert Series at the American Folklife Center. The Homegrown Concert Series honors and celebrates musical and dance traditions from around the world, featuring some of the most talented performers in their respective traditions. 

Additional Public Programming

An-sky Yiddish Heritage Ensemble was formed to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the historic An-sky Expedition of 1911-1914, an ethnographic collecting trip documenting Jewish culture in Russia and Ukraine. This concert performance, which took place on June 25, 2013, features a diverse program of rare Yiddish folksongs and klezmer instrumentals.

Harmonia, a band from Cleveland, Ohio, presents both rural and urban folk music of Eastern Europe, ranging from the Danube to the Carpathians. Harmonia’s repertoire reflects the cultures of this region: Hungarian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Romanian, Croatian, and Romany. They appeared at the Library of Congress on July 11, 2013.

Julian Kytasty is a third-generation bandura player, who was born in Detroit, Michigan, into a family of Ukrainian refugees who came to the United States after World War II. He first learned to play the bandura from his father and grandfather, and from his great uncle Hryhory Kytasty, a renowned composer and conductor. He appeared, via live streamed concert, at the Library of Congress in mid-2022.

Lectures of Interest

This lecture provides an overview of important Ukrainian collections at the American Folklife Center. The lecture was presented by ethnomusicologist Darka Lassowsky Nebesh on August 7, 1996.

This lecture details the important of ritual celebrations of Ivan Kupalo, the mid-summer festival of St. John the Baptist, in post-Soviet Ukraine. The lecture was presented by Dr. Natalie Kononenko on June 16, 2004 as part of the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series

This lecture, by Dr. Myron O. Stachiw, details the effects of the nuclear explosion at Chornobyl on cultural heritage in the region, based on field work in the area from 1994 to 2005. The lecture was presented at the Library of Congress on July 13, 2005.