Each country has its own folk symbols, which are respected and honored by people. They reflect the history of the nation, depict its lifestyle. Ukraine has diverse animal and bird symbols, which are mentioned in literature, music and folk art. It`s hard to define one main Ukraine official animal or bird, because all symbols play an important role in representing Ukrainian nation.
Bear is a national animal of Ukraine. It is wise, strong and independent. In Ukraine it symbolizes fruitfulness and health, and his annual awakening in spring is a symbol of life renewal, the beginning of a new life cycle.
Bears are so honored in Ukraine that they have their own calendar days:
- 27th September (the Exaltation of the Holy Cross) – bear falls asleep in his den.
- 25th December and 6th February – bear turns over on its other side.
- 15th February (Candlemas) – bear goes out to watch winter meets spring.
- 7th April (Annunciation) – bear wakes up and comes out of his den.
To compare with other wild animals in Ukraine, bear is often mentioned in fairy tales (“The Mitten”, “The Bear and The Fox”, “The Man and The Bear”), riddles and songs, where it is the embodiment of brute force, kindness and naivety.
Sheep is the symbol of masculinity, energy, power and wellness. Its horns are the emblem of terrestrial vegetation, and its fleece is the symbol of fertility.
Ukrainian people believed the sheep brought them fortune, wealth and happiness. There was a special ritual in Ukraine many years ago. During Ukrainian festive events, for example, wedding or Christmas, people sat down onto the wooly sheepskin that was the guarantee of future wellbeing and success.
Sheep motifs are often used in Ukrainian arts and crafts by wood carvers, weavers and painters. “Sheep horns” patterns are also depicted on Ukrainian Easter eggs (pysanky) and symbolize fertility and welfare.
Horse is Ukrainian animal symbol of energy and power, passion and instincts, dedication and work devotion. In ancient times the horse was always faithful heroes` and gods` assistant.
During Cossack times horses gained special importance in Ukraine. It was a horse who always accompanied gallant soldiers, experienced in battles and useful in domestic life. That`s why Cossacks called them “inseparable friends”, “devoted brothers”, that never betrayed them.
In Ukrainian folklore a horse is not just an animal, but also an embodiment of liberty, an immortal symbol of disobedience of Ukrainian nation. There is no nation in the world except Ukrainians that has such a great amount of songs that glorified this truthful animal.
Cow is the symbol of productive forces, maternal instinct and prosperity. It is a personification of infinite kindness that is not capable of causing harm.
In Ukraine cow is the main source of food and milk, that`s why it`s taken care of, respected and treated among villagers. There are many rituals in Ukraine devoted to cow`s honoring. At Christmas and at Easter people regale cows with their traditional Ukrainian dish “kutya”, at Epiphany their domestic animals are aspersed with holy water.
Ukrainians associate cow with wellness and wellbeing. In Ukraine people say “If the cow is in the yard, the food is on the table”, “It`s hard without cow, as well as, in winter without coat”. That`s why cow is one of the most important and indispensible Ukraine native animals and symbols.
Stork is considered to be the national bird of Ukraine. It is a symbol of parental love, family welfare and patriotism. As far as stork is believed to be a sacred bird, it`s nest, built on the roof of the house, brings fortune and happiness to its hosts.
There is one Ukrainian legend, according to which, stork originated from human, who had sinned against God and was turned into a bird.
In Ukraine children are told storks bring babies to their parents. According to the legend many years ago people believed that embryo`s souls were hidden in swamps and only storks were able to bring them to their upcoming parents.
There are a lot of omens concerning storks in Ukraine.
- If the stork arrives at the native land, spring is coming.
- If the stork suddenly leaves its nest and never comes back, the house will be emptied soon.
- If a young girl notices first a flying stork in spring, she will get married this year.
- Pregnant woman should wear a talisman with stork`s image in order her childbirth to be successful.
Swallow is a symbol of revival, kindness and happiness. It brings luck to every family where it nests.
According to the legend, when Jesus Christ was crucified by Jews, swallows tried to steal the nails. That`s why they are called as “birds of God”.
In Ukrainian songs and poems swallow is a creature that brings good news, predicts love and wealth. Swallow is also a symbol of motherhood. On the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God children made clay swallows and gave their mothers, who kept their presents till the next holiday.
In Ukraine people believe in omen — if the swallow arrives home, spring is not far off. So when children noticed swallows in the sky they threw a handful of earth and shouted “Swallow, keep it for your nest”.
Nightingale is a holy bird, a symbol of kindness and love. Its songs are so pure and sweet that make people feel happy, lift in spirits and purify souls.
There is a legend about nightingale. Many years ago these birds lived only in India and flew all over the world to collect diverse songs for Indian king. Once a nightingale visited Ukraine, but there were only sad Ukrainian songs there, as people worked hard and were always tired. The bird decided to cheer them up with its melodious singing. People revived and surprised their oversea guest with their new cheerful songs. Since then every spring nightingales return to Ukraine to hear lovely Ukrainian songs.
In Ukrainian folklore nightingale is a symbol of volition, high inspiration and unsurpassed talent. This bird is often mentioned in Ukrainian songs and poems as a harbinger of spring. Nightingale patterns are popular in decorating Ukrainian embroidered towels.
Rooster is a symbol of fire and militancy, personification of constant vigilance. It is first who notices danger and reports about it. Ukrainians used to place rooster image as a talisman on the roofs and weathervanes. They believed it protected their houses from fire and other miseries.
People believe rooster crow scares evil spirits and other devilry. There are a lot of legends about witches and devils who gone away with the rooster crow early in the morning.
In Ukrainian folk culture rooster symbolizes light and sunny beginning, new birth and eternal life. In Petrikov painting rooster is a key symbol and a visit card of this traditional Ukrainian art.