hen I was a child growing up in Russia, one
of the first old folk fairytales I remember being told as a
bedtime story is the one of Vasilisa the Beautiful.
It tells the story of a young girl who is mistreated by an
evil stepmother, runs from home and is tasked with impossible
chores by the evil witch Baba Yaga. Her dead
mother's spirit in the form of a doll helps her though, and
after many trials and tribulations, Vasilisa returns home
bringing the light in form of a skull filled with embers.
The evil stepmother is robbed of her power(in some versions
she dies), and a grown Vasilisa ends up being noticed by the
Tsar; eventually marrying him.
As in all fairy tales, they live happily ever after. This tale
was collected along with many others by Russian librarian and
former disgraced law student Alexander Afanasyev
in the early 19th century. There was also a book with images
by the great illustrator Ivan Bilbin, a
student of Russian painter Ilya Repin, who
had also attended art school in Munich, Germany; which was
considered one of the foremost at the time.
I loved these illustrations and as a child could lose myself
in his fantastic imagery for hours at a time.
leaves the Baba Yaga's house with the glowing skull
evil Baba Yaga; Vasilisa's nemesis who she defeats with the help of
her mother's spirit
icon of my childhood days was Cheburashka, a
character from a 1965 children's book by Eduard Uspensky.
A small furry animal from an unspecified exotic country, he climbs
into a box full of oranges, falls asleep and is shipped to
Russia where he wakes up, which sets the stage for further
1969, the major Russian animated film studio Soyuzmultfil created
an animated puppet cartoon based on the book which was very popular.
Even today, it is a tradition to sing the famous "Birthday Song" from
the series when celebrating someone's birthday; the lyrics describe
Cheburashka playing accordion in the rain and receiving no less than
500 popsicles as a gift. Other characters in the show include:
pipesmoking and well read crocodile named Gena who
likes to play the accordion
friendly little girl named Galya; and Old
Lady Shopoklyak whose sidekick, the rat Lariska,
lives in her handbag. Shopoklyak is at first antagonistic but later
also becomes Cheburashka's friend. All these characters remain
cultural icons to this day!
Dancing is in our blood! From Ukrainian folk dancing, Russian Ballet
(the first Imperial Dance Academy was founded in 1738) to the
traditional Barynya, it remains a vibrant and deeply rooted art form.
Here are some links to cultural festivals with a variety of music and
If you are interested in the history of the Soviet Union
at all; this is one of the best web projects I have found. You can
browse through the whole stretch of it's existence by year or topic;
all accompanied by great examples of art, film, fine arts,
documents of social issues and much more. I have spent
hours on this site!