Malanka in Krasnoilsk: the most flamboyant holiday of Ukraine

You are doing the right thing being interested in Malanka. It is an extraordinary Ukrainian holiday that will show you a whole new side of Ukraine. Visit the Malanka festival in the village of Krasnoilsk to discover Carpathian mountains, ancient rituals, and long-standing Ukrainian traditions.

You can experience Malanka in Krasnoilsk on tours:

What is Malanka?

Malanka is an ancient Ukrainian folk holiday combining Christian and pagan traditions. This quirky carnival marks the beginning of the new year and will surprise you with its stunning costumes, the creativity of locals, and joyfulness. Malanka is celebrated once a year, on 13-14 January.

A few things a traveler should know

Before we get into what happens during Malanka, let’s go over a few tips for travelers.

1.  First and Main rule for tourists at Malanka in Krasnoilsd is very simple: watch and enjoy. You do not need to analyze what is happening, it is enough to just give in to the emotions, feel the rhythm of the song ‘Ursu’ (bear). Make sure that there’s enough storage in your photo camera. You will take tons of photos on this day.

Malanka in Krasnoilsk

2. The second rule is: don’t try to participate. In contrast to Brasilian, Italian or French carnivals, Malanka is not a carnival and it’s not organized for the joy of travelers.

Malanka is first of all a pagan ritual – ancient and powerful. Locals still perform it in the same way they did it hundreds of years ago.

Останніми роками звичай модернізується, все менше юнаків та хлопчиків хочуть брати у ньому участь, все важче їм дається виготовлення костюмів. Часом здається, що можна піти шляхом найменшого спротиву: вдягнути готову гумову мармузу Шрека і затаритись яскравим шматтям у секонд-хенді.

In recent years, the custom has been modernized, fewer and fewer young men and boys want to take part in it, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to make costumes. Sometimes participants want to follow an easy path: put on a rubber Shrek masc and get some extravagant clothing in a vintage store.

However, there is still a lot of authenticity in  Krasnoilsk- the one that melts the hearts of ethnographers and folklorists. Therefore, it is better not to come here in a Pikachu hat or a pirate costume. Malankara parade will politely ignore you, and you will feel inappropriately dressed.

The ritual is always sacred, even when several hundred young people take part in it. Just as you shouldn’t wear homemade robes to church, you shouldn’t go to Krasnoilsk Malanka dressed for Halloween.

3. The last rule will save you some money and nerve cells: be ready for checkpoints but be rational. Popularity always has another side, a dark one. Malanka in Krasnoilsk is the biggest Malanka in our country, and Malanka bloodsuckers have been piggy-backing on it for years. You will definitely come across them. Furthermore, you will become sick of them.

Some years pirate extortions begin from the village of Budenets. Other times, if you are lucky, they will demand money for letting your car pass only beginning from the village of Chudeia. Anyway, if on the first checkpoint travelers are excited (“Wow, Malanka is beginning!”), at the second one, their excitement fades.

Enthusiasm disappears on the third, greed raises its head on the fourth (how many times do we have to pay them?). Then comes the turn of irritation. It is better to pass checkpoints without stopping and with grave faces. True Malanka participants are very skeptical of such impostors. They have nothing to do with tradition: a simple racket in order to money to get a bottle of something strong. Or a box. Or even a few boxes. You should have very small bills with you. Souvenir papers that look like money can also come in handy.

Main characters

We have looked over the rules, now let’s see what Malanka characters are. The main role in the festival belongs to the kings of local forests – Bears.

Their costumes can be made of fur, but most often made of reeds, which are collected for such an occasion a few months before the event. Colorfully dressed Gypsies lead the wild beasts on iron chains through the streets. The most ambitious of them have several bears, and the warder, a mandatory attribute of the costume, is often huge in size.

Boys and young men (and in recent years also girls) in national costumes are Kings and Queens. Gender is determined by accessories: the Kings have a sword in their hands, the Queen has a handbag. Rows of necklaces on high hats-crowns, like circles on a cut of a tree, will tell how old is the headdress. Sometimes they can be as old as 40 years.

Adult men in the costumes of Grandparents walk alongside the Kings and Queens. In their hands, they have long perch sticks, which they lift high into the air while dancing. Wearing high cylinders, with diplomats in their hands, Jews are walking. They are accompanied by crazy-looking Doctors it is better to avoid them, they will cure all diseases before you have time to escape.

Gypsies dance in bright dresses – often this role goes to girls. The image of a Rider or a Horse has been preserved in several corners. At the head of each Malanka is a young man in a black jacket and a hat – this is the Commandant, he is the most authoritative figure in the Malanka. It is he who gathers all Malanka participants, distributes roles among them, collects money from landlors whole houses they visit. The commandant’s family has the difficult task to prepare meals and drinks for Malanka participants.

The venue – Krasnoilsk settlement

We already know who is who, and now it let’s get acquainted with Krasnoilsk. Because although there is only one village, there are five Malankas in it, and everyone is different, the famous reed Bears look different at each event.

A considerable (almost 11 thousand inhabitants) village was sewn like a patchwork quilt in the 18th century from several separate villages. The names of those settlements are preserved in the names of the corners (village districts), which each prepare their own Malanka. The closest to the entrance to the village is the Upper Putna. Oh, the local Malanka is a joy to the eye. The most colorful – for sure! Local bears from the middle of the twentieth century look like round haystacks. And their Gypsies are generously decorated from head to toe with colored ribbons. Their warders are not too large.

Very often a parade of local Malanka participants, before going on a long trip from here to the village council, warms up, sings in the yard of the only in the village five-story building. Every year the borders of real policemen stand near it. Sometimes they do not let cars that reached Krasnoilsk at noon pass.

The next will be Nizhnyaya Putna. This district’s Malanka is the one most photographed and delightful for women. Half-naked Vikings in furs smeared with ashes, epic warriors in chains. Gypsies here are often half-naked, their warders are the largest. The bears still resemble haystacks. Other Malanka participants are rather skeptical about Nizhnyaya Putna, believing that in the pursuit of photogenicity they have forgotten about authenticity. But the local gypsies still look very interesting. Take a look.

From the streets that flow into the main road on the left, Malanka participants from the corners of Trazhany and Dial will appear closer to noon. Their Bears are sometimes called winged. But these broadening, sometimes up to 6 m wide shoots are not wings, but bear shoulders. This is how they interpret one of the verses of the Malanka anthem – Ursu, that tells us how a caught bear was brought to a village with a spruce tree tied to its front paws.

The incredible epicness of the Winged Bears is somewhat offset by the plastic flowers and New Year’s tinsel that adorn the reed costumes. This outfit weighs up to 100 kg, so the Bears from Trazhany and Dial often stop and sit down or lie down to rest. It is impossible to get up in reed pants by yourself – the Bear, who has rested a bit and had a snack, is lifted by two men.

Цигани в Тражанах носять червоні штани та хустки, банданами пов’язані на голові.

Gypsies in Trazhany wear red pants and scarves tied on their heads.

Finally, farthest from the entrance, on a hill, there is the corner of Sus – the custodian of the most cherished authenticity. The paws or shoulders of the local Bears are not frightening in size, but resemble the shape of a reed heart. The Bears have piles on their heads, and a white handkerchief is tied under their chins so that dry grass does not sting their faces. Gypsies in leather jackets and hats with small warders decorated with red tassels often jump on Bears lying on their backs during the dance. It looks a little scary, but very powerful.

A few more words about the eternal scenario of local Malanka. First of all, the Commandant asks the masters of houses (in Romanian, EVERYTHING is in Romanian here) if they let Malanka into the house. Of course, they do! Then Grandparents are the first to dance, having fun jumping with perch. Then the Kings and Queens sing in the circle “Ode to Unity” by Vasile Alecsandri – the former anthem of Romania and even (in 1991-94) Moldova. Then comes the time of the Jews and the Doctors. Oh, and they will do damage, oh, and they have crazy jokes!

Finally, the culmination: the Bears enter the yard with their gypsy gadmen. Roar, belligerent shouts, a short battle. Ursu ​​sounds, and everyone sings it – both Malanka participants and owners. After that, the Commandant aloud announces the amount that the owner donated to Malanka. And the amount is considerable: from 300 hryvnias.

And then there is a new way around and the holiday continues. From year to year, since old times, until the Carpathian mountains stand.

Useful information about Malanka in Krasnoilsk

Дата проведення: відбувається щорічно, починається ввечері 13 січня свято Маланки (Меланки, Маланії), закінчується під вечір 14 січня (Василія).

Місце проведення: Чернівецька область, Сторожинецький район, смт. Красноїльськ.

Час проведення: Маланкарі сходяться біля 14:00 на центральну вулицю селища Красноїльськ і заходячи в усю двори йдуть на площу перед селищною радою, де орієнтовно о 17:00 збираються всі гурти та відбувається загальне святкування закінчення свята Маланки.

GPS: 48.016741, 25.578162

Date: annually, the holiday of Malanka (Melanka, Malania) begins on the evening of January 13, and ends in the evening of January 14.

Venue: Chernivtsi region, Storozhynets district, Krasnoilsk settlement.

Time: Malanka participants get together at about 14:00 on the main street of the village of Krasnoilsk and visiting all houses move to the square in front of the village council, where approximately at 17:00 all groups gather and there is a general celebration of the end of Malanka.

GPS: 48.016741, 25.578162

We invite you to see five unique Malankas from different districts of Krasnoilsk on our tours:

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