A portrait of Iryna Piontkivska
Iryna Piontkivska, an economist and avid crafter from Ukraine, will give a lecture on "Ukrainian Language and Cultural Competency." Contributed photo.

Ukraine’s history and cherished traditions will be the topic of an upcoming Lunch and Learn Series

Iryna Piontkivska, a Ukrainian economist and crafter, will present ‘Ukrainian Language and Cultural Competency’ on March 23.

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Iryna Piontkivska agreed to present the topic “Ukrainian Language and Cultural Competency” for the VCU Continuing and Professional Education’s Lunch and Learn Series before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The importance of sharing Ukraine’s history and culture is now “a really personal endeavor,” said Piontkivska, a Ukrainian economist and crafter.

Her one-hour virtual presentation at noon on March 23 will include many of her country’s traditions, such as pysanka, the ancient tradition of decorating eggs. Registration is required for the free program.

Pysanka is just one part of the rich culture of Ukraine. Piontkivska’s presentation also will include Ukraine’s geography, history, embroidery, weaving, painting and ceramics as well as music, dance and architecture.

“Many people know the Ukrainian geography now because of what is going on in my country,” she said. “I want to also talk about the country’s historical background and its role in European history. Ukraine is a sovereign nation with its own language and culture regardless of what Russian propaganda lies. I want to cover as many aspects of our history and culture as I can so people are aware of our contributions.”

She will talk about music and songs that are a vital part of the country’s culture.

“For example, ‘Carol of the Bells’ is a Ukrainian folk song. It’s a very old song. Many people know the tune, but don’t know it belongs to Ukrainian cultural heritage,” she said.

Five eggs with colorful patterns sitting on yellow tissue paper
Piontkivska's lecture will discuss the Ukrainian tradition of decorating eggs, named "pysanka," which are known for their beautiful design and colors. Contributed photo.

Ukrainian cuisine also will be discussed because more than 50% of Ukrainian land is farmland. The country produces a variety of grains and produce used in bread making and dishes like borscht, a sweet and sour beet-root soup.

“I’ll also talk about rye and wheat breads as well as Easter and wedding bread. Ukraine is famous for its breads,” she said. 

Piontkivska finds it difficult to talk about the war going on in Ukraine.

“I’m in shock. At first I was in denial because I thought it couldn’t happen to a peaceful country in the middle of Europe. Now, it’s a blatant war. It’s extremely painful to watch it unfold,” she said. “I have extended family and people I know are there. Some are now refugees in Europe. But my parents and my 96-year-old grandmother can’t leave. I pray for them to stay safe.”

Piontkivska is the first speaker in VCU Continuing and Professional Education’s new series of free one-hour virtual sessions by experts from the community who will share different languages and cultures.

The next event, “Arabic Language and Cultural Competency,” will be held Tuesday, March 29, and will be led by Kamilia Rahmouni, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Another upcoming session, “Francophone World Language and Culture Competency,” will be held Tuesday, May 3, and will be led by Ngoc-My Guidarelli, a catalog librarian with VCU Libraries and adjunct French professor in the School of World Studies.