On every third Thursday in May (this year it is May 17), Ukrainians all over the world celebrate Vyshyvanka Day, adorning Ukrainian embroidered shirts to preserve their ancestral traditions and also to stand in solidarity with Ukraine. There are 60 countries around the world in which Ukrainians take part in the International Vyshyvanka Day. The idea of celebrating this day is quite new; in 2006, several students and professors from Chernivtsi National University put on embroidered shirts as a part of a special flash mob. Lesya Voroniuk, one of the students, proposed her coursemates and students to choose a day and put on vyshyvankas. She was inspired, by the way, by another student Ihor Zhytariuk, who regularly came to classes in the embroidered clothes.
The ethnic motives are not only a part of Ukrainian embroidered garb but a real hit in world fashion, which brought Ukrainian costume on to the top catwalks of the US and Europe.
The patterns of embroidery are very symbolic, and each Ukrainian region has its own unique “embroidery code”. The patterns might be geometric, floral or even zoomorphic. For example, in Poltava region, embroidered shirts are usually stitched with white thread, rarely with red or grey. The shirtfronts are decorated with white patterns using sating stitch technique. Design common for Kyiv region is geometric and floral patterns with stylized bunches of grapes, hop flowers, and eight-petaled rosettes. Basic pattern colors are white, red, and black. Polychrome ornament, made by cross-stitch or half-cross-stitch methods, is usual for Kharkiv region. In southern Ukrainian regions embroidery technique is similar to central region forms. Western parts of Ukraine use different techniques (cross-stitch, curly stitch, openwork, needle-weaving), creating an endless variety of the designs. The needlework of Bukovyna is believed to be one of the most unusual in Ukraine. It usually includes plenty of colors combining with gold and silver thread.
Vyshyvanka is Ukraine’s traditional clothing, which has not only cultural meaning but also a political one. To be more precise, it is subjected to political instrumentalization, and its meaning changes according to the political epoch. Thus, in the middle of the 19th century, vyshyvanka was publicly dressed by Ukrainophils, first representatives of the national movement.
Brotherhood of Taras
In that times, vyshyvanka was a typical element of peasant garb, so when Ukrainian noblemen wore vyshyvankas when attending Kyiv university or other official institutions, it was something shocking. It served as a kind of expressions of protest. This is how vyshyvanka became a symbol of a national liberating movement. In the 20th century, vyshyvanka was used by the bearers of the opposite political forces. After creation of Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, its leaders committed to Ukrainization, the policy of increasing the usage and facilitating the development of the Ukrainian language and promoting other elements of Ukrainian culture, in various spheres of public life (education, publishing, government, religion). In terms of this political course, vyshyvanka became a widespread element of Communist Party cadres.
Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964
Since the Soviet Union's dissolution, vyshyvanka was commonly used by the anti-communist oppositionists.
Viacheslav Chornovil, first leader of the People's Movement of Ukraine (better known as Rukh)
After 1991, the embroidered shirt was postulated as a national symbol, and those trends have accelerated after 2014. Embroidery again became an element of the ceremonial dress of a state official, which in fact contradicts the “people's” roots of this outfit.