Russians and Ukrainians love flowers. Much of my time there was spent in wonderful open-air markets filled with flowers, food, and local artisans selling their crafts under the watchful eyes of the authorities.

Russian and Ukrainian folk arts are rooted in the cultural life of those countries and include objects which have historically been made and used within a traditional community. Like other folk art, they're expressions of a culture's heritage and creativity.

russian woolen shawl

(Above: a floral Pavlovo Posad woolen shawl, or babushka, identical to one I purchased in Russia and still a popular design today)

babushka making flatbread

(Above: a babushka, meaning both grandmother and shawl in Russian, making traditional flatbread to sell)

Pavlovo Posad Textiles

At the beginning of the 19th century, woolen shawls became fashionable in Russia. The first shawls were produced in the small town of Pavlovsky Posad in the Moscow Oblast during the middle of the 19th century. The background is usually a solid color; the pattern is a mixture of large and small floral designs, mainly roses. The shawls were often worn with traditional Russian folk costumes.

The predominant color on the shawls has been red, a color meaning "beautiful" in Russian culture. The scarves are still very popular today in Russia and the surrounding countries.

Matryoshka Dolls

Matryoshkas (Russian: матрёшка, IPA: [mɐˈtrʲɵʂkə], also known as Babushka dolls, stacking dolls, nesting dolls, Russian tea dolls, or Russian dolls, are a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another. The name Matryoshka (meaning little matron) is a diminutive form of the Russian female first name Matryona (Матрёна) or Matryosha.

russian nesting dolls

lovely painting of the Red Square

A set of Matryoshkas consists of a wooden figure that pulls apart at the middle to reveal a smaller figure of the same design inside, which has, in turn, another figure inside of it, and so on. The first Russian nested doll set was made in 1890 by wood-turning craftsman and woodcarver, Vasily Zvyozdochkin, from a design by Sergey Malyutin, a folk crafts painter.

The outer design was a woman dressed in a sarafan, a traditional long, shapeless Russian peasant jumper dress. The figures inside can be either gender; the innermost doll is typically a baby turned from a single piece of wood. Much of the artistry is in the design, which can be very elaborate. The dolls often follow a theme, varying from fairy tale characters to political leaders.

Pysanky Eggs

A pysanka (Ukrainian: писанка, plural: pysanky) is a Ukrainian Easter egg decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs using a wax-resist method. The word pysanka comes from the verb pysaty, meaning "to write" or "to inscribe" since the designs are inscribed with beeswax rather than painted on.

painted Russian eggs

Many other Central and Eastern European ethnic groups decorate eggs for Easter using wax resist. These include the Belarusians (пісанка, pisanka), Bulgarians (писано яйце, pisano yaytse), Carpatho-Rusyns (крашанкы, krašankŷ, or писанкы, pysankŷ), Croats (pisanica), Czechs (kraslice), Hungarians (hímestojás), Lithuanians (margutis), Poles (pisanka), Romanians (ouă vopsite, încondeiate or împistrite), Serbs (pisanica), Slovaks (kraslica), Slovenes (pirhi, pisanice, or remenke) and Sorbs (jejka pisać).

Folk Dolls

The Russian folk doll has a rich tradition and history. Usually made without adornments, it possesses deep meaning for the country's people.

Dolls have always been a favorite children’s toy as well as an integral part of any culture. Basic ideas about human relations and world order are passed on to a child with the help of toys. For centuries, traditional folk dolls have been a way to transmit cultural values and knowledge to the next generation.

traditional Russian doll

(Photos: above, Russian folk doll; below, an open-air market in Pushkin, Russia, and buskers in Leningrad)

open air market in Russia

young Soviets at a concert

young Soviet soldiers and teens

(A group of young Soviets at a concert)

Palekh Laquerware Miniatures

Palekh (Russian: Палехская миниатюра) is a Russian miniature folk painting done with tempera paints on varnished articles made of papier-mâché, such as small boxes, jewelry, compacts, and cigarette cases.

Palekh miniatures usually represent characters from real life, literary works, fairy tales, bylinas, and songs. They are painted with locally-sourced paints over a black background and are known for their delicate designs, abundance of golden shading, and accurate silhouettes of flattened figures. The designs often cover the surface of the lids and sides of the articles completely.

The charm of the characters, decorativeness of landscapes and architecture, and elongated proportions of the figures trace back to traditional icon painting. The miniatures are usually set off with a complicated pattern made from gold dissolved in aqua regia. Palekh is the most renowned of the four famous villages producing the art, the others being Kholuy, Mstyora, and Fedoskino which have similar, but clearly distinct, artistic styles.

laquered Russian tray

painted Russian jewelry

painted Russian brooch

wooden Russian tray

Petrykivka Ukrainian Folk Art

Petrykivka is a traditional Ukrainian decorative painting style originating in the village of Petrykivka, Ukraine, where it was traditionally used to decorate house walls and everyday household items. The earliest known examples of this style date from the 17th century, but it continues to thrive and develop as a modern art form.

The distinctive features of this folk art style are its flower patterns, brush techniques, and traditionally white background. However, contemporary painters often work on black, green, red or blue backgrounds.

Russian wooden box with blue flowers

(Above: Наталія Статива-Жарко / CC BY-SA (

painted Russian trivet

In 2012, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine recognized Petrykivka painting as part of the intangible cultural heritage of Ukraine, and it was included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013 (click link for video). Petrykivka painting has become a known brand in Ukrainian popular culture, and a Petrykivka trademark belonging to the artisans of the village has been created.

Russian couple with colorful painted house

(Petrykivka Photos via

Decorated Russian cottage

Walls of a decorated cottage

Burattino, aka, Pinocchio

Burattino is Russia's answer to Pinocchio, the long-nosed wooden puppet carved from a log by Papa Carlo, a poor barrel organ grinder. One day the puppet suddenly came to life. The character was created by Russian writer Alexei Tolstoi, who had read Pinocchio as a child. Subsequently, he lost the book and decided to write his own version for his children. Burattino became a cult character in the Soviet Union, and a 1975 film titled The Adventures of Burattino was wildly popular.

Russian ladies showing off dolls

The author's Pinocchio

(My Russian Burattino/Pinocchio with a traditional balalaika)

A Case In Point

The cultures of Russia and Ukraine have long traditions of achievement in many fields, folk art among them, and continue to have considerable influence on culture worldwide.

The Metro began operating in Moscow with just thirteen stations, but has since grown into the world’s fourth busiest transit system, spanning more than 185 miles with 188 stops along the way.

The Moscow Metro was one of the USSR’s most extravagant architectural projects, with stations constructed to be luxurious "palaces for the people". Joseph Stalin ordered the Metro’s artists and architects to design a structure that embodied svet (radiance or brilliance) and svetloe budushchee (a radiant future). With their high ceilings, reflective marble walls, and grandiose gold chandeliers, many Moscow Metro stations look more like art museums than subway stops.

Moscow Metro station

In spite of political differences, the people of Ukraine and Russia were warm and welcoming.

Smiling audience in Kiev

(Above: some new friends in Ukraine)

Ukranian friends of the author

(Impromptu entertainment by Russian friends)

The Red Square

The author in Russia

(The author by the fountain at the world-renowned Gum shopping mall, Red Square, Moscow); except for shawl and Petrykivka Ukrainian folk art, all photos are mine)