Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fairy tales and cartoons in Ukrainian parks

Out on a bit of a wild goose chase to find a vet clinic, we happened across this playground of fairy tales across the street from the Oleksiivska metro.

Fairytale Meadow
I did a little happy dance at seeing this place. Something new, something new! Oleksiivska is one area of town we haven't explored much and I've long been on a hunt to photograph the frequent сказка (skazka, fairytale) and мультик (multik, cartoon) themes in Ukrainian parks and playgrounds.

First up, these three lovely gentlemen, ready for some lunch:
In reference, perhaps, to the 1975 cartoon How The Cossacks Bought Salt (part of the entire "How the Cossacks..." series).

And then the quaint cast of курочка ряба (Speckled Hen): Ded, Baba, Mouse, and the Speckled Hen with her golden egg.
Click here for a YouTube animation of their tale.

Next, here's a guy that would probably look more familiar to you if someone hadn't broken off his most distinguishing feature-
Buratino! Known also as Pinocchio.
I'm not sure if there's a Jiminy Cricket in this Soviet version of the story, but there's something even better: a big turtle named Tortila : )

There's also a poodle involved, as seen in this fountain at the Kiev Zoo-
The entire cast of Buratino, including the evil puppeteer Karabas Barabas.

Speaking of evil, let's talk for a moment about the undisputed Queen of Slavic folklore- Baba Yaga.

Baba Yaga is an old witch, rumored to have an affinity for the taste of children. Like any witch worth her salt, she's of course able to transport herself by air. Here's Baba Yaga in her flying rig:
Found in a children's park in Yevpatoria.

Baba Yaga is also famous for her creepy chicken-footed изба (hut).
Yevpatoria again.
There used to be a restaurant here in Kharkov which offered diners the chance to party in Baba Yaga's hut. It looked cool every time we passed it during the day, but I'd imagine it could be a little creepy at night!

Back to Monday's trip to Fairytale Meadow...

For westerners, this scene needs no explanation-

- but this might.

Behold Barmaley, the pirate villain of one of the most popular Soviet cartoons, Doctor Aibolit (Dr. Ouch, it hurts!). He's been quoted as saying: "I'm ruthless, I'm bloodthirsty, I'm the evil robber Barmaley! I prefer not chocolate, not marmalade, but small children!" (I asked a Ukrainian friend if Barmaley eats children. The response: "There are different opinions on this issue. I think he does but it was never confirmed.")

Dr. Aibolit, by the way, is another can't-miss character. References to the good doctor's deeds are everywhere, including this set of murals on Revolyutsii street-

Every time I start feeling fairly knowledgeable about Ukraine, some pop culture reference to a skazka or multik comes up and I feel like a novice all over again. To help you avoid the same fate, here are eleven of the most recognizable faces from everyone's childhoods...

1. Ну, погоди! (Well, just you wait!)


The first Soviet/Russian cartoon I ever saw, as this is what our St. Petersburg-born teacher would occasionally show us in Russian 102. There's a great article with more info on this duo here.

Statues in a Yevpatoria children's park.

2. Чебурашка (Cheburashka)

This is another big name in Soviet cartoons. There are only four cartoons in this series, all starring Cheburashka, a cuddly creature unknown to science who shows up one day in a crate of fruit, and his good friend Crocodile Gena, a very classy accordian-playing reptile.

The main antagonist in this tale is an old woman named Shapoklyak. She usually tiptoes around, impeccably dressed, saying "хорошими делами прославиться нельзя" ("You won't get famous by doing good deeds"), which kind of makes me admire her feisty honesty.

Cheburashka is impossible to not notice in Ukraine- he's everywhere.

He's painted on the walls of local playgrounds:
Kharkov playground

His long-standing identity crisis is often the subject of attention:
from "What am I?"
Despite being 45 years old (in TV years), he's still used as a successful marketing tactic in today's competitive world:
Kids' store in Poltava

So take a couple minutes to get to know this little guy's story (and note that Cheburashka is not the same thing as chebureki [a tasty meat pastry] and if you accidentally ask for Cheburashka at a restaurant, you'll get a really weird look! It's like asking for a roasted Winnie-the-Pooh with mashed potatoes on the side :p)

3. Ежик в тумане (Hedgehog in the Fog)

When I first came to Ukraine, students would always ask if I'd seen this iconic 1975 cartoon.

Finally I did. 
What to say? 
It's strange. 
Really, really strange. 

I still see that owl in my nightmares.

4. Колобок (The Gingerbread Man)


Kharkov playground
Another story that needs no explanation (except that the main character is known as Kolobok and looks more like a smiley emoticon than a cookie).
Danger, Kolobok!

 Sadly, Kolobok's tale comes to a tragic end:
Overconfident pastry meets sly fox.

5. Царевна лягушка (The Frog Princess)


Yevpatoria park

Here's one more recognizable tale (with a reversal of genders in this version).

6. Алеша Попович (Alyosha Popovich)

Actually, no one ever mentioned this fellow to me but I figure if you've got your own brand of toilet paper, that's got to mean something!

7. Репка (The Giant Turnip)

Kharkov playground
If you prefer massive vegetables to take a more central role in stories, this one's for you.


8. Иван Царевич и Серый Волк (Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf)


Kharkov playground
We recently watched the new (2011) version of this old tale. 

The verdict? Very, very cool! Mermaids falling out of trees, scientist cats, Baba Yaga... what more could a viewer ask for?

Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf 2 was released in theaters last year.

9. Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке (The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish)

Yevpatoria park
This tale comes from a poem of Pushkin, but it feels familiar to my childhood too somehow... the story of a magical golden fish that grants wishes to a fisherman. Maybe there's a similar plot from the Brothers Grimm? Or Hans Christian Andersen?

10. Kарлсон (Karlson)


Karlson is another character everyone here knows.
Yevpatoria park

He was created by Astrid Lindgren, a Swedish name you may recognize as the author of the Pippi Longstocking series. Karlson is not one of my favorites. In fact, everyone in this cartoon is irksome- caricatured adults, a goody two-shoes child, and a obnoxious man with a propeller on his back- but the show obviously appeals to many, because Karlson is everywhere.
Kharkov playground rules (the parrot is the narrator of cartoon Doctor Aibolit)
Flyer in Odessa for "Karlson's New Year Adventure"

Here's the actual cartoon- maybe you'll enjoy it more than I did.

11. Kот в сапогах (Puss in Boots)


Wooden carving in Kharkov's Youth Park
I think this is also another story from abroad (France?) that was a hit here. This cat has more style in one claw than that flying fool Karlson has altogether!

It amazes me that most people my age in Ukraine are familiar not only with all the cartoons above, but also with the same TV shows I watched in the 80s and 90s as a kid. 

"No way!" I said to D. "Seriously? You watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles too?" 

"Of course! I loved that show! But it was called 'Turtle Ninjas' back then."

Sure enough, he saw all the same stuff (actually more than my parents allowed me watch): Duck Tales in Russian, Rescue Rangers in Russian, Gummi Bears in Russian, Transformers in Russian.

That's why I've been so obsessive in learning about Hedgehog in the Fog, Cheburashka, Buratino, and everyone else he grew up with... it seems only fair to be able to share the same references in Russian that he shares with me in English.

Змей Горыныч in Yevpatoria, another popular character from folklore.

But that means, wow, I've got a lot of multik-watching to do this year! : ) Does anyone else want to join the challenge?


  1. This is an amazing post, a labour of love quite clearly.
    My favourite is Cheburashka and Genia Krokodil. I've been to Yevpatoria so many times, yet never been able to visit that shrine to my favourite Soviet animation. And it doesn't look likely that I'll be able to visit Crimea again any time soon.
    Despite raising memories of the loss of Crimea and the danger facing Ukraine, this is a lovely post that shows how life goes on. I hope you get a lot of attention for this piece. It's great.

    1. Yes, it was several years in the making! Thank you very much for the kind words.

      It is weird to think of Crimea as no longer a "let's hop on the train and go without a second thought" kind of place... Hope you'll get a chance to see that park someday : )

  2. Thanky for such an elaborated and passionate post!

    If you need some more street fairy-tale statues, I'd advise you to visit this yard: half a year ago there've been amazing swan statues made of ... tires etc.

    And for more cartoon murals you can sneak into child dispensary here (open in usually Mo..Fr 8-16):

    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Roman! I'm putting them on The List : )

  3. Love this! Although you need some Vinni Pukh :-)

    1. Yes, you're right. He's such a big deal, I think he'll probably need his own entry!

      Along those lines, have you seen these posts? : ) and

  4. I love ALLLLLL of this. Also, "overconfident pastry" is the best thing I have ever heard.

  5. Beautiful post and a great research! And, yes, "overconfident pastry" is unexpected and exact definition!

    1. Спасибо, Timur! Maybe Alina has some ideas for which playground to visit next?

  6. What a great blog and I love your photos and narratives. I was in Kharkiv not long ago and yet somehow missed all those creatures and Aleekseevka was pretty boring and blah back 25 years when last time I visited that area. Thanks for the memories.

  7. So what is on your Multik to-watch list next?

    1. Actually, it's a DVD called "My Favorite Cartoons, Version 9" that has a whopping 46 cartoons. I'll probably be cartooned out after that! You've been in Ukraine for a while now, what's your fav so far?

  8. What a piece on UA this is. The photos alone deserve some kind of blogging award imo.

    Read, and very much enjoyed.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Daniel! Have you encountered much of this stuff on your travels throughout Ukraine? Just discovered your blog through the link you left : )