Vyshyvankas for Churchill's wife and British ambassador to Ukraine

Vyshyvankas for Churchill's wife and British ambassador to Ukraine

Clementine Churchill presented with an embroidered gown in Odesa, Judith Gough gets an embroidered shirt in Lviv

An embroidered shirt, like Scottish tartan, can tell you which region a person comes from, the British ambassador in Kyiv says. In Ukraine, not only regions, but also separate villages had their own colors, symbols, traditions of embroidery. And each one was unique, like the fate of a person, because some of them were decorated with poppies, cornflowers and the wings of bright birds on the eve of a great holiday in the family. Others were sewn for the war, when the mother was waiting for her son, and his wife for the return of her husband. This shirt was embroidered in black and red, threads interwoven with tears and prayers for relatives, for the country. But our grandmothers always embroidered a shirt with a song on their lips and a hope in their hearts...

One such dress embroidered by hope - the hope for peace after the terrible bloodshed of the Second World War - was presented as a gift to Clementine Churchill, the wife of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, a prominent statesman of the twentieth century, a member of the Big Three of the heads of state of the anti-Hitler coalition and then the initiator of the Cold War. In many ways, thanks to him, the political map of the world is now exactly how we got used to see it.

Clementine Churchill arrived in the Soviet Union two months after the Yalta Conference at the invitation of the Red Cross. During the Second World War, especially during its most difficult period, she organized a network of charity departments in Britain that collected donations for the needs of the anti-Hitler coalition, first and foremost, for the salvation and rehabilitation of wounded soldiers.

As it turned out, the wife of the British prime minister even celebrated her 60th birthday on Ukrainian soil. On March 31, 1945, the Royal Air Force plane with Clementine aboard landed at a military airfield in Crimea, and she celebrated her birthday on April 1. Historians are still arguing why Clementine did not stay with her husband and children on that day, because there was no urgent need to fly at that moment. Most researchers agree that Hitler's secret services did not expect the British prime minister's wife to fly to coalition allies on the eve of her birthday.

The high-ranking guest visited Artek, a palace in Alupka, Chersonesus, and a botanical garden. However, Clementine Churchill spent most of her time in hospitals and research centers, health resorts, maternity homes, inspecting the work of schools and shelters for orphans whose parents were killed in the war.

There is a historical video, dubbed in good Ukrainian language, about the stay of the wife of the British prime minister in Odesa. It clearly shows how Mrs. Churchill receives as a gift a magnificent embroidered dress - an attribute of Ukrainian national culture and identity. The gift was presented "in memory of a visit to the hero city of Odesa" and in honor of her 60th birthday - in a beautiful suitcase, where the embroidery should be kept. After celebrations Clementine met with British and French officers and soldiers released from German captivity.

It is surprising that in those days, it was allowed to present such an unusual souvenir to such a high-ranking and eminent guest - purely Ukrainian, authentic, without Soviet stars and hammerheads. Maybe the top leadership ignored that, or residents of Odesa forgot to ask for permission, but a Ukrainian embroidered handmade dress went to London together with Clementine.

The embroidered dress disappeared there, because there's no mention of it in the archives, which list all the official souvenirs and gifts of the Churchill family. Perhaps the gift was so pleasing to the wife of the UK prime minister that she decided to leave it among her personal things.

"I think for that time it was a very special gift for somebody who was very prominent in political and social circles. And we can see on the video this present was clearly very-very well-received," said British Ambassador to Ukraine Judith Gough, commenting on a video of 1945 at Ukrinform's request.

She says that the Vyshyvanka Day is one of her favorite Ukrainian holidays. "I have two vyshyvankas, my son has two, and he is waiting for this day. I think he looks better in his than I do in mine," the ambassador said, joking. "When you live in a country you inevitably follow that country's holidays, as well as your own," she added.

Another peculiarity of an embroidered shirt is that it has its own history, Mrs. Ambassador says. "The vyshyvanka that I am currently wearing was given to me in Lviv, when I visited it for the first time a couple of years ago, by one of women's local organizations. It is beautifully done. It is handmade and hand-stitched," the ambassador said, commenting on her shirt with a delicate pink and green pattern. "But I have also another one which I bought in Kyiv, which is more modern. So I have something that is very traditional and something that is a little bit more modern, because today the vyshyvanka is a fashion item," she said.

"Ukraine is really defining herself as a nation. You have gained your independence 27 years ago, and the last four years have really been about cementing that independence. Sovereignty and territorial integrity have in fact been challenged," Mrs. Ambassador said. In such "black" times, like embroidery on canvas, Ukrainians are united around a sense of Ukrainianness, common history, traditions and, obviously, there are symbols of that and it helps unite, stay together and defend values, she says.

Judith Gough says that many countries have their own symbols and traditions that they observe until now. "You can compare Scottish tartan to the [Ukrainian] vyshyvanka. You can identify somebody's clan by the tartan that they wear in the family which they come from, in the same way that you can identify a village or a region by somebody's vyshyvanka," the ambassador said. It turns out that even today, when Scots get married, they should wear a traditional kilt with an ornament that is passed from generation to generation.

"Enjoy the Vyshyvanka Day and wear your embroidered chest with pride!" Gough said, congratulating all Ukrainians on this holiday.

Natalia Bukvych, Kyiv.

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