10 UKRAINIAN (SLAVIC) MYTHOLOGICAL CREATURES-2

Ukrainian mythology is rich with images that continue to appear in contemporary popular culture. From this post, you will learn more about the worldview of ancient Ukrainians, who believed in the spirits of nature.

МАВКА MAVKA (NIAVKA) 

from Old Slavic “nav” –  “the dead”

What does she look like?

The most common image of Mavka is of a pleasant, well-dressed, and long-haired young woman with no skin on her back, so the inner organs are visible. They are often portrayed with flower wreaths and festive embroidery dresses. They have no shadows and child-sized footprints. 

Where does she live?

Mavkas live in mountain caves in the Carpathians and in forests all over Ukraine. They are the souls of girls who died in unnatural ways, of children who died without being baptized, or of children who died during “Mermaids Week,” when, according to Slavic mythology, mermaids roam the earth (the week after Trinity). 

What does she do?

They attract young men and lead them to the forests, from where the latter never come back. Mavkas can also tickle their victims to death.

Popular culture

They are written about in literature, most notably in the play Lisova Pisnia (The Forest Song) by Lesia Ukrainka and the novel Tini Zabutykh Predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors) by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky. 

What works against her?

Garlic, onion, horseradish, and lovage can be used as protection against these creatures.

ЧУГАЙСТЕР (ЛІСОВИЙ ЧОЛОВІК) 

CHUHAISTER (FOREST MAN)

maybe from Prosl. *čuga – “ambush, sentinel”

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What does he look like?

He is usually depicted as a tall man with blue eyes and black or white hair instead of clothes. Sometimes his image is associated with a strong wind that breaks trees.

Where does he live?

In the area of the Carpathian mountains, especially in Halychyna. 

One version says that this mythical character and his name appeared when forest hermits from Moldavian-Bukovinian monasteries came to live there in the 17th and 18th centuries.

What does he do?

Chugaister is a positive and cheerful character. He enjoys dancing and hunting mavkas, but he does not harm people. Sometimes he joins people who sit around the fire in forests. 

Popular culture

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, a novel by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, and many legends tell about Chugaister. There are also modern songs devoted to this spirit. 

ДОМОВИЙ DOMOVYI 

from  дім – home 

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What does he look like?

Domovyi is usually represented as a short, old, grey-haired man with flashing eyes.

Where does he live?

He is usually thought to be an ancestor of the family who comes to live in the house after it has been built.

What does he do?

Domovyk is the household spirit of a given kin, which is why he protects a family, but only if they live in harmony and respect the spirit by leaving him food. 

He protects the home from different kinds of tragedies: thieves, fire, forces of nature, etc.

This spirit is very caring for the kids and animals in the house and is always watching out for them, but he may cause harm or even leave the family if they are not friendly and quarrel with each other.

Popular culture

It is common to have a Domovyk hay idol at home as a home guardian.  

He is a popular children’s cartoon, fairy tale, and story character.  

БАБАЙ BABAI

from PIE *baba – an elderly person

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What does he look like?

Babai doesn’t have a clear physical form, but he’s usually shown as a man with ragged clothes, long claws, and a big bag on his shoulder.

Where does he live?

He might live everywhere, although he often hides under beds, in wardrobes, or in empty rooms of a house. 

What does he do?

It’s a night spirit that visits naughty children who don’t want to go to sleep on time. The stories say that he puts such kids into his bag and takes them in an unknown destination. 

Parents often threatened their children with Babai if they misbehaved. 

What works against them?

Children should go to sleep on time and not go to dangerous places at night if they don’t want to meet Babai.

Popular culture

Babai is similar to the well-known Bogeyman and other monsters who visit children with the same purpose. 

ВІДЬМА VIDMA WITCH

from відати – to know everything 

The image of a witch from the movie Vii 1967

What does she look like?

A female witch can be identified by her ugliness (humpback, lameness) or by her extraordinary beauty or an unusual trait, such as red hair or being left-handed.

Where does she live?

Vidmas can live anywhere among ordinary people. They prefer rural areas over cities.

What does she do?

Vidma practices witchcraft and can control the weather, romantic feelings, and help or harm other people. 

Her magic skills can be inherited or gained through an agreement with evil spirits. Inherited witches were always more powerful. 

She can travel with a broom, antler, or poker.

Popular culture

Vidma is a very popular character in folklore, fairy tales, cartoons, and movies. 

One of the best-known is Mykola Hohol’s collection of stories, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, in which the author tells mystical stories set in central Ukraine near Poltava. 

What works against her?

It’s recommended to make lines of poppy seeds or chalk near entrances and stick nettles, aspen, maple, and birch leaves in the doorways to protect your family from the magic of evil vidmas.

ВОВКУЛАКА VOVKULAKA WEREWOLF

from Ukr. вовк – wolf

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What does he look like?

Vovkulaka, or Vovkulak is a man who is able to turn into a wolf

In his human image, he has a gloomy look, big eyebrows that have grown on the bridge of the nose, and red eyes, by which one can recognize him.

When Volkolak changes into a new form, it looks more like an animal than a person, but it’s likely that it will keep many of its unique traits, like personality, intelligence, and wisdom.

Where does he live?

There are at least two kinds of this creature: those born with the ability to transform and those who have been cursed. 

The cursed ones, who are forced to live in a wolf’s body, usually stay in the forest, whereas the natural born ones live among ordinary people. 

What does he do?

Vovkulaka turns into a wolf at night and does harm to animals. 

Usually, he doesn’t touch people. There are legends about powerful warriors who fought their enemies while being turned into wolves. 

Popular culture

Despite being a character of folklore, vovkulaka is on the emblem of the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces.

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УПИР UPYR VAMPIRE 

from απυρος – unburned

What does he look like?

An upyr can be recognized by a red face or by having little hair on his head. 

Those who were physically different in a community were potential upyr candidates: redheads, the left-handed, those with a limp, unibrow, etc.

Where does he live?

Upyr is dead and lives in the cemetery. 

What does he do?

He comes at night (sometimes during the day) and does harm to people in order to drink their blood.

Upyr is often a leader of a female group of witches.

What works against him?

It was believed that one could get rid of upyr by burning him in his coffin. 

Another variant is to ram an aspen stake into his heart and put silver on his forehead. However, it might be challenging since upyr has two hearts, so it is recommended that you bring friends for this job.

Popular culture 

Upyri are popular characters in Ukrainian folklore and literature. They are similar to western European vampires. 

ВОДЯНИК, ВОДЯНИЙ VODIANYK, VODIANYI

from Ukr. вода – water

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What does he look like?

Vodianyk was represented as a naked, chubby old man with a fishtail. He is tangled in ooze, has a long, thick beard, and a green moustache. 

He could turn into a catfish, a goat, a dog, a cat, etc.

Where does he live?  

He lives in the water – in rivers, lakes, and ponds. Also likes to settle under a water mill.

Vodianyk might live in eddies. 

What does he do?

Vodianyk herds of catfish, carp, bream, and other fish that graze on the bottom of rivers and lakes. He commands mermaids and other water inhabitants.

This waterman could flood rivers, break dams and water mills, drown livestock and people, capsize boats, and extinguish fires lit on the banks. 

The time after sunset and on Ivan Kupala, when this spirit could drag people underwater, was considered especially dangerous. In addition, his victims were drunkards.

To appease him, people sacrificed goats, roosters, honey, bread, and other goods by throwing them into the water. 

ЗЛИДНІ ZLYDNI 

from злидні – poverty

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What do they look like?

Zlydni are portrayed as short, old men dressed in rags, or as small and nasty creatures that remind one of cats and dogs at the same time. They often wear big boots and hats with earflaps.

Where do they live?

They often live under the masonry stove.

What do they do?

If they start to live in someone’s house, the owners quickly become poor and cannot earn money.

Zlydni make a mess in the house and damage everything in it. 

What works against them?

The way to get rid of Zlydni is to lure them into a bottle, snuffbox, tub, bag, etc., close it, and throw it away or bury it. 

Then the owner will get rich quickly, but if someone else releases the spirits, they will stick to him and settle in his house.

Popular culture

Zlydni are the popular characters in children’s fairy tales and cartoons, where kids are taught to be neat and frugal. 

ЛІСОВИК LISOVYK FORESTMAN

from Ukr. ліс – forest

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What does he look like?

Lisovyk is a bearded old man, often dressed in animal skins or red clothes. His left part of the garment covers the right, and the left shoe is worn on the right foot.

His eyes are green and burning. Lisovyk might change his height: he can be taller than trees and shorter than grass. 

He can also appear in the form of a wolf, an owl, or the wind. 

Where does he live?

He lives in the forest.

What does he do?

Lisovyk guards the forest and can scare people with his laughter, sometimes lead visitors astray, and take away children. 

He is considered the patron of wolves and small animals, who graze hares and deer, and bears serve as his guards. He walks through the forest in the summer and sleeps in the ground in the winter.

What should one do to appease him?

Slavic folklore says that you can make Lisovyk happy by leaving him a treat. It was believed that Lisovyk dislikes those who curse at his belongings, rest on the trail, or enter the forest on the wrong days.

Tell us in the comments what your favourite creature is. Which ones have you heard about, and what was new to you?

2 Comments
  1. fuzzy.tea9125 January 22, 2023

    Це дуже цікаво, але де ж Баба Яга?

  2. Venya-DutchCossack January 25, 2023

    Hello Maryna! Excellent blog post, as always. I enjoyed reading it! My favorite mythical creature that I read about in this blog is the ВОДЯНИК. He seems mysterious. And I like how he is depicted on the picture.

    Question: to what extent are these mythical creatures shared with neighboring regions and/or countries (Poland, and Belarus, for example)?

    Anyhoo, thank you for the interesting blog post!

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