Living a history lesson

Judy Smith, her daughter and two grandchildren spent a recent afternoon learning about their family heritage from Olga Tykhonova, who was visiting from Ukraine.

Smith hosted two members of a Ukrainian delegation in her Burbank home last week in a partnership between the Open World Program, sponsored by the Open World Leadership Center, and the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles. Tykhonova is the facilitator for the Ukrainian delegation. She lives in Cherkasy, about 150 miles south of the capital city of Kiev.

Formerly a senior program officer with the visitors council, Smith is retired but continues to serve as a volunteer citizen diplomat. Smith's grandparents emigrated in 1914 from the Eastern European country, but she never got the chance to talk to them about their life there.

"What I got from Olga's visit was a much more complete image of what life is like in the Ukraine," she said. "My grandmother didn't speak English very well, and passed away when I was young. Olga and I sit and talk about what it is like, and I think I will be there within one year."

One of the traditions she has kept is Ukrainian pysanka, or Easter eggs decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs. The designs are written with beeswax using a tool called kistka.

Warm beeswax is applied to the end of a kistka and comes out through the tiny spout on the other end. The wax is applied to the white egg with a writing motion, and the parts of the shell covered with wax are sealed and remain white during the dyeing process.

The dye sequence goes from light to dark, adding more wax and dipping the egg into the next color. After the final color, usually black, the wax is removed by heating the egg and gently wiping off the melted wax.

Smith was overjoyed to share part of her heritage with her daughter, Terri McLaughlin, and her two granddaughters, Paige and Jessica.

"It makes our heritage so much more real for them," she said. "Meeting Olga really was the missing link we never had to tell us about the culture. My 10-year-old granddaughter said, 'Mom, she's good at this, probably because she's Ukrainian.' It was so cute,"

McLaughlin spent an hour going over the family's genealogy book with Tykhonova.

"My daughter wanted to know where Krasna, the city her great-grandparents were from, was located in the Ukraine," Smith said. "Olga went to the computer and found Krasna on a map. Now we know it's in the Odessa region."

Tykhonova said she was amazed that three generations were still observing Ukrainian traditions brought over four generations ago.

"They have preserved all the traditions like the egg decorating," she said. "Not many people living in Ukraine continue to do that. But here they know how to do these things, and it's amazing."

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