We are pleased to participate in the A to Z Blog Challenge (http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/). The Story Crossroads theme for this year is Kindness Across Cultures: Stories to Prove We Care. Each post highlights present-day and folktale examples.
Russia is the largest country in the world, and the people here have learned to make due and offer small and simple kindnesses to be more neighborly as a nation. When the Soviet Union dissolved, several new countries came about. For example, there is no common border with Russian and Tajikistan and for a long time Tajikistan was part of Russia. Thus, we have this picture of a Russian girl in Tajikistan picking flowers and was taken by Steve Evans. He has granted permission for Story Crossroads to use this image.
Present-Day Respectfulness & Resilience
SOS Children’s Villages in Russia have helped poverty-stricken children since the 1980s. These children are in family-like homes to build their social skills and have the support needed to focus on their studies. Sometimes the parents are unable to care for these children and so they are raised within these loving homes. This is co-funded by the Russian state and SOS Children’s Villages. More can be seen at this website: https://www.sos-childrensvillages.org/where-we-help/europe/russia.
Here is an article about a mother of two children who chose to give up alcohol and receive legal help as well as warm clothes and other necessary items to have her family survive–https://www.sos-childrensvillages.org/news/turning-around-her-life.
Past Respectfulness & Resilience (Folktale)
This Russian folktale goes by many names and different spellings of “Vasilissa” or “Vasilisa” though typically at least her name is in the title.
There are many versions of this story through books and online:
- “Vasilissa the Fair” is found in the book “The Young Oxford Book of Folk Tales” retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland, published by Oxford University Press.
- Picture book “Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave,” retold by Marianna Mayer, published by HarperCollins
Here is a summary:
Vasilissa’s mother died when she was eight years old. Before dying, the mother gave Vasilissa a doll and told her to take care of it, feed it, and ask it advice. Her father, the merchant, remarried a woman with two other daughters. The stepmother was envious gave her intense tasks around the home and sometimes struck her. Despite being around this harshness, Vasilissa remained kind and became even more beautiful. It helped having the doll as a comfort during this time. Often the stepmother sent Vasilissa on errands through the forest in hopes that Baba Yaga the witch would “get rid” or eat Vasilissa. The doll guided her the right way through the forest and she was safe. Finally, the stepmother had her two daughters and Vasilissa take care of making lace, stockings, and cloth. The light was “accidentally” snuffed out and appeared that there was no more light in the home to complete the tasks. The two daughters claimed they could still see yet Vasilissa’s job was too hard in the dark and must go to Baba Yaga to ask for a light. Vasilissa took the doll and the doll comforted her. Vasilissa was respectful to Baba Yaga and worked without complaint. Then Baba Yaga would be gone and Vasilissa had to complete many jobs. The doll told Vasilissa to rest and did all the work though saved the cooking to Vasilissa. Each day Baba Yaga gave more impossible tasks and the doll and Vasilissa worked together. Baba Yaga asked how Vasilissa could complete everything and she said she had her mother’s blessing. Baba Yaga wanted nothing to do with someone who was blessed and released Vasilissa, make sure to have the light to take back to her family. A skull from Baba Yaga post asked to be taken to her home. Vasilissa did. The skull shone with the light in the home and the stepmother and stepsisters were burned to ashes while Vasilissa was unharmed. Vasilissa took off on her own and lived with an old woman with no kin. She wished to wait for her father who could be gone a long time. She offered to spin for the old woman and told the woman to keep the money for herself after she sold the cloth. The cloth was so fine that the old woman knew it was only worthy of the tsar. The tsar was impressed and wished for shirts to be made. The old woman said it was not her that had woven and sewn, and the tsar wanted to meet the girl who had. Within moments of meeting her, he asked her to marry him. Vasilissa’s father returned in time for the wedding, and the old woman was requested to stay in the castle.
Interesting Notes on Kindness
- Vasilissa’s mother placed a blessing upon the doll that brought about hope for Vasilissa and extended the mother’s kindness beyond the grave
- Vasilissa was always kind despite being surrounded by harshness
- Vasilissa was kind to Baba Yaga, a most evil person, and was enough to impress the witch and have her released
- Vasilissa was kind to the skull to be removed (though she did not know it would cause harm to her stepmother and stepsisters, this is simply justice that is also a type of kindness to those who are good)
- Vasilissa helped the old woman in creating fine cloth and desired no money for herself–only to help the old woman
- The Old Woman could have pretended that she had woven the cloth and sewn the shirts yet she was kind to give the proper credit to Vasilissa
- The Tsar could sense the aura of kindness from Vasilissa and did not worry about her station in life or any other material considerations
- Vasilissa wished for her father and the old woman without kin to live in the castle
What stories of kindness do you know associated with Russia? Anywhere in the world – past or present? Please share in the comments…or anything on your mind.
While you enjoy this blog, Story Crossroads has year-round offerings including the culminating Festival on May 23, 2018 (see schedule here: https://storycrossroads.com/2018-schedule/).
We thank our funders such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Western States Arts Federation, Utah Humanities, the City of Murray, the South Jordan Arts Council, Utah Valley University and many other individuals. Join us in the support by attending or donating or both! (Click here to donate or get tickets.)