Works by Vera Roik. Exhibition at the Rivne Regional Museum of Local Lore, March 2014.
Works by Vera Roik. Exhibition at the Rivne Regional Museum of Local Lore, March 2014.

Embroidered life of “Crimean Poltava” Vira Roik


“Every day lived without embroidery

I consider lost in the spiritual sense “

Vera Roik

October 3, c. It has been 10 years since the death of Vera Sergeevna Roik – an outstanding Ukrainian embroiderer who perfectly mastered more than 300 techniques, the only woman of the four Heroes of Ukraine in the Crimea and the first among embroiderers in Ukraine, Honored Master of Folk Art of Ukraine, Honored Artist of Crimea, Knight of the Order of Princess Olga and the International Order of Nicholas the Wonderworker “For the multiplication of good on earth”, winner of the State Prize of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the Vladimir Korolenko Prize, honorary citizen of three cities – Simferopol, where she lived for almost two decades. where she lived, a memorial plaque was unveiled), as well as Kobeliak and Luben’s family in Poltava region. In general,a sheet of paper will not be enough for an incomplete list of awards and honorary titles of the master. For only six months she did not live to see her 100th birthday, parting with his life in the Simferopol military hospital of St. Luke – and for his long life a huge creative legacy. which is more than a thousand original works; more than three hundred of them are made according to the author’s ornaments. She also left an autobiographical book entitled “Melodies on Canvas. Memoirs. Embroidery. Response “, having managed to complete it with new chapters about her life, exhibition and public activities for the period from 2003 (when the first edition was published) to 2010, a photo album and catalog of her works, a collection of memoirs about her art critics, museum workers, journalists and embroiderers. all over the country. In total,her works adorn the expositions of almost four dozen museums in Ukraine and around the world.

Vira Sosyurko (maiden name) was born on April 25, 1911 in Lubny in Poltava region, in an intelligent Ukrainian family, which knew its Cossack roots well and in which national traditions were preserved. His mother, Lydia Erasmivna from the Yavorsky family, is a graphic artist and choral singer, and his father, Serhiy Onufriyovych, is a railway worker. They passed on to the children not only historical memory, but also love for folk art. The family sang songs, romances, opera duets, and danced. My father played the harmonica, my maternal uncle played the violin, Vera herself played the piano, and her mother played the guitar. As a child, Vera was interested in all this, and also worked in a ballet studio, and over the years, more and more space in her soul began to occupy embroidery, the skill of which, along with a small gold thimble, was passed on from grandmother Oksana.

Vera was a close relative and godmother of the famous writer Volodymyr Korolenko, who was friends with her parents: it was for him that she embroidered her first towel. After that, the parents gave their daughter a beautiful Ukrainian costume, and she was reluctant to embroider patterns on it.

After graduating from the Poltava Mariinsky Gymnasium, the girl worked in the Lubny Embroidery Artel, where she received a respectable professional training. There she began to creatively rethink folk patterns, to compose author’s works from traditional elements. In 1936 she received the award of the All-Union Exhibition of Folk Art in Moscow. Since then, the works of the Ukrainian master have been exhibited in many museums in Ukraine and abroad, impressing with the variety of patterns and virtuosity of execution.

In her small homeland, before the beginning of World War II, Vera Sosyurko combined her destiny with Mykhailo Roik and gave birth to a son, Vadim. Three days after the German attack on the USSR, the Enkavedists arrested Sergei Roik; he died in Stalin’s concentration camps, and his burial place became unknown to the family. The brand of the daughter of the “enemy of the people” weighed on Vira Serhiivna for several decades. Serhiy Roik was rehabilitated only during the “Khrushchev thaw”, but his daughter was under suspicion and distrust of the totalitarian system until the proclamation of Ukraine’s independence. Hand-embroidered things exchanged for food saved Vira Serhiivna, her son and mother from starvation during the war. Her husband, instead of evacuating with his company, enlisted in a fighter battalion and left the city with the last retreating units.

Shortly before the occupation of Poltava region, Vera Roik was bombed. The blast threw the woman away and covered her with earth. As a result – a severe contusion, severe fractures, injured right arm. For several weeks the woman could not speak clearly, for a month she heard nothing. For the next two years, she was confined to bed. She could no longer work with her right hand, but she did not want to give up, she renewed her skills every day. It took several months, but the goal was achieved. Then all the works of the master were embroidered with the left hand.

Vera Roik with her husband Mykhailo and son Vadim. Simferopol, August 1972
Vera Roik with her husband Mykhailo and son Vadim. Simferopol, August 1972

The brothers returned from the front. A man, a front-line spy who had traveled from Stalingrad to Warsaw, was brought to Luben, barely alive, after numerous injuries. Life slowly began to improve. In 1944, the family moved to the Stavropol Territory, where Vera restored the ancient technique of embroidery and cross-stitch, which she had mastered in Lubny while working in the artel. In 1952, the Roik family changed their place of residence again: this time, on the advice of doctors, Vira Serhiivna moved to the Crimea, where her paternal grandfather Onufriy Sosyurko, a descendant of a Zaporizhzhya Cossack, used to go to Chumak for salt at the age of 14. In Simferopol, her talent as an artist and teacher was revealed in full. According to art critics, Vira Roik created a real Crimean school of Ukrainian embroidery.

Vira Serhiivna has been devoting more than ten years to teaching the younger generation – girls from the South – the subtleties of Ukrainian embroidery – traditional for Poltava, Ternopil, Kharkiv, Kyiv and Bukovyna ornaments. After all, embroidery is not just a set of colored stitches on fabric. It contains a link code, where each color and pattern carries encrypted information.

Why was the neck of the shirt, cuffs and hem decorated with intricate ornaments? That he drove away evil. Why are all shades of red so often used in folk embroidery – from terracotta to impeccably crimson? Because red symbolizes life. Straight lines – an easy road, a flower – happiness and love, a rooster – prosperity and wealth.

Works by Vera Roik. Exhibition at the Rivne Regional Museum of Local Lore, March 2014.
Works by Vera Roik. Exhibition at the Rivne Regional Museum of Local Lore, March 2014.

The master’s work was based on a geometric ornament using a variety of embroidery techniques – “cross”, “tightening”, “trojan”, “lyakhovki”, “undercutting”, “buckwheat”, “column”. The subjects of her works are various, as well as their applied value. The master took the plots for her works from the surrounding reality. Her embroidery is characterized by conciseness in color, clear drawing, emotional expressiveness, impeccable technique. The decorativeness and ornamentation of Vera Roik’s products are largely related to iconography. Her work retains an unusual devotion to the artistic canons developed over the centuries. However, from her hands new ornamental and symbolic signs were born, cast in finished formulas.Her understanding of pure abstraction was close to the work of avant-garde artists.

Vera’s motherly instruction that every kind of art has its own laws throughout her life. Therefore, she has always been intolerant of any falsehood in Ukrainian folk embroidery. It is because of such demands on herself and others that not only admirers of artistic talent, but also enemies and enviers came across her path. There were also ambiguous hints about the repressed father.

In 1981, for the first time on the Poltava land, in Lubny, a personal exhibition of Vira Roik called “Ukrainian Towel” opened. This name of her exhibition remained forever. The artist loved Poltava region and periodically visited her favorite cities with exhibitions: Poltava, Gadyach, Dykanka, Kobeliaky, Lubny, where she always met kindness, understanding of her work. In her book “Melodies on Canvas” Vera Roik wrote about her visit to her small homeland: “Here I am charged with optimism, I find new motives for my works, I get new impressions from acquaintance with artists, writers, poets, embroiderers” My roots here… Poltava land is an inexhaustible source of my creativity ”. And the master called herself “Crimean Poltava”.

Vira Roik has organized more than 150 solo exhibitions of her works in all regional centers of Ukraine, as well as in Russia, Germany, Bulgaria, Poland and Turkey. She has participated in 287 general art exhibitions in the USSR, Ukraine and abroad, including Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Mongolia, USA, Croatia. Back in 1963, the master created a museum of decorative and applied arts; since then the press has published her own articles. In the same year she graduated from the annual courses of embroidery, cutting and sewing of the Moscow Training Art Factory.

In general, Vira Roik’s work became known to the art community of the world only during the years of Ukraine’s independence: it was during this period that the highest rise of her creative and exhibition activity was observed. Her multi-colored exhibition “Ukrainian Towel” became not only a real sensation, but also a decoration of two crowded Congresses of Ukrainians of Crimea. In 2006, the Vira Roik International Prize was introduced, which she was the first to receive for her significant contribution to the increase of national achievements and traditions of Ukrainian embroidery. In 2008, Vera Roik took part in the creation of the Towel of National Unity.

This fragile woman was characterized by great wisdom, high intelligence, a sense of humor; It was interesting to communicate with her not only to the elderly and middle-aged, but also to young people and children – she found a warm word for everyone and could give advice, because she knew and knew a lot. Despite the fatal trauma she put to bed, severe disability, constant physical suffering, Vira Serhiivna even in the last days of her life traveled to Ukraine with exhibitions and even gave master classes, gave lectures on the Ukrainian art of embroidery, willingly shared experiences and consulted all interested. The master has dedicated more than ten years to teaching Crimean girls the intricacies of Ukrainian embroidery.

Already in adulthood, the “Crimean Poltava” wrote: “Sometimes I find it hard to believe that with just a small thin needle and ordinary threads I can embody the hopes and sorrows, joys and sorrows, love and faith of past generations .

On April 25, 2010, on her 99th birthday after the traditional in recent years reporting on this day and a meeting with the masters of embroidery of the peninsula, Vera Roik set aside the diplomas, thanks, many bouquets of flowers, read telegrams and on a blank sheet of paper points began to record everything she needed to do a year before the 100th anniversary. One of the first recordings of the completion of the exhibition tour of the steppe regions of Crimea, which lasted two years, she made in the spring and summer, analyzing its results at a press conference at the Republican Information Committee of the ARC on the eve of Ukraine’s Independence Day. After meticulously inspecting her exhibition collection and other products embroidered for many years, Vira Serhiivna picked up not a clean canvas and a needle with a thread, but a pencil:not in her style to celebrate the anniversary without an exclusive artistic novelty. Without delay, she realized the theme of the towel “For the Glory of the Crimea” by a fatal coincidence, it became the last work embroidered by her hands.

Vera Sergeevna Roik
Vera Sergeevna Roik

“I like to be at sea, especially when it’s stormy. Heavy shafts crash against the shore with myriads of spray. The waves are in a hurry to catch up with each other, but they fail. This is my life as well: I try to be on the crest of the wave and not allow the element to crush me, “Vira Serhiivna wrote in her book Melodies on Canvas. All her life she fought and created, and in people’s memory she will remain an Unbreakable Master.

Vira Roik’s name was included in the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia (1983), three encyclopedic reference books (1987-1992), the biographical reference book “Art of Ukraine” (1997) and the Encyclopedia of Ukraine (2009). In total, materials about her were published in more than seven hundred publications; it is mentioned in 360 reference books, catalogs, albums and dictionaries published in eleven languages.

Monument on the grave of Vera Roik in Simferopol.
Monument on the grave of Vera Roik in Simferopol.

In April 2011, by the decision of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vira Roik began at the national level. The exhibition “Ukrainian Towel” was opened in the House of Artists in Simferopol, and in the Ethnographic Museum – an exhibition entitled “In embroidery folk wisdom and talent.” The works of the master’s students were presented in the exposition: in memory of their mentor they gave an opportunity to all connoisseurs of ancient art to admire more than a hundred of their works – various and colorful towels, napkins, bookmarks, aprons and even a portrait of Shevchenko with his “Testament”. Poltava “platbands”, “undercutting”, “nightingale eyes”, “bottom”, “stars”- this is not a complete list of embroidery techniques presented at the exhibition; ornaments of different parts of Ukraine – Poltava region are intertwined on the canvas, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Hutsul, Volyn, Kherson, Tavria, etc. Representatives of the Crimean authorities and the public were present at the grand opening. At the same time there was a promise to realize the ancient dream of the master – to create a museum of Ukrainian folk embroidery named after her, the real school of which Vera actually founded in the Crimea (during her life the master noted that Crimea did not have its own traditions of folk embroidery considering the historical circumstances): for this purpose it was planned to provide two rooms with a separate entrance to the Ethnographic Museum and 100 thousand hryvnias from the Ministry of Culture of the ARC. Unfortunately,despite many years of efforts, the master has not been able to get support from officials for the creation of this museum, even despite a corresponding order from Viktor Yushchenko during his presidency.By the decision of the 65th session of the 5th convocation of the Simferopol City Council of October 21, 2010, one of the city squares was named after Vera Roik; it was expected that a monument to the outstanding embroiderer would be erected there.

For many years, the masters, who studied with Vera Roik, took part in joint exhibitions “Ukrainian Towel” under the guidance of a mentor; since 2006 they started working separately, uniting in the group “Kalynonka”. Initially, this creative team consisted of only three – Yevdokiya Sheko, Svitlana Lavrenyuk and Tamara Bilych, but eventually the union included Yevheniya Zhukova, Halyna Dmytriyeva, Valentyna Nosenko and Mary Nikolska (some of them, unfortunately, are no longer among us). The embroiderers worked on a voluntary basis, helping each other. During 2008-2011, they took part in 16 group exhibitions.

In November 2013, on the eve of the Revolution of Dignity, the Ministry of Culture of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea held a meeting during which it was decided to embroider a large Towel of Unity, which would be embroidered by representatives of different nationalities and peoples living in Crimea. The idea of ​​the project belonged to the students of Vera Roik. Towel embroidery was started by Shevchenko’s motif of one of the master’s works. At the end of February 2014, in the dark days of the Russian occupation of Crimea, in Simferopol they told about the work on the anniversary towel, which should become a symbol of the unity of the peoples of Crimea in honor of Taras Shevchenko. Almost 20 embroiderers from different national communities of Crimea joined the project; they were to embroider 40 national ornaments, as well as in the languages ​​of their peoples – the last four lines of the “Testament”.

 Students of Vera Roik:

Evdokia Sheko , a history teacher by profession, devoted all her work to culture. At first she worked in cultural institutions of Ivano-Frankivsk, and then in the Crimea. She began embroidering as a child under the watchful but kind eye of her mother. And since 1969 her mentor was Vera Roik. Ms. Evdokia has more than 30 works. The embroiderer created a bright collection of embroidery called “Palette of Ukraine”, which reflects the ornaments of many regions of the country: Volyn, Podillya, Hutsul, Tavria. The master taught to embroider her younger sister Olena, granddaughter Ksenia, who gladly pass on their skills to others. Over the years, Ms. Evdokia has participated in 24 exhibitions in Kyiv, Kaniv, Yalta, Saki, Krasnodar.

Exhibition of works by Vira Roik and her students, Volyn Museum of Local Lore, December 2013.
Exhibition of works by Vira Roik and her students, Volyn Museum of Local Lore, December 2013.

Svitlana Lavreniuk hasalso been embroidering since childhood, and in 1954 Vira Roik began teaching her Ukrainian folk embroidery. Over the past 12 years, the master has embroidered more than 40 works, participated in 42 group exhibitions of applied art in many cities of Ukraine. To the 225th anniversary of her native Simferopol, Ms. Svitlana made a series of embroideries, which were presented at the All-Crimean art exhibition “City Day” in the exhibition hall of the Crimean organization of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine in June 2009. In the creative work of the master – participation in the All-Ukrainian action “Towel of National Unity” (2007) in Bakhchisarai and a master class on Ukrainian embroidery in the exhibition “Embroidery, lace and weaving of the Eastern Slavs” at the Crimean Ethnographic Museum (2008 year).

Tamara Belichis an engineer by education, she started her creative “career” when she retired, although she also embroidered since childhood. The meeting with Vira Roik, who opened the rich world of Ukrainian folk embroidery to her, also became significant for her. Under the guidance of a famous master, Ms. Tamara created a unique bright collection of embroidery “Blooming Ukraine”. Vera Sergeyevna only suggested which ornaments were better to take as a basis, and then Tamara’s imagination worked, she made patterns herself. Her own work is more than 30 works. Embroidered icons and paintings deserve special attention. By the way, one of the icons was embroidered by his grandson Ivan, who also became interested in this art. Ms. Tamara is a participant in many collective exhibitions of applied art in different parts of Ukraine.

Yevhenia Zhukova made a lot of efforts to embroider the central part of the towel for the 200th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko. Simferopol, February 2014. Photo by Lyudmila Shchekun
Yevhenia Zhukova made a lot of efforts to embroider the central part of the towel for the 200th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko. Simferopol, February 2014. Photo by Lyudmila Shchekun

Eugene Zhukovembroidered needle also took in childhood. Initially, it was a regular embroidery club in Dzhankoi, where girls ran after school to learn the basics of this art. A little later, Mrs. Eugenia fate gave a meeting with Vera Sergeevna Roik, and this acquaintance became decisive in her life. After all, since then she has hardly let go of the needle. While studying at Simferopol State University, Yevheniya Oleksandrivna was a frequent guest in the Roik family, where, according to her recollections, she was very warmly received. Ms. Eugenia once took an active part in the organization of the Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts of the Crimean region in 1963. Her works have been repeatedly exhibited at exhibitions in Dzhanka, Simferopol, Odessa, and Kyiv. In her family, embroidery, we can say, was “passed down” from generation to generation,because her grandmother embroidered, and Eugenia Alexandrovna herself taught to embroider her two daughters.

Valentina Nosenko. Valentina Alekseevna was born in 1930 in the city of Evpatoria. He is a history teacher by profession. She started embroidering in 1990. Under the skilful guidance of Vira Roik, the master mastered about twenty-five types of Ukrainian embroidery techniques. She was especially successful in openwork – different types of lace, the technical implementation of which not all embroiderers can afford. In total, her creative work includes more than 50 works. Ms. Valentina took part in 25 collective exhibitions in Alushta, Saki, Kaniv, Kyiv and others. She was awarded the Diploma of the Ministry of Culture of the ARC, two Diplomas of the South Crimean branch of the Union of Masters of Folk Art of Ukraine.For a long time Valentyna Oleksiivna taught folk embroidery to children at the Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children in the Kyiv district of Simferopol.

All embroiderers are talented and, most importantly, love their work, know the customs and traditions of the native people and are happy to pass on their knowledge and skills to the younger generation. After all, now, in the times of such a purely material life, the return to its origins, to spirituality, to folk art is a very important component of the development of culture and statehood.

Prepared by Serhiy KONASHEVYCH and Iryna MYTKALYK

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The project was implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

Sergii Konashevich

Author of numerous culturological publications, editor of Ukrainian Culture Publishing House LLC

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