Malmesbury Stands With Ukraine as the Town Celebrates a Traditional Midsummer Festival 

Malmesbury will be welcoming visitors to a special midsummer festival on Friday 7th July. Organised by Malmesbury Stands With Ukraine, a local volunteer group, the Ivana Kupla festival will showcase a celebration of Ukrainian culture to the people in the town and surrounding area.

The festival is celebrated by Ukrainians around the world and has origins dating back many centuries. It is a summer solstice festival that traditionally involves fire jumping, weaving, eating and dancing. For some, the name itself equates to Cupid, the god of love, for others, it acknowledges nature’s bounty. For all, it is a time to come together and celebrate.

A small-scale event was held in the town last year, with the organisers wanting to bring people together to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. This year promises to be a bigger celebration.

Liz Cook, one of the organisers, describes the event as: “A simple, traditional cultural event which enables us to celebrate something positive here in Malmesbury with our Ukrainian guests and their hosts. We want to continue to show our support for the people of Ukraine and in particular the Ukrainian guests currently staying in Malmesbury, Tetbury and surrounding villages.”

There are thought to be 900 Ukrainians in Wiltshire, of which the organisers estimate there are around 100 in the greater Malmesbury area.

The events will be held in the Cloister Gardens, behind Malmesbury Abbey, from 6 to 9 pm. And while there will be no fire jumping, attendees can enjoy traditional flower crown-making, colouring, music and dancing. There will be a bar for thirsty dancers, although people are asked to bring their own food.

Gavin Grant, Mayor of Malmesbury, said: “Ivan Kupala is a Ukrainian cultural event; it’s their midsummer festival. By hosting in the Cloister Gardens behind Malmesbury Abbey, we are enabling local residents to join our Ukrainian friends to experience the traditions of the festival. For us, it’s an important act of solidarity, at a very difficult time for Ukraine.”

The Malmesbury Stands with Ukraine support group was formed in February 2022, inspired by Katya Manamsa, who had recently moved to the town. She said: “Ukraine has a long and rich history of culture; this is what Ukrainians are fighting for, as well as their freedom and existence,” she said. The festival will: “Share a tiny bit of the rich history and culture with Ukrainians in our area, and say thank you to Malmesbury for its welcome and support.”

Since its formation, the Malmesbury Stands with Ukraine group has held numerous events in the town, including an Abbey concert, jazz and tea party, Easter and Christmas crafts, a film screening, a carnival entry, a history talk, carols, a pub quiz and sunflower growing. They have raised over £14,000 with most going directly to Cherkassy Hospital in the heart of the frontline, with whom Katya’s mother, Natasha has established a working relationship.

Natasha moved to England in 2000. She will be accompanied at the festival by two Ukrainian friends who are visiting. The festival has been given a deeper meaning since the start of the war: “Ivan Kupala is an ancient celebration which is very beautiful with singing and dancing and girls wearing flower crowns, young people jumping over the fire and swimming in the river. In times before the war, for me, this celebration was just an opportunity to meet friends and have a bit of fun. Now it is something you want to hold on to, to preserve the continuity of the nation.”

And Natasha is clear on what the support of the people in Malmesbury and across the UK means to her: “It fills my heart with awe and immense gratitude to see first hand the generosity and sympathy for an underdog shown by the citizens of the UK.”

Of Friday night’s celebrations, Natasha said: “It is a chance to show English people a different culture and say thank you for accepting Ukrainians in their hearts and homes.” 

Family involvement does not stop there, however, with Natasha’s husband, Brendon organising the transport of essential items to Ukraine and helping fellow Ukrainians to evacuate.

Those visiting the Cloisters for Ivan Kupala night are advised to bring a picnic, a blanket and chairs, and flowers from their gardens if they wish to make a crown. Katya also suggests that for the traditional music and ‘folky’ dancing: “Boho outfits are optional, but highly encouraged!”

Entrance to the event is free, but people are asked to register on Eventbrite