The Ukrainian Sacrifice and Cucumbers

Recently I have taken a habit of starting my morning by reading a random paragraph from the legendary book by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves, and reflecting on it during the day. Reading and reflecting has always been my coping mechanism during difficult times. The book is based on the theory of archetypes. And an archetype, as defined by Oxford Languages, is (in Jung’s theory) “a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors and supposed to be present in the collective unconscious.”

So the paragraph of the day in question was a comment on a fairy tale that exists across cultures and tells the story of a girl who fell victim to her father’s contract with the Devil. Anxious that the latter would snatch her away, she demanded to have her arms chopped off — and saved herself with this sacrifice.

Even though this kind of image is striking enough by itself, I was struck even more by the coincidence of having watched a similar scene in a movie just the night before. It was — the parallels in the title are also a mere coincidence — World War Z, a 2013 zombie movie. In that particular scene, the Brad Pitt character cuts off a hand of a young Israeli female soldier a second after she had been bitten in that hand by a zombie. This immediate reaction saves her from dying, from turning into a beast herself, and thus — from being snatched by an enemy. In these two cases, is the price of not getting snatched by the enemy too high? Yes, it is. But this is the price of victory: they already won by having the courage to sacrifice the part of their bodies.

There is a popular self-deprecating joke in Ukraine. If you take one Ukrainian and two members of any other nation and let them measure the land they would like to get for farming, they would, most likely, do the following. The first one would walk along a field for an hour and stop there, saying “enough.” The second one will probably take a day-long horse ride and, when the night falls, decide that it should be enough. And a Ukrainian would take a horse and ride it for a week, get off his horse, continue running on his own feet, and when he wouldn’t be able even to crawl anymore, he would chop off his hand, throw it ahead of himself as far as possible, and proudly declare: “And over there, I will plant some cucumbers!”

This joke is not about Ukrainians being greedy for the land but about their deep love for it and their connection with it. We never encroached on other countries’ land throughout history but have worked very hard on our own.

In a less bloody version of the joke, the guy just threw his hat ahead of him. Given he had one.

Anyway, this metaphorical chopped-off hand on Ukraine’s body is no longer there to express the joy of having your own patch of land to work on. It has become an act of courage, the price we all pay as a nation in order not to give in to the enemy. And that’s why we have already won. It is all the necessary acts of courage undertaken without thinking, without doubts, without even losing a second before the enemy gets a chance to snatch you. And yes, it is a sacrifice — for the right to grow your own cucumbers on your own land and feed the world at the same time.

Author: Iryna Vikyrchak, Ukrainian poetess, writer, translator and culture manager

Translator: Hanna Leliv

Illustrator: Victoria Boyko

Content Editor: Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors: Julia Ovcharenko and Demyan Om Dyakiv Slavitski