Beneath the Surface of Ukraine’s Lakes and Rivers Lurk Mystical Creatures

On nights when the moon shines like a golden orb in the night sky, when the breeze coming off the lake grazes your face like a ghost, when a lake’s whispers sound almost human, be careful. You may not be alone. Rusalkas, the Ukrainian mermaid, formed from the bodies of girls or young women who have drowned or children died without the sacrament of baptism, may be nearby.

Rusalkas live in the water, but when the moon is full, their slim, naked bodies emerge, and together the creatures sing secret songs and dance in the trees. Unlike mermaids, rusalkas do not have fish tails, but instead have dangerously hypnotic eyes that are dark like cavern entrances. Adorned with wreaths made of sedge or water lilies if one is a queen, the mystical beings can lure an innocent bystander to his or her untimely death. Forming a knotted circle, the rusalkas tickle their victims all the while dragging the unsuspecting person to the bottom of the water.

Rusalkas enjoy the company of two other supernatural beings. Mavkas live in forest trees, and sometimes join the rusalkas in a bit of mean-spirited fun by trampling the grain in the fields. From the front, mavkas are gorgeous, but if viewed from behind, people see a ghastly sight – no skin or muscle covers the organs and the skeleton. The intention of mavkas, like the rusalkas, is lethal. Young boys and men are their target and are enticed into the thickets only to get lost and die of exhaustion. Young girls and women must be equally cautious if walking in the forest alone. Seemingly handsome young men will tempt the innocent to follow them deep into the forest, but be forewarned, these young men are perlysnyks, intent on causing heartache.

The power of the spirit world in Ukraine is not to be readily dismissed. Ukrainians are not only faithful people but respectful of the unknown spiritual world. Solitude by a lake or river or in a forest may be a welcome respite from the intensity of the modern world, but in Ukraine it is best to watch your back.