Ukraine: Motanka

Front view showing the solar symbol of a cross within a circle instead of a face
Front view showing the solar symbol of a cross within a circle instead of a face

General description: Traditional hand-made female doll used for protecting the home.

Dimensions 15.5 x 13 x 8 cm

Date when acquired 2016

Original Date 2016

Source Ukraine. Present from Victoriia W.; made by her mother’s neighbour.


Back view
Back view


The body is made of looped light brown woollen yarn like a traditional yarn doll (see The large head and stiff arms are covered by tightly wrapped very thin yellow yarn. The lower part of the body’s loops are cut to make a skirt. The chest area has been tightly wound with narrow red threads. A magnet has been placed in the centre of the back.

Light brown and cream coloured woollen yarn has been plaited to form two long side plaits.

Like all Motankas, the doll does not have a face but a cross made of narrow gold braid over the front of the head. This is one of the three traditional crosses included in a Motanka; the cross-like shape of the doll forms the second one. The third cross, the one on the chest, is missing in this doll.


Side view
Side view


The doll is dressed with a form of blouse consisting of just a front and arms made of woven material in white, black, red and yellow. There is no back so that the crossing of the red threads over the back of the doll can be seen.

She has a long apron made of similar woven material to the blouse, tied at the front with the red threads used for wrapping the body.

On her head is a scarf, again of the woven material. It is tied straight across the forehead and falls in a point down the back.





Background information

The Ukrainian Motanka (a form of rag doll) is a descendent of the Rozhanytsa (the one giving birth) goddess doll made by the ancient Slavic and Trypillya (Kyiv region) cultures. Such dolls have been found in copper epoch villages (4th—3rd  millennium BCE) in these regions. They were in every peasant house and had a protective function, protecting the house, household, children and sleep. The Ukrainians believed that the Motanka would bring them wealth and good fortune. Before the wedding, a mother made a Motanka for her daughter to act as an amulet for the house of the newly married couple. When a child was ill, it was given a Motanka to play with. The Motanka was then destroyed and it was believed it would take the disease away with it. When a child was grown, a Motanka was placed in his/her cradle to protect it from evil until the birth of a new child.

An important feature of these dolls is that they do not have a face as it was considered that a face inspired a soul in the doll, which could be either good or evil. However, people also believed that ancestral spirits were contained in such dolls and that they could pass on secrets from generation to generation.

Motankas were made of various plant materials (e.g. hay, straw, wood, herbs, dry leaves, grains or seeds). They were decorated with national ornaments and embroidery. The secrets of making the dolls were passed on from mother to daughter.

In contrast to other rag or yarn dolls, Motankas have important symbols. No needles are used in making them as this would sew up good and evil thoughts in the dolls. Spiral rolling in the process of making the Motanka is associated with eternity and the cycle of birth — growth — death — rebirth. In addition, each doll has three crosses. The image of the doll itself is a cross: a symbol of life and fertility and the succession and protection of the generations. The face has the second cross (usually in two colours) lying in a circle — an ancient solar sign. This is supposed to keep positive energy in the doll. The third cross is on the chest and represents life and the unity of man and woman. All vertical lines are considered to be masculine and all horizontal lines are feminine.

When I was given this doll, it brought back my early childhood when my mother taught me how to make yarn dolls. I had not realised that these easily made dolls were a global phenomenon. I remember having a family made of father, mother, son and daughter. The male dolls with legs and the females with skirts. Each was of a different coloured wool (leftovers from my mother’s knitting) and I played with them for many, many hours.

See also Russian dolls

Source(s) of information

More than Toys



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