No Ukrainian will sleep beside a river nor bathe in a stream after nightfall because of the rusalky (mermaids) or water-spirits that, in mortal life, were maiden who drowned. Rusalky are very sad and lonely and are always looking for a companion to share the days with them under the water. Their favorite trick is to call out men’s names at random. Then if some young men wandering about are foolish enough to answer, rusalky have him in their power. They entice him into playing their games and tickle him to death.
Hutsuls seem to fear bathing on Whitsun Eve only; one considers him safe if he carries in his hand a sprig of wormwood (also known as Chernobyl) and recites a prayer before entering the water.
Rusalky are themselves afraid to stay very long away from the water, for a condition of their existence is the wetness of their hair. However, if they carry a comb along all is well, for they can dip into a pond and make a flood of curling waves. One must step on the linen, which rusalky have left out to dry, or else one will become crippled or lose one’s strength.
During the week of Whitsuntide, as many Ukrainian songs testify, they ask for linen. It was long customary for Hutsuls to hang shifts, cloth and skeins of thread on the boughs of oaks.
With the approach of winter rusalky disappear and are not seen until the spring.
In Ukraine the Thursday before Whitsuntide was the Great Day or Easter Sunday of rusalky. During the season, known as «Green Sviata» (Green Holydays) every home is decorated with blossoming boughs of the lime-tree, with lovage and wild thyme sprinkled on the floor. No one dared to work for fear of offending rusalky. Above all sewing and washing linen was tacitly forbidden.
You can hear rusalky, in the fields, until the end of June. The rustling and sighing of the breezes and the splash of running waters betrays their dancing feet. Young maiden wander into fields and through woods making garlands of mallow and periwinkle for rusalky, asking them to bestow kind husbands for them or else they toss their garlands into the river and watch the course of the wreath, reading omens from their progress.