In Search of a Carol: The Sofiivska Koliadka

How a Unique Old Carol Was “Discovered,” “Rediscovered,” and Given New Meaning in the Context of the Battle for Kyiv

by Bohdan Klid


A largely unknown and almost 400-hundred-year-old carol was given new life and meaning on December 25, 2023, when it was sung by the well-known pop music singer Tina Karol next to the belltower of St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv. Ms. Karol’s singing of what has been called “The Carol of [St.] Sophia (Sofiivska koliadka) first recognized in print for its uniqueness by Ivan Franko, became the final part of a fascinating news story that described the carol’s origins, fate, and search for its melody. Prepared by Ukraine’s TSN television journalist Nelli Kovalska, the story was broadcast as “In Search of a Carol” during the 5 pm news program Christmas Day. Additional footage was added in a rebroadcast on the 9 pm TSN news program titled “A very old carol of Ukraine was heard for the first time in 400 years, as sung by Tina Karol”. At least one other broadcast of the story took place Christmas Day.

Briefly, the carol can be divided into two main parts based it seems on local legends. The first revolves around the construction (actually the rebuilding) of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv the seventeenth century. This section was probably composed by someone who knew the cathedral well, as it contains detailed descriptions of the interior. Constituting a major part of the carol, it is preceded by a very short tale on the creation of the world—first waters and then land—upon which a tall and strong cedar had grown. The Mother of God chose this cedar and directed it be used for building “[h]oly Sophia in holy Kyiv.”
The second main part of the carol is probably based on a legend about the annihilation of a Polish army in 1630, which was bent on destroying the Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv. The monastery was saved and the army destroyed through divine intervention—the sending down from the heavens of “fiery rain, thunderous bullets” that drowned the Polish army. The carol also contains salutations. Such salutations (given to the master of the household before whom the carol was to be sung) are commonly found in Ukrainian carols.
The “Discovery” and Brief History of a Unique Carol
The “Carol of St. Sophia,” along with 18 other carols, was first written down in 1885 by Father Mykhailo Zubrytsky in the village of Mshanets, which is located in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains near the town of Staryi Sambir, in today’s Lviv obast. Zubrytsky, who was then curate and from 1889 pastor in Mshanets, was not a typical Greek Catholic rural priest. As Dr. Frank Sysyn noted in his introductory article to the three-volume collection of Zubrytsky’s writings and materials, Zubrytsky was a pastor-scholar, who was recognized in Ukrainian scholarly circles of the time as an accomplished historian, ethnographer and folklorist (13). Zubrytsky was also a gymnasium schoolmate of the literary titan and scholar Ivan Franko, who encouraged his scholarly endeavours, and with whom he retained a life-long friendship (10). As he knew that Franko was interested in carols, Zubrytsky notified his friend of the carols, who copied them.
Franko was fascinated most of all by the Carol of St. Sofiia. In late 1885, not long after he had copied it, Franko wrote to his mentor of the time, the historian, ethnographer, and political exile Mykhailo Drahomanov, who replied that the carol was “very interesting”, and should be studied comparatively with religious poems from the Balkans, and that the carol was probably a product of the Bogomil Christian sect, which became prominent in Bulgaria in the tenth century (15).
Eventually, Franko, who did not agree with Drahomanov’s interpretation, decided to publish the carol with a commentary. Although he lived and worked in Austrian-ruled Lviv, he chose to submit it for publication to the scholarly journal Kyivan Antiquities (Kievskaia starina), in Russian-ruled Kyiv. The carol and Franko’s comments, signed using the pseudonym Miron, appeared in the journal’s first issue for 1889 under the title “Extraordinary Carols” (6). In his commentary, Franko concluded that the carol’s text was basically a compilation of legends, and that it deserved “special attention.” What struck him most, which he stressed in his remarks, was that although the main focus of the carol was on events in Kyiv and St. Sophia, it was sung in a remote village in western Ukraine (under Austrian rule), where current-day residents would probably not even have known of Kyiv’s existence, let alone anything about St. Sophia. Franko’s preliminary conclusion turned out to be mistaken. As he later learned, Kyiv was mentioned in other Galician-Ruthenian folk legends (5). In is also possible that at least some villagers knew about Kyiv’s existence, as “the reading revolution” had come to Galician villages, especially as a result of the work of the Prosvita Society in the second half of the nineteenth century (14). Nevertheless it is notable that this carol was still being sung in this remote village, far-removed from Kyiv.
The publication of the carol with Franko’s comments triggered a lively discussion among scholars. The Russian philologist and literary-cultural historian and academician A. N. Veselovskii wrote about the carol, as did Volodymyr Hnatiuk, a noted Ukrainian ethnographer. Franko added more comments in subsequent publications (7, 8). Summarizing some of the discussion on the carol, and on similar legends, Hnatiuk agreed with Franko that the carol consisted of, essentially, two legends (3).
Mykhailo Hrushevsky, the doyen of Ukrainian historiography had the last word in this period on the carol. In comments written in the 1920s, Hrushevsky described the carol as “a mosaical’ potpouri of legendary themes.” Following Franko, he viewed the carol as “a compilation of short, compressed legendary themes.” Hrushevsky’s final remarks on the carol are worth noting: “Making use of local legends in carols, in any case, is a rarity. From this point of view, this carol is the only one of its kind and deserves special attention” (4).
The Carol’s Transformation, “Rediscovery,” and its New Meaning
Following Hrushevsky’s comments made almost a century ago, the Carol of St. Sophia was basically forgotten, even though it continued to be sung in the village of Halivka, a neighbouring village of Mshanets. Attention by scholars and cultural figures to the person who first recorded it, Father Mykhailo Zubrytsky, was, however, reignited a little more than a decade ago.
In 2013, the first volume of Zubrytsky’s collected works and materials appeared in print in Lviv. This book contains an introductory article in English and Ukrainian on Zubrytsky by Dr. Frank Sysyn, who headed the editorial committee. In it, Sysyn mentioned that Zubrytsky wrote down the carol along with 18 others, as well as some of the discussion by scholars (13). The second volume, published in 2016, contains Zubrytsky’s autobiography,  where he mentions the circumstances under which he wrote down the carols in 1885 and that Franko copied it them. (16) The third and last volume, published in 2019, contains the texts of all 19 carols, taken from Zubrytsky’s handwritten notes (9).
Unrelated to this development, in November 2021 the band Wiseword.Nidaros, from Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, which describes itself as “[a] dark folk/neofolk project from Ukraine,” released a disc titled “Teraturhima,” containing a track titled “St. Sophia (a Boiko psalm-carol).” The group created their own music, consistent with their declared dark folk/neofolk style, while the lyrics were taken from the Kyiivan Antiquities text, which the band provided.
Apart from this, the carol was also sung by the minstrel and hurdy-gurdy player (lirnyk) Yarema (Vadym Shevchuk) in January 2022 inside St. Sophia Cathedral, following memorial liturgy services for Ivan Mazepa, which marked the first time such services were held in St. Sophia for Ukraine’s famous Cossack hetman. Yarema’s reconstruction of the melody gave listeners an example of how this carol could have sounded, if sung by a Ukrainian minstrel in the seventeenth century (1, 2).
Renewed and wider interest in the carol took place following the presentation of a paper on the carol by Ihor Netudykhatkin at an international conference “on the occasion of the 1010th anniversary of the cathedral’s founding,” which was held on 30 September–1 October 2021. Netudykhatkin, who heads the "Sofia Museum" department of the National Conservation Area "Sofia of Kyiv," published a scholarly article based on this paper in the journal Sofiiskyi chasopys in 2022. The article summarized the story of the carol’s publication and the scholarly literature on the carol. More importantly, Netudykhatkin contributed a careful analysis of the carol’s text and its relationship to the interior of the cathedral, such as to some of the mosaics and the iconostasis, which was destroyed. Netudykhatkin stressed that the author of the carol’s text knew details of the cathedral well. He concluded, based on this observation, that the carol may not have been a compilation of two parts, as first proposed by Franko, but an integral whole, authored by the same individual (11). At the start of 2024, Netudykhatkin published an updated article in the popular magazine Tyzhden (12).
Netudykhatkin’s research into and the publication of his article on the carol acted as a catalyst in triggering the search for the carol’s melody, which was undertaken by TSN’s Nelli Kovalska. In her story, Netudykhatkin features prominently, providing necessary historical background and interpretations. Of interest is his hypothesis that the author of the carol may have been a craftsman that took part in the cathedral’s reconstruction efforts. After returning home to the Mshanets area, he composed the text to the carol, which although changed somewhat through the centuries, continues to be sung to this day.
As the carol’s text, noted by Netudykhatkin in his article and in the TV journalist’s report, was first recorded by the pastor of the village of Mshanets, Mykhailo Zubrytsky, the television crew headed by Kovalska set off to Mshanets, where she was introduced by the village priest to two elderly residents of the neighbouring village of Halivka, who knew the carols’ words and melody. One of them, Mykola Kikhtan, the village cantor, sang the carol from a text he had written down about 50 years ago.


mshanets1From the recording of the psalm-carol sung by the cantor Mykola Kikhtan, which was made on a phone in the village of Halivka, on November 9, 2023by special correspondent of TSN (channel 1+1) Nelli Kovalska and Ihor Netudykhatkin, head of the “Sofia Museum” department of the National Conservation Area "Sofia of Kyiv."


The singer Tina Karol was contacted who then studied the recording. On Christmas Day she sang a modified version of the carol set to bells, based on the words sang by the cantor. On New Year’s Day residents of the village of Halivka sang the carol, which was recorded and posted on Facebook.

In listening to the words sung by the cantor, one can hear that some differ from those recorded by Zubrytsky. The most striking change was the substitution of the Turkish army for Polish army. This change was noticed and discussed by Kovalska with the cantor in the video. In her rendition of the carol, Karol changed the words Polish (or Turkish) army to Muscovite army, thereby transforming the carol’s meaning and making it contemporary, tying it to the current Russian (Muscovite) invasion of Ukraine, in general, and the Battle for Kyiv, in particular.
In her comments to the TSN TV journalists on the stage next to St. Sophia Cathedral, just before she sang the carol, Karol hinted at this change in the carol’s meaning, when she said: “It is a great honour for me to recreate and give new life, new wind to an ancient carol, which is almost 400 years old… As long as traditions live, the country lives.
Final Comments on the Carol’s Texts and Conclusion
The fact that modifications occurred to the carol’s text deserves attention and comments. One such change, which differentiates it from the one recorded by Zubrytsky, can be attributed to its further dialectization, that is the substitution of words used in the Boiko dialect for the more mainstream Ukrainian ones. The original text already contains a number of words from the Boiko dialect, such as remisnycheiko, instead of remisnyk (craftsman), or polkovnycheiko, for polkovnyk (colonel). In the text sung by the cantor and also by Tina Karol, the word Bozheiko is substituted for the word Boh (God). This dialectization seems to bring closer and make God more identifiable with the Boiko people. It is of interest to note that the dark folk/neofolk band Wiseword.Nidaros added the subtitle “a boiko psalm carol” to the title Carol of St. Sophia. One other change, not related to dialectization” is that the original text has 40 craftsmen while the text sung by the cantor has 70.
While the changes to the text that occurred in the Carpathian foothills in or near Mshanets can be explained as probably typical of modifications to texts that can occur in the oral tradition and in a predominantly pre-literate culture over time, Tina Karol’s word substitution can certainly be seen as appropriate and timely. Immediately following the invasion of Ukraine, as the endless columns of tanks and other armoured vehicles drove closer to Kyiv in late February 2022, it appeared that Russia would quickly overwhelm Ukraine’s defenders and that Kyiv would soon fall. The vast majority of military experts and analysts had concluded at the time that Ukraine’s army would be quickly crushed. US military assistance on the eve of the full-scale invasion consisted primarily of providing weapons suitable for partisan warfare, such as the shoulder-launched Javelin anti-tank system. The experts however, including in the Pentagon, were proven wrong, as similarly to what was described in the carol, “fiery rain” seemed to come down from the heavens to destroy the Russian army at the doorstep of Kyiv. The Russians as well were expecting an easy romp, as some of their burned-out and destroyed vehicles contained dress uniforms for their soldiers, who evidently expected to be goose-stepping down Khreshchatyk boulevard in a victory parade.
Although some of the Russian armoured vehicles were hit by Javelin missiles and other similar weapons, the majority were destroyed from the skies, hit by projectiles fired by Ukrainian aircraft and Turkish-made Bayraktar drones, as well as artillery fire. The Battle for Kyiv was won and Ukraine’s independence was secured by the end of March 2022, when Russia began withdrawing the remnants of its armored forces, mainly to Belarus. A miracle it seemed had occurred, just as in the seventeenth century, when, as in the legend described in the carol, divine intervention occurred that caused fires from the sky to rain down upon the Polish army.
The current, new meaning of the carol adds a fresh page to existing legends where divine intervention occurred to thwart a foreign army bent on destroying a sacred place in Ukraine. Some of these legends involve the Mother of God intervening, or acting as protectress. Certainly, the Mother of God was seen and depicted in the seventeenth century as a protectress of the Ukrainian Cossacks and Orthodoxy. She intervened, for instance, as described in a popular song sung by Ukrainian choruses to this day, to turn back Turkish cannon balls fired at the Pochaiv Monastery, saving the monastery and destroying the Turkish army. The image of the Mother of God with her hands raised in prayer, depicted as the Oranta in the huge mosaic in the back of the Cathedral of St. Sophia, is striking and central to the church’s identity. In the carol, God intervenes to save the Cathedral of St. Sophia, which was directed to be built by the Mother of God.
It is thus worth considering the meaning of the carol and the symbolic importance of the Cathedral of St. Sophia in the context of Ukrainian identity and statehood. St. Sophia, built in the eleventh century, is recognized as an architectural gem and as a symbol and main shrine of Rus'-Ukraine’s Christianity and statehood. The cathedral was partially destroyed and fell into disrepair in the wake of the Mongol invasion and the fall of Kyiv in 1240. Rebuilding efforts begun in the late sixteenth century were intensified in the seventeenth century, which coincides with the reinvigoration of Orthodoxy and learning under the leadership of Metropolitan Petro Mohyla. It was under Mohyla that the iconostasis was built, which was destroyed but described in the carol. The rebuilding of St. Sophia, depicted in the carol as being directed by the Mother of God, also coincided with the rise of the Ukrainian Cossack state and early-modern Ukrainian identity. The carol received considerable attention in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by some of the leading figures of Ukrainian scholarship and literature—Ivan Franko, Volodymyr Hnatiuk, and Mykhailo Hrushevsky. It was rediscovered, a story on it composed and shown nationwide on Ukrainian TV. The carol was given new life and meaning by Tina Karol in the context of Russia’s invasion, which has its aim at the destruction of Ukrainian statehood, the nation, and its cultural identity. Seeing the barbaric, near total destruction of Ukrainian cities, such as Mariupol and Bakhmut, one wonders if St. Sophia would have survived intact and if Ukraine would have retained its statehood if not for what could be regarded by some as a miraculous victory in the Battle for Kyiv.



  1. Bila, Andriana, “Natsionalna relikviia: Mazepynska Yevanheliie povernulosia v Sofiiu Kyivsku,” (13 January 2022).
  1. “For the First Time in Independent Ukraine a Requiem Mass Was Performed In St. Sophia of Kyiv for Hetman Ivan Mazepa:” (11 February 2022).See also the imbedded video, starting at 2:10.
  1. Hnatiuk, Volodymyr, “Do koliadky pro sv Sofiiu v Kyivi:” Zapysky NTSh, vol. LXXIX (1907), pp. 155–59.
  1. Hrushevsky, Mykhailo, Istoriia ukrainskoi literatury, vol. 4, Ustna tvorchist piznikh kniazhykh i perekhodovykh vikiv XIII–XVII (New York, 1960), pp. 444–45, 548– 50. The 1960 edition is a copy of the first 1925 printing.
  1. Hrytsak, Yaroslav, Ivan Franko and His Community (Edmonton, 2018), pp. 113–14.
  1. Miron [Ivan Franko], “Zamechatelnyia koliadki,” Kievskaia starina, no. 12, vol. 35 (1889), pp. 231–33.
  1. Miron [Ivan Franko], “K obiasnenniu odnoi koliadki,” Kievskaia starina, no. 12, vol. 35 (1891), p. 476.
  1. Franko, Ivan, “Koliadka p[r]o sv. Sofiiu v Kyivi,” Zapysky Naukovoho Tovarystva im. Shevchenka, vol. LXXVIII (1907), book 4, pp. 108–22.
  1. “Koliady,” in Sysyn, Frank, et al. ed., Mykhailo Zubrytsky, Zibrani tvory i materialy u trokh tomakh. Vol. 3: Hazetni publikatsii, etnohrafichni ta arkhivni materialy (Lviv 2019), pp. 955–64. All 19 carols are printed here, based on Zubrytsky’s handwritten notes.
  1. Kyrchiv, Roman, “Zviazky Mykhaila Zubrytskoho z Ivanom Frankom i Volodymyrom Hnatiukom,” reprinted in Sysyn, Frank, et al., Mykhailo Zubrytsky, Zibrani tvory i materialy u trokh tomakh. Vol. 2: Materialy do biohrafii (Lviv 2016), pp. 443–50.
  1. Netudykhatkin, Ihor, “‘Sofiivska koliadka’ XVII st. iak dzherelo z istorii katedry rannomodernoho periodu,” Sofiiskyi chasopys, no. 6 (Kyiv, 2022), pp. 222–30.
  1. Netudydkhatkin, Ihor, “Sofiiska koliadka: u poshukakh melodii Rizdva XVII stolittia:” (1 January 2024)
  1. Sysyn, Frank, “Father Mykhailo Zubrytsky: The Nestor of the Ukrainian Village,” in Sysyn, Frank, et al., Mykhailo Zubrytsky, Zibrani tvory i materialy u trokh tomakh. Vol. 1: Naukovi pratsi (Lviv 2013), pp. 43–68.
  1. Sysyn, Frank, “The Reading Revolution in the Ukrainian Countryside: Mshanets, 1870–1914,” Ukraina Moderna, no. 2, 2015, pp. 139–66.
  1. Vseukrainska Akademiia nauk. Komisiia Zakhidnoi Ukrainy, comp., Materialy dlia kulturnoi ta hromadskoi istorii Zakhidnoi Ukrainy, (vol. 1, Lystuvannia I. Franka i M. Drahomanova (Kyiv, 1928), pp. 135 –37.
  1. Zubrytsky, Mykhailo, “Avtobiohrafiia,” in Sysyn, Frank, et al., Mykhailo Zubrytsky, Zibrani tvory i materialy u trokh tomakh. Vol. 2: Materialy do biohrafii (Lviv 2016), 53–101.


Author's note: I wish to thank Halyna Klid for finding or obtaining many of the sources used; Ihor Netudykhatkin, for materials and help in acquiring permission to post video no. 5, Tina Karol for her text of the Carol of St. Sophia (carol no. 2), and Frank Sysyn for his comments.
Note on transliteration: Slavic words are transliterated from Cyrillic using a simplified, modified Library of Congress system. Diacritics are omitted, including for indicating the soft sign (ь).

Two Texts of the Carol


Text no. 1

А що нам било з защаду світа 

(Славен єс, боже,
По й усім світі і на небесіх).
Ой не било ж нам, хиба сина вода, 

Синая вода тай білий камінь.
А прикрив Господь сиров землицев, 

виросло на нім кедрове древо,
Барз височейке і барз слічнейке. 

Висмотріла го пресвята Діва, 

Зізвала ’д ньому 40 ремісників: 

[“]Ой підіте ж ви, ремісничейки,
А зітніте ж ви кедрове древо, 

Збудуйте з нього св[яту] Софію 

[святу Софію] в святім Кійові.
Би на ній било 70 верхів,
[70 верхів], 70 крижів.
Семеро дверей, а єдни підлоги[”]. 

У день будували, в ночи втікали, 

[в ночи втікали], в день прибивали. 

А зіслав Господь ангела з неба:

 [“]Не влякайтеся, ремісничейки, 

Дав вам то Господь ведлук силойки. 

Крижі робіте, верхи зводіте[”]. 

Єден вершейко барз височейко 

[барз височейко] і барз слічнейко. 

А в тім вершейку золотий престів,
За тим престолом сам милий Господь, 

Служит службойку суборовую, 

[суборовую], заздоровую,
і за здоровя нашого брата,
[нашого брата] і всіх християн.
Тамтуди лежит здавну стежейка, 

Стежкою іде польська вінойка,
Межи ними йде повковничейко.
Стала вінойка в крижі стріляти.
Рече словейко-повковничейко:
[“]А не стріляйте ж в святії крижі,
Бо спустит Господь огняний дожджик, 

[огняний дожджик], громові кулі,
Затопит Господь польську вінойку[”]. 

Вни не слухали, в крижі стріляли.
Ай так ся стало, як він говорив:
Іспустив Господь огняний дожджик, 

[огняний дожджик], громові кулі. 

Затопив Господь польську вінойку.
Хіба нам зістав повковничейко, 

[повковничейко], гей, наш братейко.
Би на здоровя, на многі літа?
Гей, наш панойку, тай наш братойку.
Не сам із собов [а з милим Богом,
Із милим Богом, з господинейков,
з господинейков і з челядойков]. 

As found in Sysyn, Frank, et al. ed., Mykhailo Zubrytsky, Zibrani tvory i materialy u trokh tomakh. Vol. 3: Hazetni publikatsii, etnohrafichni ta arkhivni materialy (Lviv 2019), pp. 960–61.


Text no. 2

Помилуй же нас, Господь

Не ж там не було — одна сина вода,

Одна сина вода тай білий камінь, Божейку

Гей Божейку й помилуй же нас, Господь

А прикрив Господь сиров землицеу

Виросло на ній кедрове древо

Висмотрила го Пресвята Діва, Божейку

Гей Божейку й помилуй же нас, Господь

Ой наняла вна сім-десять майстрів

Ой ж ви майстрови ви ремісники

Ой зрубайте ж ви кедрове древо,

Вивставте з нього святу Софію,

Святу Софію в святім Кійові.

Би на ній было сімдесять верхів,

А оконочок як на неб зірок

Єден вершийко дуже високий

Під тим вершийком золотий престіл, Божейку

Гей Божейку й помилуй же нас, Господь

Там туди лежит здавну стежка,

Стежкою іде москальська війна,Божейку

Гей Божейку й помилуй же нас, Господь

Стала війнонька в крижі стріляти.

І спустив Господь огняний дождик,

Огняний дождик, громові кулі,

Затопив Господь москальську війну, Божейку

Гей Божейку й помилуй же нас Господь

Би на здоровья нам, на многі літа,

Не сам із собов, а з милим Богом,

Із милим Богом, з господинейков,

З господинейков і з челядойков. Божейку

Гей Божейку й помилуй же нас, Господь.

Text of the words sung by Tina Karol on 25 December 2023, provided to the author by Tina Karol on 29 December 2023.