Russia and Ukraine in bun fight over fairy tales

Map Russia's controversial map matches fairy tales to their alleged birthplaces

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Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a large empire. It was called the USSR. One day, all of a sudden, it disappeared.

Among the Soviet states left behind were two giants: Russia and Ukraine.

They began to argue: about borders... about territory... even about who owned the gas pipelines.

Today they are fighting again - but this time, it is over fairy tales.

Russia has published a controversial national fairy tale map laying claim to some of the most popular folk tales in the Russian-speaking world.

The map displays three dozen fairy tale characters which, it maintains, have Russian roots.

Fat bun
Girl with Kolobok book Both Russia and Ukraine claim Kolobok as their own

Among them is the gingerbread man-style cute cake Kolobok - a fat bun who skips his way through the forest chased by some greedy beasts desperate to gobble him up.

On the fairy tale map, Kolobok is shown as originating in Ulyanovsk Region (birthplace of the rather less cute, though more revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin).

Among the other characters featured are the folk hero Ilya Muromets and Kurochka Ryaba - a Russian hen which, rather conveniently, lays golden eggs.

In fact, golden eggs may well have something to do with the map's appearance.

After all, towns and cities which can claim to be the birthplaces of popular fairy tales can expect to attract more tourists and make more money.

"This summer we'll see the first ever Fairy Tale Tours in Russia," predicts Alexei Kozlovsky of the Association of Russian Communities, the organisation which has produced the map.

"There will definitely be tours in Yaroslavl, Ulyanovsk and Kirov regions."

Financially rewarding

But Ukraine is up in arms.

It has its own national fairy tale map and argues that Kolobok, Ilya Muromets and Kurochka Ryaba all have Ukrainian roots.

Russian fairy-tale books Traditional fairy tales are still enjoyed by children in Russia and Ukraine

In the case of Kolobok, Ukrainian linguists argue that "kolo" is a Ukrainian word meaning "round" - proof that the popular pastryman Kolobok had a Ukrainian passport.

"With that logic, you could just as well argue that the American city Colorado comes from the Ukrainian word kolo," responds Mr Kozlovsky.

"You could go on endlessly about this. There is actually a Russian word, kolob, which refers to a round dough.

"In Ulyanovsk, the birth place of Kolobok, dough which had risen was traditionally known as 'kolebyatka'."

It all sounds very convincing.

Until you remember that so many different countries and cultures have a fairy tale which is similar to Kolobok, featuring either a runaway pancake, a gingerbread man on the loose or a fleeing rice cake.

Russia, of course, is not the first country trying to cash in on folk stories.

The German Tourist Board has put together maps with Fairy Tale Routes that will guide tourists to Rapunzel's tower, Hansel and Gretel's forest and into Hamelin to meet the Pied Piper.

Russia too seems to have realised that fairy tales can be financially rewarding.

This summer a Disneyland-style holiday park is due to open in Ulyanovsk region dedicated to that famous runaway cakeman, Kolobok.

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