Fifty years. That’s how long the Ukrainian World Congress has been around, and the year 2017 for this worldwide body – which has ties with 53 countries and represents a diaspora of 20 million Ukrainians – was one of multiple celebrations of this major anniversary.
A UWC appeal on the occasion of the anniversary cited the organization’s worthy objectives: “In 1967 it was the renewal of an independent Ukrainian state. In 2017 it is the continued development of a democratic and prospering state. Concurrently the UWC actively promotes the rights and interests of all Ukrainians wherever they may live.” In fact, in 2017 the UWC opened a Mission to International Organizations in Brussels to further build and strengthen relations with the international community.
Major international conferences dedicated to the UWC’s five decades began in August in Lviv (on the topic “UWC at 50 and Beyond: The European Context”) and concluded in November in Toronto (“UWC at 50 and Beyond: The Roadmap”). In between, there were conferences in New York (“UWC at 50 and Beyond: The North American Vector”), Curitiba, Brazil (“UWC at 50 and beyond: The South American Vector”) and Brussels, Belgium (“UWC at 50: European and Euro-Atlantic Forum”).
In New York on September 16, a daylong conference at the prestigious Princeton Club looked back at the history of the Ukrainian diaspora’s international coordinating body; it was followed by a golden jubilee banquet. The event brought together leaders of the UWC, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, as well as activists from the United States, Canada and beyond for a conference comprising four panel discussions and presentations by individual speakers on a variety of themes related to the world body’s efforts. The banquet was addressed by two keynote speakers: Kateryna Yushchenko, a former first lady of Ukraine, and Vasyl Hrytsak, head of the Security Service of Ukraine. The steering committee for the entire day’s events was a collaboration between the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and the Center for U.S.-Ukrainian Relations. Dr. Walter Zaryckyj, chair of the UWC International Scholarly Council, was the forum’s host and moderator.
The final conference in the series, held in Toronto on November 10-11, summed up half a century of UWC activity and developed priorities for the future. Participating in the conference were religious and state high-ranking officials and diplomatic representatives from Ukraine and Canada, politicians, members of the leadership and representatives of UWC member organizations from Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, Greece, Estonia, Canada, the Russian Federation, the United States, Hungary and Switzerland, as well as leaders of UWC partner organizations – the International Institute for Education, Culture and Diaspora Relations of Lviv Polytechnic National University and the Atlantic Council. Dr. Zaryckyj was the program coordinator and conference chair. The keynote address at the banquet that evening was by acting Minister of Health of Ukraine Dr. Ulana Suprun, who focused on the positive changes in Ukraine over recent years and the country’s path of reform in the health care system.
As longtime readers of The Ukrainian Weekly may recall, the UWC was founded in 1967 as the World Congress of Free Ukrainians. A total of 1,003 delegates attended the first World Congress of Free Ukrainians, and related activities, held on November 12-19, 1967, in New York City. They represented 17 countries beyond the borders of Ukraine where some 3 million Ukrainians lived. A massive Freedom Rally at Madison Square Garden was meant to demonstrate the Ukrainian diaspora’s resolve. And it did. Over 10,000 people attended. The creation of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians, known since 1993 as the Ukrainian World Congress, was seen as a reaffirmation of Ukrainians’ faith in the ultimate realization of their nation’s claim to freedom.
UWC President Eugene Czolij noted: “Our commemorations, which included events in 26 countries, including Ukraine, offered the opportunity to meet with members of our community from all walks of life, and to learn more about their work and commitment to both building their communities and assisting the people of Ukraine in building their democratic, reformed European state.”
The world body’s golden anniversary was celebrated in Kyiv, at the Mystetskyi Arsenal on August 26. Joining the UWC leadership and representatives of its international network were Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and First Lady Maryna Poroshenko; Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate; Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church; and other religious leaders, high-ranking officials from Ukraine, diplomats from around the world and representatives of Ukrainian civil society. In his address at the jubilee event, President Poroshenko thanked the UWC for its longstanding support of Ukraine and asserted that the UWC is a strong and consolidated voice for Ukraine’s aspirations and its loyal defender worldwide. On August 25, a special session was convened at Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the occasion of the jubilee.
UWC leaders were in the Ukrainian capital for the organization’s annual general meeting, which was attended by 206 delegates and guests from 32 countries. The August 25-26 meeting took place at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. A few days later, on August 30, Verkhovna Rada Chairman Andriy Parubiy congratulated the UWC delegates during a joint meeting with members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on European Integration held in the Parliament.
In Lviv, on August 27-29, a UWC partner-organization, the International Institute for Education, Culture and Diaspora Relations of Lviv Polytechnic National University, and an organizing committee headed by Lviv Oblast State Administration Chair Oleh Syniutka continued the 50th anniversary celebrations with Ukrainian Diaspora Days, which encompassed various ceremonies, exhibits, a concert and a conference. At a gala at Lviv Polytechnic, the traveling exhibit “Ukrainian World Congress: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” was officially launched. It was to travel throughout Ukraine in 2017 and 2018, visiting universities and educational institutions, and engaging students in discussion about the UWC and the role of the Ukrainian diaspora.
Reports on many of the UWC anniversary commemorations, as well as visits by the peripatetic UWC president to Ukrainian diaspora communities appeared in quite a few issues of The Ukrainian Weekly, which compiled news stories based on multiple releases of information from the UWC headquarters in Toronto. One of the first reports came from Poland, where a 50th anniversary banquet was held at the National Home in Przemysl (Peremyshl), which had been confiscated by the Polish Communist regime in 1947 during Akcja Wisla and returned in 2011 to the Ukrainian community by Polish governing authorities. As was the case elsewhere, the short documentary film “50 Years of the Ukrainian World Congress” was screened.
Among the other countries the UWC president visited were: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Moldova, Brazil, Belgium, Latvia, Hungary, Bulgaria, France, Belgium, Croatia, Estonia, the United Kingdom and, of course, his home country, Canada.
In his speeches at various venues in various countries, Mr. Czolij called upon the Ukrainian community to encourage the international community to assist Ukraine in the defense of its territorial integrity against the aggression of the Russian Federation and also focused attention on recent positive reforms in Ukraine. He also aimed to strengthen cooperation with governing structures in these countries in order to further Ukrainian issues on the international stage. More specifically, he highlighted the magnitude of Russia’s hybrid war, which poses a serious threat to Ukraine, as well as peace and security in the world. He called for the strengthening of sanctions against the Russian Federation until it fully complies with the Minsk agreements and de-occupies Crimea, and for the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping mission to eastern Ukraine and a monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to illegally occupied Crimea.
On November 22, the Ukrainian World Congress issued a statement marking the 84th anniversary of the Holodomor – the genocidal Famine of 1932-1933 – and the beginning of a yearlong commemoration leading to the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor that will culminate in November 2018. The UWC called upon the international community to strengthen its efforts to further raise international awareness of the Holodomor and promote the recognition of the Holodomor as an act of genocide by the governments of all countries and the United Nations. During his working visit to Kyiv on November 29-December 1, Mr. Czolij and officials in Ukraine discussed, among other things, the joint commemoration in 2018 in Ukraine and throughout the Ukrainian diaspora of the Holodomor’s 85th anniversary.
At the end of the year, the UWC weighed in on yet another issue that concerns Ukraine and Ukrainians, as it called upon all high-ranking officials of governments and international organizations to boycott the games of the 21st World Cup of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) scheduled to be played in the Russian Federation from June 14 to July 15, 2018. The UWC said it is unacceptable for high-ranking officials of governments and international organizations to attend any FIFA World Cup soccer games in the Russian Federation when it remains an aggressor state that illegally occupies Crimea and for the fourth year brutally ignores the international order, persistently waging war in eastern Ukraine and grossly violating the human rights of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. Thus, in a December 20 released, the UWC called upon its 53-country network to urge officials of their countries of residence and international organizations to refrain from attending FIFA World Cup games in Russia.
Elsewhere in the Ukrainian diaspora, the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations, which represents 22 top Ukrainian organizations in the country, played a very active role. On February 1, the AFUO cited the “escalation of activity of Russian-terrorist forces in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.” In a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, the AFUO called on the Australian government to officially protest to the Russian Federation and demand it cease hostilities immediately and comply strictly with the ceasefire. “…the time has now come again to become far more proactive in sending strong messages internationally that Australia condemns the Russian aggression and will assist Ukraine to ensure that our common values and principles are not eroded or compromised.,” the AFUO stated. The organization’s strong voice continued to be heard throughout 2017.
In Poland, the Ukrainian minority was in peril, according to Askold Lozynskyj, a former president of the Ukrainian World Congress who is now a journalist accredited at the United Nations in New York. In his op-ed article published in our October 8 issue, Mr. Lozynskyj wrote: “Over the last three years the Ukrainian minority in Poland has been persecuted by this right-wing regime [led by the Party of Law and Justice]. Societal Polish anti-Ukrainian activity has been emboldened, often encouraged and almost invariably condoned by the regime in power.” He went on to point out: “The southeastern territory of today’s Poland was formerly considered a part of Ukraine and occupied in heavy concentrations until 1947 by Ukrainians. In 1947 the Polish Communist government forcibly relocated that ethnic Ukrainian community to the far reaches of northwestern Poland, territory belonging to Germany prior to World War II. The thrust of this police action [known as Akcja Wisla], which many have condemned as an attempted genocide of Ukrainians in Poland, was not simply to relocate but to ‘solve the Ukrainian problem in Poland.’ That specific language was used in the secret directive for this action. Ukrainians were to be resettled in non-concentrated communities so that they would cease to exist as an ethic entity.”
Since the time that Poland’s and Ukraine’s independence was restored, in 1989 and 1991, respectively, many Ukrainians had returned to Poland. “There they exhumed and buried their long fallen civilian ancestors, as well as fallen soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army that fought the Soviets and the Polish Communists on Polish territory after 1945. Monuments were erected both with and without the consent of the Polish authorities. In fact, some memorials to the Ukrainian deceased were erected at the cost of the Polish government,” Mr. Lozynskyj noted. “Most former Ukrainian community property and churches that were taken over by the Polish Communist government in the late 1940s and decreed confiscated in 1949 have remained with their new owners, but singular structures have been returned to the Ukrainian ethnic community.” These, buildings, churches, memorials, monuments and gravesites “have been the targets of a recent onslaught by chauvinistic elements of Polish society and sanctioned by the current regime. They have been defaced and/or destroyed,” Mr. Lozynskyj continued.
A four-page Polish-language chronology of recent attacks against Ukrainians in Poland – prepared by the Union of Ukrainians in Poland – was submitted by Mr. Lozynskyj to the permanent representative of the Republic of Poland to the United Nations in New York, but “There has been no response.” That document, he said, would be forwarded to the U.N. secretary general, the U.N. Human Rights Council and its high commissioner, as well as the 192 other countries that comprise the U.N.
Speaking of Akcja Wisła, Ukrainians in various parts of the world observed the solemn 70th anniversary of this forced resettlement by the Polish Communist government of the Ukrainian minority from the southeastern provinces of post-war Poland to the so-called Recovered Territories in the west of the country. Over 140,000 ethnic Ukrainians were thus uprooted from their ancestral lands in the regions of Kholmshchyna, Pidliashia, Nadsiannia, Boykivshchyna and Lemkivshchyna. Conferences and cultural events were among the events organized to mark the anniversary during 2017 in North America, Poland and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, a municipal court on June 5 convicted the head of Russia’s only state-run Ukrainian literature library for “extremism.” Natalia Sharina, a native Muscovite and ethnic Russian, was given a four-year suspended sentence for “inciting national enmity or hatred.” As noted by our Kyiv correspondent, the trial was part of “Russia’s timeworn orchestrated efforts to denigrate Ukrainian identity and culture.” Human rights groups, including London-based Amnesty International, Russia’s Memorial and the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, as well as pro-Ukrainian advocacy groups, denounced Ms. Sharina’s prosecution, which ostensibly took place because a banned book authored by a Ukrainian nationalist was found at the Moscow library. Ms. Sharina testified that the book was planted at the library, and she told the court that the case was not about a single book among the 52,000 periodicals and books that she oversaw. “The state prosecutor herself admitted during the proceedings that this was a political case,” Ms. Sharina told reporters after the ruling.
Russian authorities were in the process of shuttering the library, which also held events that included lectures by Ukrainian artists and renowned writers, concerts, and informative gatherings on Ukrainian history and culture, like Easter and Christmas. “This is a logical step in Russia’s national policy to humiliate Ukrainian history, particularly in the last three years,” Andriy Okara of Moscow’s Center for Eastern European Studies told The Ukrainian Weekly’s correspondent. “This criminal case was invented.” The overall goal, according to advocacy groups like the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), is to continue persecuting Ukrainians in Russia – the country’s second largest minority. Russia’s latest census, conducted in 2010, says that over 1.9 million people identify themselves as ethnic Ukrainians.
The Ukrainian World Congress issued a statement on the Sharina case in which it appealed “to the international community, including all commissioners of human rights and human rights organizations, to take immediate action in response to this blatant violation of human rights and mockery of the rule of law and to protect the fundamental freedoms of all national minorities in the Russian Federation.”
At the United Nations, the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations, along with two U.N.-accredited NGO partners, the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations (WFUWO) and the Ukrainian World Congress organized “A Celebration of Women’s Voices” in honor of International Mother Language Day on March 10 at the U. N. Headquarters in New York City. International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of UNESCO in November 1999 “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world,” and active commemorations began in 2007. In 2017, on the eve of the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, the Ukrainian celebration of International Mother Language Day honored the legacy of women’s voices in Ukrainian arts and literature.
Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.N. Volodymyr Yelchenko delivered opening remarks, and Undersecretary-General Catherine Pollard underscored the importance of women and their communities to the United Nations’ mission. Dr. Martha Bohachevsky Chomiak, an authority on the history of the Ukrainian women’s movement and author of “Feminists Despite Themselves: Women in Ukrainian Community Life 1884-1939,” delivered the event’s keynote address.
The program also included a clip from the forthcoming feature-length drama “Julia Blue,” written and directed by Roxy Toporowych. Additional elements of the program included the poetry of Lesia Ukrainka (1871-1913), recited in Ukrainian by Nadia Tatchin and Lesya Topolya, as well as the work of Ayshe Ake and Sabriye Erejepova, read in the Crimean Tatar language by Zulfire Asanova and Lillia Memetova.
Soon thereafter, on March 13-24, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women attracted close to 4,000 participants from 580 civil society organizations from 138 countries, 165 U.N. missions and representatives of government and non-governmental organizations. Panels and cultural events were held at more than 100 venues throughout New York City. The World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations, which has been involved with U.N. initiatives for almost 70 years, has been the lynchpin organization at the U.N. for events of concern for Ukrainian women worldwide; it often works in close cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations. On March 13, members of Ukraine’s official delegation to the CSW – Minister of Social Policy Andrij Reva, Deputy Minister of Social Policy Natalia Fedorovych and National Deputy Iryna Lutsenko – met with WFUWO representatives President Orysia Sushko, Administrative Officer Oksana Sushko, U.N./Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) main representative Dr. Martha Kichorowska Kebalo and U.N./ECOSOC representative Nadia Shmigel, as well as Dr. Lyudmyla Porokhnyak-Hanowska, president of the National Council of Women of Ukraine, and Iryna Kurowyckyj, U.N./ECOSOC main representative for the International Council of Women. Among the topics raised during the meeting were Ukraine’s plan for implementing Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which was passed in 2000.
The WFUWO was among the co-organizers of an event hosted on March 16 by the Permanent Missions of Austria, Finland, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and moderated by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, to publicly introduce the Regional Women’s Peace Dialogue Platform in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The WFUWO was also among the co-sponsors or host of several additional events, including a session organized by the U.S. League of Women Voters devoted to the fuller participation of women in the world’s parliaments; a panel organized by the U.N. NGO Committee on Mental Health on March 23; a panel on women’s entrepreneurship; and an evening at the Shevchenko Scientific Society devoted to the presentation of a new publication in Ukrainian about domestic violence, both of which were held March 18. “Proty Nasylstva/Pro Nas” (Against Violence/About Us), is an anthology of short stories describing real-life situations of domestic violence written in Ukrainian (it is being translated into English). The stories are supplemented by legal advice and commentary based on research on the nature and prevalence of domestic violence in Ukraine.
In Germany on August 12-19, over 700 Ukrainian scouts came together for an international jubilee jamboree celebrating the 105th anniversary of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization and the 70th anniversary of the first large post-war Plast gathering at the “Sviato Vesny” (spring camporee) in Mittenwald in 1947. The event took place at Jugensiedlung Hochland, near the village of Königsdorf, about 50 kilometers from Munich. The jamboree (known by its Ukrainian acronym as YuMPZ) saw participants from 60 different cities in 13 different countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine and the United States.
The 2017 YuMPZ, named “Amid the Forest” (a direct translation of the German word “Mittenwald”), was filled with exciting activities for young participants: 14 kilometers of whitewater rafting on the Inn River in Austria’s Imster Schlucht canyon; a hike through the beautiful Höllentalklamm gorge to the base of Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak; a city tour of Munich; as well as various scouting games around the Königsdorf campsite. Adult scouts also had an opportunity to participate in a weeklong cycling expedition from Berchtesgaden to Mittenwald.
Other highlights of the week included an international ecological exhibit named “Green Planet” that was prepared by scouts from each country; a mini-museum titled “Mittenwald 1947,” which exhibited photographs and memoirs from the 1947 Sviato Vesny and the displaced persons camps where the participants of that time resided. Especially moving was the final day when more than 500 Plast scouts traveled to Mittenwald to get a bird’s eye view of the town from the peak of Karwendel Mountain, and to learn about the town then and now. In Kurpark Puit, Plast scouts also unveiled a memorial dedicated to the displaced persons who lived there after World War II. The youngest members of the jamboree (cub scouts, or “novatsvto”) together with the six participants in attendance who had taken part in the 1947 camporee, planted a commemorative ginkgo biloba tree at the park. This tree species, one of the oldest on the planet, was selected as a symbol of peace, environmental protection, friendship and strength to honor those scouts who carried on Plast’s tenets and continued to live by them wherever they went on to settle.