CLEVELAND – The Maria Zankovetska National Drama Theater, in existence now for a century, is coming to North America in late October. The troupe traces its beginnings to 1917, at the time the Russian Empire fell and the Ukrainian Revolution began, when young Ukrainian activists established political and cultural organizations, including the first national theater in Kyiv. Its first production was presented at the Troyitsky National Home in Kyiv. In the 1930s, the group moved to Zaporizhia; after Soviet Ukraine incorporated Halychyna in the early 1940s, the theater moved to Lviv, where it’s been ever since under its current name. Three generations of Ukraine’s actors went through the Zankovetska Theater.
Years ago, I wrote a column dedicated to fathers – including my own, of course, but also those who served as mentors and helped to shape the person I’ve become. Premier among them was Osyp Zinkewych, the founder and tireless engine who ran Smoloskyp for 60-plus years. Beyond question, he was the most brilliant person I’ve ever known and I’ve worked with several extraordinary people. Sadly, my friend, colleague and inspiration, Zinkewych, passed away September 18 at the age of 92. I first met Zinkewych in 1974 following a presentation he made at a Cleveland-area college about the nascent dissident movement in Ukraine.
“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” – Psalms 90: 10 My parents, two brothers and I moved to Cleveland on my seventh birthday, September 5, 1954, just before Labor Day. I started the second grade two days later. We left Frackville in Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Region, our father driving a green ’52 Chevy on the newly constructed Pennsylvania Turnpike. That evening, we arrived at the house on Roanoke in a working class neighborhood that would be the family home for the next 30-plus years. It was a 10-minute walk for me to school and a short drive to the industrial valley where our father got a job, having networked with Cleveland’s Ukrainian American community: “new immigrants” with relationships from the “old country” going back to childhood; and “old immigrants” with roots in America established a generation before.
It was the worst job I ever had. And it paid well. I was a “test carrier” at J&L Steel Co. Our next door neighbor was a union shop steward, and he arranged for me to be hired. I already had a job lined up in an inner-city high school in September, but I welcomed the opportunity to make good money over the summer.
The world lost a giant when Zbigniew Brzezinski died last month. America lost a statesman; Ukraine lost a friend. I first became aware of Dr. Brzezinski in the early 1970s, reading his commentaries in Newsweek. That was during the depths of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union – with a vast military, nuclear arms, barbed wire borders and massive walls, transmitters jamming short-wave radio, an army of censors screening every word, every image, even musical notes and a network of agents, informants and listening devices spanning two continents – looked like it would last a thousand years. Across a 45-year divide, I don’t remember the specifics of Dr. Brzezinski’s columns, but I read them religiously.
I was a high school senior in 1964 when my guidance counselor gave me a pile of college catalogues: Cleveland State, Ohio State, Ohio U., Kenyon, Notre Dame…
Notre Dame? I knew they had a great football team, but reading the catalogue I also discovered they had a sophomore studies program in Innsbruck, Austria. Innsbruck! That’s where I was born! That settled it.
At the end of February, Columbia University marked the centennial of the revolution that toppled the Russian Empire three years into the first world war with a conference, “Ukrainian Statehood 1917-1921: Institutions and Individuals.” (I was gratified to have been invited to participate.)
In popular perception, and indeed among many (if not most) historians, what happened in 1917 was the “Russian Revolution.” In actuality, the upheaval consisted of a dozen separate revolutions where Poles, Lithuanians, Georgians, Estonians, Ukrainians and other peoples – having endured centuries of misrule and then three years of horrific slaughter at the front and privation and hunger at home – rose up to cast off tsarist rule and claim their right to national self-determination. When the war began in August 1914, Ukrainians (as well as Poles and others) were partitioned between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, placing them into a tragic position with young compatriots killing each other for a cause they did not support let alone understand. Almost immediately upon the outbreak of what soon became “the Great War,” and subsequently World War I, Ukrainian leaders saw the conflict as their opportunity for independence and started working toward that end. A hundred years have passed since then and yet we hear echoes from that time, see the shadows, feel the ripples of war-torn Europe lapping at our feet. The two-day conference was organized by Mark Andryczyk, who teaches Ukrainian literature and serves as administrator of the Ukrainian Studies Program at Columbia’s Harriman Institute.
Early in November, Bishop Borys Gudziak spoke at the University of Notre Dame’s Nanovic Institute about Ukraine and its three democratic revolutions in the past quarter century. To explain why they were necessary, he outlined the country’s tragic 20th century history – wars, a genocidal famine, terror, mass emigration, enormous population losses, entrenched corruption. Based as he is in Paris, where he serves as spiritual leader to Ukrainian Catholics in France and surrounding countries, the bishop noted how he routinely takes visitors to the World War I Battlefield of Verdun 150 miles to the east to illustrate the folly of war. There 100 years ago, French and German armies clashed along a 25-mile front. I could relate: I was 19 and in Europe for my sophomore year abroad, when I visited the battlefield 50 years ago.
Our little girl was all of 3 years old when mixing English and Ukrainian she triumphantly announced, “Tato. Ya ye а woman! Mama i ya: my ye womans!” [Tato. I am a woman. Mama and I are womans.] I was astonished – she had just started pre-school and already she was a feminist.
In June, I wrote about the Trump campaign and its disturbing links to Russian President Vladimir Putin and disgraced Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Since then, lots of other articles have appeared on the same topic: “Putin’s Puppet,” Slate; “Hillary Clinton is Running Against Vladimir Putin,” The Atlantic; “Trump Campaign Guts GOP anti-Russia Stance on Ukraine,” The Washington Post; “Is Donald Trump Working for Russia,” New York Magazine; “Why Russia is Rejoicing Over Trump,” Politico; “Donald Trump is Selling Out and Sucking up to Putin,” Daily Beast; and so on. I also promised to write about Hillary Clinton and Ukraine. I first met Ms. Clinton in 1996 at a White House conference she organized for the 10th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear catastrophe. Environmental and ethnic leaders from both parties attended, but it was a decidedly Ukrainian-oriented event, and not just a one-time event for the first lady.