Family friends once told us how, fleeing the Red Army towards the end of World War II, they were taken in by a Hungarian family just before Christmas. Overhearing them discussing the preparation of “kutya” (also transliterated as “kutia”) for Christmas eve supper, the Hungarians were alarmed by this strange Ukrainian custom: kutya is Hungarian for “dog.”
This anecdote highlights some aspects of immigration. Many immigrants are refugees – they are not merely “seeking a better life,” but fleeing for their lives. Christians are morally bound to offer shelter to the homeless stranger, and not only at Christmas. But sometimes, cultural misunderstandings complicate charitable action.
Canadians, indeed the entire democratic world, are concerned about the foreign policy positions articulated by President-elect Donald Trump. The Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine (cg4du.blogspot.com) has written a letter to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, setting out some of the key foreign policy issues for democratic-minded Canadians regarding Ukraine. I am a founding member and a co-writer of the letter. It is offered in my column with the view that other groups and individuals will produce similar policy positions addressed to authorities because in democracies silence means agreement. Act now!
Most readers of The Weekly, one would imagine, have at some point in their lives made a monetary contribution to “Ukrainian studies.” It may have been a hard-earned $5 bill tendered cautiously to an importunate gentleman in a shabby suit carrying a battered briefcase on the steps of your parish church, or it may have been a $50,000 check signed with a flourish in a flush of well-lubricated patriotism at a fancy hotel banquet. It may have gone to fund a chair or an institute in Canada or the United States, or a university in Ukraine. In any case, you may have occasionally wondered whether your contribution has produced tangible results. A few days at the recent ASEEES convention in Washington would have answered your question. Founded in 1948, the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (formerly known by the no less cumbersome name of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies or “Triple A Double S”) publishes the respected academic journal Slavic Review and hosts annual conventions encompassing history, literary studies, linguistics, political science, the arts, and other fields pertaining to the cultural and geographic area indicated by its name.
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.
Like most Americans, I could hardly wait for November 8. This election year was the most grueling, nasty and unpredictable in my lifetime. Almost everybody got predictions wrong. Everybody, that is, except my Lesia. She was confident all along that Donald Trump would be our next president.
Most of us still look at the world through 20th century eyes. But it is already clear that the 21st century is very different from its predecessor. We must begin to look differently at the world; we must view Ukraine differently too. Since 1991, the United States has been the world’s only superpower. But its hegemony is being challenged.
Ladies, there’s a Ukrainian event coming up and you want to wear your Ukrainian finery – a “vyshyvanka.” That word is fairly recent and refers to an embroidered (or woven) Ukrainian “sorochka” (shirt). So you have a selection – the traditional sorochka you or your Mama or Baba embroidered years ago, or a contemporary one with traditional Ukrainian embroidery motifs in a modern design, or one of the newer ones from the past decade or so. These last may be the pretty multi-colored poppy or sunflower and other field flowers designs on a generic folk- or peasant-type blouse, the ones machine-embroidered in China or India. Or you may select the fully embroidered bright-colored multi-flowered sorochka, maybe even all-beaded in neon colors. This kind has become popular in the last few decades and is, according to legend, traditional from Bukovyna.
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.
Last March 8-10 marked the 70th anniversary of the so-called Lviv sobor (council) of 1946, by which the Greco-Catholic Church in Galicia supposedly liquidated and incorporated itself into the Russian Orthodox Church. On March 12, the eve of Forgiveness Sunday by the Julian calendar, a number of Orthodox faithful – clergy and laity, Russians, Ukrainians and others – signed a letter repudiating this pseudo-council, and asking forgiveness of their Greco-Catholic brethren. (http://risu.org.ua/en/index/all_news/confessional/interchurch_relations/62730/)
Not surprisingly, the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow was not among the signatories. Instead, it reiterated three arguments for the validity of the “council”: that it was voluntary, that it was prompted by the Greco-Catholic Church’s Nazi collaboration, and that it righted the wrongs of the Union of Brest in which that Church had originated 350 years earlier, and which had been “forcibly” imposed upon the Orthodox population of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. In an age when governments and Churches have gone to great lengths to apologize for past wrongs, it is extraordinary that such a prominent institution should continue to insist that a past wrong was really a right.
Challenges are something Ukrainians settling in Canada, and around the world, know well. Some 125 years ago it was the challenge of being among the first non-traditional (Anglo Celtic or French) groups to settle in Canada. Landing here was as foreign then as landing on the moon would be today; then, it was without the NASA support. The settlers were assigned plots at the end of the railway track and dumped to fend for themselves. There was no housing, no schools or hospitals, not even roads.