The scene on Kyiv’s Maidan – Independence Square – on January 19, 2014.

The word “maidan”: Where it comes from, what it means

Philologists, who chase
A panting syllable through time and space,
Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark,
To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah’s Ark. William Cowper (1731-1800)
For a short period in 2014, the name of the central square in Kyiv called the “Maidan” became known throughout the civilized world. That was because it was the place where the Ukrainian people gathered to overthrow the unpopular regime of Viktor Yanukovych, who appeared to be attempting to set up a new dictatorship in Ukraine with renewed ties to Russia. This pro-Western, pro-EU, democratic movement, came to be called by Ukrainians the Revolution of Dignity, or “the Euro-Maidan.” The “Euro” part of this word was clear to all. But for Westerners the “maidan” part required some explanation by visiting journalists who, however, generally ignored it or, at most, stated simply that it was a Ukrainian word for “town square.”

Little did the Western public know that this was only a very small part of the story, for although the word “maidan” was used in Kyiv and some other eastern Ukrainian cities with the meaning of town square, it was less used in western Ukraine, where the old Slavonic word “ploshcha” (square) and the loan from German via Polish “rynok” (marketplace), were more frequently employed.

Participants of the 2016 Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Ukrainian Dance Camp at Soyuzivka.

It’s not just about dance

While sipping a cool drink on the Veselka patio at Soyuzivka, waiting for the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Ukrainian Dance Camp banquet to begin, I beheld a parade of young gents strutting in their best suits and ties, hair slicked, cologne donned etc., sometimes holding a bouquet of wild flowers freshly picked in the woods. The young ladies, looking starry-eyed, sashayed in their first-time in high heels with their sequined dresses. Oh, how grown-up these youngsters seem – and how in the moment! There were well over 110 participants this year at the second session of the dance camp, ranging in age from 8 to 16. They came from all parts of the U.S. and Canada; and there was a dedicated dancer who hailed from Kuwait.

Chornobyl: The tombstone of the reckless empire

As the world marks the 30th anniversary of the worst nuclear disaster in its history – the explosion and partial meltdown of the nuclear reactor at the Chornobyl power station in Ukraine – there is a temptation to celebrate that date as well. The half-life of cesium-137, one of the most harmful nuclides released during the accident, is approximately 30 years. It is the longest “living” isotope of cesium that can affect the human body through external exposure and ingestion. The other deadly isotopes present in the disaster have long passed their half-life stages: iodine-131 after eight days and cesium-134 after two years. Cesium-137 is the last of that deadly trio of isotopes.

A depiction of Ukrainian Easter traditions by Jacques Hnizdovsky.

Easter is an encounter, a call and a summons

Easter pastoral of the Ukrainian Catholic Hierarchy of the U.S.A. to our clergy, hieromonks and brothers, religious sisters, seminarians and beloved faithful. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni,’ which means teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.

“The Blessed Virgin and Child” by Halyna Mazepa (as reproduced on a Christmas card issued in 2000 by The Ukrainian Museum).

God’s mercy surrounds us

Pastoral message of the Ukrainian Catholic Hierarchy of the U.S.A.  to our clergy, hieromonks and brothers, religious sisters, seminarians and beloved faithful. Christ is born! The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this year will be celebrated within a Holy Year announced by Pope Francis.  This extraordinary jubilee is dedicated to Divine Mercy.  It began on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and will conclude on November 20, 2016.  Our holy father expressed the hope that the whole Church will find “the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the Mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”  Pope Francis calls us to enter a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion.  He calls all of us to live this year in the light of the Lord’s words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

The story of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, gives us glaring hints at how we might accept God’s mercy, how we may live it and how we witness it to the world that surrounds us. God’s mercy is evident in how He intervened with the birth of His only begotten Son, Jesus, in a time equally difficult and challenging as today.  Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn.  God’s love for humanity could not be curtailed by the busyness of that world. God’s mercy is not withheld.

REFLECTIONS: The Leonid Plyushch I knew in Paris

Leonid Plyushch, the Ukrainian intellectual, mathematician, philosopher, dissident and defender of human rights, passed away on the morning of June 4. Friends who attended the funeral informed me that the burial took place on Saturday, June 6, in Bessèges, the town where the family had been living for the past 17 years, some 20 kilometers from Alès, in south-central France. Father Oleksandr Kozakevych of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Orléans presided over the burial service attended by some 30 people. In addition to family, French neighbors who had been helping Tatyana, Mr. Plyushch’s wife, during his illness, were present. By a remarkable coincidence, the family doctor was someone who, as a student, had militated for the release of Leonid.

REFLECTIONS: Say “goodbye,” but don’t say “chow”!

During the late 1960s, when I was a young undergraduate student in history at St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba in western Canada, I took a seminar course in the history of the Crusades, in which I had been interested since my youth when I had read Sir Walter Scott, Harold Lamb and other authors who had painted these medieval events in such exciting colors: “…Iron men and saints, off to liberate Jerusalem! Richard the Lionheart, brave to the point of foolishness; the victorious Sultan Saladin, noble, and generous to the vanquished.”

However, my instructor in this course, Prof. L.A. Desmond, who quickly became aware of my East European background, did not assign to me a topic on the Crusades to the Holy Land, as I had expected, but rather on “the Crusade against the Slavs” in the mid-12th century, a topic in which he thought I might be interested because of my ethnic background. But he was mistaken about this, for I was not enamored by what I then believed to be (perhaps in error) its unspoken but underlying juxtaposition of “Western civilization” versus “Eastern barbarism.” I much preferred to work on the history of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire with its great capital at Constantinople, called Tsargrad by the Slavs, and later, Istanbul by the Turks, which I thought was more than the equal in civilization to the western Europe of the Dark Ages. Be this as it may, at one point discussion did turn to the origin of the English name for an unfree person, a bondsman, or “slave,” as opposed to a half-free person, or “serf,” tied to the land.

Students at Luhansk Taras Shevchenko National University.

Fulbright scholar speaks about Luhansk, then and now

NEW YORK – It was a cry from the heart, an eyewitness account of the war and occupation of her homeland. Dr. Tetiana Shestopalova recently shared her love for Luhansk with the audience at the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences (UVAN) in New York. “We should all bow our heads to the Ukrainian soil, because we are all the same – east and west. We can be diverse, but we are one.” This quote was the unifying thread in her talk. A current Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Shestopalova is professor of Ukrainian literature and pedagogy at Luhansk Taras Shevchenko National University.

A Christmas message from the frontlines

This year, my Bethlehem is completely torn to shreds by an endless expanse of gaping holes. It is sown and braided with puncture marks of machineguns and automatic fire, fragments of mines, grenades, Grad rockets. Wherever you turn, holes are ubiquitous – in the facades of buildings, in fences, retaining walls, windows and roof tiles, trees and automobiles – all strafed with holes. This year, my Bethlehem emerges from a porous, pock-marked world, positioned somewhere on the margin between human thought and human mindlessness, on the border between the real and imaginary, abundantly strewn with the dried and scattered seeds of last year’s sowing. Today in the Pisky Sands near Donetsk, there is no hint of safety, no refuge or hiding place from the ruthless, ragged proliferation of punctured holes.