Back in 1967, The Ukrainian Weekly carried this banner headline: “World Congress Turns into Inspiring Demonstration of Unity and Steadfast Dedication to the Cause of Ukraine’s Freedom.” A multi-tiered subhead followed: “Week of Sessions Concludes with Proclamation of Manifestos, Resolutions; Msgr. Kushnir Elected to Head Permanent Secretariat; Freedom Rally Is Huge Success, Thousands March in Demonstrations at U.N., Soviet Mission; Speakers Hail Indomitable Spirit of Ukrainian People; 1,003 Delegates Attend.”
Yes, it was quite the headline. But it was also quite the event!
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.
The Ukrainian Weekly’s editorial hailed the founding congress as a historic assemblage bound to have a great impact on the future of our people everywhere. It noted that the prime objective of the World Congress was to consolidate our manpower, talent and resources into a force that could effectively advocate freedom for the long-oppressed people of Ukraine. Indeed, among the resolutions passed by the historic conclave was one assuring the people of Ukraine that “the Ukrainians in the free world, in full solidarity, support their struggle.”
A massive Freedom Rally at Madison Square Garden was meant to demonstrate our Ukrainian diaspora’s resolve. And it did. Over 10,000 people attended, including many of our young people in the ranks of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization, the Ukrainian American Youth Association, the Ukrainian Democratic Youth Association (ODUM) and the Young Ukrainian Nationalists (MUN). All of them were part of history in the making.
A series of broadcasts from the congress – interviews, excerpts from speeches, highlights of the rally, reports on the congress sessions and demonstrations – were beamed into Ukraine by the Voice of America. Archbishop-Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk of Canada, a member of the newly established WCFU Secretariat, conveyed greetings to the people of Ukraine. Soviet authorities must have been infuriated.
Significantly, that first congress was convened on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Ukrainian National Republic on November 20, 1917, and the beginning of what is known as the Ukrainian Revolution, whose centennial we are marking this year. The creation of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians, known since 1993 as the Ukrainian World Congress, was seen as a reaffirmation of our faith in the ultimate realization of the Ukrainian nation’s claim to freedom
Today, 50 years later, Ukraine is marking the 26th anniversary of the re-establishment of its independence. And the Ukrainian World Congress – which certainly contributed to the restoration of that independence – now has ties with 53 countries and represents a diaspora of 20 million Ukrainians worldwide. As UWC General Secretary Stefan Romaniw noted at the recent anniversary conference in New York City: “Can you imagine Ukraine without the Ukrainian diaspora represented in the Ukrainian World Congress?”
Mnohaya lita to the Ukrainian World Congress as it continues its activity under the motto “Ukrainians together – the future is ours!”