KERHONKSON, N.Y. – Thousands of people, hailing from venues ranging from California to Ukraine, converged at the 11th Ukrainian Cultural Festival held on Friday-Sunday, July 14-16, at Soyuzivka Heritage Center. The largest Ukrainian festival in the United States, it is organized by the Ukrainian National Foundation (UNF), under the patronage of the Embassy of Ukraine.
This year’s sponsors included the Ukrainian National Association (UNA), Ukraine International Airlines, Self Reliance New York Federal Credit Union and SUMA Federal Credit Union (Yonkers, N.Y.).
The festival truly offers something for all ages, from the stage shows with a wide variety of performers, to the film screenings, intricate crafts of the Ukrainian Village, the myriad Ukrainian embroidery, music recordings and a variety of artwork for sale at the vendors’ court, and the information and fun activities at the Ukrainian National Association’s gazebo. The refreshing swimming pool, the beer garden and even the beach volleyball court were all put to good use. And for the night owls, the Zabava Band entertained with lively music on Friday and Saturday nights on the Veselka patio.
Headlining performers for this year’s Saturday evening show were Pikkardiyska Tertsiya, Kozak System and vocalist Oksana Mukha from Ukraine, the women’s vocal ensemble Lanka Halychanka of Connecticut, and Soyuzivka’s own, the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Ukrainian Dance Workshop.
On Friday evening, the stage show opened with the traditional “Pryvit” (Welcome) dance by the dance workshop. Roman Wasylyk introduced the performers, created levity and moved the program along as master of ceremonies. The Ukrainian folk band Hurt Udech, which included a foursome of cymbalom (dulcimer), accordion, drum/sopilka (wooden flute) and violin players, entertained with instrumental and vocal favorites from the Carpathian region of Ukraine.
The workshop dancers returned with a new piece from the Boyko region of Ukraine, titled “Boykivska Spadshchyna.” The introduction noted the multicultural influences of the region and how the dance reflects them.
New to the stage this year from Ukraine was vocalist Ruslan, who had recorded an album in 2016, having transitioned to a vocal career after years of being an accomplished trumpet player. His songs included romantic ballads and pop numbers about love and missed connections.
The workshop dancers took to the stage again with “Viterets,” a new dance choreographed by Anya Bohachevsky Lonkevych, director of the Roma Pryma Ukrainian Dance Workshop. As its Ukrainian name indicates, the dance evokes imagery of wind blowing across a Ukrainian landscape.
Udech livened up the audience with its traditional Hutsul melody “Verkhovyno,” and its rendition of “Oy na Hori Tsyhany Stoyaly” (The Gypsies Stood on the Hill).
Another new dance for the festival by the workshop dancers was “Halychanka,” choreographed by the late Roma Pryma Bohachevsky.
Making her debut on the festival stage was Hanna Datsko, a singer from Lviv on a work-study program who is working at Soyuzivka this season. Her music selections and stage presence showed refinement beyond her age of 19.
Stefan Calka, a dancer with the Sacramento Ballet Company since 2004 and a founding member of the Capital Dance Project, choreographed a new stylized dance as an instructor for the workshop. “Kartyny Kosenka” (Scenes by Kosenko) offered vignettes of a dream-like story inspired by the music of Viktor Kosenko that brought a sense of magic to the stage, and the dancers looked like they were having fun performing it.
The stage show concluded with the ever-popular “Hopak,” choreographed by Roma Pryma Bohachevsky. The colorful costumes, the energetic movements and the music all come together in the dance as an example of Ukrainian heritage and spirit.
At the same time as the stage show, an evening fund-raising gala, “Retro Lviv,” attracted nearly 160 people. Held under a decorated tent on the Lviv lawn, the event included a cocktail hour reception, a four-course meal and a performance by some of the headlining acts. It was sponsored by the UNF with proceeds going directly toward a career center for soldiers in Ukraine. The evening gala transported guests to the 1930s and 1940s, and featured the famous Lviv coffee that paired well with a classic dessert.
The Zabava Band from New York entertained late into the night on the Veselka patio with lively music that appealed to all ages. The traditional “Kolomyika” was a treat to watch as dancers showed off their stuff.
Saturday’s afternoon concert began with a bit of ceremony, led by Ukrainian American Veterans who served as a color guard during the singing of the national anthems of the United States, Canada and Ukraine, performed by soprano Swiatoslava Kaczaraj and bass-baritone Andrij Gavdanovich, both singers with the Dumka Chorus of New York, who were accompanied by Mr. Popadiuk on violin.
Stefan Kaczaraj, president of the Ukrainian National Foundation, welcomed guests to the festival and greeted Ukraine’s consul general in New York, Igor Sybiga and his wife, Nataliya, and family who were in attendance.
The Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Ukrainian Dance Workshop welcomed the festival-goers with “Pryvit,” choreographed by the late dancer and teacher. The Dumka Chorus of New York, under the direction of Vasyl Hrechynsky, captivated the audience with selections from its vast repertoire of Ukrainian songs, including a contemporary one that featured a “beat-box” soloist.
Lively musical numbers were performed by Hurt Udech and violin virtuoso Vasyl Popadiuk from Canada, who served as co-MC with Lydia Kulbida, a newscaster from the Albany, N.Y., area.
Vocalists Ms. Datsko and Ruslan returned to the stage, each impressing listeners with their abilities, and Lanka Halychanka, a women’s vocal ensemble from Connecticut, showcased its voices with Ukrainian favorites.
The workshop dancers also performed “Viterets,” “Halychanka” and “Kartyny Kosenka” during the afternoon concert.
During the weekend, a film festival was hosted in the Veselka hall with the screening of the 2017 film “Bitter Harvest” by George Mendeluk, “Music of Survival: The Story of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus” by Orest Sushko and “Folk!” by Roxy Toporowych, a filmmaker and former dancer with the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Ukrainian Dance Workshop. The film festival was organized by Maya Lew, front office and events manager at Soyuzivka.
During the day, guests had an opportunity to sit in on a number of workshops and classes at the Ukrainian Village, where crafts such as pottery and pysanky were led by instructors in a program organized by Halyna Shepko of New Paltz, N.Y. Ukrainian singing instruction and vocal workshops were also offered by Laryssa Czebiniak of the New York-based vocal group Ukrainian Village Voices.
Guests also had a chance to visit the Ukrainian National Association’s gazebo, where artist Athena Zhe had a long line of waiting customers for Ukrainian stylized face painting for children and the young at heart. Also at the pavilion was a photo booth, where guests could show off their silly side, with a variety of props to match any mood. Copies of The Ukrainian Weekly and Svoboda, the publications of the UNA, were available for guests to take with them. UNA employees were on hand to explain UNA products and UNA efforts within the Ukrainian community.
Yuriy Symczyk, national secretary of the Ukrainian National Association, said: “The UNA gazebo at this year’s festival gained a lot of attention, thanks to the face-painting by Athena Zhe and photo backdrop with the UNA logo. We were able to inform people about the UNA’s life insurance products and its role in the community. The festival at Soyuzivka Heritage Center is an opportunity for people from far and wide to get to know Soyuzivka and the UNA. I love seeing the festival performers bring their patriotic enthusiasm for Ukraine to the stage and inspiring the next generation to preserve Ukrainian culture.”
The Zabava Band from New York provided live music on the Veselka patio after the concert, and guests enjoyed the afternoon with dancing and refreshing beverages at the beer garden, or by taking a dip in the pool.
Later that afternoon, the annual varenyky eating contest got under way, with competitors from Ukraine and the United States offering a close race to the finish. The annual event is organized by Alex Gutmakher, a professional in competitive eating events and organizer of various cultural events. He cited the recent loss of Soyuzivka’s longtime worker Sonia Semanyszyn with a moment of silence. In the end, Yulian Romanyshyn, 28, of Ivano-Frankivsk, who resides in Brooklyn, was declared the winner after finishing 30 varenyky in less than five minutes. In second place, with a close finish was Stephen Dubas, 35, of Mine Hill, N.J., who was a mere varenyk behind.
Following greetings by Mr. Kaczaraj, who welcomed all to the festival’s evening concert, the traditional “Pryvit” by the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Ukrainian Dance Workshop provided a taste of the quality performances that are a feature of the festival. Other dances performed by the workshop included “Viterets,” “Halychanka,” “Boykivska Spadshchyna” and “Kartyny Kosenka” by Stefan Calka.
Mr. Popadiuk returned to show off his musical virtuosity that moved the audience to clapping, toe-tapping and an all-out frenzy.
Ukrainian vocalist Oksana Mukha of Lviv, who is a violinist by training, wowed the audience with her talents, performing Ukrainian folk songs and romantic ballads. Ms. Mukha has performed for the Ukrainian troops serving on the frontlines in eastern Ukraine and was a winner of the Kvitka Cisyk Grand Prix.
The women’s vocal group Lanka Halychanka entertained with traditional Ukrainian songs, including “Zatsvyla Rozha Troyaka,” as well as “Makarivna,” a Ukrainian version of “Macarena,” complete with dance moves.
Roma Lisovich, treasurer of the Ukrainian National Foundation, welcomed the festival guests to Soyuzivka in her opening statement. She underscored the UNF’s role as organizer of the festival and explained that the event is a fund-raiser for improvements at Soyuzivka. “I hope that this concert is enjoyable as an example of the preservation of Ukrainian culture. And with your support, Soyuzivka aims to become a year-round facility, made possible with help from donations and the work of volunteers.” Ms. Lisovich added that the “Retro Lviv” night on Friday was a success, and that funds raised from that evening’s gala will go directly to fund a career center for soldiers in Ukraine. (More on that in next week’s issue.)
The workshop dancers took to the stage once more for the ever-popular “Hopak” – an always rousing performance that brings the audience to its feet. The crowd shouted “Molodtsi!” (an expression of a job well done) and “Encore,” as the dancers prepared for one more rousing reprise of “Hopak” before taking their bows.
Then it was time for Pikkardiyska Tertsiya, whose members include Andriy Kapral, Andriy Shavala, Volodymyr Yakyments, Bohdan Bohach, Roman Turianyn and Yaroslav Nudyk. Their a capella sound, driven by tight harmonies and catchy melodies and rhythms, had people singing along to their favorite numbers, like “Starenkyi Tramvai,” some of which go back to the group’s founding 25 years ago. The last time Tertsiya performed in the U.S. was in 2004.
The closing act of the festival concert was Kozak System, who gave the younger members of the audience a taste of rock music from Ukraine. The band performed several high-energy selections from its latest recordings, with a few of its older songs mixed in. The band was founded in 2012 following the break-up of Haydamaky and is led by front-man Ivan Lenyo (accordion, brass, dulcimer, lead vocals). The band is renowned for its Ukrainian patriotism, having performed at the Revolution of Dignity and supported the effort off-stage as well.
Other members of the band include Oleksandr Demianenko (guitar, mandolin and vocals), Volodymyr Sherstiuk (bass guitar, vocals), Serhiy Borysenko (percussion and vocals) and Serhiy Soloviy (trumpet, vocals and keyboards). The band’s 2017 single “Miy Druh” (My Friend), features a collaboration with Ukrainian hip-hop artist (Oleksandr) Yarmak. Kozak System performed in Kyiv during the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest as part of the Eurovision Village on May 9.
Guests had an opportunity to purchase copies of many of the festival performers’ recordings at Soyuzivka during the festival.
The Veselka patio was packed once again on Saturday night for the dance, with music by the Zabava Band. The “Kolomyika,” with its high energy and competitive dance moves, lasted more than 30 minutes. Young and old alike danced into the early hours of the morning.
Sunday afternoon featured a stage concert in the Veselka hall, which was emceed by Ms. Lisovich, treasurer of the Ukrainian National Foundation. The concert included performances by Udech, which expanded on its instrumental and vocal selections, and the young vocalist Ms. Datsko, who was afforded the opportunity to showcase more of her song repertoire.
The members of Udech thanked the festival organizers, especially Soyuzivka General Manager Nestor Paslawsky and Ms. Lisovich. To close out the program, a rousing rendition of “Mnohaya Lita” was sung by the audience to wish the festival and its organizers many more years.
A film screening of “Music of Survival: The Story of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus” was offered, with an introduction by Ms. Lisovich. The filmmaker, Mr. Sushko, thanked the festival organizers for helping to educate the public about the struggles of the chorus, bandurists in Ukraine during the Soviet Union and tsarist times, and the endurance of the instrument, as the chorus has impacted bandura development in the diaspora. Following the screening, viewers were able to purchase copies of the DVD from Mr. Sushko.
Paul Grosko, 36, of Montreal, who has attended the festival once before, said, “The Ukrainian Cultural Festival at Soyuzivka always has good headlining acts from Ukraine, and this year was a good value for the entry fee.” Mr. Grosko, who this year rented a space at the vendors’ court, regularly attends festivals in the United States and Canada. His company, From Ukraine with Love, sells imported items from Ukraine, including clothing, textiles and accessories.
Olya Romanko, 24, of Ternopil, Ukraine, who resides in Brooklyn, said, “I’ve been coming to this festival for four years, and there is so much to see and enjoy. I especially like the cultural village demonstrations and workshops.”
Volodymyr and Zenia Tkachenko of Pennsylvania said they enjoyed themselves at the stage concerts, adding they really look forward to the acts from Ukraine in addition to the performance by the Ukrainian Dance Workshop. “This year we saw some new dances and we love to hear Pikkardiyska Tertsiya live,” said Ms. Tkachenko.
The festival would not be possible without the dedication of the many volunteers who donate their time and energy in making the three-day event run smoothly, as well as this season’s courteous workers from Ukraine who could be seen lending a hand throughout the weekend.
Other notable efforts were made by Mr. Paslawsky, Assistant Manager Stefko Drabyk and Bar Manager Andrij Stefanyshyn, who ensured that guests had a memorable experience. Among the numerous volunteers who have helped to make this festival a success were Bohdan and Bohdana Puzyk (vendors’w court), Gloria Horbaty and family (food court), Tanya Soltys (media), Marianka Hawryluk (gala personnel), Andy Rakowsky (security) and Roman Hawryluk (finances).
Another hallmark of the festival is the variety of tasty food items available throughout the weekend, from the traditional Ukrainian items like kovbasa, varenyky, holubtsi and shashlyky, to American classics like cheeseburgers – all prepared by Chef Andriy Sonevytsky and his staff – in addition to menu items in the Main House dining hall.
Plans are already in the works for the 12th Ukrainian Cultural Festival at Soyuzivka. Readers can visit www.soyuzivka.com for more information as it becomes available.