January 26, 2014

2013: The UNA: highlighting a proud 119-year history


Lev Khmelkovsky, Christine Syzonenko

Violinist Vasyl Popadiuk and singer-songwriter Vika (Vasilevich) perform during the seventh annual Ukrainian Cultural Festival that was held at Soyuzivka on July 12-14.

The cover of the UNA’s summer 2013 magazine, which was released at the start of the summer festival season.

The cover of the UNA’s summer 2013 magazine, which was released at the start of the summer festival season.

During 2013 the Ukrainian National Association, a fraternal organization with a proud history of 119 years of service to our community, expended much time and effort on reintroducing itself to its members and potential members.

Foremost among those efforts was the release, at the start of Ukrainian festival season in North America, of what came to be known as the UNA’s 2013 summer magazine, called “UNA and the Community: Partners for Life.” The brainchild of UNA National Secretary Christine E. Kozak, the publication made its debut at the Ukrainian Cultural Festival at Soyuzivka, where it was distributed to festival-goers.

The 32-page magazine contained information about the Ukrainian National Association, notes from UNA executive officers, informative articles about the UNA’s insurance offerings, interviews with some of the UNA’s insurance professionals, a page featuring the UNA’s Home Office staff and a section on member benefits, including the Soyuzivka Heritage Center and the newspapers Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly, both of which are published by the UNA. The editor of the publication was Irene Jarosewich, a former editorial staff member of The Ukrainian Weekly and former editor-in-chief of Svoboda, while the magazine’s graphic design was the work of Stefan Slutsky, layout artist of The Ukrainian Weekly. Partners for Life was available at all Ukrainian festivals where the UNA was represented during 2013.

Along with the UNA’s other recent innovations – an updated website (ukrainiannationalassociation.org), a Facebook page and new promotional materials that feature a QR code that enables Smartphone users to quickly connect to the UNA’s website – the magazine’s aim was to increase the UNA’s reach and public awareness of its work.

The UNA’s Northern New Jersey District Committee, chaired by Yuriy Symczyk, an employee of the UNA Home Office who was later promoted to fraternal coordinator, was involved also in organizing community outreach events, such as a coffee hour after Sunday liturgy at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Newark and an information table at the Providna Nedilia (St. Thomas Sunday) pilgrimage at the Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolia Center in South Bound Brook, N.J. Professional insurance agents and branch representatives were available to speak with the public at these events.

The UNA’s efforts to enroll members were in the spotlight in June when the UNA Organizing Report for 2012 was published. UNA National Secretary Kozak congratulated and thanked all of the members of the UNA General Assembly, UNA districts, UNA branches, branch secretaries, UNA field agents, UNA Home Office insurance and sales staff, and all those who through either sales or its support have been a part of the UNA’s tradition of providing high-quality, solid, secure and straightforward life insurance and annuity products to its members; to preserve the principles of fraternalism through branch affiliations, which allows members to support each other and people in their communities in time of need; and to preserve the American, Canadian and Ukrainian heritage and culture. But special congratulations were extended to the top organizers: UNA Advisor Lubov Streletsky, UNA Second Vice-President Eugene Oscislawski and Pittsburgh District Chairman Nick Diakiwsky.

The Ukrainian National Foundation, the charitable arm of the Ukrainian National Association, reached a significant milestone in November of 2013 when Dr. Myron B. Kuropas, president of the Friends of Ostroh Foundation, on November 21 announced a donation to the foundation of $300,000 from the Fischer-Slysh Memorial Fund. The donation brought to $1 million the total collected by the foundation for the National University of Ostroh Academy, which is located in the Rivne region of Ukraine. The moving force behind the donation was the late Dr. Maria Fischer-Slysh, a retired pediatrician who lived in Toronto. She was well-known in Ukraine and the diaspora for her charitable giving. Dr. Kuropas commented on the generosity of Ukrainian diaspora donors: “My wife, Lesia, and I have been collecting donations for Ostroh Academy since 1997. … The Fischer-Slysh donation is by far the largest we have received thus far. …Lesia and I are hopeful that other Ukrainian Americans will be encouraged by this donation to also donate to the fund.”

Meanwhile, UNA scholarship winners were featured in a special section published in The Weekly on April 7 and in Svoboda on April 5. The 2012-2013 crop of UNA student-members comprised 71 young scholars from throughout North America. More than $15,000 in scholarship funds was distributed to deserving undergraduate students.

The Soyuzivka Heritage Center held its seventh annual Ukrainian Cultural Festival on July 12-14, once again attracting guests from near and far to this beautiful venue in New York state to see and hear top performers from Ukraine and North America. Headlining the show were singer/songwriter Vika Vasilevych of Ukraine and virtuoso violinist Vasyl Popadiuk, originally from Ukraine and now of Canada, with their respective bands. Also on the bill were the always popular Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Dance Workshop and the Dunai Dancers of Edmonton, Alberta, newcomers to the festival. Each group of dancers presented its unique version of the “Pryvit” (Welcome) number at the start of the program – the workshop dancers resplendent in their costumes modeled on garb worn by Kozak nobility and the Dunai members in a variety of folk costumes representing diverse regions of Ukraine.

Other performers included the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York, the Dzvin Male Chorus of Philadelphia, bandurist/kobzar Julian Kytasty, the Lisova Pisnia duo of Alla Kutsevych and Ludmyla Hrabovsky, the duo of Erko (Severyn Palydowych) and Ms. Hrabovsky, the Nebozir (HeavenStar) Family Trio (comprising Andriana Gnap, her mother, Halyna Gnap, and her aunt, Wolodymyra Gnap) and 11-year-old singing phenom Xenia Kaczurak.

Scores of volunteers and employees of Soyuzivka and the UNA made the seventh annual Ukrainian Cultural Festival possible. Most important to the success of the festival was the financial support of its major sponsor, Self Reliance New York Federal Credit Union, as well as the sponsorship of the UNA and its Ukrainian National Foundation.

Also at Soyuzivka, 2013 marked the 30th annual Club Suzie-Q Week. A network of friends from the U.S. and Canada, Club Suzie-Q was first billed as a group of mostly single young professionals. This year some 50 people gathered for their 30th annual get-together week to catch up with old friends and forge new friendships, go hiking on the Soyuzivka grounds and other venues in the Shawangunk mountains, enjoy the Miss Soyuzivka weekend and have dinner at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Speaking of the Miss Soyuzivka event, Natalie Serdiuk of Plymouth, Mich., who come the beginning of the new academic year would be attending Michigan State University in pursuit of a degree in criminal justice, was crowned as Miss Soyuzivka 2014. Laryssa Droczak of Auburn, N.Y., a sophomore at Rutgers University in New Jersey, was chosen as runner-up.

In other Soyuzivka-related news, the Ukrainian heritage center was featured in the July-August issue of Ulster Magazine. The magazine, which focuses on upstate New York’s Ulster County, published a full-color feature about the Soyuzivka Heritage Center, spotlighting the upcoming Ukrainian Cultural Festival. The article by Deborah J. Botti, with photos by Michael Bloom (and other photographers), was headlined “Suzy-Q honors Ukrainian heritage; Continuing the culture.”

A special feature highlighting doings at Soyuzivka appeared in the September 1 issue of The Ukrainian Weekly. Ms. Jarosewich penned the story “A natural host: Stefko Drabyk, assistant manager of Soyuzivka.” The 27-year-old Mr. Drabyk told his interviewer: “I caught my first fish at Soyuzivka, attended ‘Tabir Ptashat’ here, would come here to be with my friends. Basically, I grew up with Soyuzivka.” Soyuzivka regulars praised the young assistant manager as “extremely hard-working,” “extremely dependable,” “the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.” His boss, Soyuzivka Manager Nestor Paslawsky, said of Mr. Drabyk: “Stefko works long, hard, demanding hours… He tries to anticipate my thoughts and on occasion, when he’s right on, I call him Radar, after the TV character on ‘MASH.’ ”

The front page of the 120th anniversary issue of Svoboda, which marked the anniversary of its founding on September 15, 1893.

The front page of the 120th anniversary issue of Svoboda, which marked the anniversary of its founding on September 15, 1893.

At the UNA’s Ukrainian-language weekly newspaper, Svoboda, 2013 was the year of its 120th anniversary. It was on September 15, 1893, that the first issue of Svoboda – the oldest and largest continuously published Ukrainian-language daily newspaper in the world – first appeared. “It was indeed a true beacon of light in the prevailing darkness of hopelessness and despair among Ukrainian immigrants in America,” noted Anthony Dragan, longtime editor-in-chief of the newspaper (writing in “Ukrainian National Association: Its Past and Present,” published on the association’s 70th anniversary in 1964). From the very start, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, the Rev. Hryhoriy Hrushka, stated that Svoboda should be the people’s newspaper. He delineated the paper’s goals as defending national interests, encouraging the people to community activity and socially useful work, and raising national consciousness. Thus, from its very inception, Svoboda was, as the late Mr. Dragan was to write decades later, “a crusading newspaper” (hazeta khrestonosnykh pokhodiv). In 2013 Svoboda published a special anniversary issue on September 13, and its sister publication, The Ukrainian Weekly, spotlighted the anniversary in its September 15 issue. The Weekly columnist Dr. Myron B. Kuropas weighed with his tribute to Svoboda and its pioneering editors in a column titled “Thank you, Svoboda” that was published on September 22.

Also at Svoboda, 2013 was a time to bid farewell to Chrystyna Ferencevych, a member of the newspaper’s editorial staff since 1986. On June 25 her co-workers at Svoboda, colleagues from The Ukrainian Weekly, and executive officers and employees of the UNA offered thanks and best wishes to Mrs. Ferencevych at a retirement luncheon held at the UNA Home Office.

Violinist Vasyl Popadiuk and singer-songwriter Vika (Vasilevich) perform during the seventh annual Ukrainian Cultural Festival that was held at Soyuzivka on July 12-14.

Lev Khmelkovsky, Christine Syzonenko

Violinist Vasyl Popadiuk and singer-songwriter Vika (Vasilevich) perform during the seventh annual Ukrainian Cultural Festival that was held at Soyuzivka on July 12-14.

The UNA General Assembly convened at the Soyuzivka Heritage Center on December 6-8 for its regular annual meeting to review the fraternal benefit society’s activity for the past year and to adopt a plan of action for 2014.

Reports were delivered by the three full-time executive officers of the UNA; all other General Assembly members – executive officers, advisors and auditors – as well as the editor-in-chief of the UNA’s official publications, Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly, had the opportunity to deliver addenda to their written reports. Soyuzivka Manager Paslawsky also addressed the General Assembly.

UNA President Stefan Kaczaraj said: “To guarantee the future of the UNA, the organization has to be financially sound, and that means improvement of our bottom line and increase in surplus. This is not an easy task in an economy where returns on investments are low, where the regulatory environment is changing, where the unemployment rate is 7.3 percent and the number of unemployed persons is in excess of 12 million, and where the economy is improving at a snail’s pace.” However, he underscored, “The UNA is moving in the right direction by repositioning itself in this new financial environment.”

Similarly, UNA Treasurer Roma Lisovich stated: “The UNA continues to make progress as we navigate through difficult times. Regulatory changes not favorable to small fraternal societies and continued stagnant economy continue to be our greatest challenges. …In order to meet the demands of new capital requirements, an expense reduction initiative was implemented in 2012.” She added: “UNA sales are increasing over 2012 and we have been successful in reducing UNA’s expense levels. This was quite a challenge, but I am happy to report that general administrative and fraternal benefit expenses fell from a high point of $3.7 million at the end of 2011 to $2.65 million at the end of 2012, and $1.9 million as of September of this year. Progress is being made and we must continue to be adaptable during these changing and challenging times.”

UNA Secretary Kozak focused on growing the UNA’s membership. “Complementing the branch secretary (the traditional core of the UNA membership base), the UNA contracts with professional agents in states where the UNA is licensed to do business. The UNA continues to grow and develop a separate production arm utilizing contracted field agents.” This, she explained, “is carefully fostered in order to build a basic core of loyal agents.”

The 2013 annual meeting ended with a look ahead to the 2014 convention of the Ukrainian National Association, which will be held May 16-18 at Soyuzivka, as well as with the decision to send a greeting to the Euro-Maidan taking place in Kyiv.

The UNA message to the protesters in Ukraine, which was sent via an e-mail to Ruslana Lyzhychko in Kyiv, read: “Dear Ukrainian brothers and sisters on the Euro-Maidans of Ukraine: We are with you. The General Assembly of the Ukrainian National Association in the United States and Canada, with its membership of 50,000, greets you, dear Ukrainians on the day of the ‘March of Millions’ [Sunday, December 10]. We express our solidarity with all democratic forces in Ukraine and throughout the world who support Ukraine’s course toward integration with the European Union. We add our voices and prayers to yours. Victory will come!”

Members of the UNA General Assembly – executive officers, auditors and advisors – after the opening of their 2013 annual meeting at Soyuzivka on December 6-8.

Roma Hadzewycz

Members of the UNA General Assembly – executive officers, auditors and advisors – after the opening of their 2013 annual meeting at Soyuzivka on December 6-8.