January 29, 2015

2014: Ukrainians in the U.S.: advocates for Ukraine


Paul Hadzewycz

Members of the Ukrainian diaspora march in Washington on May 3 in protest against Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Ukrainians in the U.S. converged on Ukraine’s diplomatic posts in four cities – New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington – on October 26 to cast their votes for Ukraine’s parliamentary elections. At Ukraine’s Embassy in Washington, more than 300 voters cast ballots.

Yaro Bihun

Ukrainians in the U.S. converged on Ukraine’s diplomatic posts in four cities – New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington – on October 26 to cast their votes for Ukraine’s parliamentary elections. At Ukraine’s Embassy in Washington, more than 300 voters cast ballots.

With the mobilization of the Ukrainian American community in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, the UCCA saw signs of expansion and growth, with the July 25 inclusion of the Ukrainian American Society of Texas (UAST) as its latest member organization. The application was reviewed by the UCCA Membership Council, and approved by the UCCA National Council. Chrystia Geremesz, president of UAST, was welcomed as the organization’s representative on the National Council.

Chicago Ukrainians showed solidarity with Ukraine during a vigil held on July 19 at Water Tower, following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The Illinois branch of the UCCA organized the event, with support from Ukraine’s Consul General Andriy Pravednyk in Chicago. Protesters called for the designation of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, and military support from the U.S. and NATO to Ukraine to counter the threat to global security posed by Russia. Area clergy offered prayers for those who lost their lives in the attack on the commercial jetliner. The event received news coverage as well as support from the Lithuanian, Latvia and Polish communities.

Ukrainian Americans converged on Washington multiple times in 2014 for the advocacy events called Ukrainian Days that were organized by the UCCA in February, July, September and November. The participants urged members of Congress to support military assistance for Ukraine so that the country could defend itself, its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. The September installment was held in conjunction with the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC), of which the UCCA is a member. The Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS), the Washington arm of the UCCA, honored individuals for their work with the “Friends of UNIS Award.” The September event also coincided with the visit to the U.S. by President Poroshenko. Ukrainians were not hopeful that the Obama administration would offer military support to Ukraine in light of the administration’s refusal to call Russia’s actions in Ukraine an invasion.

The Razom for Ukraine group organized a protest on August 31 in Washington at the White House to call for stronger sanctions against Russia and for the U.S. to provide military assistance for Ukraine. A previous protest in Washington featured a march from the White House to the Lincoln Memorial.

Flashmobs were also a feature of Ukrainian demonstrations throughout the world, with noteworthy events held in Washington and in Wildwood Crest, N.J., on August 22.

In the diaspora’s efforts to assist Ukraine and Ukrainians in the aftermath of the Euro-Maidan protests, the community in the U.S. assisted 17-year-old Dmytro – a victim of rubber bullet sniper fire that forced him to lose his right eye. The injury was sustained as Dmytro was urging his compatriots to stand their ground, but following three procedures in Ukraine, a second bullet was found in his cheek and nose, while a third bullet was discovered lodged in his neck. The Ukrainian Medical Association of North America organized three more surgeries in April at Detroit’s Kresge Eye Institute that were made possible by Dr. Mark Juzych, director of the eye institute. The work by the doctors was done pro bono, with Dr. Juzych’s wife, Dr. Nadia Juzych, acting as translator for Dmytro and his brother Volodya.

Ukrainian medical professionals were hosted for 10 days in August 20-30 at Yale University Medical School for training in the treatment of trauma and PTSD symptoms. Following the Euro-Maidan protests there had been an increased need for such programs. Assisting the training were Dr. Martha Bojko, Dr. Ulana Suprun, Prof. Steven Southwick, as well as the Open World Leadership Center and the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee. Financial support was organized by Orest Kyzyk through KyivStar, the Chopivsky Family Foundation, the Dentons law firm in Britain and the New York Chapter of the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America.

Hundreds attended a grand banquet at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel on September 25, with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the featured speaker. President Poroshenko was scheduled to be the keynote guest, but the prime minister served in his stead. The evening was organized by the UCCA as a show of diaspora support for Ukraine and the many challenges that Ukraine faces. The evening featured remarks by Minister of Culture Yevhen Nyshchuk, Vice Prime Minister Oleksander Sych, U.S. Ambassador John Herbst, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Eugene Czolij, president of the Ukrainian World Congress, as well as local Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic Church leaders. Entertainment selections were performed by the Dumka Chorus of New York and the national anthems of Ukraine and the U.S. were sung by the Dobriansky Brothers.

The UCCA mobilized the Ukrainian American community when the U.S. Congress took its recess for mid-term elections in November. The community was urged to seize the opportunity to speak with their respective representatives in their home states, while the senators and congressmen are available in their home states. Tops on the priority list were two pieces of legislation – HR 5190 (S 2828) “Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014” and HR 5241 (S 2238) “Crimea Annexation Non-Recognition Act.”

In other major development among Ukrainians in the U.S., more than 1,500 people gathered at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York on November 22 to mark the 81st anniversary of the Holodomor, the genocidal famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine. Statements were made by Ms. Olexy of UCCA, Metropolitan Antony of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Bishop Paul Comnycky of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.N. Yuriy Sergeyev, and Ukraine’s Consul General in New York, Igor Sybiga. Prayers were offered for the repose of the victims and had special significance in light of ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Selfreliance New York Federal Credit Union reached a milestone after more than six decades in service to the Ukrainian American community – it surpassed $1 billion in assets. The announcement was delivered by the credit union’s president and CEO, Bohdan Kurczak, who noted that no other Ukrainian cooperative in the world has achieved this milestone, and that out of 6818 credit unions only 208 have assets of $1 billion or more. Membership had grown by 836 new members to 14,739, with deposits grown to $885 .5 million, with an increase of over $100 million since 2012.

The Ukrainian Selfreliance Federal Credit Union (USFCU) donated $150,000 to the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Jenkintown, Pa. The funds will be paid annually in $50,000 installments that will cover half of the center’s $300,000 Capital Improvement Campaign. As part of the improvements, the center’s HVAC system and water heater will be upgraded. Established in 1952, the USFCU has been partnered with the UECC since its founding in 1980, with the USFCU donating more than $500,000 over more than 30 years.

Another milestone in 2014 was the 30th convention of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America that was held in Tarrytown, N.Y., on May 23-26. The convention theme, “The Future of the UNWLA is in Our Hands” was dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko and the 70th anniversary of the organization’s magazine Our Life.

Ukrainians in the U.S. also organized the Ukrainian Heritage Nights with the New Jersey Devils NHL franchise, with the first held on March 8 against the Carolina Hurricanes, and again on December 6 against the Washington Capitals. The evenings featured Ukrainian dance group performances, live musicians and Ukrainian recipients of “Hero of the Game” award presentations. Even the official organist played Ukrainian melodies during the games. A mini-concert was held following each night’s performance.

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