August 3, 2018

August 6, 1973


Forty-five years ago, on August 6, 1973, Roman and Lewko Strockyj, the Ukrainian dancing duo, had a group of Soviet sailors and their American hosts gaping – both at the dances that they performed aboard a Soviet oil tanker and the golden trident, the national emblem of free Ukraine, which was flaunted on the duo’s costumes.

The Strockyj brothers were invited by the JOC Oil U.S.A., Inc., to perform aboard the Soviet tanker Fedor Poletaev as part of a lavish reception staged for the crew of the Arab oil-carrying ship. The Strockyj brothers not only danced two Ukrainian dances, but apprised the rather exclusive gathering of the horrid situation in Ukraine by exclaiming into staring cameras, “Free Ukrainian and Jewish political prisoners” to the consternation of the Red big-wigs and the American oil executives.

“The sailors were all smiles and tears,” said Roman Strockyj, “as we came on the stage in our trident-adorned costumes and Mike Koziupa, our accordionist, hit off with the Ukrainian music. But some of the ship’s officers were visibly chagrined at the site.”

The Strockyj brothers, having performed six nights a week, two shows a night, at the Casino Russe in New York City, and after a crowd-pleasing engagement at Radio City Music Hall, were invited by a New York-based public relations firm to do “something native for the Soviet sailors” as part of the reception marking the inauguration of shipping of oil to the U.S. by Soviet tankers.

“We told them that we’d only do a Ukrainian dance – which is all we do – and they said it was great,” said Roman. The PR man who saw the duo perform at the Casino was obviously ignorant of the intricacies of the Ukrainian-Russian question.  So the Strockyj brothers jumped at the opportunity to do their thing.

“Of course we didn’t tell anybody in advance what we were going to do,” Roman continued. “But just before we were going to perform, we saw television camera crews leaving the ship. I took a couple of guys aside and asked them to stay because there’s going to be some fireworks.”

Roman and Lewko promptly reversed their two dances, put on their trident-adorned “zhupany” and came on strong “with all the Ukrainian spirit that’s in us.” At the end of the dance, amid applause, they let out their protest slogan. They didn’t think they would be allowed to continue, but a second dance was performed by the brothers. “There were many Ukrainians among the ship’s crew,” they related. “They were enthused by our dancing and kept shaking our hands. Some had tears in their eyes at the very idea of meeting Ukrainians here.”

The Strockyj brothers had also performed at Ukrainian community centers across the U.S.A. and Canada, including two summers at Soyuzivka. “We are Ukrainians, our dances are Ukrainian, and we want to be identified as Ukrainians at all times. Otherwise, we don’t perform,” said Roman and Lewko emphatically. 

Source: “Strockyj brothers greet Red tanker with trident,” The Ukrainian Weekly, August 11, 1973.