That embroidered “sorochka”

Ladies, there’s a Ukrainian event coming up and you want to wear your Ukrainian finery – a “vyshyvanka.” That word is fairly recent and refers to an embroidered (or woven) Ukrainian “sorochka” (shirt). So you have a selection – the traditional sorochka you or your Mama or Baba embroidered years ago, or a contemporary one with traditional Ukrainian embroidery motifs in a modern design, or one of the newer ones from the past decade or so. These last may be the pretty multi-colored poppy or sunflower and other field flowers designs on a generic folk- or peasant-type blouse, the ones machine-embroidered in China or India. Or you may select the fully embroidered bright-colored multi-flowered sorochka, maybe even all-beaded in neon colors. This kind has become popular in the last few decades and is, according to legend, traditional from Bukovyna.

Visiting Ukrainian Canadian history

If it hadn’t been for Henry Kostiuk, we would have still been roving the tree-lined gravel roads around Olha, Manitoba. For a day trip, my husband, Myroslaw, and I decided to visit Olha, where there is a mass grave and monument to over 40 Ukrainian children and three adults who succumbed to scarlet fever just after arriving on the Canadian prairies. This is a Manitoba Municipal Heritage Site (No. 45). We knew we were going in the correct direction when the road sign at one intersection read “Olha Road/Shevchenko Street.” Again, perfectly normal for the Canadian Prairies.

A trip back into history: Gardenton, Manitoba

On May 14, a group of members of Alpha Omega Alumnae and friends drove one and a half hours southeast of Winnipeg and entered the world of the first Ukrainian pioneers to Manitoba 125 years ago. The region with the towns of Gardenton, Stuartburn, Tolstoi (there’s a long story on its renaming) was one of the areas where Ukrainians (mostly from the Bukovyna region) settled long ago in 1896. This day trip was a celebration of the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. The first Ukrainian church built in Canada, in 1897, St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, was consecrated in 1899.* It was recognized as a Manitoba Provincial Historic site in 1974 and as a site of National Historic and Architectural Status in 1988.

Lost in translation, still

Those of us who are bilingual or even multilingual are blessed. We have the ability to live in two or more worlds through each language. Depending upon which language we’re speaking, our thoughts come out differently, because each language is so different in philosophy and grammar. The national character subtly comes through. The vocabularies, the synonyms are not always equivalent in the languages.

The tryzub is the new meme

Maidan and the war in eastern Ukraine have patriotic Ukrainians around the world coming out of the woodwork. People with barely one gram of Ukrainian heritage are wearing blue-and-yellow everything, and boasting tryzub tattoos. The tryzub (trident) has always been a special, meaningful symbol for Ukrainians, and anathema to the Russians. The insane world of Russian PR cannot get any more bizarre, and yet it continues to be so. Just one example is the notion that our nations are “brothers,” or “are the same.” So, if we are one family and our “common” history stems from Kyivan time, what happened in Muscovy to the tryzub/trident, the state emblem of Sviatoslav, Volodymyr and the other Kyiv monarchs?

Pysanka featured on $20 Canadian silver coin

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – It sold out in a day – even before it was announced to the general public – and the buzz on social media is still going on. On January 27, the Royal Canadian Mint announced an “Advance Product Notice” of new coin releases to preferred Masters Club Members. These are the coin collectors who spend much more than the average numismatist on the special fine Canadian coin releases. In the middle of the long e-mail announcement of pure silver and gold coins commemorating Haida Art, the tundra swan, a bright green four-leaf clover for St. Patrick’s Day and Reflections of Wildlife (bears) was this spectacular image of a full-color pysanka.

What a difference a date makes

“We should live according to the European, world calendar, not the Muscovite one.” (Ukraine)

“It is not good to leave tradition. But, in order to separate ourselves from the Muscovites, we can try.” (Ukraine)

“I treasure January 6 and 7. For me it is a true Christmas with none of the commercialism.” (U.S.A.)

The issue had been dormant since the early 1960s, when many Ukrainian Catholic parishes in North America voted to adopt the Gregorian calendar instead of the Julian, which had been in practice for centuries in Ukraine and here. Then, all of a sudden, truly out of the blue this Christmas, discussion in Ukraine turned to having Ukrainian Churches celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar, on December 25. The Internet buzzed with statements (like the ones above) from politicians, religious leaders, prominent cultural activists and average citizens about the need for a change.

The military koliady

My father began singing about young Vasylko getting on his beautiful horse, taking off his hat and bowing low to say good-bye, riding off into battle with his spear and sword, and meeting a beautiful “kniazivna” (princess). It was after supper on “Sviat Vechir” – Ukrainian Christmas Eve, and I was around 7 or 8 years old. My father said that this was one of the “koliadky” he sang as a young man back home in Strilbychi, Staryi Sambir, in western Ukraine. I remember thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with the birth of ‘Isusyk’ (Baby Jesus)?”

When I wrote this as the beginning of the preface for my book “First Star I See Tonight: Ukrainian Christmas Traditions,” I did not have a specific koliada (carol) text – this was just what I remembered from long ago. Since then, I have found a few koliady that come close to what may have been my Tato’s song.

Russian-tinged vocabulary?

Dear Editor:

For the most part, we have succeeded in getting Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Dnipro and Dnister into the English-speaking world. We’re still working on Kozaks (instead of Cossacks). Now, how about working on eliminating the titles “prince” and “princess” for Volodymyr, Yaroslav, Olha and the other rulers of the ancient Kyiv state. “King” and “queen” would be more appropriate for their realms since we have to make it comparable to Western European thinking (although Volodymyr could be considered an “emperor” of the territory he ruled). The term “prince” is used in Russian for “kniaz” because their main ruler was the tsar.

A step back into history

It was another perfect sunny sky-blue Manitoba early Sunday morning in late June.  My husband, Myroslaw, and I decided to visit a parish outside of Winnipeg, a short drive north, in the area of Rossdale.  It is called “Parky” by Ukrainians, a Ukrainian version of “parks,” the old historical regional name for the fields in the area left untilled by the earlier Scottish settlers. For those who have not lived in Manitoba or in the other two Canadian Prairie Provinces (Saskatchewan and Alberta), the ingrained Ukrainian-ness of western Canada could be unfamiliar.  Not for the folks here. In 2016, Ukrainians in Canada will be celebrating the 125th anniversary of their settlement in Canada – and the settlement was in the prairies. After all this time, Ukrainians are now the mainstream – not “new” immigrants.  In Manitoba, Ukrainians of all generations make up 14.9 percent of the population. All over Manitoba (and the other Prairie Provinces), the sight of a small Ukrainian church in the distance of the expansive fields is just a normal, comforting vision.  The original churches from over a century ago are small, built based on what the settlers could afford and of a size just right for the small communities.  The larger churches were built after the community grew and became established.