One hundred twenty-five. That was how many years of service to our community the Ukrainian National Association celebrated in 2019. And the celebrations, which took many forms, lasted all year long. Issues of Svoboda dated February 22 and The Ukrainian Weekly dated February 24 included special sections dedicated to the milestone anniversary of their publisher, the UNA, the oldest and largest Ukrainian fraternal organization. Indeed, the UNA is among the oldest fraternal organizations in the United States.
Ukrainians celebrated a landmark anniversary in 2019: 125 years of continuous service to Ukrainian communities in the United States and Canada by the Ukrainian National Association (UNA). Several major cultural events commemorated all the work done by the UNA. On July 12-14, the 13th annual Ukrainian Cultural Festival at the Ukrainian National Foundation’s Soyuzivka Heritage Center in Kerhonkson, N.Y., included a gala honoring the important role of the UNA’s two newspapers – Svoboda (the oldest continuously published Ukrainian-language newspaper in the world, founded in 1893) and The Ukrainian Weekly (published in the English language and founded in 1933). The UNF is an affiliated company of the UNA that performs charitable activities on its behalf.
Unusual. That’s certainly a word that can be used to describe 2019 in terms of U.S.-Ukraine relations, as Ukraine unwittingly found itself in the middle of the U.S. impeachment process. At the same time, Ukraine continued to enjoy the support of the United States, especially in the U.S. Congress, where the support was strong and bipartisan. At the beginning of the year, on January 15, Rep. Mike Quigley (D- Ill.) was appointed to serve as co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Ukraine Caucus, joining fellow Co-Chairs Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). Rep. Quigley said on January 15: “Through several visits to Ukraine, my position on the House Intelligence and Appropriations Committees, and my representation of a prominent and active Ukrainian American community, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of a strong U.S.-Ukraine relationship. I look forward to working with fellow Co-Chairs Kaptur, Harris and Fitzpatrick in our shared mission to fortify Ukrainian sovereignty and democracy.”
“We are now faced with accusations from numerous sources that our president attempted to pressure a foreign government to investigate one of his rivals in the next presidential election. In other words, the president of the United States is attempting to fix the election. I think these accusations should be addressed with all of the tools at Congress’s disposal, including articles of impeachment. …The fact that our president is trying to induce a foreign power to threaten our elections – I think that’s a huge national security risk. The fact that a president is withholding support from a security partner that is trying to fight off Russia, which has presented multiple national security threats over the past several years. …– I just think it’s so incredibly offensive to put that kind of support and that kind of fight that they have going on in jeopardy and in peril. …”
“…Trump seems to have the idea that Ukraine was part of some scheme against his presidential campaign and is correspondingly demanding that the country actively participate in his efforts to attack one of his opponents. As domestic politics this is disgraceful; as foreign policy it is profoundly dangerous. …The scandal effectively presents the Kremlin with a huge gift. It could well turn out that Trump’s ill-advised pressure on the Ukrainian president will finally give Moscow what it has so far failed to achieve. If the mess continues, the only things the world will be hearing about Ukraine are corruption, dubious schemes and bizarre manipulations – a public relations disaster that might end up damaging the country far more than Russian battalions have so far managed to do. Ties between the United States and Ukraine will steadily weaken, giving Moscow additional opportunities to exert pressure. …”
For Canada, 2019 began with a change in leadership at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, when Alexandra Chyczij began her first year as national president, succeeding Paul Grod, who served in that capacity from 2007 to 2018, and went on to lead the Ukrainian World Congress. As the new UCC head, Ms. Chyczij wasted little time in calling on Canada and the international community to increase pressure on Russia to secure the release of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured during a Russian naval attack on Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea on November 25, 2018. The sailors held captive by Russia are prisoners of war and protected by the Geneva Convention, and their incarceration is a “grave violation of international law,” said Ms. Chyczij in a January 17 statement that also called for the release of “over 70 Ukrainian political prisoners taken hostage and imprisoned by the Kremlin.”
The year started on a joyful note, when in early January the Tomos of autocephaly was granted to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Ukrainian World Congress (UWC), the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) all expressed greetings and congratulations to all Ukrainians of faith upon this historic achievement. “The Tomos, received from the Mother Church of Constantinople, returns Ukrainian Orthodoxy to its historic roots, restores historical justice and strengthens the dignity of all faithful in Ukraine,” stated UWC President Paul Grod. “We join the appeal of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to all leaders of autocephalous Orthodox Churches to recognize the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”
For Ukraine, 2019 was a year of elections – first the presidential election on March 31 and then the parliamentary elections less than four months later, on July 21. The presidential election brought a political neophyte to power in a landslide victory, while the Rada elections redrew Ukraine’s political map as newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s political party, Servant of the People, won 254 seats out of the 424 being contested. At the beginning of the year, analysts said that the presidential race was wide open and unpredictable. National Deputy and two-time Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was the front runner, followed by incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and Mr. Zelenskyy, a showman and perhaps the country’s most popular comedian. None of the three approached the popularity among voters needed to win a simple majority. This, coupled with the fact that one-fifth of voters were still undecided made it difficult to foresee who the two final candidates would be for the likely runoff vote in April.
The top story for Ukraine’s Churches during 2019 was the granting of official independence to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine with the presentation of a Tomos of Autocephaly by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on January 6 (Christmas Eve according to the Julian calendar and Theophany Eve according to the Gregorian calendar) at St. George Cathedral at the Phanar in Istanbul. Metropolitan Epifaniy, the newly elected head of the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine (following the decisions of the Unification Council), received the Tomos after concelebrating divine liturgy with Patriarch Bartholomew. The document was written at Xenophontos Monastery on Mount Athos, Greece, by Hieromonk Luke, a skilled calligrapher and hagiographer. “Today, a new page opens in the history of Ukraine,” Patriarch Bartholomew said on January 5 after signing the scroll. “We entreat and exhort you to strive for unity and peace… also with those brother hierarchs who still remain under the omophorion of… our brother Patriarch of Moscow, in order that, through your inspired presence and prudent administrative service, you may help them understand that Ukraine deserves a unity Church body.”
Convention preparations were already in the works at the Ukrainian National Association as 2018 began. This newspaper’s second issue of the year, dated January 14, carried the official announcement that the 39th Regular Convention of the Ukrainian National Association would be held at Soyuzivka Heritage Center in Kerhonkson, N.Y., from Friday, May 18, through Sunday, May 20. The announcement spelled out the procedures for electing delegates to the convention from the UNA’s branches across North America.