August 26, 2016

Community leaders share their thoughts on Ukraine at 25


As 2016 is a particularly significant year for Ukraine, marking the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of the country’s independence, The Ukrainian Weekly approached several community leaders in the United States, Canada and Australia, as well as the Ukrainian World Congress and asked them to share their thoughts on Ukraine.

Following are their responses.

Paul Grod, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress:

Canada is at the forefront of international support for Ukraine.

Ukraine’s 25 years of independence has been continuously challenged by both foreign and domestic foes. On its path to building a democratic, secure and prosperous Ukraine, a critical role has been played by the Ukrainian diaspora led by the Ukrainian World Congress and its constituent organizations. At no time in the last 100 years has Ukraine’s statehood had greater support among the international community than today.

Arguably, there is no other country in the world that has provided such unequivocal and unwavering support for Ukraine in the past 25 years as has Canada. A united, organized and sophisticated Ukrainian Canadian community led for the past 75 years by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) has been at the core of ensuring this support.

Our team followed the well-developed principles of the previous UCC presidents that have ensured our community’s effectiveness and influence. Firstly, we have been united under the umbrella of the UCC which has included virtually every major Ukrainian Canadian organization in Canada, ensuring our grassroots relevance. Secondly, UCC has maintained nonpartisan support for issues of importance to the Ukrainian Canadian community from all of Canada’s major parties. Thirdly, we have had a professional and sophisticated government relations strategy which ensures we regularly present well-documented policy positions to all key policy-makers in Canada, including the prime minister, every key minister, members of Parliament and government officials from federal, provincial and municipal governments.

Canada was at the forefront of supporting the rights of the Ukrainian people to peaceful demonstration and freedom of speech during the Revolution of Dignity and is now one of the world’s leaders in supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in the face of Russia’s brutal war of aggression. When former Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper visited Ukraine multiple times since Russia’s invasion and its Foreign Minister John Baird visited during the Maidan, each time they invited a Ukrainian Canadian delegation to participate as a key stakeholder that would continue the work after they returned to Canada. Canada was instrumental in influencing the leaders of the G-7 to exclude Russia. Canada provided military equipment expeditiously when Ukraine needed it the most. We have ensured that Ukraine is a country of focus and a top recipient of humanitarian aid and technical assistance from Canada. Canada’s contingent of 200 soldiers is currently the largest international force training Ukrainian armed forces, in addition to the dozens of Canadian police that are training and funding Ukraine’s new police force. This support and assistance was secured in no small part because of the efforts of our community.

In recognition of the influence of our community, I was bestowed the “badge of honor” as I was one of 13 Canadians sanctioned by Russia in 2014, and also named three years in a row as one of the “Top 100 People Influencing Canada’s Global Future” by Embassy and Hill Times’ Power and Influence magazine. This is largely the result of the efforts of thousands of our volunteers, who dedicate countless hours working for UCC and our member organizations nationally, provincially and locally, to whom I am eternally grateful.

The relationship between our Canada and Ukraine is grounded in a special cultural relationship – 1.3 million Canadians trace their roots back to Ukraine. It is however more than votes or cultural interests. This relationship has evolved into one of shared values, mutual economic interests and geopolitical interests.

Canada’s new government, elected in October 2015, has demonstrated continued strong support for Ukraine. One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first official bilateral foreign visits was to Ukraine, where he travelled on July 10-12, 2016. Prime Minister Trudeau continued the tradition of previous Prime Ministers in inviting a sizeable delegation from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

During Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement was signed, opening a new chapter in relations between our countries, and additional Canadian support to Ukraine was announced. Speaking to Canadian Armed Forces personnel who are training Ukrainian soldiers in Yavoriv, Prime Minister Trudeau stated, “The reason we’re here supporting Ukraine is not just because Ukraine is a good friend to Canada and the Ukrainian people are good friends to us. It’s because the values, the principles that they’re fighting for are the values and principles that we stand for and that we fight for.”

In the last 125 years since the first Ukrainian immigrants arrived in Canada, there have been five distinct waves of Ukrainian immigrants. Each wave built on the successes of their predecessors. The sum has become a united and organized Ukrainian community that today yields significant influence with government and opinion leaders, and has ensured international support for Ukraine. Today, as Ukraine faces serious threats to its independence, our diaspora’s unity is more important than ever. We must never fall victim to the low brow or perhaps purposely manufactured divisive actions.

As we look forward to the opportunities of the next 25, 75 or 125 years, let us redouble our efforts in support of Ukraine. If each of us tasked ourselves every day with the question, “What will I do today to help Ukraine?” Ukraine will soon become a prosperous, democratic and peaceful country that respects the dignity of its people.

Stefan Romaniw, president of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations:

Having landed again in Kyiv last week, I find it’s a good opportunity to reflect on the 25 years of Ukraine’s independence. Driving from the airport into Kyiv, observing the beauty of the country, the gold-domed churches, the cranes in the sky, observing the reverence around Evropeyska Ploshcha and Institutytska Street, reflecting on the battles on the Maidan and the tent city on the Khreshchatyk convinces one to say: What a resilient nation we are and how committed are the people of Ukraine!

The journey to independence was not only difficult but horrific. The Soviet domination, the Russian oppression, the Communist way of dehumanizing a nation left their mark.

The wars, the commitment of the Sichovi Striltsi, the students at Kruty, the OUN and the UPA, the Dyviziynyky and other formations who fought for a Ukraine that was Ukrainian have also left their mark.

Let’s remember those who sat in prisons in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the liquidation of Churches and many other historical facts, which set Ukraine on the path of no return. The late 1980s saw Narodnyi Rukh and other formations demanding change.

With change and independence, other struggles commenced. The road to democracy was scattered with many incidents and actions.

The Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity continued the struggle for a Ukraine that is Ukrainian. One cannot but admire, honor and respect the tenacity of the Ukrainian people in their struggle. The grassroots of Ukraine have led the charge in most cases. Whether in the village, or regional areas, or in the city, the people of Ukraine have shown that no enemy, no force will overcome the will for a national identity.

Have we reached our goal? Not by a long shot.

Over the past years I have advocated for programs to strengthen eastern Ukraine. Having visited met, planned and worked with people in these regions I was amazed again at their willingness to continue the struggle. To those who over these years who have tried to split Ukraine and spoke of a divided Ukraine: You were wrong. I vividly remember visiting Stakhanov, on the outskirts of Luhansk, and meeting with students who heavily questioned issues of the Holodomor, the OUN and the UPA as being propaganda. But after work and discussions over a period of time, many of them ended up on the Maidan, saying: We now understand. We now hear many fighting in Donetsk, saying: We now understand the UPA. We are the new UPA, fighting the same enemy for the same reasons.

We now have the Institute of National Memory working on de-Communization. Its purpose is to rid Ukraine of the painful reminders of the oppressor.

When we first started to be here regularly, my wife would ask: Why is that Lenin statue still on Shevchenko Boulevard ? The response at that time was that people were not ready to shed their past, that there were those who saw Lenin as part of history.

The Ukrainianization process and work with youth, families and the general population by many formations and organisations that worked on the premise of understanding Ukrainian nationalism as a positive tool to re-engage people, to think about who we are, have started to take effect. No longer do they believe the propaganda that nationalism was fascist and an enemy of the people.

The demolition of Lenin statues and other Communist symbols happened as people began to be more informed, to have a better understanding that their future could not be built on the atrocities of the former Communist-Soviet regime.

So where are we today?

Today Ukraine continues its battle with the Russian aggressor in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine continues to demand that Crimea must be returned, Ukraine continues to call on the international community for support. The Ukrainian people are demanding reforms, and quickly.

Voices of support come in many shapes and forms. The Canadian, U.S., British, Australian and European and other governments continue to provide support in various ways. People have also realized that this is only part of the solution, that the nation itself has to take major responsibility.

We see the diaspora continuing to do what it has done for many years: being the ambassador of the Ukrainian cause, knocking on doors to ensure that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are supported in their struggles and development.

The Ukrainian World Congress with its affiliates in over 40 countries and others work tirelessly in trying to keep Ukraine and the Ukrainian spirit front and center.

We have had a minister of finance, Natalka Jaresko, in the Cabinet. We now have Ulana Suprun as acting minister of health. We have many from the diaspora assisting with strategizing, reforming and supporting the overall cause. We have a highly successful program in Patriot Defence. We are out to change the way business is done.

Unity to act when required has been the diaspora’s mantra – this cannot be disputed.

As time moves on, we see that things take a natural course. We see that two wings of the OUN – Banderivtsi and Melnykivtsi – are working actively on the international level, working in partnership and currently are in strong negotiations about becoming a single entity again.

We see the dialogue between the Churches striving towards common ground, if not unity as one entity, when it counts. Who can forget the role of the Churches during the Revolution of Dignity?

Indeed, 25 years of independence has changed people’s attitudes and values.

I have intentionally not discussed the role of governments and the need for them to step up to the plate on many issues, because I wanted to devote these words to the people of Ukraine, who have been and continue to be the engine leading Ukraine over 25 years. If it were not for the people, we would be looking at a different Ukraine in 2016. I also wanted to acknowledge our diaspora in being a strong contributor over a long period and in continuing in that role.

I believe Ukraine will continue to grow, change and internationally be a game changer!

Slava Ukrayini! Heroyam Slava!

Mnohaya lita, Ukrainskyi Narode!

Marianna Zajac, president of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America:

I had the honor of being elected president of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America in 2008; since that time I have worked to sustain and enhance the relationship established by my predecessors between the UNWLA and Ukraine. This relationship has evolved through the years and through changing circumstances.

The past two years have been uniquely challenging; the needs in Ukraine are urgent and great. Our organization has undertaken extensive work to alleviate these needs, from advocating for humanitarian aid in Congress to representing Ukraine’s general interests in Washington. The UNWLA is helping the wounded and the families of the fallen in Ukraine, as well as the displaced families. In addition, we’ve helped the doctors treating the wounded and have become a major donor to the newly formed Mental Health Institute (treating PTSD) at the Ukrainian Catholic University.

We are proud of our accomplishments and feel we have contributed to Ukraine’s endeavors to become a democratic and prosperous nation.

It has not always been easy. Reflecting on 25 years of Ukraine’s independence, I (like most members of the Ukrainian diaspora) remember days filled with hopes and even euphoria, days of disappointment and concern, and, at times, something akin to despair. There are flashbacks to historic moments and events: the first steps leading to democracy, stolen elections followed by more or less free elections, the Orange Revolution, the Maidan, the corruption of those in power, the heroism of the Heavenly Hundred, Russia’s relentless aggression and destabilization, the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of the Donbas, the clearly failed Minsk “peace” accord… But there is also a glimmer of faith in the future, bolstered by the strength and resilience displayed by the Ukrainian people. And so we dare to hope.

As the current UNWLA president I will be in Ukraine on the date of the country’s 25th anniversary of independence, part of a celebratory and historic moment that will be simultaneously sweet and somber. Old friends and new will celebrate together; all of us will be profoundly aware of the unresolved issues and precarious situation confronting the Ukrainian people, the uncertain future. During this trip I will also be visiting the wounded soldiers and volunteers who are dedicating themselves to the peaceful and sovereign nation they hope to see and be a part of. We congratulate every Ukrainian who has been part of this process! We congratulate the land of our forebears and continue to hope and pray for its future!

Slava Ukrayini!