October 11, 2019

Conference marks 125 years of the organized diaspora in the U.S.


Matthew Dubas

Panel III (from left): Chryzanta Hentisz (The Ukrainian Museum), Andrew Fedynsky (Ukrainian Museum-Archives of Cleveland), Lydia Tkachuk (Ukrainian Naitional Museum) and Kathy Nalywajko (Ukrainian Institute of America).


This is part 1 of a two-part in-depth look at the panel discussions and the banquet addresses during the conference “Celebrating 125 Years of the Organized Ukrainian American Community” at the Princeton Club in New York on September 21.


NEW YORK – Program Director for the conference, Prof. Walter Zarycky, welcomed the nearly 100 participants, representing a cross-section of the organizations representing the Ukrainian American community, and asked the audience to take a look in the mirror in self-evaluating the Ukrainian American community during this conference.

He underscored the expanding Ukrainian studies curriculum in the U.S. can be attributed to the late Prof. Mark von Hagen, who passed away just before the conference. “What would Mark have wanted?” Prof. Zarycky rhetorically asked. He then called on the participants to observe a minute of silence for the late professor. (An obituary of Dr. von Hagen was printed in the September 29 issue.)

Ambassador of Ukraine Volodymyr Yelchenko to the U.N. and Stefan Kaczaraj, president/CEO of the Ukrainian National Association, delivered the opening remarks.

Matthew Dubas

The 125th anniversary of the Ukrainian National Association is marked with a photo display to showcase the organization’s rich and vast historic moments.

Mr. Kaczaraj’s statement noted the accomplishments of the UNA and the Ukrainian community during its 125 years of existence. He pointed out that much work remains as the community looks to the next 125 years.

Ambassador Yelchenko said the declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1991 was a “decisive value” purchased at an expensive price – from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917-1921, to the suffering of millions during the Holodomor, the Communist state terror from Stalin’s purges and, ultimately, the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The occupation of Crimea and the Donbas by Russia has energized Ukraine’s democratic values and spirit of freedom as the Ukrainian people continue to secure Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, he observed.

During the week at the United Nations General Assembly, Ambassador Yelchenko said the agenda would include military aid, energy security, and anti-corruption measures. “The U.S.,” he noted, “is a real partner for Ukraine in the world,” and relations between Presidents Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskyy are strong. He also noted that the diaspora community’s work will “preserve the unity of Ukrainian people for generations, all over the world.”


Panel I (fromt left): Andrew Futey (Ukrainian Congress Committee of America), Marianna Zajac (Ukrainian National Women’s League of America), and Roma Lisovich (Ukrainian National Association).


Panel I: “Foundation Stones”

Irene Jarosewich, moderator of the first panel on the community’s “foundation stones,” is a former editor-in-chief of Svoboda newspaper. Ms. Jarosewich thanked Prof. Zarycky for his community service for more than two decades. She then introduced the panelists – Roma Lisovich, chief financial officer/treasurer of the UNA, Marianna Zajac, president of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America (UNWLA), and Andriy Futey, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) – and noted that these three organizations have formed the core of the community at large.

Ms. Lisovich described in detail the UNA’s history and how it was the printed word – Svoboda – that gave birth to the UNA by calling in 1893 for the establishment of a national organization, as a result of which 10 brotherhoods united into one organization. The UNA was formed in 1894 and continues to unite and serve the Ukrainian community with financial products, scholarships and financial support of community endeavors. The UNA, she underscored, is different from large insurance companies: as a fraternal serving the Ukrainian community, its profits go back into the community for a wide range of projects. (For more details about Ms. Lisovich’s presentation, see the news story in The Weekly’s September 29 issue.)

Mr. Futey explained that he had just returned from the 80th anniversary commemorations of World War II in Poland, and that Ukrainian communities in Poland and the U.S. face similar challenges, including maintaining unity and activism. The UCCA, he said, was formed in 1939 based on a neutral political platform. At the time, as the second world war emerged, the risk of Ukraine’s subjugation under the Soviets continued as it struggled for self-determination. In 1940, the UCCA held its first congress, with 1,000 delegates attending in Washington. Since then, the UCCA has expanded to speak on behalf of the Ukrainian community in the U.S.

During the UCCA’s 80-year history, it has sought to aid Ukrainians in Ukraine and in the diaspora. The Third Wave of Ukrainian immigrants had flourished, building Ukrainian schools, holding Captive Nations Week observances, creating in 1967 the Ukrainian World Congress – a U.N.-recognized NGO representing 20 million Ukrainians worldwide, of which the UCCA is a member.

Other notable moments for the UCCA have included: the 1964 unveiling of the Taras Shevchenko Monument in Washington, the creation of the Ukrainian National Information Service in Washington (which is celebrating over 40 years of service), the publication of The Ukrainian Quarterly, participation in the founding of the Central and Eastern European Coalition in 1994, the establishment of House and Senate Ukraine Caucuses, the dedication of the Holodomor Memorial in 2015 in Washington and ongoing petitioning of the U.S. government to officially recognize the Holodomor as genocide against the Ukrainian people.

“Community leaders,” Mr. Futey said, “are the cornerstone of the community at large.”  He encouraged all community members to take an active part in the political process in the U.S., promoting good citizenship through these actions.

Ms. Zajac said the UNWLA is planning to celebrate its 95th anniversary in 2020. Since its founding in 1925, the UNWLA has worked to preserve Ukrainian culture and assist with aid or advocacy for Ukraine.  Thus, it is a good time to review the legacy of the UNWLA’s work and a book about the history of the UNWLA is being prepared by Dr. Marta Kebalo.

Uniting women under one umbrella, the UNWLA was founded by women for women and is led by women. The organization, she said, remains non-partisan to avoid fractures of politicization. As part of the larger women’s movement, the UNWLA has undergone modernization with the launch of a website, where visitors can learn about the organization’s efforts to preserve Ukrainian culture and to educate about Ukraine.

The UNWLA continues to forge relationships with women’s organizations, including the Assembly of Ukrainian Women in Ukraine, the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations (a U.N.-recognized NGO, with representation at the U.N.) and others.

Highlights of the organization’s history included the Ukrainian exhibit at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago that led to the birth of The Ukrainian Museum in New York. During that time, the UNWLA organized relief actions to aid those suffering from the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine. The magazine Our Life was founded in 1946, and following the second world war, the UNWLA continued efforts to aid displaced persons, namely Ukrainian immigrants, who were arriving in the U.S.

Scholarships were begun in 1967 and, to date, the UNWLA has donated $5 million in scholarships. Other funds were established to support for literary and historical works, as well as relief from the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster.

More recently, the UNWLA assisted victims of the 2008 flooding in western Ukraine, held Candle in Remembrance ceremonies as part of Holodomor commemorations, spearheaded in 2011 collaborations in Ukraine with Shriners’ hospitals, and in 2012 financially supported the expansion of facilities at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in Lviv. Following the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, the UNWLA’s “Adopt-a-family” program aided those affected by the Euro-Maidan protests and the war in the Donbas.

Other efforts have included sending medical equipment to Ukraine, assisting with a film project highlighting the role of women in the Revolution of Dignity, organizing exhibits focused on women’s contributions to the community, as well as supporting the Place of Hope (a PTSD therapy center at the UCU) and the “Angel of Goodness” program that helped build Ukraine’s civil society. Notably in 2018, the UNWLA assisted in the building of a community center and chapel in Severo­donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

“The UNWLA,” she said, “has a foot in each of two worlds, as it seeks to enhance the status of women.”

During the Q&A session, the speakers were asked, “What does Ukraine need from us?”

Ms. Zajac said the diaspora needs to understand the role of the newer immigrants to the U.S. and how they have shown themselves to be creative and innovative, with essential perspectives on the internal issues facing Ukraine.

Mr. Futey highlighted the need to engage the youth in emerging communities in places such as Oregon, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ga., and Sacramento, Calif. Most of these new centers of the Ukrainian community life are Baptist and Pentecostal religious groups, he pointed out, and they need to be incorporated into established organizations. It is high time, he added, that a Ukrainian candidate emerges for the Senate or House of Representatives to be a close advocate for Ukrainians in Washington.

Ambassador Yelchenko said that Ukraine needs a strong united outreach toward Ukrainian youth, who have passion, but there is the potential of divisions and disruption. Ukraine, he said, needs a Washington-based presence and support from the diaspora for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has attempted to unite the east and west of Ukraine, and proposed new ideas on the Donbas conflict.

Audience members underscored the need to inform Americans about Ukrainians in the U.S.A. Mr. Futey recommended that local communities need to make efforts to inform Americans about Ukrainians, and that local efforts will translate into dialogue on the national level.

Other discussions focused on the topic of dual citizenship for Ukrainian Americans, and both Ambassador Yelchenko and Mr. Futey said there are issues on both the U.S. and Ukrainian sides that would need to be resolved for something like that to move forward, as Ukraine does not recognize dual citizenship and the U.S. has its own policy obstacles.


Panel II: Religious Life

Dr. Andrew Sorokowski, who spotlighted the importance of spiritual life in the founding of the Ukrainian American community, introduced the panelists – the Rev. Ivan Kaszczak, Ph.D., of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Rev. Anthony Perkins of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A., and Dr. Mykhailo Cherenkov of the Ukrainian Evangelical Community.

The Rev. Dr. Ivan Kaszczak

“Wherever are the people, there are the churches,” The Rev. Kaszczak stated,  as he provided an overview of the history of the Ukrainian Catholic experience which traces its roots to Shenandoah, Pa. In those early days, the need for community centers was filled by churches. There were also identity issues, he said, as many Ukrainian Catholics were identified as Polish or Greek. Priests were also instrumental in the coal and mine strikes that threatened bloodshed at the time, as protesters exclaimed “bread or blood.”

The role of churches, he said, was not only in community life, but daily life as well. They were the centers of the first Ukrainian organizations – church brotherhoods, choirs, bands, newspapers, as well as performance and theater groups. The church leaders worked to remind the community that they were there to serve and not to be served.

“Immigrants sought a place of their own, and respect to the dignity of man,” the Rev. Kaszczak quoted Julian Baczynsky, founder of the East Village Meat Market in New York, as saying.

The Rev. Perkins, who is a convert to Ukrainian Orthodoxy, offered his “outside” perspective and experience over the last 18 years. He offered his own personal congratulations to the Ukrainian community organizations of the U.S.A., and reminded listeners that we should not take them for granted. The Rev. Perkins said the community faces threats of division, both internally and externally. In many of these organizations’ histories, he continued, a network of localized groups later formed national organizations. The community is flourishing thanks to these organizations that continue to preserve Ukrainian culture in the U.S.A. as Ukrainians.

The Rev. Anthony Perkins

He also underscored the organizations of the UOC-U.S.A., including the Ukrainian Orthodox League, the sisterhood and brotherhood chapters, St. Andrew Society, that all came together during the Church’s centennial celebrations in 2018.

The St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary in Bound Brook, N.J., the Rev. Perkins said, has grown with an influx of students from Ukraine, who have learned about Ukrainian community life in the U.S. and have brought that experience with them to the parishes they serve as clergy or lay leaders. In 21st century parish life, the Rev. Perkins continued, challenges include language issues, dual versus single, during worship, and there is a demographic shift from coal mine towns that represent an older immigration experience. Ukrainian immigration has come in waves and each one is different, with its own challenges. However, Ukrainian identity preservation continues in the 21st century, he said.

Dr. Cherenkov said that this event was a celebration of Christian unity, as much as it was a celebration of culture and religion. Religious life has served as the cornerstone of the community, that has prospered to allow Ukrainians in the U.S.A. to become an influential minority.

The Ukrainian American Evangelical community has had a difficult and complicated integration into American life, he said, as we remind ourselves with the preservation of the spiritual foundation of community life and life in Ukraine.

The mission has been a responsibility before God, intertwined with duty toward Ukrainians, which, he said, was complimentary to community building.

The Revolution of Dignity changed both Ukrainians in Ukraine and outside observers. In Ukraine, it has diminished self-centeredness, with aid coming in to Ukraine from all over the world, Dr. Cherenkov said. The unity demonstrated following the Euro-Maidan was unprecedented since Ukraine declared independence in 1991. Mr. Cherenkov noted that 2.5 million meals were delivered to Ukraine in the first year of the war in the Donbas. This was an example of an extended hand in Christian fellowship. The most successful organizations in his experience in Ukraine have been the children’s clubs, and this shows signs of Ukraine’s growth as a new nation, with Christian values.

He commented that the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington has become an annual event with a strong Ukrainian representation here in the U.S., and that in Ukraine, a new phase of churches has begun since the signing of the Tomos of Autocephaly by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in recognizing the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, headed by Metropolitan Epifaniy.

The Evangelical Ukrainian community continues its work to lead by the example to better serve people and build a vibrant community, just as it is its mission to teach the word of God to all people.

Questions from the audience focused on ways of engaging Ukrainian youth in religious life.

Dr. Cherenkov said the Evangelical community provides schools, sports and activities that engage young Christians. There needs to be an investment in the preservation of Ukrainian culture and engaging the youth through education, music and culture. Corruption, he added, was a generational issue, and people need to be spoken to honestly, not preached at, as it is through honest dialogue that a community can learn together.

The Rev. Kaszczak reminded that the Bible is the center of life, as we see the Gospel laid in the center of the altar at church, and everything springs from it. The American experience, he added, of freedom and a rules-based system in the U.S.A. allowed for the work and mission of the Gospel.

Prof. Zarycky reminded all that religious life in the community is a way to combat the legacy of communism and corruption, by showing that honesty and good works can prevail.

A working luncheon featured a presentation by Dr. Alexander Motyl, professor of political science at Rutgers University – Newark, on “Taking Measure of the Significance of the Ukrainian Community to Ukraine.” He was introduced by Victor Rud, vice-president of the Ukrainian American Bar Association. (Dr. Motyl’s presentation was described in the September 29 issue.)


Panel III: Cultural life

Kathy Nalywajko, president of the Ukrainian Institute of America (UIA), explained how the diaspora culture has been preserved by expanding on the word “culture” – from the words “cultivate” and “nurture.” Through these preservation efforts, the diaspora maintains its connections to Ukraine and to other entities. Ms. Nalywajko introduced the panelists – Lydia Tkachuk, president of the Ukrainian National Museum (UNM) in Chicago, Andrew Fedynsky, director of the Ukrainian Museum-Archives of Cleveland, and Chryzanta Hentisz, president of The Ukrainian Museum in New York.

Ms. Tkachuk, a Chicago native, provided a historical overview of the UNM, citing the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago that featured a Ukrainian exhibit. For those first waves of immigrants, churches played a crucial role as the center of community life in the diaspora. She noted that during her leadership of the UNM as its first female president, the museum has attracted visitors beyond the Ukrainian community and nearly 75 percent of visitors to the museum have been non-Ukrainians. The UNM has also been a place of study for students from the Ukrainian Catholic University. Various exhibits recall the history and cultural experience of the community, and there are Ukrainian cultural exchanges planned for the future. She expressed gratitude for the support of the Heritage Foundation of First Security Savings Bank and Self Reliance Federal Credit Union (Chicago).

The museum, she said, continues to spread a positive image of Ukraine and remains relevant and vibrant with exhibits and activities.

Mr. Fedynsky said the museum in Cleveland has provided a prism of the community in Cleveland from 1900 to the present. In Cleveland, as in the coal mining towns of Pennsylvania, church life was the center of the community. He explained that St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Church was paid for by Tsar Nicholas II, but attracted Russified Ukrainians, even though the community was founded by Ukrainian Catholics. It wasn’t until 1902, with the construction of Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church, that Ukrainians had “a place of their own,” he said.

The museum-archives, he said, has preserved a depiction of the early days of the community that shows there was a vibrant life with theater groups and bands that performed regularly. He shared examples of printed material, including those published by the UNA, that were for sale in the first Ukrainian bookstore in Detroit in 1929. Ukrainian national homes became the new center of community life within a generation of the first wave of immigrants to this country.

The United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio, founded in 1929, continued that spirit of unity within the community, and later, beginning in the 1930s, performances by Ukrainian dancer/choreographer Vasyl Avramenko – with one concert featuring 300 dancers on stage – as well as stage performances of works by Ukrainian playwrights were notable events.

In 1940, the Cultural Gardens of Cleveland featured a Ukrainian section, with sculptures of Volodymyr the Great, Ivan Franko and Taras Shevchenko by Alexander Archipenko; the latest addition, a sculpture of Lesia Ukrainka, was made possible in 1961 by the UNWLA.  And in 1952, the Ukrainian Museum-Archives in Cleveland was founded, according to its website, “by displaced scholars who took on the mission of collecting and preserving items from Ukrainian history and culture during an era when this kind of material was being deliberately destroyed in Soviet Ukraine.”

Ms. Hentisz underscored that the UIA, the UNWLA and The Ukrainian Museum, are all headed by women. The Ukrainian Museum, she said, got its early start from the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago with a Ukrainian exhibit that was organized by the UNWLA. It was this initial exhibit that formed the core of the first collection of The Ukrainian Museum. The museum, she added, is one of the most active institutions in the U.S., and its collections have expanded to include folk costumes, kylyms, ceramics, pysanky and other artifacts and items.

The museum has received donations of collections from diaspora families and individuals over the years. In 1976, the museum hosted its first exhibit of folk art, and since then other exhibits have featured symbols of Ukrainian folk art, including Petrykivka, pysanky and others. The museum has also exhibited works by sculptor Alexander Archipenko, hosted workshops on cultural courses. The Ukrainian Museum’s logo was designed by Ukrainian artist Jacques Hnizdovsky.

Its recently acclaimed exhibits included: the Battle of Ilovaisk and a commemoration of Mark Paslawsky, an American soldier killed in the battle; “Andy Warhol: Endangered Species”; and “Staging the Ukrainian Avant-Garde of the 1910s and 1920s.” The exhibits have attracted local art schools, including the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design.

The museum’s latest exhibit, “Full Circle: Ukraine’s struggle for Independence 100 Years Ago, 1917-1921,” ended on September 29. This exhibit featured the state seals of Ukraine during the time of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty following the first world war and a silver funeral wreath honoring the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen.

Ms. Hentisz invited the audience and the community to enjoy the many cultural events regularly hosted by the museum, including film screenings, book presentations, concerts, performances, workshops and folk culture courses.

Regarding the future, since Ukraine regained its independence in 1991, Mr. Fedynsky explained, archives in Ukraine have renewed contacts with institutions in the U.S. Information requests are sent via the Internet, and such technological advancements have allowed for the scanning of materials and other digital advancements have made the exchange of materials much easier.

Ms. Tkachuk added that the UNM works with the UCU in Lviv, hosting visiting artists, traveling exhibits from Ukraine and other exchanges. Ms. Hentisz underscored that The Ukrainian Museum has been able to borrow materials and have exhibits from Ukraine shown in the U.S.