November 9, 2018

Five good things about Washington


After a decade in Washington, D.C., Ambrose Bierce defined politics as “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.” Today, most people seem to hold either of two images of our capital: a fetid swamp that needs to be drained periodically because it keeps filling up with alligators, toads, water-snakes and Democrats – or a mad Republican three-ring circus run by a clown. 

I will not commit to either of these visions of reality. But I would like to point out that there is more to Washington than politics. For if you should visit this fair city, you will find at least five other noteworthy facets of its life. There is, of course, a Ukrainian dimension to each of them. 

First is diplomacy. Washington is not only the center of national politics, but of the United States’ relations with the rest of the world. The stretch of Massachusetts Avenue known as Embassy Row is lined with impressive chanceries in a variety of styles. Since 1992, the Embassy of Ukraine has occupied the Forrest-Marbury House in Georgetown, built in the 1780s (3350 M St. NW). You can still see the dining room where, in March 1791, George Washington persuaded local landowners to contribute land for the future capital. 

The Embassy was not, however, the first American outpost of independent Ukraine. A Ukrainian Representative Bureau was opened in 1918 in the U.S. Capitol Building. In August 1919, Julian Bachinsky established a diplomatic mission at 1960 Biltmore St. NW, in the Kalorama district. In the same year, he set up the Ukrainian Press Service downtown at 1329 E St. NW. In late 1920, the diplomatic mission and press service were combined and moved to 1901 Columbia Road NW. In July 1921, Lonhyn Tsehelsky opened a diplomatic representation of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic on the same premises. (The Rev. Joseph Denischuk, CSsR, ed., “Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family, Washington, D.C.” Washington, D.C.: Shrine Commemorative Book Committee, 1988, pp. 20-23). Perhaps our community should install a commemorative plaque at one of these sites.

Second, Washington is famous for its monuments – starting with the Washington Monument and including the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Naturally, Ukrainians have their own monument – to Taras Shev-chenko – a powerful yet dignified bronze figure of the poet by Ukrainian Canadian sculptor Leo Mol, accompanied by a sculpted panel. The complex at P and 22nd streets NW was designed by Ukrainian Canadian architect Radoslav Zuk and dedicated in 1964. The Holodomor Memorial, dedicated in 2015 with a design by Washington architect Larysa Kurylas, is prominently situated at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, North Capitol and F streets, just a few blocks from Union Station and the Capitol, and on the way to Embassy Row. A wall depicting a field of wheat moving from positive to negative relief effectively conveys the Famine of 1932-1933 in a symbolic rather than a purely representational manner.

Third, Washington is known for its churches. Most famous is the National Cathedral, which is Episcopalian. Situated at the corner of Massachusetts and Wisconsin avenues NW, the enormous Gothic structure is considered America’s most beautiful cathedral. Along 16th Street NW is an architecturally fascinating array of mostly Protestant churches. Perhaps feeling a bit marginalized, American Catholics built the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with Byzantine as well as Romanesque features, at 4th Street and Michigan Avenue NE in 1920. If you visit, don’t miss the Chapel of the Mother of God on the lower level, contributed by the Byzantine Ruthenian Church and blessed in 1974. 

If the Roman Catholics had a national shrine in Washington, Ukrainian Catholics had to have one too. So just a few hundred yards up the street at 4250 Harewood Road NE they built the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family, including a church, belfry, auditorium, library and bookstore. Architect Miroslav Nimciv provided a modern interpretation of vernacular Hutsul style. At 15100 New Hampshire Ave. in suburban Silver Spring, Md., is St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral and hall, completed in 1987 by the same architect in Kozak Baroque style and consecrated on the millennium of the Baptism of Rus’-Ukraine in 1988. Just up the road at 16631 New Hampshire Ave. is Holy Trinity Particular Ukrainian Catholic Church. Four architects and a master builder created this Hutsul-style wooden log structure, in perfect harmony with its forest setting. 

Fourth, Washington has become a cultural as well as a political capital. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, for example, offers symphony, opera and ballet. Other venues feature theater, film and contemporary music. The National Gallery is like an immersion course in art history. The Washington Group Cultural Fund, a project of The Washington Group, organizes several concerts a year, usually by Ukrainian artists performing works by Ukrainian composers. These Sunday afternoon events are held at the historic Lyceum, just across the Potomac in Alexandria, Va. 

Finally, we should remember that the Washington area is rich in educational institutions. It is the home of Georgetown, George Washington, American, George Mason and Howard universities, as well as the Catholic University of America. On the secondary level, Georgetown Prep in North Bethesda claims such notable alumni as Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Since 1963, Ukrainians operate the Taras Shevchenko School of Ukrainian Studies in Bethesda, Md., a pre-K to 10th grade Saturday school. On a broader community level, the Washington chapter of the Shevchenko Scientific Society sponsors lectures, poetry readings and the occasional conference, sometimes in cooperation with the local branch of the Ukrainian Engineers’ Society of America. These and other events are announced on an Internet community bulletin board maintained by Ken Bossong, a Peace Corps volunteer who worked in Ukraine. 

So, even if you’re sick of politics, come to Washington. Preferably not in the summer, for then it really will feel like a swamp. And make sure you visit some Ukrainian sites and check for Ukrainian events. Washington, after all, is more than just a world capital.