On Saturday, November 2, we attended the 125th anniversary celebration of the Ukrainian National Association (UNA) in Morristown, N.J., a wonderfully organized event that was not only a reminder of how this organization’s origins began with Lemkos, but of the importance of continuing to preserve our community’s history.
As noted in the event “playbill,” 10 brotherhoods with assets of $220 assembled in Shamokin, Pa., on February 22, 1894, to establish the Ruskyi Narodnyi Soyuz and held their first convention that May, with choirs singing the Ukrainian hymn “Shche Ne Vmerla Ukraina.” Records show that among the association’s founders were its first president, Theodore Talpash, and its second president, John Glowa, who were Lemkos from the villages of Łabowa and Zawadka Rymanowska, respectively. Dmytro Kapitula, a Lemko from the village of Świątkowa Wielka, served as president when the organization, increasingly identifying as Ukrainian, changed its name to the Ukrainian National Association in 1914.
The UNA anniversary celebration honored the association’s roots by featuring singer Khrystyna Soloviy, a Lemko-Ukrainian who sang in the Lemkovyna choir in Lviv and rose to fame on Ukraine’s version of the television show “The Voice” – “Holos Krainy.” When Ms. Soloviy performed the traditional Lemko folk song “Hamerytsky Krai,” she noted the hope that many immigrants have had when coming to the United States. When she performed the Lemko folk song “Pod Oblachkom,” she noted the need to connect different generations of Lemkos to one another.
Connecting different generations is exactly what the UNA 125th anniversary celebration did: by reminding us of the tie between those Lemkos who came to work in the Pennsylvania coal mines in the late 1800’s, and those Lemkos who helped build Ukrainian organizations, churches, choirs, etc. in the 20th century, and those Lemkos who are currently spread throughout Ukraine, Poland, the United States and elsewhere around the world.
It is the ideals of hope and connection Ms. Soloviy touched upon that we are trying to uphold through our present positions on the Executive Committee of the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (OOL). How can we connect with Lemkos of different ages throughout the United States and world to strengthen our community and share information? How can our members, supporters and fellow Lemkos work together in a positive way to promote Lemko issues and find common understanding, rather than tear each other down when we do not agree?
Unfortunately, a search on Facebook pages relating to Lemkos/Rusyns/Ukrainians will quickly yield hostile comments from particular individuals when the term “Ukrainian” is used in connection with Lemkos or Rusyns. Alternatively, these individuals will whitewash history to ignore feelings of Ukrainian identity that existed. Discussions of the founders of the UNA on Facebook are just one example: members of the Ruskyi Narodnyi Soyuz will be called the first Rusyn leaders in the United States, but the fact that many accepted a Ukrainian identity that led them to change the names of their organizations and churches from Rusyn/Ruthenian to Ukrainian will be dismissed.
Therefore, we support and encourage support for the UNA’s current campaign to preserve its archival materials and the future of its longstanding publications, Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly, through the UNA Publications Endowment Fund. Additionally, given the UNA’s historic ties to Lemkos, we welcome the opportunity to cooperate with the UNA or others in documenting Lemko history and information. We hope in this way to work with the community to promote fair and informative communication about Lemko-Ukrainians in the United States and elsewhere.
Mark Howansky is national president of the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna; Diana Howansky Reilly is the organization’s press secretary.