May 7, 2021

How has COVID-19 affected Plast and Plastuny in the United States?


Ulana Slabicky

Members of the Plast branch in Yonkers, N.Y., take part in an opening gathering, the “vidkryttia” with which members always start their events.

CARMEL, N.Y. – During this global pandemic, many people have been affected by COVID-19. It has been especially hard for members of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization in the U.S.A. to keep the “plastovi zakony” (the rules of Plast) alive during this time. But members all over the country continue to amaze us. With all camps having been cancelled in the past year and weekly meetings also cancelled or conducted virtually via Zoom, Plast members continue to find ways to make the best out of the situation, as they are trained to do.

Different stanytsi (regional branches) throughout the United States have dealt with the situation in their own unique ways. Some have held Zoom meetings, completing proby (scouting ranks) and vmilosti (merit badges) all online. One stanytsia in particular is very determined to keep plast alive for everyone online.

Podruha (counselor) Talia Danysh, head of the New York City stanytsia, said she was especially proud of what her branch has accomplished over the past 11 months.

“The New York City stanytsia determined it was important to continue our Plast activities,” Podruha Danysh said. “In a matter of two weeks our Stanychna Starshyna (branch leadership) developed a plan of action to hold virtual weekly schodyny [meetings] from 1:30-2:30 p.m. every Saturday as is customary in New York City… While we await the end of this ‘unusual’ time period, we are also grateful to have the opportunity to continue with our online Plast activities thanks to the dedication of our vychovnyky [counselors] and to technological advances. We look forward to the days when we can meet again in person and celebrate our ‘druzhnist’ [friendship].”

Podruha Danysh also said her vychovnyky have been extremely dedicated and are making most of these activities and continuations possible, as these counselors are all over the country yet remain engaged in the branch activities.

Many different branches around the country are very proud of what they are doing to keep Plast alive during this time, as they are doing an amazing job keeping stanytsias up and running.

Podruha Daria Jakubowycz, head of the branch in Cleveland, Ohio, is also doing an amazing job of keeping everything up and running, even if everything is on Zoom.

“Although we would prefer to have schodyny clearly and not through zoom, such ‘virtual’ schodyny gave us the opportunity to meet with plastuny all over America and even the world,” Podruha Jakubowycz said. “Yunatstvo [scouts age 12-18] and educators from other cities joined our meetings, and, at training, educators even from Europe and Ukraine taught us! And it made our world a little smaller.”

Druh (scout leader) Lesyk Holian of Yonkers, N.Y., also made it apparent that it has been hard for much of yunatstvo during these times.

“We pivoted really quickly,” Druh Holian said. There were “online schodyny by April, March was rough, we are able to carry out schodyny on Zoom. We were also able to do an in-person zakryttia [closing ceremony] which extended the year because of a missed month… Some positives though – you can use technology to pull people together from different places, technology helped people from other places come together for national vmilosti [merit badges] which is particularly unique. It has brought some stanytsias closer together. For example, zoom schodyny with stanytsi. From a national perspective it kind of unites people. Virtual rada can happen, you can do things that you couldn’t normally do… there were no camps, such as ski camp and regular three-week camp and it has been really tough on the kids. [The camps are] ‘the glue that keeps the team together.’”

Scout leaders, such as Podruha Daria, Podruha Talia and Druh Lesyk, are so proud of what their branches have accomplished, and how they really embody how Plast and plastuny have kept the Plast spirit alive during these trying times. People like them, as well as vychovnuyky and yunatstvo, are showing how plastuny have persevered through this pandemic.

Along with all of the virtual activities comes a lot of emotional strain on plastuny. Plast is all about interaction with your community and fellow plastuny all over the country and world. Things like the worldwide Plast jamboree, a specialized camp in which Plast members from across the entire world congregate in one different country every 10 years, helps plastuny all over the world interact and stay connected. When things like this are cancelled, or even weekly schodyny, it can be an incredible strain on active members of Plast.

Also lost are all of the memories made by yunatstvo during camps, meetings, or other Plast events. That loss is immeasurable and can never be replaced. Even being stuck at home is difficult for plastuny, as camps and outdoor activities are a main part of the Plast curriculum. Plastuny haven’t changed their views on the organization, but they have started to figure out unique ways to help their friends and complete scouting tasks. Many members of Plast believe the organization plays a large role in their lives, and they couldn’t imagine their lives without it. Friendships made at Plast events often last a lifetime. Yunatstvo and older members of the organization continue to reminisce about their memories of how things used to be, and are confident they will be better soon.
Last year because all camps were cancelled, all Plast scouting camps in the United States held virtual camps over Zoom. This included any regular camps, such as the standard three-week camp for both yunatstvo (scouts age 12-18) and novatstvo (scouts age 6-11).

Over a period of three weeks, the normal time period for summer camps, the scouting camps at Vovcha Tropa, Pysanij Kamin and Noviy Sokil held one-week virtual camps for novatstvo and yunatstvo.

Virtual activities included virtual campfires, games and completion of vmilosti. Although the situation was obviously different than previous years, all kids and administration still had a wonderful time during the virtual camps, which is another example which demonstrates how plastuny are adapting to these strange circumstances. Other camps which were impacted by the pandemic included Morskyi Tabir, a camp specifically focused on water sports; ski camp; and the annual Orlykiada weekend. This was also extremely heartbreaking for many scouts, as these are some of the most popular camps and events in the United States. Vyshkoly, camps specifically designed to train counselors, also changed. Standard vyshkil, in which attendees complete a series of rigorous lectures and assignments, and which everyone needs to complete in order to become a counselor for novatstvo, was held virtually for nine days.

All in all, this pandemic has been really rough for plastuny. Events cancelled, not being able to see peers, and doing everything online is not traditional for members of Plast. But as plastuny, we have continued to persevere, and stay dedicated to our amazing organization that has given us so much hope and joy in our lives. Even though everything might not be perfect right now, we have definitely adapted to our circumstances, as we are trained to do. The future is bright for Plast in the United States, and we will continue to do our best to fight for normalcy and recovery.

Larissa Pawliczko

The author, Larissa Pawliczko (top row, second from the right), and other counselors and scouts take part in a virtual Pochatkoviy Tabir (Beginner’s Camp).

Larissa Pawliczko is a Plast scout in New York, a Grade 11 student at Mahopac High School in Mahopac, N.Y. She has been involved in Plast for more than 10 years.