May 13, 2021

May 16, 1976


Forty-five years ago, on May 14-16, 1976, some 10,000 to 15,000 people from as far as Canada and California attended the inaugural Ukrainian Street Fair that was held on Seventh Street in Manhattan, between Second and Third Avenues in the neighborhood known as Little Ukraine.

Ukrainian music, folk dancing (by numerous groups who performed on a stage set up on Seventh Street near Taras Shevchenko Place, then called Hall Place), pysanky, embroideries, Ukrainian foods and blue-and-gold flags filled the area, while windowsills and fire escapes were decorated with “The Old Glory” and Tryzubs. The event was not only a celebration of Ukrainian identity, but a salute to the bicentennial celebrations for the United States of America. Banners that lined the street wished America a Happy Birthday, while celebrating the different facets of Ukrainian culture.

Among the 20 tables that showcased Ukrainian artists and crafts were wood-carver Mychajlo Czeresniowskyj, artifacts from the Boyko region of Ukraine, as well as botany projects by students from St. George Academy.

Closer to Third Avenue, the landmark Ukrainian gift shop Surma (which closed in 2016 after 98 years in business), attracted visitors for its many books and Ukrainian items, as well as the honey collected from its founder’s, Myron Surmach’s, apiary. Outside the shop, there was a display of honey, honeycombs and bees, which were allowed to roam about freely. Yaroslava Surmach-Mills demonstrated glass painting at the Surma shop.

Other organizations manned tables at the street fair, including members of the Ukrainian Bandura School, the Women’s Association for the Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine, St. George’s Grammar School and PTA, the Ukrainian National Association and its publications (the table was organized by the New York District Committee, headed by Nicholas Chomanczuk), Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization’s New York Branch, as well as local Ukrainian boutiques. Food booths were organized by the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America (Branches 21 and 72).

Addressing the crowds were Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.), Steve Juhan from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services represented Mayor Abraham Beame, as well as representatives of the City Council members. Other New York politicians who attended the festival included Rep. Edward Koch (D-N.Y.), City Councilman William F. Passannante, John D. Lodge, former Ambassador to Spain and Argentina, and former Governor of Connecticut. Ukrainian community representatives included Bishop Joseph Shmondiuk of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, UNA Supreme President Joseph Lesawyer (chairman of the Ukrainian Bicentennial Committee of America), John O. Flis, (chairman of the Ukrainian Bicentennial Commit­tee of New York), Dr. Wolodymyr Sawchak (president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, New York Branch), and Miss Soyuzivka 1975 Ulita Olshaniwsky.

In the local area, art exhibits, fashion shows and concerts were held that celebrated Ukrainian artists, fashion designs and music (including performances by students of the Ukrainian Music Institute).

The street fair concluded with a program of Ukrainian song and dance prepared by Bohdanna Wolansky, which featured the vocal ensemble Promin and the Vodohray band. News coverage of the event was carried by NBC TV, The New York Times, The Daily News, New York Post, Long Island Press, and many neighborhood weekly newspapers. Greetings were received from President Gerald Ford, Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller, Gov. Hugh L. Carey and Mayor Beame.

The event has grown into an annual tradition, but due to restrictions related to COVID-19 the festival has been postponed for the foreseeable future.

Source: “Thousands visit New York’s first Ukrainian Street Fair,” by Ihor Dlaboha, The Ukrainian Weekly, May 22, 1976.