January 19, 2014

2013: Ukrainians in the U.S.: making their voices heard


A view of the Holodomor commemoration held on Empire State Plaza in Albany, N.Y., on November 2.

Ukrainians in the United States attempted during 2013 to have their voices heard by the leaders of the country. At the Ukrainian Days advocacy event in Washington on April 17-18, some two dozen community members participated in a program designed by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) and its Washington bureau, the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS), to promote the concerns of the Ukrainian American community, as well as to establish better contacts with their senators and representatives in Congress.

First on the agenda was a briefing at the American Foreign Policy Council that in addition to AFPC leaders included the director of the Office of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, UNIS Director Michael Sawkiw Jr. and Volodymyr Viatrovych, lecturer at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy. Tellingly, Baxter Hunt, director of the Office of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus Affairs, spoke about the intricacies of Ukrainian politics and how Russia tried to influence Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policy agendas. In the afternoon, Ukrainian Days participants met with staff at the congressional offices of their senators and representatives. The day ended with a reception at the Embassy of Ukraine, where participants had an opportunity to speak with Ukraine’s diplomats.

The next day’s agenda included a breakfast with staff members of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, during which the group discussed the current situation in Ukraine., followed by a briefing organized by the Central and East European Coalition, which unites 18 national ethnic organizations that represent 22 million Americans. Rounding out the schedule was more time for meetings with staff of congressional offices and committees.

In all of their meetings on Capitol Hill, Ukrainian Days participants presented members of Congress with policy papers on issues of importance to the Ukrainian American community, as well as informational brochures about the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, the Ukrainian National Information Service and the Ukrainian Genocide of 1932-1933. Topics covered included: U.S. foreign assistance to Ukraine (including that of the U.S. Agency for International Development); the Holodomor, or Ukrainian Genocide of 1932-1933; the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus; and civil liberties violations in Ukraine. Much of the focus during the discussions with various congressional offices was on promoting congressional support for Ukraine’s association with the European Union.

Also in the early part of the year, one of the Ukrainian American community’s strongest organizations, the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, held a major board meting on February 1-3 to discuss its ongoing programs and new initiatives, among them a partnership with Doctors Collaborating to Help Children and Shriner’s Hospital; financial aid for upgrading the pediatric burn unit in Hospital No. 8 in Lviv; support of nursing homes in Ukraine by supplying wheelchairs and other necessities; the fund for orphans and grandmothers (elderly women); scholarships for Ukrainian students in Ukraine and in the diaspora; active support of The Ukrainian Museum in New York; speaking out in defense of human rights of Ukrainians, especially women; and promotion and participation in the Ukrainian, American and international women’s movements.

A major event in Ukrainian American community life was the groundbreaking on May 12 of the Ukrainian American Veterans National Monument, which will be erected on the grounds of St. Andrew Memorial Church and Cemetery on a site donated by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. Metropolitan Antony of the UOC-USA officiated at the May 12 service, briefly underscoring the importance of memorializing all American veterans of Ukrainian heritage who served with honor and dignity in the U.S. Armed Forces, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefields of the 20th and 21st centuries. The ceremonial groundbreaking – the first official step of erecting the monument – was performed by William Szozda, national vice-commander of the Ukrainian American Veterans Inc., in the presence of clergy, guests and UAV members.

Designed by Ukrainian Canadian artist John Jaciw, the UAV National Monument will feature the seals of the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as the UAV logo, engraved on the Constantine Cross that will be placed atop both pillars. An octagonal stone at the base between the two pillars will be engraved with the American eagle. The inscription will read: “Dedicated to all Ukrainian American men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces.”

Another major organization, one that represents the community’s powerhouse credit unions, held its annual meeting on June 6-8 in Rochester, N.Y., where the Ukrainian Federal Credit Union was celebrating its 60th anniversary of service to the Ukrainian American community. The Ukrainian National Credit Union Association (UNCUA) meeting attracted 30 participants representing 13 Ukrainian American credit unions headquartered in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, llinois, Michigan, Ohio, Connecticut and Maryland, who gathered to hear presentations on current topics of interest to credit union leaders and to elect a new board of directors. UNCUA Chairman Bohdan Kurczak, who was re-elected, reported on the current status of the association: as of December 31, 2012, the assets of the 15 UNCUA member credit unions totaled $2.644 billion, with reserves and undivided earnings totaling $400.7 million; member deposits totaled $2.232 billion, with $1.515 billion total loans issued in 2012; there were 101,895 individual members of Ukrainian American credit unions in the U.S. Ukrainian American credit unions, he underscored, contributed nearly $5 million in support of community organizations, once again demonstrating the tremendous impact credit union membership has on the development of Ukrainian American community life.

Among those donations during 2013 was $10,000 given by the board of directors of the SUMA (Yonkers) Federal Credit Union to support the construction of the Holodomor Memorial in Washington. (See section on U.S.-Ukraine relations for more on the memorial.) A check was presented to the U.S. Committee for Ukrainian Holodomor-Genocide Awareness 1932-1933 during the credit union’s annual meeting on March 16.

Another major donation was the sum of $20,000 donated by Self Reliance (N.Y.) Federal Credit to the newspapers Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly, which celebrated a collective 200 years of service to the Ukrainian community and nation. Svoboda was founded in 1893, while The Weekly was established in 1933. (More on that in the final section of our Year in Review: “Meanwhile, at The Weekly.”) Both newspapers are published by the Ukrainian National Association.

In other news, there was a merger of two Ukrainian credit unions as the Ukrainian Home Dnipro Federal Credit Union based in Buffalo, N.Y., merged with the Ukrainian Federal Credit Union, headquartered in Rochester. At the time of the merger’s announcement, UHD FCU, founded in 1962, had $8.9 million in assets and five employees, while Ukrainian FCU, founded in 1953, had $152 million in assets and six full-service branches located in Rochester, Albany and Syracuse, N.Y., Sacramento, Calif., Boston and Portland, Ore. The merger was seen as further strengthening the Ukrainian American credit union movement in New York state.

Among the many anniversaries celebrated by Ukrainians in the United States was the very happy golden anniversary of the Svitlychka Ukrainian Co-op Nursery in the Philadelphia area. Consider this: the first “graduates” of the preschool today are in their mid-50s. The 50th anniversary was marked with a banquet at the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Jenkintown, a suburb of Philadelphia, on April 28. It was a fitting tribute to a half-century of nurturing care in a Ukrainian nursery program that grew out of the commitment of a few dedicated parents in 1963 who saw the need for a nursery school. Chrystina Turczeniuk was the school’s founder back in 1963; the Ukrainian Gold Cross was its sponsor. Over 1,000 tots have come from these first steps into the active Philadelphia community. The highlight of the anniversary event, to be sure, was a performance by the school’s current pupils, who sang their little hearts out.

Meanwhile, New York City had to bid farewell to one of its schools. In May the community learned that St. George Ukrainian Catholic School in New York would be closing, reportedly because of declining enrollment – the elementary school and high school combined (grades K-12) had merely 90 students. There was no official announcement that we could find at the time, yet the community was abuzz at around the time of St. George Parish’s annual Ukrainian street fair in mid-May. Local activists told The Ukrainian Weekly that school administrators did nothing to promote it, to attract new students (particularly among new immigrants from Ukraine), to announce available scholarship money… An announcement posted on the school’s website a few days after parents were informed about the closing said: “After over 60 years of serving the NYC East Village Community, St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church has elected to close its elementary school doors after the 2012-2013 school year. The St. George Academy remains open. We are extremely grateful for all those who donated time and money to help our school over the years. …”

Another sign of the changes, and decline, in our community was the demise of one of our newspapers. The weekly newspaper America, the official organ of the Providence Association of Ukrainian Catholics in America, a fraternal society based in Philadelphia, at first became an online-only bilingual publication and, after several months, closed up shop due to lack of funds. America’s last issue was dated May 4, 2013. The newspaper served the Ukrainian community since 1912.

On the bright side, at least one organization in 2013 demonstrated that it was moving forward. At the national conventions of two U.S.-based Lemko organizations in October, elections resulted in the selection of new presidents, signaling the organizations’ continuing growth and development as the baton of leadership passed from the older to the younger generation. On October 26 members of the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (Orhanizatsiya Oborony Lemkivshchyny, or OOL) elected Mark Howansky as the new president of their national board, while on October 6 members of the Lemko Research Foundation Inc. (LRF) elected Andriy Khomyk as their new president

Ukrainians in the United States this year commemorated the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor, or Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933. Countless communities held their own church services, special programs and other forms of solemn remembrance. The major event held in memory of the Holodomor’s millions of victims took place at the landmark St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on November 23. About 2,000 attended the requiem service led by hierarchs of the Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox Churches – Metropolitan Antony and Bishop Daniel (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A.) and Bishop Paul Chomnycky (Ukrainian Catholic Church, Stamford Eparchy) – who were joined by area clergy of both Churches, with the Dumka Choir of New York singing the responses. Sen. Charles Schumer was among the speakers; he remarked how he was humbled to share his thoughts annually at this commemoration – to honor those who can no longer speak, the “murdered millions” of Stalin’s crime. “We seek justice for the innocent, but prayer after prayer, resolution after resolution, we continue to call out evil for what it is – noting how did this happen, who offered aid, who is responsible and who stands in the way,” he underscored. The White House Office of the Press Secretary issued a statement for the occasion.

In Massachusetts, local Ukrainians continued their mission to establish the Holodomor as a subject for study in the state’s curriculum on genocide. The Boston Holodomor Committee prepared for a hearing before the Massachusetts Joint Legislative Committee on Education that was held on October 31 and encouraged Massachusetts residents to contact their state legislators to seek their support for the relevant bills in the state’s House and Senate.

In the capital of New York state, Albany, the local community succeeded this year in holding a major commemoration of the Holodomor at the Empire State Plaza. The goal of the event was not only to remember the millions who were killed in this genocide but also to educate the public about this heinous crime. Ceremonies on the plaza were followed by a solemn procession to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, led by a Memorial Holodomor Cross especially designed for this occasion by John Uruskyj and carried by him and the other two children of survivors, Dr. Nicholas Kulbida and Zina Smith. Inside, a requiem service was held. The commemoration was widely covered by the local print and broadcast news media. Dr. Andrij Baran, chairman of the Ukrainian Famine Genocide Commemoration Committee of the Capital District, noted that a long-term goal of the committee is recognition of the Holodomor as genocide by the New York State legislature and incorporation of the study of the Holodomor into the mandatory genocide curriculum in the state’s schools.

There was news, good and bad, in our community’s parishes during 2013.

A crane lifts the main cupola for placement atop St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Whippany, N.J., on September 20, one day before the new church was consecrated.

Paul Hadzewycz

A crane lifts the main cupola for placement atop St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Whippany, N.J., on September 20, one day before the new church was consecrated.

In Whippany, N.J., the solemn consecration of the new St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church took place on September 21. Officiating at the consecration was Archbishop Stefan Soroka, metropolitan for Ukrainian Catholics in the United States. Also participating were Bishops Paul Chomnycky and Basil Losten (emeritus) of the Stamford Eparchy, as well as the Rt. Rev. Mitred Protopresbyter Roman Mirchuk, pastor of St. John’s, and visiting clergy. The occasion was marked by three days of services, ceremonies and festive gatherings, with the faithful attending en masse in their Ukrainian embroidered finery. The church was designed by architect Taras Dobusz.

In Minneapolis, St. Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Parish on September 21-22 celebrated the centennial of its founding. A small group of Ukrainians, along with their pastor, the Rev. Konstantyn Kurylo, had established the first Ukrainian Catholic parish in the Twin Cities in order to better serve the needs of some 70 families in the area. Their effort, and the generosity of the community, culminated in the consecration of the cornerstone of the first church on August 17, 1913.

In Philadelphia, a four-alarm fire on August 25 severely damaged St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The blaze broke out inside the historic church around 1 p.m., soon after a Sunday divine liturgy had concluded. Some 125 firefighters managed to get the blaze under control by about 3:19 p.m. A large portion of the church’s roof collapsed in the blaze. Metropolitan Antony, the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A., said the fire destroyed millions of dollars in furniture, religious art and icons. “It’s a tragedy, but by the grace of God, we’ll make it through,” he told the local affiliate of NBC.

And, of course, there were many festivals during 2013. Two of the largest and most popular took place in the state of New York. On July 12-14, the seventh annual Ukrainian Cultural Festival at the Soyuzivka Heritage Center in Kerhonkson attracted guests from near and far to see and hear top performers from Ukraine and North America. Headlining the show were singer/songwriter Vika Vasilevych of Ukraine and virtuoso violinist Vasyl Popadiuk, originally from Ukraine and now of Canada, with their respective bands. Also on the bill were the always popular Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Dance Workshop and the Dunai Dancers of Edmonton, Alberta, newcomers to the festival.

A week earlier, the third annual Nadiya Ye! Festival took place on the Ellenville grounds of the Ukrainian American Youth Association over the Independence Day weekend. The culmination of the festival was a Saturday night concert by Ot Vinta from Kyiv. This unique band, which performs a new genre of Ukrainian music known as Ukrainian Rockabilly, brought down the house with an energetic and powerful concert.

During 2013, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America was active in supporting the Euro-integration of Ukraine. On October 2 the UCCA sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, asking his assistance in urging the government of Ukraine to release Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. The letter stated that her “immediate release will affirm Ukraine’s commitment to democratic values and European standards” and will remove the remaining obstacle to Ukraine signing an Association Agreement with the European Union during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. The UCCA’s letter reaffirmed the Ukrainian American community’s concern about the future of Ukraine and its belief that “it is in the best interests of the European Union, as well as the United States, for Ukraine to integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures through the signing of an Association Agreement in November.” As outlined in the letter, the politically motivated continued imprisonment of Ukraine’s former prime minister severely threatened Ukraine’s ongoing transformation into a modern European democracy that respects the rule of law.

At year’s end, as the authorities’ response to the ongoing Euro-Maiden in Ukraine turned ugly, the Ukrainian American community was gathering in support of the peaceful demonstrators in Ukraine and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America was calling for sanctions to be imposed on President Yanukovych and his cronies. In a December 13 news release, the UCCA stated: “We once again call upon the U.S. government to extend their warning to the Russian government and Vladimir Putin who are attempting to foment civil unrest in Ukraine and in this way re-establish the Russian empire. The UCCA again encourages the United States government to impose austere sanctions, which will include freezing of assets and visa restrictions against Viktor Yanukovych and his regime. The Ukrainian government must: refrain from any further acts of violence; call for early presidential and parliamentary elections; immediately release all political prisoners, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and [provide for] the full restoration of her civil rights, including her ability to participate in the upcoming elections; initiate criminal proceedings against all the members of government, Parliament, armed forces (i.e., Berkut, Internal Affairs Ministry forces) and hired civilian thugs, who participated in the brutal crackdown against the peaceful Euro-Maidan demonstrations.”