KERHONKSON, N.Y. – Undaunted by threatening skies, which eventually yielded to rain, over 3,000 visitors flocked to the Soyuzivka Heritage Center for the 10th Ukrainian Cultural Festival on July 8-10.
Oksana Mukha of Lviv, and Kyivans Ivo Bobul (originally from Chernivtsi) and Viktor Pavlik (originally from Terebovlia, Ternopil Oblast) were the show’s headliners. They were joined by virtuoso violinist Vasyl Popadiuk, master bandurist Victor Mishalow and vocalist/musician Oleh Skrypka. Also on the bill were two perennial festival favorites, the Dumka Chorus of New York and the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Ukrainian Dance Workshop, as well as the folk musicians known as Hurt Udech.
License plates from various parts of the United States and Canada were spotted entering Soyuzivka: Nebraska, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Ontario and Quebec, and from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Regrettably, due to visa problems, the a cappella group Pikkardiyska Tertsiya and the band Vopli Vidopliassova of Ukraine were not able to make it for the festival, disappointing many of their fans in North America. However, festival organizers declared “The show must go on” and quickly enlisted the talents of two well-known and popular singers from Ukraine, Messrs. Bobul and Pavlik.
On Soyuzivka’s outdoor and indoor stages, the masters of ceremonies for the weekend were Serhiy Fomenko (Foma) and Lydia Kulbida. Shows took place Friday evening, and during both the afternoon and evening on Saturday.
The program officially opened on Saturday at noon on the outdoor festival stage, with the singing of three national anthems, that of the United States, Canada and Ukraine, by Swiatoslawa Kaczaraj and Andrew Gavdanovich of Dumka, accompanied by Mr. Popadiuk on violin. The dance workshop performed its signature “Pryvit,” the welcome dance.
The evening program also began outside, but when rain rolled in the performances were quickly moved inside the Veselka auditorium where the enthusiastic audience packed the hall to overflowing.
Rain or no rain, the festival audiences thoroughly enjoyed all the performances, singing along, dancing and waving Ukrainian flags. A surprise awaited the Saturday evening audience: Mr. Skrypka, the lead singer of VV, took to the stage without his group, accompanying himself on guitar and accordion. He was joined by the versatile Mr. Popadiuk.
Ms. Mukha’s performance had Soyuzivka abuzz about the beauty of her voice, and many fans eagerly sought her autograph as they purchased her CD “Resheto.”
The program closed with the “Hopak” encore, an abbreviated version of the crowd-pleasing number the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Ukrainian Dance Workshop had performed earlier that day on the main stage, which could accommodate the number of dancers who perform in the full production of this beloved dance.
The festival dance was held immediately after the grand concert. Visitors appreciated the lively music of the band Zabava, which also played on the Veselka patio during the day. The group Udech added to the festival ambiance between the two festival shows on Saturday and played the Friday night dance.
As the festival was getting under way on Friday evening, with what is generally seen as a sneak preview of some of what visitors can expect during the next day’s concert programs, a fund-raising gala on the theme of “Solidarity with Ukraine” was taking place on the expansive lawn of the Lviv camp. Some 120 people attended the event, held under a beautifully decorated party tent.
The reception, which included a cocktail party, a five-course dinner and performances by the festival’s top stars, was sponsored by the Ukrainian National Foundation (which is affiliated with the Ukrainian National Association and performs charitable activities on its behalf) in cooperation with the Ukrainian Catholic University of Lviv. Proceeds are to benefit the UCU rehabilitation center via the fund established in memory of Markian Paslawsky (known as “Franko”), who was killed in the battle for Ilovaisk in eastern Ukraine.
In the Main House Library on Saturday and Sunday, Razom for Ukraine presented a film festival. Among the featured films were shorts animations and trailers for upcoming films from Ukraine, as well as Damian Kolodiy’s “Freedom or Death!” chronicling the Maidan revolution and the current war with Russia. Mr. Kolodiy also showed his short film “Freedom or Death in Donbas: A Journey to Ukraine’s Eastern Front” and spoke about the current state of Ukrainian film.
Another special feature of this year’s festival was the Ukrainian Artisan Village, a depiction of Ukrainian village life with arts and crafts demonstrations, information on the folk uses of various plants, as well as folk singing, all presented by artisans and artists coordinated by Halyna Shepko of nearby New Paltz, N.Y. In addition, there were crafts activities for children.
Saturday afternoon’s varenyky-eating contest, emceed by the indefatigable Alex Gutmakher, drew a crowd as 13 brave (or hungry) souls – 12 men and one young lady – competed to see who could down a plateful of the Ukrainian delicacies fastest. The winner was Vlad Lyubchik of Worcester, Mass. He set a new festival record: consuming 30 varenyky in 58 seconds.
In between the afternoon and evening concerts, there was live music on the Veselka patio, and plenty of food and drink in the food court, on the Tiki deck and at the Veselka complex.
The vendors’ court was filled to capacity with over 40 vendors and groups ranging from Air Ukraine International (which had a drawing for a trip to Ukraine) and Yevshan Corp. to the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America. There were embroidered shirts and blouses, jewelry, books, flags, children’s apparel, CDs, pysanky and much more for festival guests to choose from.
At the information booth presented by the Ukrainian National Association, festival-goers could find out about the UNA’s life insurance and annuity products; pick up fresh copies of its two newspapers, Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly; and get UNA goody bags and Ukrainian flags. Also courtesy of the UNA, for youngsters there was unique face-painting by the accomplished artist Athena Zhe.
The Ukrainian Cultural Festival is sponsored by the Ukrainian National Foundation (UNF) under the patronage of the Embassy of Ukraine in the United States. Self Reliance New York Federal Credit Union and the Ukrainian National Association are the principal sponsors of the festival.
UNF President Stefan Kaczaraj greeted the visitors at the program’s opening. Afterwards he commented: “What was most important was that the people came and were happy they came, despite the questionable weather. There was such great enthusiasm in the Veselka hall!” Mr. Kaczaraj pointed to the fact that among the thousands attending were not only Soyuzivka regulars, but many recent arrivals from Ukraine and very many young people.
Soyuzivka General Manager Nestor Paslawsky acknowledged that, “Certainly this year the festival was a challenging one.” However, even with weather-related issues, he said, “the food court was inundated with visitors and the vendors’ court was full of activity.”
Speaking of volunteers and employees who worked on the 2016 festival, a clearly satisfied (and somewhat relieved) Mr. Paslawsky noted: “Everyone is exhausted, as the weather required everyone to be prepared to move venues at a moment’s notice. But it went off without a hitch and every show went on as scheduled.”
See more photos from the Festival in the PDF version of the issue.