WATERVLIET, N.Y. – On August 24, Ukraine celebrated 25 years of independence. That milestone anniversary was recognized on Saturday, August 27, during the Ukrainian Festival of Independence celebrated at the Ukrainian-American Cultural Center in the historic pioneer neighborhood of Watervliet.
“An afternoon-long program was dedicated in part to celebrate Ukraine’s 25-year Independence Day anniversary after the break-up of the Soviet Union,” said Ukrainian–American Cultural Center President John Uruskyj, who led the committee that organized the celebratory festival.
The cultural celebration kicked off at 2:15 p.m. with the singing of the U.S. and the Ukrainian national anthems in the park adjacent to the Capital District School of Ukrainian Studies.
The program included prayers, singing, poetic recitations and dancing, and involved a wide cross-section of the local Ukrainian American community living in the Capital Region that encompasses a number of small cities around Albany, including Amsterdam, Cohoes, Troy and Watervliet. In addition to the program, the festivities included traditional Ukrainian foods and beverages, and vendors selling beautiful embroidered clothing (vyshyvanky) and a wide selection of Ukrainian crafts and souvenirs. There were also activities for youngsters, such as face painting of Ukrainian-inspired images that even many adults who are still children at heart found irresistible.
During the celebration, New York State Assemblyman John T. McDonald III visited and presented a proclamation on the occasion of Ukraine’s 25th Anniversary issued by the State Assembly. In addition, Mr. Uruskyj accepted a proclamation that he read to those in attendance issued by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The afternoon also included visits and words of support by Congressman Paul D. Tonko and Watervliet Mayor Michael Manning.
The festival was a collaborative effort involving members of a number of local community organizations and individuals who wished to volunteer. They included: Mr. Uruskyj, president of both the Ukrainian-American Cultural Center and the event committee, the Rev. Mikhail Myshchuk, the Rev. Vasyl Dovhan, Dr. Andrij Baran, Elizabeth Baran, Oksana Ciupka, Luba Dryansky, Nicholas Fil, Peter Fil, Victor Holova-shchenko, Krystyne Kopelakis, Vira Kushnir, Lubomyr Popowsky, John Suchowacki, Myron Swidersky and Slavko Tysiak.
The Ukrainian-American Cultural Center wanted to give every community organization an opportunity to participate in the event. Some organizations participated by selling Ukrainian foods or beverages, while others used the event as a way of building awareness by manning information tables. The collaborative effort allowed everyone to participate in any way they thought was meaningful and add to the festival’s success.
The festival was blessed by the talents of many local individuals who contributed in many different ways to the its overall success. For example, Peter Fil arranged for and set up the sound systems that are essential to holding an outdoor event. Nicholas Fil and Mr. Suchowacki provided the logistics and marshalled the helpers required to set up and take down all tents, tables and chairs. Ms. Baran and the Rev. Myshchuk headed up a group that assembled the entertainment program and then lined-up the performers and school children to deliver the program. Dr. Baran prepared the invitations to local political leaders and obtained local media coverage before and during the festival.
Others who participated included Lydia Kulbida, a local news anchorwoman, who served as the mistress of ceremonies and kept the program moving and the audience entertained by introducing the many different acts, among them Ukrainian Soprano Iryna Petryk, singer and musician John Seneta, baritone soloist Kevin Kees, Zorepad Dance Ensemble artistic directors Adrienne and Peter Fil, local soloists Alisa Serdyuk and Rafi Topalian, and a guest performer, Oksana (Myshchuk) Yayko of Lviv.
Still another dimension to the festival was a vendor street market, organized by Mr. Tysiak, where festival-goers could find beautiful handcrafted arts and crafts along with manufactured products with Ukrainian designs and motifs.
Mr. Uruskyj expressed his personal thanks to all who participated in any way, including the many individuals, school children and organizations who not only helped organize the festival but provided for the different venues to keep the crowds entertained, fed and sheltered until the close of the festival.
A primary goal of the festival was to remind all that, though Ukraine is independent, after two years of Russia’s war with Ukraine, there is still a hard road ahead to reach a mature status as an established nation-state. Standing at the crossroads of the East and West trade routes, Ukraine has withstood millennia of invasions and colonization to control its territory and its bountiful earth, which gave it the moniker “Breadbasket of Europe.”
Festival organizers tried to offer activities, food, entertainment and informational materials for Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike, Mr. Uruskyj said. They placed banners and signs around the Capital Region promoting the event. In addition, they produced a commemorative program booklet that many local sponsors funded to enable the committee to promote the Ukrainian American community and Ukraine. Organizers also prepared handouts that gave the history of the local Ukrainian American community, which traces its earliest pioneer settlers to the mid-1870s, and a separate brief history of Ukraine. The handouts, prepared by Mr. Tysiak, were distributed to give all who came to the event a better understanding of where we came from and how we got to this point in our shared history, he added.
“Anyone whose parents or ancestors came from any of the lands in today’s Ukraine or anyone who just wants to understand about the unique culture of Ukraine was encouraged to come and partake in a small, symbolic festival,” Mr. Uruskyj said. A primary mission of the Ukrainian-American Cultural Center is to bring people together and to let everyone know of our long and rich history both in the diaspora and in our native homeland.