NEW YORK – In celebration of the 50th anniversary of its founding here in 1967, the Ukrainian World Congress convened a conference, “UWC at 50 and Beyond: The North American Vector,” at the Princeton Club of New York on September 16.
The event brought together leaders of the UWC, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, as well as activists from the United States, Canada and beyond for a conference comprising four panel discussions and presentations by individual speakers on a variety of themes related to the world body’s efforts.
The conference was followed by a commemorative banquet addressed by two keynote speakers: Kateryna Yushchenko, a former first lady of Ukraine, and Vasyl Hrytsak, head of the Security Service of Ukraine.
One of a series of conferences devoted to the UWC’s work through the decades, the New York event was opened by Dr. Walter Zaryckyj, chair of the UWC International Scholarly Council, who was the forum’s host and moderator. Dr. Zaryckyj emphasized that these conferences are not merely commemorations, but are “concept laboratories for the next two generations” of Ukrainian activists.
Participants were then welcomed by Volodymyr Yelchenko, permanent representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, who commended the Ukrainian World Congress – until 1993 named the World Congress of Free Ukrainians (WCFU) – for its longstanding support of the Ukrainian community worldwide. “The Ukrainian community,” the ambassador noted, “is the best ambassador worldwide for Ukraine.”
He also spoke about the current situation in war-torn eastern Ukraine, underscoring the need for a U.N. peacekeeping mission that should be posted along the state border between Ukraine and Russia and whose mandate should cover all occupied territories of Ukraine.
Opening remarks were delivered by UWC President Eugene Czolij of Canada, whose presentation was introduced by UWC Secretary General Stefan Romaniw of Australia, who asked his audience: “Can you imagine Ukraine without the Ukrainian diaspora represented in the Ukrainian World Congress?”
Mr. Czolij spoke of the main priorities of the world body then and now, from calls for the decolonization of the USSR and advocacy of human, national and religious rights to support for the national movement in Ukraine, the consolidation of Ukrainian statehood and Ukraine’s European integration.
The UWC president said the organization’s greatest achievement is “our contribution to the restoration of Ukrainian independence in 1991.” He also cited such successes as Ukraine’s graduation from the Jackson-Vanik amendment, its accession to the World Trade Organization and the signing of an Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. Mr. Czolij also pointed to the UWC’s missions to monitor elections in Ukraine, the establishment of the International Commission of Inquiry into the 1932-1933 Great Famine and actions to raise awareness of the Holodomor as genocide, such as the worldwide journey in 2008 of the International Holodomor Remembrance Torch.
But, “we must do more,” Mr. Czolij continued, “Ukraine needs us more than ever before” as it fights Russian aggression and battles corruption. The UWC must call on the world to increase pressure on Russia, support Ukraine’s membership in NATO, counter disinformation that aims to depict Ukraine as a failed state, promote a Marshall plan-type program for Ukraine and, in general, help Ukraine to become a stable and prosperous state.
The topic of the first panel discussion of the day was
“Taking the Measure of the UWC’s Efforts to Improve U.S.-Ukraine and Canada-Ukraine Relations”; it was moderated by Roma Hadzewycz, editor-in-chief of The Ukrainian Weekly and Svoboda. Two of the panelists were presidents of national umbrella organizations in their countries, Andriy Futey of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) and Paul Grod of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), while the third was the first U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Popadiuk. Each spoke from his unique vantage point about the influence of the Ukrainian community on the foreign relations of his country.
Mr. Futey underlined that, because the Ukrainian American community is “engaged,” U.S. legislators are visiting our communities nationwide to hear their concerns and to express their support for Ukraine. He especially noted the strong bipartisan backing of Ukraine in the U.S. Congress. At the same time, he said, the UCCA is visiting local Ukrainian groups, both established and new ones, in order to unify the community and to re-energize UCCA branches.
Speaking of Ukrainian Canadians’ influence in their country, Mr. Grod said: “We are recognized, we are active in setting policy agendas, and we build coalitions with others.” In fact, he continued, “We are consulted, we are a second diplomatic channel in communicating to Ukraine.” And the reason for this success is that “we call on them [government officials]and provide them with professional information.”
The UCC leader said we have a strong community “cradle to grave,” and advised: “We need to develop elites: political, business, educational, cultural. … We need to unify to have one strong voice… We need to be inclusive, modern organizations… We need to develop a vision for our community.”
In turn, Ambassador Popadiuk spoke of the Ukrainian American community’s influence in the U.S., which he has seen firsthand on issues with which Ukrainian Americans were concerned. He also offered some insight into the infamous “Chicken Kiev” speech delivered in 1991 by President George Bush in Kyiv, providing the historical context of the dissolution then occurring in Eastern Europe that influenced the president’s address, which he said was aimed at Eastern Europe, not necessarily Ukraine.
Mr. Popadiuk also explained how U.S. recognition of Ukraine’s independence came about and the “long train of events that took place” before that historic recognition on December 25, 1991. He emphasized that the U.S. was not interested solely in Ukraine’s denuclearization, but that economic issues also were key.
Finally, he spoke of the situation today and the two main challenges facing Ukraine: Russian aggression and economic reform. Referring to the potential U.S. provision of lethal weapons, he said such a move has two goals: to show U.S. support of Ukraine and to raise the costs for Russia’s aggression. “Ukraine has nothing to offer” in peace negotiations with Russia, he explained. “Weapons would strengthen Ukraine’s hand.”
The second panel discussion, moderated by Tamara Olexy, who chairs the UWC International Council on U.N. Affairs, covered the topic “Highlighting Ukrainian World Congress Efforts in the United Nations.” The panelists were two of Ukraine’s former permanent representatives to the U.N., Valeriy Kuchinsky and Yuri Sergeyev; and the president of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations (WFUWO), Orysia Sushko. Borys Potapenko, chair ad interim of the International Council in Support of Ukraine, served as discussant. In the past, Mr. Potapenko was the Ukrainian World Congress representative to the U.N.
Ambassador Kuchinsky pointed out that after Ukraine proclaimed its independence in 1991, its U.N. Mission’s contacts with the Ukrainian diaspora community grew and developed, and that the Mission has been working closely with the UWC for many years on such diverse issues as the aftermath of the Chornobyl nuclear accident and recognition of the Holodomor.
Ambassador Sergeyev noted that oftentimes criticism by the Ukrainian diaspora was helpful, even though officially Ukraine could not take a different stand. He cited such efforts by Ukraine’s Mission to the U.N. as fighting Russian propaganda about alleged Ukrainian anti-Semitism, disseminating information about Ukrainian traditions and culture, supporting the Maidan movement and the U.N. resolution on non-recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Ms. Sushko reported on the work of the WFUWO, which was established in 1948, with the World Congress of Free Ukrainians and later the Ukrainian World Congress. Since 2003, when the UWC was granted consultative status within ECOSOC (the U.N. Economic and Social Council), a status that the WFUWO had attained in 1993, the two international organizations have worked together on a number of initiatives, including promoting awareness of the Holodomor, supporting the Ukrainian language on International Mother Language Day, and reporting the effects of Chornobyl on mothers and children. She emphasized that the WFUWO’s statements on a variety of issues – for example, food security, gender equality, internally displaced persons – are regularly published as U.N. documents.
The topic of the next discussion on the program was “Examining UWC’s Work in the Humanitarian/Social Services/Human Rights Spheres.” Moderated by Victor Hetmanczuk, director of UWC Humanitarian Initiatives, the panel comprised Larissa Kyj, president of the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee (UUARC); Orest Deychakiwsky, retired senior policy adviser of the U.S. Helsinki Commission; and Marko Suprun, acting director of Patriot Defence.
Dr. Kyj reported in detail about her organization’s humanitarian relief projects, which aid children, the elderly, orphans, soldiers’ families and wounded warriors, in the context of Ukraine’s current needs. She noted that the UUARC, founded in 1944, is the oldest Ukrainian American relief organization.
Mr. Deychakiwsky spoke on the Ukrainian World Congress’s activity in the sphere of human and national rights, especially at the time of Soviet repressions in the 1960s and 1970s. He especially praised the work of the WCFU’s Human Rights Commission, chaired for many years by Christina Isajiw, pointing out that “The World Congress of Free Ukrainians played a critically important role at a critically important time.” Also noted by Mr. Deychakiwsky was the UWC’s current advocacy for human rights on Russian-occupied territory of Ukraine.
Mr. Suprun informed conference participants about the life-saving work being done by Patriot Defence, an initiative of the UWC that provides medical training to both civilians and the military. The program includes Combat Life Saver and Long-Range Patrol Medic training, as well as the Trauma Life Support program for physicians. He outlined new programs in the works for 2017-2020.
The final panel discussion of the conference was devoted to “Examining UWC’s Efforts in the Cultural/Informational/Education Spheres.” Serving as moderator was Iryna Mycak, chair of the UWC International Media and Public Relations Committee, who introduced her panelists: Renata Holod, past president of The Ukrainian Museum; Associate Director Lubomyr Hajda of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute; and Andrij Dobriansky, the UCCA’s director of communications and media.
Dr. Holod, speaking from her experience as a leader of the New York City-based museum, underscored that there is a disconnect between cultural institutions in the diaspora and Ukraine. She pointed out that museums in Ukraine quite often do not know that there are Ukrainian museums in the diaspora and that they are professionally run institutions. “We need to make common cause and rediscover what we have,” she advised.
Dr. Hajda referred to the scholarly sessions held during the founding conference of the WCFU and noted various major endeavors in which scholarly institutions were active, among them HURI’s Millennium project related to Christianity in Rus’-Ukraine; the annotated translation of Mykhailo Hrushevsky’s monumental “History of Ukraine” being released by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies; and the publication of scholarly books about the Holodomor. Also notable, he said, is “the broadening of what constitutes Ukrainian studies,” for example, through comparative studies in various scholarly fields.
Mr. Dobriansky’s main message was that “We have to know how to promote and tell our stories” and that diaspora groups “need to work together and use each other’s resources.” He also reminded his listeners that the mass media also includes books, documentaries and feature films, and that “building up that material allows us to better tell our story.”
During the conference’s working lunch, Bohdan Futey, judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, introduced the guest speaker, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S. Valeriy Chaly, who greeted the UWC on its 50th anniversary and informed his audience about the latest developments in Ukraine.
The ambassador said: “Could you imagine five years ago that Russia would have invaded Ukraine and conducted war?” The solution to the war on Ukrainian territory, he said, is simple: Russia must withdraw its troops, the border must be closed, hostages must be released. “Then, we can restore sovereignty.”
He continued: “I reject any idea of allowing [Vladimir] Putin to save face via some sort of compromise. Crimea is not negotiable; it’s Ukrainian territory.” As far as Russia’s so-called “new” proposal regarding U.N. peacekeepers for Ukraine’s embattled eastern region, the ambassador characterized it as “just tricky games” and “another mechanism to avoid sanctions,” while noting that Ukraine had proposed a proper peacekeeping mission two years earlier.
Still, Ambassador Chaly stressed, “I am very optimistic. I believe we will restore our territorial integrity, though it is not clear at what price.” He added that “membership in NATO is necessary for Ukraine’s security.”
The final session of the conference was titled “The Ukrainian World Congress Looking Forward: What to Expect in the Next 50 Years” and featured remarks by Askold Lozynskyj, UWC president in 1998-2008. After being introduced by Marianna Zajac, president of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, Mr. Lozynskyj offered his observations about the founding of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians and how this organization was and is able to function.
“We were a voice for Ukraine,” he said, reminding the audience that “an independent Ukraine in 1967 was a pipe dream.” Whereas, the congress’s main purpose in the past was “to liberate Ukraine and to help Ukrainian people wherever they may be,” today “we need to keep Ukraine liberated.”
Today, he continued, “our work is easier because there is a Ukrainian state,” but “we are an NGO” – not representatives of the Ukrainian government. Mr. Lozynskyj characterized the UWC as “the conscience of Ukraine” and stated: “Our job is not done until Ukrainians everywhere feel comfortable.” That is why, he said , the UWC should raise the issue of Ukrainians in Poland, where the community is in peril, no matter what Ukraine’s representatives at the United Nations do.