KYIV – Almost every week last year, Andriy Futey found himself on the road, whether in California, Georgia, North Carolina or Ukraine.
He wasn’t job or house hunting.
The president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) was using his first year in office doing outreach. It’s part of a plan to “revitalize” the country’s biggest advocacy group for Ukrainian Americans.
The trips, albeit exhausting and costly, are what Mr. Futey, 52, says were designed to bring former member organizations back into the fold, establish new chapters and enlist new groups, to get the youth more involved, and re-discover the UCCA’s core mission of advocacy starting at the local level.
Asked what his preliminary findings were, the native Ohioan said: “we are, and have been since our inception, the strongest unifying voice to represent the community in front of U.S. government structures… and we still need to organize locally wherever we are, and I want to help those communities do that.”
Just by appearing at a local chapter meeting in Atlanta, Mr. Futey saw its paid membership double after his visit. Following a visit to Texas, the UCCA joined forces with local Ukrainian parishes there to help with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. A visit to Yonkers, N.Y., to meet with Ukrainian American Veterans was “important for them to hear that we recognize their efforts and also tell them what we’re doing,” he said.
Including a half dozen trips to Ukraine in 2017 where, according to Mr. Futey, he enjoys “an open door policy,” this year, his itinerary includes trips to see older communities in Minnesota, and newer ones in Seattle and Portland.
The reason being that the latest immigration of Ukrainians lives in these areas, but the “activists, if you ask them what UCCA is, they look at you with a blank face and say, ‘I don’t know,’ ” he told The Ukrainian Weekly in Kyiv on December 19, 2017, before a private meeting with President Petro Poroshenko.
He also said he wants to utilize the Internet and social media to communicate more effectively. Thus, the UCCA website will be revamped in the first quarter of this year.
Two former member organizations, the Ukrainian American Veterans and the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America, rejoined the UCCA last year. Two additional organizations will soon have their applications reviewed by the UCCA.
Negotiations are ongoing with Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization, which is considering the UCCA’s overtures to rejoin the umbrella body. “I very much look forward to continued conversations with them… having them as part of our organization is important,” Mr. Futey said.
Plast was among the over 20 national organizations that walked out of the 13th congress of the UCCA in 1980. They did so in protest against violations of the organization’s by-laws, procedural irregularities and intolerance for differing viewpoints during that congress.
On the financial side, Mr. Futey credited dues-paying members and the credit unions for helping fund projects and programs.
To get more supporters, he helped establish a finance committee to assist with fund-raising. To cut costs, a recently formed real estate committee has been reviewing vendor and maintenance contracts. Insurance and workers’ compensation are also being looked at.
Another reason for logging air miles is let communities know that the UCCA is there to assist with their advocacy campaigns, all the while ensuring that the group speaks for America’s 1.5 million Ukrainians “with a coordinated message.”
“There’s so much potential in our community and if there’s some way to coordinate our messages, our activities, we could be so much more successful,” Mr. Futey said. “We have to find the ways to communicate that… and say, ‘Use us as a resource. We are a resource for you, and we could help assist you with what you want to do.’ ”
Already, communities in Massachusetts, Michigan and Ohio have started the process of getting state resolutions passed to designate the Stalin-era Famine, or Holodomor, as genocide. The three states are also pushing to make the Holodomor part of public school curricula.
Perhaps, most of all, Mr. Futey would like to see more Ukrainian Americans elected to office.
“The year 2018 is going to be a perfect opportunity, so I tell community members to get involved, don’t hide from your Ukrainian heritage… go to town hall meetings, ask questions [about]where the candidates stand on Ukraine.”
The UCCA leader also has been reaching out to student organizations and wants the group’s internship program “revitalized” in New York and at the Ukrainian National Information Service in Washington.
If unity in the U.S. is a priority of Mr. Futey’s term, he wants to see the same come out of Ukraine.
Speaking of the political scene in Kyiv, he said some politicians “continue to put their personal agendas ahead of unified national interests.”
He continued: “That’s why I’m calling them to unify to find some common ground. It seems like they’re constantly on the defensive putting out forest fires and only reacting. They need to go on the attack, and clearly identify what they’ve done and accomplished.”
In Washington, Mr. Futey said he has witnessed certain visiting Ukrainian politicians (he did not name them) who only complain “how bad things are in Ukraine,” yet never “provide a solution” when speaking to lawmakers.
“I take great exception to that,” he said, adding that, “there’s no Ukraine fatigue yet in Washington, but there is ‘stop complaining fatigue’… Do something, I say.”
Three main priorities for Ukraine this year, according to Mr. Futey, are to “clean up the court system,” which is where the main anti-graft problem lies, “stop the infighting between law enforcement agencies,” and do a better job of communicating to the public what’s been achieved over the last years in terms of reforms.