This is the second part of a two-part in-depth look at the panel discussions and banquet addresses during the conference “Celebrating 125 Years of the Organized Ukrainian American Community” at the Princeton Club in New York on September 21.
Part IV: Ukrainian youth organizations
Eugene Luciw, representing the Ukrainian American Sports Center Tryzub in Horsham, Pa., introduced the panelists: Adam Hapij of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization, Adrian Dlaboha, national director of the Ukrainian American Youth Association (UAYA), Ivan Makar of the School of Ukrainian Studies/Ridna Shkola in New York, Victoria Falendysh of the American-Ukrainian Youth Civics and Public Policy Club (Philadelphia), and Prof. Nicholas Skirka of the Ukrainian Sports Club (USC) of New York.
Mr. Luciw reminded the audience how Ukrainian identity changed after Ukraine regained its independence in 1991 and during the 1992 Lillehammer Winter Olympic Games, when Ukrainian figure skater Oksana Baiul won the first Olympic gold medal for an independent Ukraine. Sports, he added, proved to be a vehicle for change as well. Ukrainians have been making their mark on the sports scene since the late 1950s and early 1960s with the USC becoming champions and the Tryzub Ukrainian Nationals winning the 1963 U.S. Open Cup and the American Soccer League cups. Following these victories, Mr. Luciw continued, “we knew we could make it.”
Dr. Skirka underscored that 1966 was the “golden age” of soccer for the Ukrainian community in the U.S.A. The community was strong, with strong leadership, organizations and sponsors. During that time there were 13 teams and Ukrainians had a national championship team. Dr. Skirka also played in Baltimore with the Dnipro soccer club in 1970-1975 and was in the hunt for the national championship with Dnipro. In 1970 he was named Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year in 1970 in his freshman year at Maryland in the midfield, and was selected as an All-American player as well. Coached by Walter Chyzowych, there were many close matches between Dnipro and Yonkers Krylati, especially the 1965 Krylati team. Notable players included Roman Hlushko, Bo Kucyna, Mike Hlushko and others. He explained how now the Ukrainian community has its own Ukrainian Sports Museum and Hall of Fame at Tryzubivka, which recognizes amateurs, Olympic athletes and professionals, as well as organizers and supporters.
Mr. Hapij provided an overview of the history of Plast and its New York branch, noting that Ukrainian youth were instructed to become good citizens through its tenets of strength, beauty, prudence and swiftness (SKOB in the Ukrainian acronym – sylno, krasno, oberezhno, bystro). Plast today has grown into a global presence, comparable to the Boys Scouts of America, but with no age limits to membership.
The New York Branch of Plast was founded in 1949 and its campground Vovcha Tropa (Wolf’s Trek) was purchased in 1953. This year marks the branch’s 70th anniversary, Mr. Hapij said, and more than half of its membership is under the age of 18.
Through its mission, Plast forms lifelong bonds and community dedication. Its yearly activities include the Orlykiada competition, Holodomor commemorations, St. Nicholas programs, Christmas celebrations, caroling, the Chervona Kalyna presentation of debutantes, ski trips, Easter celebrations, masquerade parties, participation in the St. George Ukrainian Festival on Seventh Street, spring celebrations such as “Sviato Vesny” and “Sviato Yuriya” events, as well as summer camps.
Mr. Hapij thanked the sponsors who support Plast and its activities, and informed the audience that the Plast building in New York is planning a renovation of the building space with updated technology for the 21st century.
Mr. Dlaboha, representing the UAYA (known by its Ukrainian acronym SUM), noted that the organization was celebrating the 70th anniversary of its founding in the U.S.A. He described the history of the organization, from its founding in 1925 by Mykola Pavlushkov during a period of Ukrainianization of the Soviet period. The early SUM members saw the need to continue to educate and work with the youth. In 1946, SUM was renewed in Augsburg, Germany, where the focus was on developing Ukrainian culture beyond its borders. The organization has hosted seminars on Ukraine in Washington during advocacy events and leadership cultivation programs.
Each branch, he said, hosts weekly meetings during the school year – this year’s themes are the 75th anniversary of the death of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky and the Revolution of Dignity. There are events for everyone – sports, song, arts and caroling efforts, as well as pysanka workshops. During the Christmas season, SUM collected backpacks full of items (clothes, school supplies, etc) to be used by children displaced by the war in the Donbas and the annexation of Crimea, or those who have lost a parent or parents as a result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. SUM collaborated with Plast and the community at large on the project.
Mr. Dlaboha said he has received letters of thanks from recipient children and noted that the direct contact with the SUM members in the U.S. energizes the children.
SUM hosts summer camps at four camps: Khortytsia in Wellington, Ohio, Oselia SUM in Ellenville, N.Y., Kholodnyi Yar in Fillmore, N.Y., and Beskyd in Baraboo, Wis.
There are numerous opportunities for SUM members within the organization, as many have taken part in the counselor-in-training courses that have cultivated the next generation, and in areas of specialization in science, arts, sports and others.
An annual Memorial Day weekend “Zlet” competition has different branches competing in knowledge of the yearly material, cultural performances and sports. A new addition is the 5K Lvivsky Lytsar race that raises funds for wounded soldiers in Ukraine and a soccer program sponsored by SUM at an orphanage in Berezhany, Ukraine, run by Caritas Catholic charities. Mr. Dlaboha invited the participants to attend the annual SUM debutante ball, which in 2019 attracted over 900 guests.
A U.S.-Ukraine exchange program has been hosted for 10 years and a “Blahodiynyi Tabir” is something new in Ukraine, run by SUM with the cooperation of Plast. Campers do not have to be a SUM or Plast members to attend this camp intended for those children somehow affected by the war in Ukraine. Former campers have returned to serve as counselors for the next generation, Mr. Dlaboha pointed out.
Mr. Makar of Ridna Shkola noted the high growth in the school with 251 students in New York City. This is not your parent’s “Ukie School,” but one with a highly formalized educational curriculum of history, religion and culture, he noted. The goal of the programs is to ignite students’ ethnic identity, give them a sense of belonging and a love of their heritage. There are students from various backgrounds and there have been advancements in technological adaptation to bring things up to date. Among the challenges of the times are the variety of dialects and Anglicizing of words, as well as preparing teachers and continuing education programs.
Mr. Makar added the school has been attempting to “make it exciting and engaging, and fresh with methods from both Ukraine and the U.S., and to unite the experiences and lessons to be applied in both Ukraine and the U.S..
The annual “first bell” opening ceremony of the school year was held earlier in September and the school calendar is filled with events such as the Holodomor commemoration in November, a carnival, a Christmas program, choral concerts, a Taras Shevchenko commemoration and Easter hahilky songs and dances.
“Community involvement has been necessary for our technological developments, and we have brought Ukrainian school education into the 21st century,” Mr. Makar underscored. Furthermore, the comprehensive exam known as the “matura,” has a new component that will allow it the equivalency of a proficiency exam for college credit through New York University, thus connecting the Ukrainian and American worlds.
Mr. Luciw explained that Tryzub’s model is to open up its resources to outside the Ukrainian community to allow others to compete under the Ukrainian banner. This has explained the growth of 51 youth teams. Thanks to its professional approach, Tryzub teams have advanced to the final four of the U.S.A. amateur soccer teams.
The men’s Avant Garde team played in the International Unity Cup in Philadelphia this year, and made it to the Round of 16, losing to Ireland 0-1 on September 14. The team finished in Group J at the top with nine points after three matches played. The tournament attracted 52 teams divided into 13 groups. In the knockout stage, Ukraine won 3-1 against Peru on September 14.
Scholarships, he added, are available for Ukrainian players who join Tryzub. He also pointed out that teams really take on the role of sports ambassadors representing Tryzub and Ukrainians.
Ms. Falendysh of the Ukrainian American Youth Civic Club (an official program of the Ukrainian Heritage School in Philadelphia) explained her experience with the group. She attended a symposium and a foreign policy exercise where participants honed their public speaking and associated skills. During the Ukrainian Days events in Washington the club held meetings with Ambassador Kurt Volker, former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine.
This experience, she said, has opened doors for students, both in the diaspora and in Ukraine. She cited communications with soldiers from the ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) in Ukraine and said it was significant to receive messages from those soldiers, saying “Thank you for not forgetting about us.”
An information packet is available about the youth civic forum, she said, and ongoing discussion with other students continues to make the program a success.
Panel V: Academia
Prof. Mark Andryczyk of Columbia University served as moderator of the academia panel, and noted Columbia’s own Ukrainian Studies Program (covering history, culture, language, media/film and literature) that has hosted numerous events, including book presentations, conferences, symposiums, film screenings and others. On October 7 it hosted a literary roundtable, and on November 1-2 it is to host a conference on the Donbas war.
Prof. Andryczyk introduced the panelists: Dr. Lubomyr Hajda of Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI); Dr. Anna Procyk, representing the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences (UVAN) and the Shevchenko Scientific Society (NTSh); and Dr. Alexander Motyl. Prof. Andryczyk and the panelists all expressed their own individual grief at the loss of Dr. Mark von Hagen (see obituary in The Weekly, September 29).
Dr. Hajda noted that HURI was founded on January 22, 1968, becoming the first studies programs funded by an entire ethnic community and by individual donations. Groups like the Federation of Ukrainian Student Organizations of America (known by its Ukrainian acronym as SUSTA) began efforts to create a chair in Ukrainian studies with the goals eventually being expanded and consolidated. Under the direction of Omeljan Pritsak, a Turkologist by study, three chairs were created to represent the elements of Ukrainian studies – history, literature and language.
The HURI library holdings have expanded and its publication milestones included Robert Conquest’s “Harvest of Sorrow” and the 1988 Millennium of Christianity in Ukraine series. The breaking point came in 1991 with the rise of independent Ukraine, when HURI’s mission was no longer just the preservation of Ukraine’s culture. Through its courses and events, HURI has been able to affect positive change in Ukraine’s military, finance and political sectors.
The future for Ukrainian studies is limitless, however they cannot rely on centers of Ukrainian studies to promote these topics, but must intertwine and show the universality of Ukraine in all areas of study. Dr. Hajda also pointed out that the role of HURI is one of inspiration and shared experience in facilitating Ukrainian studies at other institutions.
Dr. Procyk noted the historic role of academic centers and institutions since the founding of the NTSh in Lviv, where – even without satehood – Ukrainians felt it important to focus on educational advancement and achievement. Post-World War II, NTSh revived itself in Western Europe in 1947 and later in the U.S.A. The UVAN and NTSh in the U.S. have a close partnership and face many similar challenges, namely attracting youth. There are few specialists in the humanities on Ukraine, and both institutions have extensive archives that need funds to preserve those assets. The role of these scholarly institutions was to fight the misinformation and disinformation being circulated by the Soviet Union against Ukrainians; Ukrainian scholars sought to set the record straight.
Rumors such as Symon Petliura being aligned with Adolph Hitler, although Petliura was killed in 1926, before the rise of Hitler and Nazism, abounded. Soviet textbooks propagated lies against Ukrainian history and its leaders.
During the 140th anniversary of Peltiura’s birth in 2019, there are plans for scholarly publications, and these academic institutions will continue their mission.
Dr. Motyl underlined that there needs to be a connectivity between Ukraine and the U.S., as Ukraine has been most visible in the mainstream media since independence in 1991. Dr. Motyl stressed the importance of a Washington channel of advocacy, highlighting Ukraine’s importance as a strategic ally, while expanding on the scholarly front, with the universality of the Ukrainian experience. “There is no better time to be a ‘Ukraine expert,’’ he said.
When Dr. Motyl began writing 45 years ago, he said, Ukraine was focused on dissident writings. Today, Ukraine topics are everywhere. New challenges need to be met and the diaspora can help to strengthen Ukraine’s place in the world.
During the discussion, Dr. Procyk informed that there have been, seemingly from the beginning, talks to merge NTSh and UVAN in the U.S., as they have a shared membership and many board members as well. There have been and continue to be joint activities, but some issues remain to be resolved. UVAN’s vast archive holdings are threatened by its limited resources to preserve those holdings and collections.
The political culture in Ukraine is something that needs scholarly attention, the panelists agreed, with less attention on national politics and more in the international context. This area of study needs support with research grants, fellowships, conferences and other events to examine the subject matter, added Dr. Hajda.
Panel VI: Financial institutions
The Ukrainian community financial institutions panelists – Bohdan Kurczak (Self Reliance New York Federal Credit Union), Pavlo Bandriwsky (The Heritage Foundation at First Security Savings), Andrij Horbachevsky (SUMA Yonkers Federal Credit Union) – were introduced by Motrja Bojko Watters (United Ukrainian American Relief Committee), who asked the panelists to focus on current and future issues or challenges facing these institutions.
Mr. Kurczak explained the cooperative movement, its history in Ukraine and in the diaspora, and its return to Ukraine since independence. The cooperative movement helped instill basic protections of rights, not just money. Thanks to organizations like Prosvita (enlightenment groups), the credit unions began to emerge. Under Polish occupation, western Ukraine saw a large growth in the movement. This led to the creation of the Central Bank of Ukraine in cooperation with the credit unions. Soviet occupation put an end to all of that progress, as it was contrary to Communist ideology.
But the cooperative movement continued to thrive in the displaced persons camps and in the post-war years when thousands of Ukrainians emigrated to the U.S., Canada, Australia and Western Europe. In 1946, the Self Reliance Association was created, and soon afterwards Self Reliance New York in 1951, followed by Self Reliance Chicago. The movement celebrated the creation of its charter in the Ukrainian National Credit Union Association, with branches in New York, Rochester, Passaic, N.J., and Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Hartford, Conn. By 1987, Ukrainian community credit unions were the most active in Yonkers, Parma, Ohio, Syracuse, N.Y., Scranton, Pa., and Detroit. In recent years, many began to merge with Ukrainian or American credit unions, and there are fewer credit unions serving the Ukrainian community today.
There have been international efforts to legalize credit unions in Ukraine, as it was from Ukraine that these credit unions in the diaspora came and have flourished to include 490,000 members and 355 locations.
Mr. Kurczak spoke of Self Reliance New York’s early beginnings, with its first loan in the U.S.A. being given to a farmer in New Jersey to purchase a cow. Since those early days, the credit union has maintained a competitive business model and a strong capital base; through the Ukrainian community’s support it has assets totaling more than $1 billion and $220 million in deposits. Signs are positive with 2018 showing $10.6 million in revenue.
“This is not your father’s credit union anymore,” Mr. Kurczak said. “Why are you not banking with institutions that donate to the Ukrainian community? Try us,” he added, “you’ll like us.”
Mr. Bandriwsky stated that bankers are helpers and builders in the community, helping people realize their American dream. He provided a historical overview of the Chicago Ukrainian community and the formation in 1997 of the Heritage Foundation at First Security Federal Savings Bank. With the assistance of Julian Kulas, in 1964 $300,000 was raised in 14 days in order to take control of Security Savings Bank (the precursor of First Security Federal Savings Bank, a.k.a. “Bank Pevnist”). Community institutions, like the Organization for Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine, actively worked to raise funds. The community showed its passion and commitment through sacrifices that were the key to the institution’s success.
At the merger of First Security Federal Savings Bank with MB Financial Bank in 2004, the Heritage Foundation’s net asset value was $11 million and MB donated an additional $1 million to increase the foundation’s assets to $12 million. Today, the Heritage Foundation has over $13 million in assets and donates $650,000 every year to community endeavors.
The vitality of the Ukrainian community, Mr. Bandriwsky continued, can be seen in the many Ukrainian museums and archives throughout the U.S.A., as well as the many churches, organizations such as the Ukrainian World Congress, the UCCA, SUM, Plast, the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee and others that have shaped the diaspora in the U.S.A.
Mr. Horbachevsky, who is also a member of the All-Ukrainian Credit Union Association, which examines assessments and reports about various financial institutions to determine if they have the best of the Ukrainian community’s interests in mind.
Not all credit unions are “Samopomich” (the Self Reliance moniker on many Ukrainian credit unions), he said. Self Reliance New York is No. 1 in the U.S., followed by Selfreliance Chicago, Philadelphia, SUMA Yonkers and Rochester, N.Y.
Some, such as the Nova Credit Union in Clifton, N.J., have rebranded themselves to differentiate themselves from the many Self Reliance institutions. The Ukrainian National Credit Union is another that has moved away from the Self Reliance label.
Mr. Horbachevsky explained SUMA Yonkers’ beginnings in 1964, when it was founded by the pioneers in the industry, Walter Kozicky and John O. Flis. The institution has grown from its early beginning with shoeboxes in closets to 301 Palisade Ave. (the Ukrainian Youth Center), with modern tellers. In 2003 a modern headquarters was opened in Yonkers at Corporate Boulevard.
The regulatory requirements of today would have prevented the success of the past, he said. After 50 years we are still going strong, Mr. Horbachevsky noted.
Mr. Kurczak reminded that there are 1.2 million Ukrainians living in the U.S., and Ukrainian financial institutions need to reach more of them in the future.
Ms. Watters explained the origins of the UUARC, from its founding in 1944, when it united and combined the efforts of different war relief groups. She said there are countless historical documents in the UUARC’s holdings that show the aid sent abroad and the efforts to bring DPs to the U.S. and other diaspora countries. It was the role of the UUARC to find sponsors for the nearly 70,000 immigrants who were helped by the organization. Help was offered regardless of religious or political beliefs.
More recently, Ms. Bojko Watters explained how the UUARC helped flood victims in Texas and Pennsylvania. It also supports the youth organizations SUM and Plast, as well as soldiers and their families displaced by the war in the Donbas.
The UUARC traces its origins to its efforts with displaced persons following the second world war. Ms. Watters noted that the UUARC’s work was made possible through the work of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who not only advocated for the displaced persons but also for aid to handicapped individuals. A history of the organization is being prepared for its 75th anniversary, which was to be marked on October 12 at the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Jenkintown, Pa.
Program Director Dr. Walter Zarycky concluded the conference by thanking the high-caliber speakers, moderators and panelists. He then invited participants to enjoy a cocktail reception prior to the conference banquet.
Reception and banquet
The Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York, under the direction of Vasyl Hrechynsky, entertained guests with a selection of songs. Listeners were enchanted by the mixture of male and female voices and the variety of works from calming and spiritual to punctuated and attention-grabbing. The sampling was a taste of Dumka’s 70th anniversary concert that was to be performed on October 6 in New York.
Yuriy Symczyk, national secretary/chief operations officer of the UNA, emceed the banquet program. He thanked Dr. Zarycky and his team for the conference at the Princeton Club and welcomed the participating guests. Mr. Symczyk reminded that it was Svoboda – the oldest continuously published Ukrainian-language newspaper, now celebrating its 126th year – that gave birth to the Ukrainian National Association, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. “Today is proof that the diaspora has thrived,” he stated.
Mr. Symczyk invited Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak to deliver the invocation.
Metropolitan Borys reminded the audience of his own mission during the last few months while in the U.S.A.: “I’ve been coming home. I am a living product of the diaspora organizations, maybe it’s a ‘honeymoon.’” This is a celebration of the Ukrainian community’s volunteerism, sacrifice and contribution to the American experience and to Ukraine we contribute that spirit, he said.
Ukraine has been in the news lately because of wars, vendettas and such, but what kept us together 125 years is wanting to take responsibility – a commitment that is lifelong, the hierarch said. Our predecessors had an uphill battle too, and we can take encouragement in the fruits of their labors.
Metropolitan Borys said: “We thank God for the toil that has brought us to this day to a world that is more Ukrainian than ever.…Help us, Lord, receive the gifts of communion.”
Mr. Symczyk then invited Ambassador Chaly to the podium.
Ambassador Chaly noted the long list of Ukrainian diaspora organizations represented at this conference. He also applauded the closest and deepest relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine. With the help of the U.S., Ukraine has demonstrated a miracle in halting Russia’s advance on Ukraine. Ninty-two percent of military aid to Ukraine comes from the U.S., he added.
Ukraine has the potential to become among the top five militaries in the world, he continued. The latest arrival of Javelin missiles from the U.S. has made a notable reduction in attacks and deaths on the front. It is also thanks to U.S. training and equipment that Ukraine can fight for Europe and the world, the ambassador pointed out.
He said he is proud that Ukrainians, people who speak different languages and practice different religions, all still identify as Ukrainians. We will continue to restore the historical truth about Ukraine and foster greater understanding, he stated.
Ambassador Chaly thanked Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) for their support on Ukraine issues. Their support has also been in leading the fight against the Russian disinformation against the Holodomor, and even cyberattacks against the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington.
Among the notable changes we can see today is the spelling of Kyiv that has been adopted by the Associated Press, National Geographic, airports, train depots and others, Mr. Chaly said. And he stressed the importance of friends, both individuals and organizations, whose support “means a lot.” Solidarity is important in the face of uncertainty. This has been demonstrated by the U.N., as we prepare for the United Nations General Assembly.
The Ukrainian diaspora in the this country has formed a bridge between the U.S. and Ukraine, and it is important for this relationship to be maintained. The next generation will need your advice and guidance, he added. “Ukrainian Americans are the best Americans.”
Ambassador Chaly presented a gold watch to Herman Pirchner of the American Foreign Policy Council, and Mr. Pirchner explained the work of the AFPC, which has hosted hundreds of dignitaries and foreign leaders. His latest book, “Post Putin,” is available for purchase. “We all do something, and we do what we can,” he said.
Mr. Pirchner observed that diaspora organizations have been able to influence in Washington. As a Cleveland native, he said he has seen how immigrant communities struggle, and understands what communism was. The DP experience, he said, needs to be shared to educate Americans.
There are gathering clouds on the horizon, he said. “A dog barks and the caravan moves on,” he said to illustrate calls by Moscow, Teheran and China to get back to business as usual. This is a threat that will need closer attention to keep pressure on these areas. Other threats from Moscow could be an escalation in Ukraine or in Belarus. Mr. Pichner cautioned that “time is finite as the clock ticks.”
Mr. Symczyk reminded the banquet audience that the UNA is hosting its 125th anniversary concert on November 2 at Dolan Performance Hall at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J.
Dr. Mykhailo Cherenkov delivered the benediciton of the “Our Father” and commended the unity of the sponsors and the participating diaspora organizations.
Mr. Symczyk thanked the supporters, sponsors and patrons of the conference. The gathering then sang “Mnohaya Lita,” wishing diaspora organizations many more years. The event concluded with the singing of the Ukrainian national anthem.