Ukrainians celebrated a landmark anniversary in 2019: 125 years of continuous service to Ukrainian communities in the United States and Canada by the Ukrainian National Association (UNA). Several major cultural events commemorated all the work done by the UNA.
On July 12-14, the 13th annual Ukrainian Cultural Festival at the Ukrainian National Foundation’s Soyuzivka Heritage Center in Kerhonkson, N.Y., included a gala honoring the important role of the UNA’s two newspapers – Svoboda (the oldest continuously published Ukrainian-language newspaper in the world, founded in 1893) and The Ukrainian Weekly (published in the English language and founded in 1933). The UNF is an affiliated company of the UNA that performs charitable activities on its behalf.
Ukrainian National Foundation President Dr. Wasyl Szeremeta related how in 1894 immigrants created the UNA. The editor-in-chief of Svoboda and The Ukrainian Weekly, Roma Hadzewycz, offered an overview of both publications serving Ukrainians for a combined total of over 210 years. Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S. Valeriy Chaly congratulated the UNA and both publications for their support of today’s warriors at the front: “The great support from the diaspora is the reason why Ukraine has attained respect. Glory to the Heroes!”
To fit the occasion, the festival engaged some of the finest talent from Ukraine and the diaspora to inform and entertain thousands of viewers, including singers Taras Petrynenko, Tonya Matvienko, Max Lozynskyj, the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York, the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Ukrainian Dance Workshop, the Zolotyj Promin Ukrainian Dance Ensemble from Hartford, Conn., and director Roman Brygider with his documentary film “Our Ukrainian American Legacy.”
Four months later, a sold-out concert in Morristown, N.J., celebrated the 125th anniversary of the UNA. The November 2 gala, benefiting the UNA Publications Endowment Fund that exists under the aegis of the Ukrainian National Foundation, featured the first U.S. appearance since 2005 of the dance company Shumka from Edmonton, Alberta. Singer/songwriter Khrystyna Soloviy made her North American debut with her four-member band, including songs from her Lemko background. Violinist Vasyl Popadiuk and the Women’s Bandura Ensemble of North America completed the extraordinary program.
The renowned Kyiv Chamber Choir began its 10-day North American tour on May 17 with concerts in Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Hartford (Conn.), Boston, Rochester (N.Y.), Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal. Directed by founder Mykola Hobdych, this 20-member ensemble programmed Ukrainian choral classics and works by Valentyn Silvestrov and Viktor Hrytsyshyn.
Canadian opera soloist Pavlo Hunka led the third Ukrainian Art Song Institute on August 12-18 at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Mr. Hunka promulgates the music of classical Ukrainian composers by reaching out to talented young vocalists on the cusp of their professional careers. Eight promising artists from Canada, the United States and Ukraine were spotlighted: Alexandra Beley, Julie Anna Gulenko, Yurii Hryhorash, Kateryna Khartova, Teryn Kuzma, Katherine Mayba, Andrew Skitko and Olenka Slywynska.
The Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York marked its 70th anniversary with a concert at Hunter College on October 6. The chorus under Vasyl Hrechynsky presented Ukrainian classics by Mykola Lysenko and Mykola Leontovych. Also programmed were arrangements by Peter Wilhousky and the famous Nabucco chorus by Giuseppe Verdi. Soprano Anya Kosachevich and the bandura duo Malvy complemented the program.
The Washington Group (TWG) Cultural Fund sponsored a series of diverse concerts. On March 17, the Shelest Piano Duo performed works of Ukrainian composers Mykola Lysenko, Oleksandr Zhuk, Sergiy Bortkevych and Myroslav Skoryk. On May 19 Berlin-based soprano Stefania Dovhan sang works by Barvinsky, Bellini, Donizetti, Duparc, Poulenc, Puccini, Rossini and Strauss. On November 10, the ingeniously named Spiv-Zhyttia, a 14 member vocal ensemble of Ukrainians from the Washington area, was featured in TWG’s last concert of the year. Led by Oksana Lassowsky, Spiv-Zhyttia performed traditional Ukrainian folk songs and contemporary compositions by Myroslav Skoryk and Roman Hurko.
On a lighter note, the Korinya Ukrainian Folk Band began its inaugural North American tour on July 19 starting in New York and ending in Toronto. Korinya began as a family quartet in 2003 as a tribute to the exuberant village singing and playing styles. The danceable music of this innovative band can be heard on Spotify and iTunes.
On April 7, the Women’s Bandura Ensemble of North America performed at the University of Connecticut’s School of Fine Arts. This 18-member women’s ensemble breaks with the all-male tradition of bandura ensembles, and is an effective platform for developing talented female musicians.
Violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv was artistic director of Music at the Institute concert series at the Ukrainian Institute of America (UIA) throughout 2019. Ms. Ivakhiv also performed Bruce Adolphe’s “Fantasia Krushelnytska”, Anatol Kos-Anatolsky’s Poem for Violin and Piano, and Bohdan Kryvopust’s Duma for String Trio at the UIA. Violinist Oleh Krysa and pianist Mykola Suk performed on March 2 in a Beethoven sonata program. On November 9, soprano Teryn Kuzma performed songs of Ukrainian composers Myroslav Volynsky, Yakiv Stepovy and Kyrylo Stetsenko.
Ms. Ivakhiv also recorded “Poems and Rhapsodies” with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under Volodymyr Sirenko, and Mendelssohn concerto rarities with Theodore Kuchar and the Slovak National Symphony.
The Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus of North America presented its Centennial Concert Series on June 21-23 in Washington, Philadelphia and New York. In New York City, at the famed Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, the chorus, which traces its beginnings to the Kobzar Choir founded in 1918 in Kyiv, performed before a capacity crowd. The tour also took the chorus to the Ukrainian Catholic Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington and the Temple Performing Arts Center in Philadelphia. The renowned chorus also delivered a hometown performance in Detroit on October 6. A day earlier, the UBC members held an outreach program for Ukrainian schools in the Detroit area. As in previous years, Artistic Director Oleh Mahlay directed the Kobzarska Sich bandura summer camp, which marked its 40th anniversary in 2019.
With the aim of securing the UBC’s future for the next 100 years, the chorus launched a campaign, UBC@100 Legacy, with three initiatives: Guardianship, Bandura Project and Education. The UBC@100 Committee stated: “…Our artistic and administrative leadership have identified three key objectives for our future and the future of the bandura: develop new outreach and audience programming; rehabilitate and innovate the bandura in order to provide it for future musicians; and expand on new and traditional programming and musical education initiatives. In total, we endeavor to raise nearly $2.5 million by 2020 to fund these objectives, and to continue our legacy for the next 100 years and beyond.”
In addition to Ukrainian-themed art films and documentaries, two made-for-television series excited interest.
Premiering on May 6, HBO’s five-part series “Chernobyl” was acclaimed by viewers and critics. It took home 10 Emmy Awards, including for “Outstanding Limited Series.” This historical drama about the 1986 catastrophe was written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck. Accepting his award in Los Angeles, Mr. Mazin paid tribute to the victims of the nuclear disaster and hoped “the series will serve as a way to remind people of their legacy.”
The second new TV series, the Netflix documentary “The Devil Next Door” about John Demjanjuk, was more controversial. In a two-part article on November 17 and 24, the president of the Ukrainian American Bar Association, Bohdan Shandor, reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of this dramatization of the history and prosecution of Mr. Demjanjuk, who in 1985 was wrongly accused of being Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka. Mr. Shandor elaborated on the disingenuous actions of the OSI and of the KGB who provided “evidence” in order to “drive a wedge between Jews in America and Ukrainian Americans.”
Award-winning Ukrainian Canadian composer/producer Danny Schur’s movie musical “Stand!” premiered in the U.S. on November 9 in Santa Monica, Calif. “Stand!” builds on its prequel “Strike! The Musical,” set against the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike that claimed the life of Ukrainian immigrant Mike Sokolowski. Intertwining a Romeo-and-Juliet plot line, Mr. Schur utilized “the Ukrainian Canadian experience as a metaphor for all dispossessed people and immigrants who were treated so poorly.” The Canadian Museum of Human Rights is to distribute digital copies of “Stand!” to over 750,000 students in Canada and the U.S.
The Ukrainian Art Center of Los Angeles presented the southern California premiere of Roxy Toporowych’s film “Julia Blue” on July 9. Filmed in Ukraine, it relates the story of Julia, a photojournalist and volunteer at a military hospital in today’s war-torn Ukraine, who falls in love with a wounded soldier. “Julia Blue” has been featured at numerous domestic and foreign film festivals where it has won “Best Director” and “Best Film” awards.
The Ukrainian Community of Western Pennsylvania presented another in its series of Ukrainian Film Festivals on September 21-28 at the University of Pittsburgh. The films were “Donbass” directed by Sergey Loznitsa, “Breaking Point” co-directed by Mark Jonathan Harris and Oles Sanin, “The Guide” directed by Oles Sanin, and “Ukrainian Sheriffs” directed by Roman Bondarchuk.
Directed by Agnieszka Holland, the new film “Mr. Jones,” about brave Welsh journalist Gareth Jones exposing the Holodomor in Joseph Stalin’s 1930s Soviet Union, was screened on December 15 in Silver Spring, Md. Screenwriter Andrea Chalupa discussed the historical background. “Mr. Jones” was honored as “Best Film” at the 2019 Polish Film Festival, and was selected for 2019 film festivals in Berlin, Zurich and London.
The documentary short “War Mothers: Unbreakable” was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York on April 28-May 4. Written and directed by Stefan Bugryn of Melbourne, Australia, it reveals the grassroots response to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. It portrays the inspirational story of 18-year-old Yana Zinkevych, who put aside her dreams of becoming a doctor to create the Hospitallers, an organization to help wounded and traumatized Ukrainian soldiers. In The Weekly’s issue dated May 12, Dr. Yuri Shevchuk interviewed Mr. Bugryn, who spoke about his first visit to Ukraine as a member of Plast scouts and encountering “war mothers” searching for their sons. He quit his job and flew to Zaporizhia to make an earlier film, “War Mothers,” about Yulia Matviyenko, who spends 10 days out of 40 as a sniper at the front, and who also founded the volunteer center Pryval to house wounded soldiers.
On March 3, the Ukrainian Culture Center in Los Angeles celebrated the life and career of legendary Ukrainian American actor Jack Palance (Volodymyr Palahniuk) on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The guest of honor was the actor’s younger brother, John Palance, who beguiled the audience, reminiscing about the Palahniuk family’s early years in Pennsylvania when their father would read plays, acting out each part. This was probably Jack’s first exposure to “performing.” He spoke also of his older brother recording a Ukrainian song with the Bandurist Chorus of Toronto in 1957, and his refusal of the “People’s Artist” award at the 2004 Russian Film Festival in Hollywood. Actor-producer George Wyhinny concluded the gala, noting that although Jack Palance is widely remembered for playing ruthless characters, his intimate friends remember him as “a generous family man.” He loved and embraced his Ukrainian heritage and fought for his home, America.
In the June 23 issue, Roman Bondarchuk’s debut fiction film “Volcano” was reviewed by Ainsley Katz. The author quoted Mr. Bondarchuk opining his movie was meant to raise questions rather than provide answers. In “Volcano,” Lukas travels with three international observers just outside of Crimea. When the observers disappear, Lukas finds himself close to the war zone in Beryslav, a city with no seeming laws or clear-cut social standards. The absurdity and anarchy play out against Lukas’ traditional values, but leave no clear resolution in this “exquisitely photographed” film of magical realism.
The Ukrainian Museum Film Festival in New York commenced on May 31 with four movies. “Crimea: Russia’s Dark Secret” was a powerful documentary directed by Jamie Doran about today’s ongoing resistance by Crimean Tatars to the Russian occupation of their homeland. Emmy Award-winning director Roman Brygider labored for years to create his documentary “Our Ukrainian American Legacy.” Of Ukrainian background, he had realized how little information existed about Ukrainians. Combining archival videoclips with new footage and interviews, Mr. Brygider shaped and narrated a beautifully edited documentary of Ukrainian life and concerns in America. “The First Company,” by a group of young filmmakers called “Albatross Communicos,” proclaimed it would rip away the mask of society during Maidan and war years to show a story of “good and evil, hatred and love, disputes and reconciliation.” The directors also claimed to produce a “neutral document” about soldiers and civilians.
Introduced by actor and screenwriter Andrij Witiuk, the final film of the festival was “The Gateway” by filmmakers Volodymyr Tykhyy and Yulia Shashkova. Based on the trendy play by Lviv cult-figure Pavlo Arie, this hallucinogenic fantasy discloses a family of hapless misfits living in the “Forbidden Zone” near Chornobyl. Along the way, it combines grotesque scenes from World War II with horrific developments in the present, and dreamlike flights into the future.
Art and museums
On February 20, in memory of the fifth anniversary of the deaths of the Heavenly Hundred during the Euro-Maidan Revolution of Dignity in 2014, an icon art exhibit of Kyivan artists Sofia Atlantova and Oleksandr Klymenko opened at the spiritual center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. in South Bound Brook, NJ. Each icon was painted on an ammunition box recovered from the combat zone. This charitable event was organized by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. to benefit the Pirogov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital in the Donbas. During the week of June 2-9 this exhibit traveled to the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia.
A unique interactive exhibition, Christina Saj’s “Transformative Paintings” at The Ukrainian Museum in New York provided an immersive tactile experience for visitors starting on January 12. The exhibit comprised large panels painted by Ms. Saj, on which viewers could align pre-painted, magnetized objects. Said the artist, “I want visitors to experience working with color, shape and ideas in order to become co-creator and to engage in thinking like an artist.”
U.S. Army combat veteran Jenn Blatty had no ties to Ukraine when she traveled there in 2018. As a fellow soldier, she quickly bonded with many veterans she met. She has since been photographing and gathering oral history recordings of volunteer soldiers. Her portraits exhibit, “Frontline, Peace Life: Ukraine’s Revolutionaries of the Forgotten War,” was on display at The Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago from May 31 through June 23. Two Ukrainian veterans photographed by Ms. Blatty, Alina Viatina and Dmytro Lavrenchuk, shared their stories with attendees.
In August, the Kyivan Museum of the Ukrainian Diaspora opened a joint exhibition with the National Museum of the Revolution of Dignity, titled “New York-Ilovaisk: The Choice.” This collection memorialized the first American killed in the fighting in the Donbas, West Point graduate Markian Paslawsky. It included photos and videos of Paslawsky, his dress uniform, artifacts, and recollections of his friends and co-combatants. This exhibition was to travel to other Ukrainian cities as well as to the U.S.
Starting on May 21, Vienna Technical University presented an exhibition of Ukrainian churches designed by Ukrainian Canadian architect Radoslav Zuk, titled “New Interpretation of a Thousand-Year-Old Tradition: Ukrainian Churches in Canada, U.S.A. and Ukraine.” A professor emeritus at McGill University in Montreal, Mr. Zuk has been recognized internationally for his life-long contributions in the field of Ukrainian sacral architecture.
On the fifth anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity, the Ukrainian History and Education Center in Somerset, N.J., dedicated its exhibition, “Rushnyky: Ritual Cloths of the Cossack Lands of Ukraine” to the Heavenly Hundred who perished on Maidan and to the thousands of young men and women killed in the resulting wars. Opening on March 3, this collection comprised 100 handcrafted rushnyky starting from the end of the 19th century. Traditionally embroidered by a bride for her wedding, rushnyky exhibit a rich variety of styles and techniques. Some included the ancient Tree of Life symbol, while others had the two-headed-eagle, the Byzantine representation of the Holy Trinity. Curators Yuri Mischenko and Natalie Pawlenko traveled extensively in Ukraine to assemble this impressive collection of embroidered and woven rushnyky.
A second folk-art installation and exhibit, “Embroidered Memories,” created by Canadian artist/curator Larisa Sembaliuk Cheladyn, opened at St. Vladimir Institute in Toronto on March 31. With over 750 hand-embroidered Ukrainian “podushky” (pillows) collected from Canadian Ukrainian families, this exhibition was to travel to major centers across Canada. Displaying an endless variety of styles and patterns, podushky are one of the most popular symbols of ethnic identity in Ukrainian homes. These beautiful artifacts represent a deep bond to their homeland, and thousands of hours of detailed stitchery and artistic invention.
From April 7 through September 29, The Ukrainian Museum in New York hosted an exhibition commemorating the centennial of Ukraine’s early and brief independence, and tracing the creation of the modern state of Ukraine. “Full Circle: Ukraine’s Struggle for Independence 100 Years Ago 1917-1921” included informative displays, official seals and medals, caps and helmets, vintage flags, and dozens of artifacts and documents. The parallels between this struggle for independence a century ago and today suggested the title “Full Circle.”
On June 28, the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago opened an anticipated exhibition of paintings by Ivan Marchuk of Kyiv. Viewers were transfixed by his canvases, ranging from the tranquility of moonlight across a sleepy field to Chornobyl-induced agony. The artist’s’s enigmatic landscapes and surreal psychic-scapes were praised by Picasso’s biographer, art critic Roland Penrose.
On October 17, the Ukrainian Heritage Consortium of North America (UHCNA) convened its sixth meeting at Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute in Cambridge, Mass. UHCNA coordinates information exchange and cooperation among Ukrainian cultural institutions and professionals in the United States and Canada. Speakers from the following organizations shared thoughts and concerns at this conference: Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Center in Toronto, Ukrainian Museum-Archives in Cleveland, The Ukrainian Museum in New York, Shevchenko Scientific Society in New York, Library of Congress, Ukrainian Museum and Library in Stamford, Conn., Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago, and the Prairie Center for the Study of Ukrainian Heritage in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
On November 15, Ohio State University (OSU) and Ukrainian Museum-Archives (UMA) in Cleveland signed a memorandum of understanding, formalizing an existing 20-year partnership. OSU’s Center for Slavic and East European Studies (CSESS) and its Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures had previously offered Ukrainian language instruction and courses on Ukrainian history and culture taught by UMA Director Andrew Fedynsky and Prof. George Kalbouss. For its part, the UMA provided paid summer internships to many OSU students. Dr. Angela Brintlinger, director of CSESS, noted that OSU aspires in cooperation with the UMA to increase its partnerships with Ukraine. Her long-term goal is to establish an endowed professorship at OSU in Ukrainian studies.
Adding to their previous gifts, Dr. Jurij Rybak and his wife, Anna Ortynskyj, donated over 80 never-before-exhibited artworks and books to The Ukrainian Museum in New York. Titled “The Impact of Modernity: Late 19th and Early 20th Century Ukrainian Art,” the showing opened on November 17 and was curated by Myroslav Shkandrij, professor of Slavic studies at the University of Manitoba. The avant-garde artists included Oleksandr Murashko, Heorhii Narbut, Alexander Archipenko and many others. In the words of Prof. Shkandrij, “This exhibition presents a rare opportunity to take in the breadth and scope of modern Ukrainian art, and to view works by artists of different backgrounds who all originally came from Ukraine.”
Johanan Petrovsky-Shtern is a history professor at Northwestern University and also an artist. In the issue dated September 8, Dr. Alexander Motyl conducted a wide-ranging interview with the painter. The Chicago-based artist talked about his run-ins with the KGB in Kyiv, the biblical and rabbinical inspirations for his works, and his favorite painter, Peter Breughel the Elder.
Two additional painting exhibits opened in the fall. On October 27, The Ukrainian Museum in New York presented “From Darkness to Light: The Paintings of Mikhail Turovsky,” a retrospective of the artist, who began his career in Soviet Ukraine. Disheartened at the regime’s repression, he emigrated to the U.S. This exhibit embodied several themes: early illustrations to Ukrainian poems, a cycle of feverish, dark sunflowers, reflections of the tragedies of the Holodomor and the Holocaust, and his emotive mother and child paintings.
The second autumnal art show presented the lyrical works of an artist essentially unknown in pre-independence Ukraine. “Visible Music: The Art of Yukhym Mykhailiv,” comprising 72 canvases, opened on November 17 at the Ukrainian History and Education Center in Somerset, N.J. The artist’s early 20th century Symbolist landscapes, swirling stars and waterfalls, and incandescent flowers in moonbeams were not in step with his contemporaries, and have only recently begun to be recognized.
Literature and theater
On April 12 at The Ukrainian Museum in New York, the Bushwick Book Club (BBC) united with Yara Arts Group to present musical improvisations inspired by readings of the poetry of Serhiy Zhadan. BBC’s founder Susan Hwang has previously collaborated with Virlana Tkacz in Yara productions. Mr. Zhadan read his poems in Ukrainian, while BBC members sang their interpretations.
On September 15, Ukrainian National Women’s League of America Branch 96 in Warren, Mich., presented an afternoon of readings titled “Word By Word – 100 Years of Literary Publications by Michigan Ukrainians.” Starting with the late 1880s, all the works were read by the original authors or those related to the original authors.
2019 also witnessed the publication of poetry collections and translations. Considered by many to be the first great Slavic philosopher, Hryhory Skovoroda created a unique collection of 30 poems written over a period stretching from the 1750s to 1785. “The Garden of Divine Songs and Collected Poetry of Hryhory Skovoroda” is Prof. Michael M. Naydan’s translation of the philosopher’s musings on the most cardinal problems of human existence, combining classical and biblical texts, ancient Ukrainian poetry, and his unique system of thinking: the philosophy of the heart.
Toward the end of the year, Yara Arts Group celebrated its 30th anniversary. As part of its anniversary season, the group presented the Koliadnyky from Kryvorivnia in both a traditional concert, performed in December in New York City, Jenkintown, Pa., Yonkers, N.Y., and Whippany, N.J., and in a collaborative project called “Winter Songs on Mars,” which was presented on December 21 at La MaMa Experimental Theater. The latter, according to Yara founder and artistic director Virlana Tkacz, was “a very special look at the otherworldly possibilities of winter songs.” On December 19, 20 and 22, La MaMa and Yara presented the theater piece “Opera GAZ” created by Yara and Nova Opera from Kyiv.
On March 31, Syzokryli Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky (RPB) School of Dance celebrated 40 years of teaching and performance with a sold-out program at Hunter College in New York City. Founded in 1976, Syzokryli was the life’s dream of renowned ballerina Mme. Bohachevsky. She envisioned a unique synthesis of the elegance of ballet and the expressive power of modern dance with the endless variety of traditional folk dances of her Ukrainian homeland.
Much of the enjoyment at a Syzokryli concert consists in viewing the many beautiful costumes (meticulously patterned after authentic regional designs) which change for every set. This program showcased the enthusiastic beginning levels of RPB Schools of Dance up through the skillful senior Syzokryli dancers. The dramatic centerpiece of the concert was “Fight For Freedom” set to the original choreography of Mme. Bohachevsky. This thematic composition narrates the still topical story of Ukraine’s struggle under the oppressive Soviet regime. It was expressively performed by the ensemble, featuring its own adept soloists.