Not even a pandemic could stop Ukrainians, especially Ukrainians in the U.S. The year 2020 began like any other year, but then things changed, and the community adapted with events, meetings and other activities moved online. Major events and milestones, like the 95th anniversary of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, were commemorated, some events were postponed, and others had to be cancelled. But, as an editorial in The Weekly reminded readers, “Hope is not cancelled.”
Filmmaker and writer Oleh Sentsov visited the United States on January 25, with a stop at the Ukrainian National Home in New York hosted by Razom for Ukraine, to discuss his observations since his release from Russian imprisonment in December 2019 after his arrest in Crimea in May 2014 by Russian occupying forces. Mr. Sentsov focused his remarks to the nearly 300 in attendance on the political prisoners held in Russia, those held by the Russia-backed militants in the Donbas, and the political situations in Ukraine and Russia. Mr. Sentsov explained that he continues to work with several former political prisoners and NGOs toward securing the captives’ release from Russian imprisonment. In order for Ukraine to become fully independent, he said, its prolonged existence as a post-Soviet state had to end. Ukraine will need to win economically and politically. He cautioned that Vladimir Putin does not negotiate, ever.
Olympic Community Market in Irvington, N.J., closed on February 15 after 68 years in business. Founded in 1952 as Bundziak and Lazirko Meat Market in Newark and there until 1963, two generations of the Lazirko family ran the business prior to the retirement of son Oleh Lazirko, who called it a bittersweet moment. Regular customers stood in line for fresh-made sandwiches and homemade selections for the upcoming Easter holidays. Victor Kurywczak drove 100 miles to the market for Easter orders for himself and his family members. Ezekiel Simmons, a regular customer and local resident, summed it, “You’ll never be able to get it again. That’s the sad part.” Mr. Lazirko recounted his 42 years working alongside his father, Antin, who died in 1978, and his mother, Natalia, who had worked at the market for 54 years and died in 2017 at the age of 96. A changing climate for businesses like Olympic Market had made it too difficult to continue to compete with larger companies that have muscled smaller businesses out through their massive buying power.
The Heavenly Hundred, who were killed during the Revolution of Dignity, were remembered on February 16 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington with an event organized by local Ukrainian community organizations, Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic Churches and the Embassy of Ukraine. Among those in attendance were Ukraine’s Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, Nadia McConnell of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, Michael Sawkiw Jr. of the Ukrainian National Information Service, Maryna Baydyuk of United Help Ukraine and Nadiya Shaporynska of U.S. Ukrainian Activists.
A similar event was held in Chicago on February 21, hosted by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America – Illinois Division, with a memorial service led by the Revs. Serhiy Kovalchuk and Roman Bobesyuk (both of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral) and the Rev. Ivan Lymar of St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral. A memorial concert was held at the Ukrainian National Museum to honor the Heavenly Hundred, and a large screen displayed images from the Euro-Maidan (Revolution of Dignity) of 2013-2014.
On February 8, the Ukrainian community in Palatine, Ill., commemorated the Heavenly Hundred at the Ukrainian Cultural Center. The event was organized by the Organization for Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine (ODDFU) Branch 31, the School of Ukrainian Studies, the Palatine branch of the American Ukrainian Youth Association (known by the Ukrainian acronym SUM) and the local branch of the Women’s Association for Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine. Also in attendance was Oleh Ivakhniuk, a Ukrainian veteran who was sponsored by St. Joseph the Betrothed Ukrainian Catholic Church for rehabilitation and surgery with Revived Soldiers Ukraine. Bishop Benedict Aleksiychuk of the St. Nicholas Eparchy led the memorial service, joined by Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic clergy, with responses sung by St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Choir of Bloomingdale, Ill. Remarks were delivered by Ukraine’s Consul General in Chicago Andrij Danyluk, Ihor Diaczun, president of the UCCA-Illinois Division, and Bohdan Yurynets and Rostyslav Saciuk of ODDFU. A memorial program was presented by the School of Ukrainian Studies, St. Joseph the Betrothed Church, the Panchyshyn sisters vocal duet and additional children’s choirs, dance and vocal groups.
The Ukrainian Club of Syracuse University held a commemorative event honoring the Heavenly Hundred on February 20. The event, which attracted an international audience, included a film screening of “Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” by Evgeny Afineevsky. One hundred Ukrainian flags were planted on the knoll of Syracuse University between the Student Center and the Newhouse School of Public Communication.
The Chicago Ukrainian community held its annual Unity Day celebration, marking Ukraine’s independence on January 22, 1918, and the unification of eastern and western Ukraine on January 22, 1919. The celebration, co-organized by the UCCA-Illinois Division, was held on January 26 at the Ukrainian Cultural Center of Ss. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church in Chicago. UCCA Community Service Awards were presented to Myron Wasiunec, Maria Buchwak-Iwanec and Nicholas Kocherha. Dr. Philip A. Karber, president of the Potomac Foundation, was a featured speaker. Additional messages were delivered by U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, Michael Quigley, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Sean Casten (all Democrats), Maria Pappas, treasurer for Cook County, Dan Patlak, commissioner of the Cook County Board of Review, as well as representatives of the Azerbaijani, Hungarian, Lithuanian and Polish communities.
Members of the UCCA Executive on January 19 met with Vadym Ptystaiko, Ukraine’s new foreign affairs minister, at Ukraine’s Mission to the United Nations in New York. UCCA President Andriy Futey welcomed Mr. Prystaiko to New York and thanked him for meeting with Ukrainian community leaders. Mr. Prystaiko thanked the UCCA for its work for Ukraine and the support of the Ukrainian American community in strengthening bilateral relations. The UCCA continues its work with members of Congress to maintain bipartisan support for Ukraine, increase sanctions against Russia and combat Russian disinformation. Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partners program, Major Non-NATO ally status for Ukraine, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations and humanitarian efforts to assist the medical field were among the issues of focus.
The U.S.-Ukraine Security Dialogue, in its 11th convocation on March 5 in Washington at the National Press Club, was hosted by the Center for U.S.-Ukrainian Relations (CUSUR), the American Foreign Policy Council, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation (USUF) and the UCCA. Joining the discussion were Ambassador Yelchenko, Serhiy Kyslytsya, ambassador of Ukraine to the United Nations, and Mr. Futey, president of the UCCA. The conference was hosted free of charge due to the generous contributions of the Self Reliance New York Federal Credit Union, the Heritage Foundation of the First Security Federal Savings Bank, the SUMA Yonkers Federal Credit Union and the Toronto-based Buduchnist Credit Union.
The Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (known by the Ukrainian-based acronym OOL) held its 31st national convention in Yonkers, N.Y., on March 7. Mark Howansky was unanimously re-elected to a third term as president and the 50 delegates learned about the past term’s work of the organization, among them cultural, educational and humanitarian projects. It was noted that former branches of the organization had been renewed in Syracuse, N.Y., Philadelphia and New Britain, Conn. The triennial convention concluded with a banquet and performance showcasing Lemko culture through song and dance with the New York-based group Na Lemkowyni, Tsvitka from Sloatsburg, N.Y., as well as members of Moloda Lemkivshchyna of Lviv.
The impact of COVID-19
Throughout the COVID-19-impacted year, the Ukrainian American community showed its resilience and resourcefulness. Schools moved to online learning; the Ukrainian American Youth Association (UAYA), Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization and other groups incorporated online meetings. Church services were held via live-stream, and take-out food options were offered by many organizations trying to raise funds through bazaars and dinners.
Even life at The Ukrainian Weekly and Svoboda, the two newspapers published by the Ukrainian National Association, was impacted with staff working from home. The newspapers have continued to operate under this adapted arrangement.
The Weekly’s editorial for April 12 reminded readers that “Hope is not cancelled.” As the country entered into lockdown to flatten the coronavirus curve, with people working from home and other measures, the editorial urged community members to remain engaged in the community. Ukrainians were connecting globally during the pandemic through online programs, including pysanka workshops and Ukrainian language courses. Hope remains, the editorial added, and we could all use a message of encouragement amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.
How Chicago’s Ukrainian community and the businesses serving it were adapting to the COVID-19 restrictions was reported in feature articles by our colleague Mark Raczkiewicz on May 10 and June 21. The Tryzub restaurant began accepting take-out orders, but the arrangement did not allow for the program to continue because of the costs associated with handmade food offerings. Recreation opportunities were limited due to social distancing and group size limitations. Churches livestreamed services, and Ukrainian-language schools moved classes and even graduation ceremonies online. Ukrainian American yoga instructor Areta Verschoor offered free classes through Plast’s national physical fitness program. Dr. Maria Dmytriv at Midwest Health Center said there were inconsistent messages from government health officials and specialists, and the threat of disinformation from Russia further complicated the response. Other businesses that serve the Ukrainian community and were impacted in some fashion included Ann’s Bakery, the Meest-Karpaty shipping service, Selfreliance Federal Credit Union, and the Ukrainian National Museum and the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, which moved exhibits and events online.
Churches in Chicago began to reopen on June 14 with limited capacities and measures to ensure public safety. At Ss. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, liturgies were reduced from three to two to allow for sanitization of surfaces between liturgies. Faithful who chose not to enter the church could hear the liturgy via speakers set up outside. Salons, like the one owned by Tetiana Patrychevska, were allowed to reopen, and saw a resurgence of business from patrons emerging from lockdown restrictions. Smith Park in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood also reopened, albeit with “social distancing ambassadors” patrolling the park. Halyna Fedus of Shokolad café also explained her experience with the federal small business loans and her concerns for her family’s health, in addition to the future of her business. Indoor dining resumed on June 17, with many businesses still recovering from the looting that erupted following the death of George Floyd. Oleksandr Firov of the grocery store Amish and Healthy Food said his client base was slowly returning, but noted that he had difficulty placing orders with his suppliers because of panic buying from local residents.
The Ukrainian National Home in Syracuse, N.Y., and the Tryzub Ukrainian Sports Center in Horsham, Pa., adapted to the pandemic restrictions with take-out sales of food that have been a lifeline for many struggling businesses and organizations. The Syracuse UNH also used the “downtime” to make renovations to the building, including the main hall and the bar. Tryzub opened on a limited schedule, and offered its spacious grounds for its members and guests to enjoy. Food and drinks were served from the out cove of the clubhouse, and guests were invited to bring their own chairs to encourage social distancing and limiting group size.
By May, summer camps were cancelled for the UAYA and Plast; Chornomorska Sitch also cancelled its Sports School held at Soyuzivka, while the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center (UECC) of Philadelphia moved its activities online with educational, cultural and other offerings. Soyuzivka on June 12 announced the cancellation of summer camps for the 2020 season, following the ruling of the New York State Commissioner of Health. The president of the Ukrainian National Foundation, Dr. Wasyl Szeremeta, said he was disheartened by the need to cancel the summer camps, “as this is a vital cultural link for our extended family,” but noted that, as a physician, he agreed with the ruling of the health commissioner to “err on the side of caution in order to protect our children.”
The Weekly’s editorial for June 21 related how the pandemic restrictions were beginning to be relaxed after two to three months of quarantine measures. The Ukrainian community showed its commitment to resuming life, with the Ukrainian American Veterans (UAV) in Philadelphia commemorating fallen comrades on Memorial Day; while in Troy, N.Y., community members gathered for their annual clean-up around the Taras Shevchenko monument. Yara Arts Group of New York scheduled a series of virtual poetry and folk arts events, and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus held virtual rehearsals for its musicians. The editorial outlined the work of Matthew Dubas and Mr. Raczkiewycz in covering the Ukrainian American community’s response to the pandemic and how it has adapted to new challenges. The editorial noted the need to keep the community informed about events, even if they are held online, and underscored that the creativity of community organizations to continue with their missions is worthy of recognition.
Soyuzivka announced its preparations for reopening on July 1 in accordance with guidance from state and local authorities regarding social distancing and mask requirements, with the utmost attention to the safety of guests and staff. It was pointed out that staff would be masked, and food and beverage staff would also be gloved, guests would be offered a temperature scan, with a minimal-contact check-in process. Those who cancelled summer reservations would be contacted by Soyuzivka to offer them an opportunity to rebook.
Bandurists groups created Bandura Hangouts: A Virtual Workshop – an online workshop on July 13 through August 7 – in an effort to continue their common mission to sustain and advance bandura music in North America. Organizers comprised Bandura@Bobriwka (Colebrook, Conn.), ODUM Bandura Camp (London, Ontario), Kobzarska Sich (Emlenton, Pa.) and Litnia Zustrich (Hawkestone, Ontario), and the sponsors of these camps (North American Bandura Camps Committee or NABCAMCOM), the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus of North America, the Women’s Bandura Ensemble of North America, the Canadian Bandurist Capella, Zoloti Struny and representatives of ODUM.
The Bandura Hangouts program attracted over 50 participants, age 8 to 72, from four Canadian provinces, eight U.S. states and Puerto Rico. The “campers” were under the instruction of 27 volunteers, with players divided into five groups based on proficiency. Each group learned “This Land is Your Land” with bilingual lyrics and the “Zaporizhskyi March.” Afternoon and evenings were filled with presentations and lectures by such speakers as Julian Kytasty, Zynoviy Shtokalo, Andriy Birko, Mykola Deychakiwsky, Marko Farion, Irene Kytasty-Kuzma, Stephan Zaets and Oleh Mahlay, as well as members of the Toronto group Banduralicious. Campers said they enjoyed meeting bandura students and players from all over the world, playing games online with fellow campers and listening to performances by professionals.
Plast’s online camps – one-week camps for cub scouts (novatstvo) and scouts (yunatstvo) – attracted more than 350 participants for programs run by three campgrounds: Pysanyi Kamin in Middlefield, Ohio, on July 5-11; Vovcha Tropa in East Chatham, N.Y., on July 12-19; and Novyi Sokil in North Collins, N.Y., on July 19-25. Each camp had its own unique online program, with merit badges for various projects. In August, the Spartanky Plast sorority organized a one-week virtual camp for the youngest cub scouts, a program that would normally be held at Vovcha Tropa.
In the fall, Plast also held its annual National Plast Conference online. Over the weekend of October 31, members from various branches of Plast in the U.S.A. reported on activities of the previous year and determined goals for the upcoming year. The online format allowed for more people to participate than usual, with representatives of young adult and senior sororities and fraternities within the organization, as well as members of the National Executive Board of Plast and members of the World Plast Executive. Conference participants discussed and heard presentations about the organization becoming more inclusive and the need for members to remain safe during the uncertainty of the pandemic. A committee to explore inclusiveness was formed to review proposals and experiences.
The Weekly’s editorial for October 11 noted how community life went on during the pandemic, with festivals, a variety of camps and meetings held online. Notably, the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey in Whippany hosted its annual Ukrainian Festival virtually on September 26. All Saints Camp in Emlenton, Pa., was among those that moved the camp experience online. The UOC-U.S.A. showed creativity with its Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry hosting virtual events and contests, and the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation held a series of online fund-raisers for the Ukrainian Catholic University. Ukrainian museums and art galleries also hosted online exhibits and presentations. It all happens, the editorial reminded readers, because of support from the community, and despite the pandemic, these organizations continued to inspire, educate and prepare the next generation.
As community events and activities continued amid ongoing restrictions, readers learned about the Ukrainian History and Education Center (UHEC) in Somerset, N.J., and its various presentations and workshops, as well as partnerships between the UHEC and Dnipro National University in Ukraine. UHEC presentations encompassed Petrykivka painting, pysanky, embroidery, weaving, traditional bread-making, children’s programs and genealogy; many of the online events were recorded and can be viewed online.
The Iskra Ukrainian Dance Academy (Whippany, N.J.) hosted their annual Mother’s Day concert via Zoom. However, Iskra held two in-person summer intensive dance courses, July 27-31 and August 3-7, complying with all regulations in effect at that time. The Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute hosted numerous presentations and webinars, often via Zoom or YouTube, and its Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute attracted 30 students from around the world. The Ukrainian Museum (New York) also attracted an online audience with virtual exhibits, presentations and pysanka instruction, while the Ukrainian Institute of America (New York) hosted a variety of events, including a commemorative concert in tribute to Myroslav Skoryk, who died in 2020.
Razom for Ukraine distributed bags of food to local New York Ukrainian residents on May 5 as part of Giving Tuesday, with assistance from the Veselka and Streecha restaurants, the East Village Meat Market (Baczynsky’s), the Ukrainian Running Club, chef Olesia Lew, St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church and the UNWLA. Razom also aided programs of pandemic assistance for doctors and medical staff in Ukraine.
The 95th anniversary celebration of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America (UNWLA), hosted online on December 6, chronicled the organization’s vast history and the causes it has supported since its formation in 1925. Among the achievements noted were its work to inform and raise awareness of the Holodomor of 1932-1933; contributing materials and funds for the Ukrainian pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933; the publication of the monthly periodical Our Life since 1944; education initiatives and scholarships for children in Ukraine, Brazil and Poland; humanitarian aid projects, including $25,000 for flood victims in western Ukraine in 2020 and over $31,000 as part of the “Feeding the Hungry, UNWLA for the U.S.A.” program for Americans financially struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. The gala raised more than $36,000 for educational, cultural and humanitarian initiatives, and an estimated 1,200 people joined the live video feed. The organization boasts branches in 23 states across the U.S., with nearly 1,700 Ukrainian American women among its members.
Earlier in the year, the UNWLA Detroit Regional Council marked its 85th anniversary and held its “Soyuzianka Day” on February 23 at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren, Mich. Vera Andrushkiw, a prominent public figure in the metropolitan Detroit area, was presented several awards for her service to the Ukrainian community, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, was named honorary president of the Detroit Regional Council, and was presented a certificate of honor from Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. The Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation established the Vera Andrushkiw Scholarship Fund. Among the honored guests were UNWLA President Marianna Zajac, former Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Nadia and Robert McConnell of the USUF, as well as scholars, clergy and members of the UNWLA.
The UNWLA informed readers about its Spiritual Rebirth of Ukraine project that aims to restore the spiritual health of the individual in the aftereffects of the war. Thus, the UNWLA was continuing its legacy of humanitarian efforts in Ukraine in response to the war in the Donbas region, providing medical assistance through its War Victims’ Fund and psychological support through its Prostir Nadiyi project. The Spiritual Rebirth of Ukraine Fund supports two religious academies: the Kyiv Three Saints Theological Seminary of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and the Volyn Orthodox Theological Academy of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Revs. Volodymyr Vakin (VOTA) and Petro Zhuk (KTSTS), described their experiences. The Rev. Vakin explained the role of priests in the rehabilitation process, joined by a psychologist and a psychiatrist to provide a multiple-angle approach. The Rev. Zhuk added that priests have become educators and reformers in their assigned villages and regions, spurring on community involvement and organizing group projects. The Church, the Rev. Zhuk added, also has role in assisting soldiers returning from war and dealing with the change from a combat warzone to civilian life.
Also in 2020, the UNWLA launched the Ukrainian American Artist Directory to create a searchable national directory of the many talented Ukrainian artists who work in so many diverse genres. Open to professionals and hobbyists, the directory is voluntary, with artists asked to submit a brief survey about themselves and their art.
UCCA’s activity and anniversary
In other news during 2020, the UCCA, in a March 23 statement that was featured as a guest editorial in our March 29 issue, reminded readers to identify themselves as Ukrainian on Question No. 9 of the U.S. Census. The statement noted that the 2020 census was the first digital census, and it emphasized the importance for Ukrainians to be represented in official statistics and records due to decades of mislabeling Ukrainian immigrants’ country of origin and the antiquated language of the census form. Ukraine and the Ukrainian language have been recognized by the U.S. Census since 1960, after decades of appeals and information campaigns by the UCCA. U.S. Census forms are available in Ukrainian as well, the editorial underscored.
The UCCA issued a statement on April 26 in commemoration of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster. The worst nuclear disaster in history, the statement noted, forced the Soviet Union to acknowledge the catastrophe that it initially denied and cost the lives of countless victims. The statement also cited the April 2020 forest fire that caused radiation levels to spike to nearly 17 times normal levels and was a constant reminder of Chornobyl’s longstanding impact on Ukraine economically and ecologically, and the associated health effects for years to come. The UCCA called on the international community to help ensure that the ongoing needs of Chornobyl’s victims were never forgotten, and reminded readers about all the victims of the Kremlin’s acts, including in present-day war-torn eastern Ukraine.
In reaction to an April 24 statement by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on the 75th anniversary of the meeting of U.S. and Soviet forces in World War II, the UCCA issued a statement that stressed the significance of May 9 celebrations in Russia of Victory Day and how these are intertwined with the annexation of Crimea. The UCCA called the joint U.S.-Russian statement “quite alarming” as the “meeting at the Elbe” led to decades of Soviet totalitarianism that would dominate nearly half of Europe. The UCCA urged increased sanctions from the U.S., and called for the withdrawal of all of Russia’s overt and covert forces and equipment from Ukraine, and relinquishment of Russia’s claim to Crimea.
The UCCA began celebrations of its 80th anniversary with a statement released on May 18. The editorial in the May 24 issue of The Weekly noted the major milestones of the organization’s history from its inaugural convention in 1940 with 805 delegates from 1,425 organizations, to Captive Nations Week events, the unveiling of the Taras Shevchenko monument in Washington in 1964 and the publication of The Ukrainian Quarterly. Also recalled was the difficult time after the UCCA’s 1980 congress that resulted in a major division within the Ukrainian American community. But the UCCA has overcome many challenges and has thrived to contribute to major events such as the unveiling of the Holodomor Memorial in Washington in 2015.
A virtual celebration of the UCCA’s 80th anniversary of UCCA was held on May 26 and June 16, hosted via Facebook and YouTube. President Futey greeted all those celebrating the milestone, with additional greetings and statements by three former UCCA presidents, Mr. Sawkiw, Tamara Gallo Olexy and Askold Lozynskyj. Also hailing the UCCA were: Archbishop Daniel (UOC-U.S.A.), Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak (UCC), Paul Grod (president, Ukrainian World Congress), Ambassador Paula Dobriansky (daughter of former UCCA President Lev Dobriansky), Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba, former President Petro Poroshenko, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Andy Harris (R-Md.). Statements were received from President Zelenskyy and Ambassador Yelchenko.
The UCCA formally announced the cancellation of its planned 23rd Congress of Ukrainians in America following an online meeting on May 14 that decided to postpone the event for a year, until October 2021. The hope was to be able to gather once again, in person, to discuss key political, strategic and social concerns that affect the future of the Ukrainian American community and its relations with Ukraine.
The UCCA issued a position paper aimed at the Democratic and Republican National Committees, highlighting the importance of continuing crucial assistance to Ukraine. The paper proposed: a clear, unified and explicit commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity; rejection of all forms of Russian rule over Crimea and adherence to objectives of the Crimean Declaration of July 2018; the immediate withdrawal of covert and overt Russian forces and equipment from Ukraine and compliance with the ceasefire prior to holding elections in the Donbas, as per the Minsk agreement; expansion of direct military assistance, including lethal defensive arms, naval and air force support, and additional military training programs; continuation of the “Open Door” policy for Ukraine’s eventual NATO membership through the Enhanced Opportunity Program for Ukraine; maintenance and strengthening of targeted economic sanctions against the Russian Federation until it fulfills its obligations under the Budapest Memorandum and the Minsk agreement; monitoring and ramping up U.S. counter-narrative objectives to the Russian propaganda operation through the Global Engagement Center; freezing assets and denying visas to elite Russians suspected of money laundering or involvement in threats against the sovereignty of Ukraine; and enhancing the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership by boosting Ukraine’s defense capacity, economic reform efforts and foreign direct investment opportunities.
The UCCA also issued a statement on November 18 following the initial results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, offering its congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and stressing the need for strong bilateral U.S.-Ukraine relations. The statement highlighted the importance of not retreating from sanctions imposed against Russia, the need for a deepened security relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine, and continued bipartisan support for Ukraine in both chambers of Congress. The UCCA urged President-elect Biden to schedule a visit to Ukraine, while adding that President Zelenskyy should be invited to Washington, in a demonstration of that strong bilateral relationship.
Panel discussions, webinars
A panel discussion titled “Heroes of Liberty,” which took place in Washington in mid-March, was dedicated to the plight of Ukrainian veterans who served on the frontlines in defending Ukraine against Russia’s aggression. Panelists included Roman Fontana and Darren Holowka (Ukrainian American Veterans), Bishop Stepan Sus (Ukrainian Catholic Church), the Rev. Sviatoslav Yurkiv (Orthodox Church of Ukraine), Marta Pyvovarenko (psychologist and founder of the Development Foundation), Katja Kolcio, (associate professor at Wesleyan University and a member of the Development Foundation), Vitaliy Herechko (Development Foundation), Christi Anne Hofland (Internet Research and Exchanges Board), and Henry Huntley (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs). Other speakers included Rep. Kaptur, co-chair of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus; Ambassador Yelchenko; two Ukrainian military veterans: Ukrainian member of Parliament Yana Zinkevych and Deputy Minister for Veterans, Occupied Territories and IDPs Oleksandr Tereshchenko.
The event was co-hosted by the Congressional Ukraine Caucus and the Senate Ukraine Caucus, and sponsored by the UCCA, the Pylyshenko Family Foundation, United Ukrainian American Relief Committee, Embassy of Ukraine in the U.S.A., Ukrainian American Community Foundation of the Ukrainian Federal Credit Union Foundation and OliaFilm. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Sawkiw, vice-president of the UCCA and director of the Ukrainian National Information Service. Mr. Sawkiw reminded audience members to contact their elected officials to thank them for their support of Ukraine and to inform them about the ongoing war in Ukraine and the plight of Ukrainian veterans. The multimedia display “Heroes of Liberty” by OliaFilm was presented at the Embassy of Ukraine.
The Transatlantic Task Force on Ukraine hosted the webinar “Ukraine’s Democratic Reforms Hang in the Balance: What is the Way Forward?” on April 2, linking experts in Washington, Kyiv and Brussels as they discussed ongoing reform efforts, good governance, judicial reforms, the rule of law, combatting corruption and promoting economic development. Much of the discussion focused on loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the critical role that these conditional funds play in the aforementioned reform areas. Among the presenters were Jonathan Katz (German Marshall Fund), Orest Deychakiwsky (U.S.-Ukraine Foundation), Bruno Lété (German Marshall Fund), Oleksandr Sushko (Renaissance Foundation), Volodymyr Kurpita (former director general, Public Health Center, Ministry of Health of Ukraine), Oleksandra Ustinova (member of Parliament, Holos party), Yurii Kamelchuk (member of Parliament, Servant of the People party), Daria Kaleniuk (Anti-Corruption Action Center) and Hlib Vyshlinsky (Center for Economic Strategy). The TTFU includes The German Marshall Fund of the United States, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network Democracy and Civil Society Task Force, the Reanimation Package of Reforms and other NGOs.
A second webinar, “Ukraine’s Reform Stagnation: The Path Forward in a Time of Crisis,” attracted experts to discuss Ukraine’s backsliding on reforms that facilitate rule of law, democratic governance and economic growth, fostering a good investment climate and accelerating Ukraine’s integration with the West. The resignation of Yakiv Smolii as governor of the National Bank of Ukraine was seen as a sign of President Zelenskyy’s wavering in his commitment to battle corruption. Among the panelists were Hanna Hopko (former member of Parliament), Mr. Katz, Oleksandra Betliy (former chief of the Ministry of Finance), Mr. Deychakiwsky, Pat Cox (former president of the European Parliament) and Mr. Lété. The panelists agreed that more frequent engagement directly with Mr. Zelenskyy by Western leaders would facilitate rooting out corruption and Ukraine’s Euro-integration.
The USUF hosted a webinar on April 24 featuring the film “The Russian Woodpecker” and focusing on the Chornobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. The panelists were Chad Gracia (producer and director of the film), Nadia K. McConnell (USUF president), Ambassador John Herbst (Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center director) and Kateryna Pavlova (Department for International and Public Relations at the State Agency of Ukraine for Management of the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone). The wildfires that erupted in 2020 alarmed not only Ukrainians, but people all over the world, and presenters said this latest event showed the need for disaster preparedness measures. The panelists also agreed that more information related to Chornobyl should be shown in light of the recent HBO series that was loosely based on the nuclear disaster. Also pointed out: Chornobyl has re-emerged as a site for eco-tourism, and wildlife has reclaimed much of the Exclusion Zone.
Assistance to our communities, Ukraine
Selfreliance Federal Credit Union and the Selfreliance Foundation offered assistance to Ukrainian churches in Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey that were impacted by the pandemic. The Selfreliance Foundation provided $128,000 in donations to Ukrainian churches and youth organizations in those three states, and the credit union also offered Small Business Administration loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, totaling $3.5 million in SBA loans and $864,000 to churches and other not-for-profit organizations. Selfreliance also received a $20,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago that was earmarked for churches, the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago and the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago, as well as youth organizations. In addition, the credit union donated some 6,000 masks to its sponsoring associations in Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey for distribution within the communities they serve.
Nova UA Federal Credit Union in Clifton, N.J., disbursed grants totaling $200,000 from Federal Home Loan Bank of New York to 24 non-profits in the region impacted by COVID-19. The money was aimed at helping churches, schools, youth organizations and other entities serving the Ukrainian community in New Jersey. Among the recipients was the Ukrainian National Foundation, the charitable arm of the Ukrainian National Association, which received a grant of $10,000 on September 29. The credit union reminded all that money invested with Nova is reinvested in the local Ukrainian community and projects that serve it.
Ukrainian Federal Credit Union, as a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, also applied for and received $200,000 in grant funding for distribution to organizations and churches in New York. UFCU distributed funds to 47 different grantees across nine counties in New York state, including cultural centers, churches, museums, art foundations, youth associations and other volunteer organizations. Founded in 1953, the UFCU serves the needs of more than 22,000 members, with branches in New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, North Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington.
The United Ukrainian American Relief Committee, the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. issued appeals to the Ukrainian community for aid to flood victims in the Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Lviv, Zakarpattia and Ternopil oblasts. Heavy rains on June 22-24 inundated many rivers, causing them to crest their banks, and many people lost all of their property and means of survival.
The UOC-U.S.A., through its St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Society, had raised $25,000 with a challenge to the membership of the UOC-U.S.A. to match the grant by contributing to the relief effort; a Special Flood Relief Fund was created by the UOC-U.S.A. for donations. The Ukrainian Catholic Church raise more than $136,000; of that amount, more than $46,000 was from online Facebook fund-raising from 27 states, four Canadian provinces and 13 other countries; over $53,000 came from individuals and organizations; and $36,176 was raised during a special collection that was taken up in early July, by which time more than $120,000 had already been distributed to the Ivano-Frankivsk Archeparchy, Chernivtsi Eparchy and Kolomyia Eparchy. In addition to food, water and building supplies, the funds were used for personal hygiene items, furniture, mattresses, diapers and home appliances. Bishop Andriy Rabiy compared the distribution of aid to flood victims to the feeding of the 5,000 in the Gospel miracle.
Focus on the Holodomor
The U.S. Holodomor Committee continued its work in 2020 with efforts to secure recognition of the Holodomor as genocide in all 50 U.S. states. Five major U.S. cities and 21 U.S. states have recognized the Holodomor as genocide, many in 2018 on the 85th anniversary of the famine-genocide. The documentary “When We Starve” raised awareness of the psychological and physiological, as well as social effects of hunger. The committee also worked to raise awareness of the Holodomor through its campaign urging Amazon to remove items with Soviet symbols, and integrating teachers’ lesson plans about the Holodomor into U.S. public high school curricula. Other efforts included a campaign to include the word “Holodomor” in English-language dictionaries and renewal of the attempt to revoke Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize following the release of the film “Mr. Jones.” Many of the ongoing projects undertaken by the U.S. Holodomor Committee will lead up to the 90th anniversary commemoration of the Holodomor in the years 2022- 2023.
The annual Holodomor commemoration at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York was held on November 21 with only invited speakers and Metropolitan Antony of the UOC-U.S.A. and Bishop Paul Chomnycky of the Stamford Eparchy of the Ukrainian Catholic Church physically attending due to pandemic restrictions. The service was livestreamed, and the community was invited to view the requiem prayer service and commemoration online. The program itself was abbreviated to reduce safety concerns.
Ambassador Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s envoy to the United Nations, spoke during the commemoration on behalf of Ambassador Yelchenko and Ukraine’s consuls general in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Mr. Kyslytsya noted the solidarity of many nations that share Ukraine’s pain during this commemoration. He said U.S. support, both from the Congress and state governments, as well as from Ukrainian Americans, has been of great assistance in increasing international recognition of the Holodomor as a genocide.
Also in November, the U.S. Holodomor Committee announced the establishment of the Holodomor Descendants Network to remember and share the personal family stories of this horror, which millions of people died of starvation. The network is chaired by Olya Soroka, a member of the committee whose mother, grandparents and aunt survived the Holodomor. Ms. Soroka said she hopes the network will serve as an unending voice for those Holodomor victims who can no longer speak for themselves to ensure that the story of the Holodomor continues to be shared by future generations.
Still more major developments
Amazon drew calls for removal of Soviet items from offerings on its website after a petition was launched by the U.S. Committee for Holodomor-Genocide Awareness on April 26 via Facebook. Items included propaganda material, KGB and Soviet badges and insignias, and items adorned with the offensive hammer and sickle of the USSR. The Weekly’s editorial explained that actions of protest included a letter-writing campaign to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, telephone calls to the corporate headquarters, and an online digital storm through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Amazon was not alone in this choice to sell offensive Soviet items; Walmart and Adidas also were guilty of such activity.
As 2020 entered its final months, Ukrainian Americans were informed in our November 15 issue’s editorial of the historic result of the 2020 election with the election of Rep. Viktoria Spartz of Indiana – the first Ukrainian-born member of the U.S. Congress and the first naturalized citizen to represent Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives. UCCA President Futey stated that he hoped “more promising, civic-minded Ukrainian Americans will run for office.” Rep. Spartz, representing the Republican Party, said she will bring her business experience, travails in overcoming her own immigration difficulties and assimilation as a U.S. citizen to work to reduce government spending and debt, increase border security, bolster national defense, ensure healthcare transparency and promote education reform. A native of the town of Nosivka in Chernihiv Oblast, Rep. Spartz said she will also use her experience of life under Soviet rule to remind her fellow lawmakers of the dangers of socialism.
Selfreliance New York Federal Credit Union was forced to close its offices temporarily following a fire on December 5 that destroyed the neighboring Middle Collegiate Church and an adjacent building that housed the Women’s Prison Association shelter. The fire did not damage the credit union, but firefighters needed access to the building’s roof as they battled the blaze, which resulted in water and physical damage as firefighters ran hoses from the street up to the roof. The church and the shelter were deemed total losses by the NYC Fire Department. The cause of the fire was determined to be an accident. Selfreliance suffered smoke damage throughout its offices and customers were instructed to check on the credit union’s website or Facebook page for updates. Members were also encouraged to use the credit union’s other branches in Astoria, Uniondale, Lindenhurst and Kerhonkson, N.Y.