Bloor West Village Toronto Ukrainian Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary with rare in-person festivities

    Stefan Kuziv of UNF Toronto’s Kalyna Performing Arts Company dances with cossack swords

    Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

    For decades, it’s been the biggest Ukrainian event outside of Ukraine. Now, it turned out to be the only in-person and not a drive-through festival since the beginning of COVID on Bloor Street West and in the whole City of Toronto, and it very likely will hold this status at least until the end of 2021. The Bloor West Village Toronto Ukrainian Festival, which rocked the west Toronto’s main street on September 18 and 19, remains the biggest Ukrainian festival in the Diaspora.

    The Festival’s 25th anniversary could not be missed. And the organizers showed some ingenuity to make sure that it wasn’t. As the City of Toronto is not ready to open its streets to festivities yet, the BWV TUF organizers held this year’s festival in a private parking lot right next to the usual location of the main stage.

    The free tickets to all ten events of the weekend were booked fully well in advance. It was noticeable how glad the attendants were to have a live, in-person community event after more than 18 months of quarantines and zoom gatherings. Many people saw others for the first time in a long time, but that was not why some had problems recognizing others – everyone was properly wearing a face mask which provided a reason for many friendly jokes.

    There was no parade marshal for the lack of a festival parade this time, and Mayor of Toronto John Tory cut the Festival’s ribbon assisted by Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada Andriy Shevchenko and National President of Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alexandra Chyczij. Tory further uplifted the spirits when he suggested that the Festival will be back on the street as usual next year.

    The opening speeches by the dignitaries, who represented all levels of the Ukrainian Canadian community and Canadian government and politics, were succinct and felt fresh, again, after a long time that they could not be told in person in front of large audiences. The speeches by federal MP candidates Yvan Baker (Etobicoke Centre) and Arif Virani (Parkdale – High Park) had little if any references to the election.

    Despite all the COVID-related limitations, the Festival felt a lot like in the past times. Both in the Festival’s yard and along Bloor Street West, the vendors benefited from the festive crowd. The audiences sang along and danced to the songs and dances by dozens of Ukrainian Canadian performers. The performers looked happy to be on stage in front of a live audience after a long period of online practice and isolation.

    Entertainment Director Ola Cholkan prepared the Festival’s well-structured and elegant concert program while Festival Executive Director Oksana Wasylyk and the Festival’s Chair and founder Jurij Klufas secured the general concept and organization. The Ukrainian community volunteers of all ages and from locations as far as Calgary, AB, turned in high numbers to assist with the Festival’s various needs.

    At the Festival, people were expressing hopes that the 26th Bloor West Village Toronto Ukrainian Festival, next year, will be as open and crowded as ever. And that, in 25 years, the Festival will still be the biggest Ukrainian event outside of the homeland.

    For festival stories and updates, visit www.ukrainianfestival.com and social media @bwvtuf.