Marco Levytsky, NP-UN Western Bureau Chief.
This year’s Ukrainian Independence Day Concert, held at Edmonton’s Youth Unity Complex, August 27 was unique in that featured a performance consisting mostly of newcomer talent.
As Mykola Vorotilenko, Head of the Organizing Committee for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Edmonton Branch, which sponsored the program, explained, the objective was twofold – on the one hand to showcase the talents of displaced Ukrainians who have come to Canada to escape the war in Ukraine to the community at large, on the other to introduce the newcomers to the community.
Over 40,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Alberta since the start of the full-scale invasion by Russia in February, 2022, 15,000 of them in Edmonton.
Aside from Edmonton, other centres in Alberta also celebrated independence, including Calgary, Banff, Jasper, Fort McMurray, Lloydminster, and Red Deer.
But the shadow of war hung over what would normally have been a strictly celebratory occasion.
“We should be enjoying a happy and joyous event, celebrating the freedom and independence of Ukraine,” said UCC Edmonton President Yaroslav Broda in his opening remarks. “Tragically, for the second year we are under the darkness of the cloud of war and a brutal invasion by Russia. We must pause and honor our brothers and sisters today, who like in the past are continuing the existential battle,” he added.
“Once again, Ukrainians around the world are confronting the horrible reality that brutal and immoral Russian invaders are attempting to eliminate Ukrainian nationhood, history, language and culture.
“As we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, we pay tribute to those whose bravery and valor made it possible, and those who safeguard that independence today,” echoed UCC Alberta President Orysia Boychuk.
Ukraine’s Consul-General to Edmonton, Oleksandr Danyleiko noted that:“Today we are not just celebrating (our independence). Today we are fighting for it”, adding we have to honor those who have made it possible for us to celebrate it. This includes “all our heroes who are fighting for our independence for our liberty on the frontlines” as well as “our doctors who are saving hundreds, thousands of lives of our soldiers” and all the volunteers who tirelessly work to provide humanitarian aid.”
In a video address, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the sacrifices made by soldiers, sailors, officers, and generals who defended the nation. He thanked the families who stood strong, supporting their loved ones on the frontlines.
He thanked teachers who worked tirelessly, often online, to ensure education continued despite the challenges, expressed gratitude for the medical professionals who saved countless lives under the most adverse conditions, highlighting the dedication of doctors, nurses, and combat medics.
He also acknowledged the resilience of the Ukrainian people during trying times, including periods of missile attacks and power outages.
Zelenskyy paid tribute to the anonymous heroes, including missile manufacturers, artillery operators, and drone pilots, who contributed to the country’s defense efforts without seeking recognition.
“Today I want to speak separately about those who cannot yet be mentioned in the news, whose names are known to few, but whose work is visible to all. Our missiles. Ukrainian munitions. Our artillery. Ukrainian drones: Leleka, Fury. Naval drones, Neptune, Corsair, Stuhna. We produce all of this. Ukrainians produce all of this.”
The speech concluded with a heartfelt message: “Happy Independence Day, Ukraine! Because we all made it so that when one person says: ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ the whole world responds: ‘Glory to the Heroes!’”
In her greetings on behalf of the provincial government, which were read out by UCC Edmonton Vice President Yulianna Voloshyna, Fort Saskatchewan – Vegreville MLA and Parliamentary Secretary of Settlement Services and Ukrainian Evacuees paid tribute to the soldiers “who selflessly put their lives on the line to protect Ukraine” as well “all the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, guardians, and caretakers who have courageously carried on during this conflict, ensuring the well-being of your families.”
“Through all this hardship, it warms my heart to no end to see how so many have banded together in community, supporting, uplifting, and being with one another through these difficult times. It is remarkable how people from different backgrounds and cultures have united to showcase their support. I am so grateful for events like today that help us acknowledge the perseverance of Ukraine and give us all an opportunity to celebrate the vibrant Ukrainian culture,” she added.
A special guest was Senior Lieutenant of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Konstantin Bilous who fought in the Kherson and Donetsk region.
Lt. Bilous thanked the diaspora community for all the assistance and urged people to continue their support noting that “every kopeck that you are colleting” is essential for victory.
He said among the most essential equipment they can provide the armed forces are night vision goggles, drones, medical supplies, body armour, tourniquets and technical assistance.
Among the performers were:
• The “New Life” (Nove Zhyttia) choir which was created in the fall of 2022 at Edmonton’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish of St. Basil the Great. The choir includes newly arrived Ukrainians to Canada, as well as active members of Edmonton Ukrainian community. It is directed by Oleksandra Hryniuk.
• Soprano Solomiya Katerynchuk, a solo-vocalist who has sung in the professional choir Pro Coro Canada as well as the Dnipro Choir. She was accompanied on the violin by Victoria Grynenko and by Iryna Tarnavska on piano.
• Sand artist Svitlana Melobenska accompanied by Consul-General Danyleiko.
• Veronika Valkova, a 16-year-old writer who has been composing poems since the age of 13, who recited some of her works.
• The Dzherelo Ukrainian Children’s Theatre, organized under the auspices of the Ukrainian Women’s Organization (UWO) of Edmonton.
• Singer Vika Dombrovska, who has only been in Canada for a year. In Ukraine, Vika sang in a rock band (BotaniX Band). She was accompanied on guitar by Oleksiy Benkovskyi.
• Sisters Lilia and Anna Bundzylo, who arrived in Canada only a month ago. Liliya is 20 years old, and has been performing since she was 12 years old. Her younger sister Anna Maria is only 6 years old.
• The Razom Orchestra, which was founded at the beginning of this year. All the musicians (now totalling 20) are Ukrainian newcomers. Razom Orchestra was created by Josep Pecuh, Ivanna Skolozdra, Marko Tarangul, Igor Kruk and conductor Larysa Nalyvayko with other talented musicians.
• The Folk group “Ruta”, which also falls under the auspices of Edmonton’s UWO and was created in 2012 by Alla Semenko and music director Dmytro Rusnak.
MCs at the concert were Veronika Danyleiko and Maksym Borovsky.
Aside from Vorotylenko, the organizing committee included Broda, Voloshyna, Liliya Sukhy, Natalia Pociurko, Olena Danyleiko and Marko Kopinec.