I should first of all warn you that I will be unashamedly dropping a lot of famous names in my scribblings today. I do this not to boast or impress, but to illustrate the point that I have been very fortunate and blessed in my life to see a lot of places, do a lot of things and meet many extraordinary people that the average Ivan or Mykola isn’t typically able to do. I suppose I could ascribe this to good luck or karma, but to be frank, most of this came about because I have at key moments in my life made choices that “pushed the envelope” and led me down paths that most people would be reluctant to pursue.
Among these, the most consequential choice was to become actively involved in the Ukrainian community. It started innocently enough when I was in University and joined the Ukrainian Students Club (SUSK). Prior to that, my Ukrainian “activism” consisted of six grades of “Ridna Shkola” (Saturday Ukrainian school) and dancing in a Ukrainian folk group in a remote mining town in northern Quebec. I soon found myself on the executive of that Ukrainian students’ club where I gained some valuable organizational skills and experience. Shortly thereafter, I met my wife Daria who pressed me into joining the branch of the Ukrainian National Youth Federation (UNYF) that she belonged to. Before I knew it, I was elected President of the Branch, and shortly thereafter I found myself National President of the UNYF of Canada.
This started me off on a life of significant involvement in Ukrainian organizational life in Canada, and leadership roles in not only the UNYF, but the Ukrainian National Federation (UNF), the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), the Canada Ukraine Foundation (CUF), the Ukrainian Credit Union (UCU), the New Pathway Ukrainian newspaper, the Ukrainian Journalists of North America, and the Canada Ukraine Chamber of Commerce amongst others. As the head, director or member of the executive of these organizations, I was able to meet a lot of interesting and well-known people, including politicians, entertainers, artists, activists and dissidents. This was magnified by the opportunity I jumped on after the Soviet Union broke up, of living and working in Ukraine, first as a businessman and then as head of a Canadian foreign aid program that worked at developing the credit union system in this fledgling new country.
In the city of Oshawa where I now live, I have gotten to know all the local politicians at the municipal, provincial and federal level. As the President of the local UCC branch I would regularly brief Mayor John Henry, MP Colin Carrie and MPP Jennifer French on developments in Ukraine and in the local Ukrainian community. On the provincial level, I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with the various Premiers over the years, including Premier William Davis, Premier Ernie Eaves, Premier Bob Rae and Premier Kathleen Wynn. On the federal level, I have met and talked with several Prime Ministers including Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper. I have been fortunate to have made the acquaintance of many prominent Ukrainian Canadian politicians such as Michael Starr, Paul Yuzyk, Raynell Andreychuk, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Yvan Baker and James Bezan.
The list grows as I shift focus to Ukraine itself. I have known many of the Ukrainian ambassadors to Canada including Lev Lukyanenko, Ihor Ostash, Vadym Prystaiko and Andriy Shevchenko. Similarly, I have had dealings with many of Canada’s ambassadors to Ukraine including Nestor Gayowsky, Francois Mathys, Aby Dann, Derek Fraser and Roman Waschuk. I have met with several Presidents of Ukraine including President Krawchuk as well as President Poroshenko. I have met and talked with other prominent Ukrainian politicians such as Yulia Tymoshenko, Nadia Savchenko, Yuri Lutsenko, Victor Pynzenyk and Mikheil Saakashvili.
When I lived in Ukraine, I was fortunate enough to meet with many prominent Ukrainians including dissident and author Valentyn Moroz, actor Bohdan Stupka and singer Nina Matvienko. In various capacities in Canada I have met visiting Ukrainian entertainers including the Madheads, Dakha Brakha, Ruslana and Ot Vinta amongst others. I have dined in President Krawchuk’s hunting lodge in the forests outside Kyiv and gotten a personal tour by Bohdan Stupka of the famous Dovzhenko film studios. I particularly remember spending a fascinating couple of hours talking with dissident Lev Lukyanenko in an airport waiting lounge while waiting for a plane in Uzhorod, as well as sharing some homemade “samohonka” in a historic building in the heart of Lviv with Valentyn Moroz.
In Canada I have had the pleasure of enjoying the company of, amongst others, Chrystia Freeland, Taras Kuzio, Luba Goy, Vasyl Popadiuk, Jurij Klufas, Steve Andrusiak, Myrna Kostash, and many Ukrainian musicians and bands including Ron Cahute, Vasyl Popadiuk, Brian Cherwick, Zirka and Dunai. South of the border in neighbouring America, I have had the pleasure of knowing many prominent Ukrainian activists such Myron Kuropas, Askold Lozynskyj, Roma Hadzewycz, Andriy Dobriansky and Myroslava Gongadze.
I would like to reiterate that all this name dropping is not intended as a boast, but to drive home the point that when you get involved in the community, your life becomes enriched with people and experiences to an extent that you would not have thought possible. If you have the chance, get involved! Do it! You will not regret it.