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Ukrainian Festival set to roll once again

Sep 8, 2022 | The View From Here - Walter Kish, Opinion, Featured

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In the years BC (Before Covid) one of my personal highlights of every year was the annual Bloor West Village Ukrainian Festival held every middle of September in the heart of Toronto’s Ukrainian village. This festival had been going on since 1995, before Covid forced it to go into hibernation for a couple of years.

Every year some half a million people, Ukrainians and wannabe Ukrainians would descend on this stretch of Bloor Street West between Runnymede and Jane Streets to indulge in three days of Ukrainian food, music, displays, shopping for Ukrainian artifacts, exquisite entertainment and partying like only Ukrainians know how to do. For three days, this stretch of Bloor Street gets closed down to vehicular traffic creating a huge venue for the festivities.

I was thrilled to hear that after a couple of year’s absence, the festival is returning in all its splendor and glory from September 16 though the 18th in its usual venue in Toronto West. Nothing else the Ukrainian community does here inspires and attracts more people than this festival. Not only does it showcase the immense talents of our community, but it also demonstrates its strength, resiliency and organizational capabilities. Particularly now, while Ukraine is locked in a deadly struggle with its historical Russian foe, it plays a vital role in lifting our spirits, reinforcing our pride and love of our culture and traditions, and reminding us of what we are all fighting for.

Ukrainians are a spirited people with a rich and varied culture, and you can see all of it on display at the festival. There are three different stages along the stretch of Bloor Street, and you are treated to continuous entertainment all evening on Friday and from noon on, on Saturday and Sunday. There is an impressive array of entertainers from all over Canada, the U.S. and Ukraine, covering every genre of Ukrainian music, song and dance.

If you love Ukrainian food, you will not be left hungry while at the festival, and you would be well advised to suspend any diets you may be on for the duration of the festival. If you want to add to your collection of embroidered Ukrainian shirts or other Ukrainian artifacts, you will be overwhelmed with what the various vendors have to offer. If you want to show off your dancing skills, there are live bands playing at the large beer tent, and hopefully the festival organizers will be able to source real Ukrainian beer which has been in short supply since the war started. If you like parades there is a large one that will wind its way along Bloor Street on Saturday, starting in High Park at 11 am and winding up at the main festival stage at Jane St. for the official opening. Above all, the festival presents a golden opportunity for you to reconnect with old friends whom you may not have seen in years because of COVID restrictions.

I have my own list of things that I will be looking forward to when I visit the festival. I can already taste that “charka” of ZIrkova vodka, crafted from Ukrainian grain and distilled expertly in the Cherkasy region of central Ukraine. I am also hoping to once again sip on a cold bottle of Lvivske beer, though that may be problematic, as the LCBO has not been able to stock it here in Ontario for quite a while. Fortunately, a number of local craft brewers have partnered in recent months with breweries in Ukraine to produce beer according to Ukrainian recipes, and I am hoping we will see a good selection of these at the festival.

There will of course be mountains of varenyky, cabbage rolls, meat sticks and other Ukrainian culinary delights that will keep you well fueled while you partake of all the delights the festival has to offer.

Perhaps the greatest attraction for me though, is the incomparable entertainment on offer during the festival three days’ duration. I am greatly looking forward to once again hear the foot-stomping and heart-pumping music of Zirka, my favourite Ukrainian dance band. They will be joined by many of their fellow bands including Zubrivka, Barvy, Hloptsi z Mista, Korynia, Nove Pokolynia and many others. The number of Ukrainian dance groups, choirs, singers, musicians and performer of all kinds boggles the mind in both number and variety.

The real treat of course will be all the people I will run across while at the festival. For the past few years there have been no zabavas, malankas, concerts, banquets and other mass fun Ukrainian events of any consequence, so this should be a golden opportunity to let my hair down (what little of it is left!) and enjoy myself with old friends and acquaintances. I hope to see you all there.

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