Way out here beyond the Rockies, within our Ukrainian hromada, the millenials, Gen Xs and Zs have found time between researching the best cafes for lattes and macchiatos and we retired Boomers have taken breaks from working on our golf scores to keep the Ukrainian spirit alive in Canada and to maintain support for Ukraine in its struggle against a barbaric enemy.
In this piece, in very loose chronological order, I will present an overview of hromada-related activities in which I and my close associates have been active participants so far this year. As such, this article will only be skimming the surface, as there are far more activities in the Vancouver area Ukrainian community than one person, or even a small group, could handle. My intent is to show the readers that while the hromada in the Greater Vancouver region is smaller than in, say, Toronto or Edmonton, we are definitely punching above our weight class here.
Ukrainian Canadian Social Services – Vancouver (UCSS-V)
In February and March of 2023, Ukrainian Canadian Social Services – Vancouver, in collaboration with Rotary World Help (RWH) and Hero Society Canada, loaded two more shipping containers of medical equipment and supplies (beds with mattresses, OR tables, diagnostic machines, wheelchairs, crutches, splints, bandages, linens, stretchers, …), bringing the total number of containers to over 20 since UCSS-V started this program in 2016. We have scheduled two more containers in June, 2023 and are on track to meet or exceed 2022’s total of 7 container loadings. At time of writing, the June 3 container has now been loaded and is on its way to Ukraine carrying among other badly needed supplies, a crib for newborns, 4 dialysis machines and 5 ultrasound machines.
UCSS-V doesn’t just ship containers carrying its own goods: in April, the District of North Vancouver Fire Fighters Union presented UCSS-V with a cheque for $32,000, which it had raised through its own fund-raising activities, to cover UCSS-V’s cost to ship 2 containers filled with medical supplies and humanitarian aid on behalf of Defend Ukraine and which are destined for Kyiv, Kharkiv and Poltava.
On May 5th, RWH held its Annual General Meeting and asked UCSS-V to give a presentation to the assembled delegates: Orest Romanish and Ivanka Maik represented UCSS-V. Ivanka gave a short tribute to two Rotarians who had passed away in 2022: Ralph Towsley and Steve Gable, both of whom were quite involved with UCSS-V’s and RWH’s container loading and shipping activities. Ralph Towsley was especially noteworthy as he and two other Rotarians, Bill Richwa and a Ukrainian Canadian, Ted Segodnia, organized the loading and shipping of a medical relief container in 1993, fittingly, for Ukraine. From that initial shipment, RWH was born and, as of December 31/22, RWH has shipped 446 containers to 61 countries with the humanitarian aid which they’ve sent very conservatively estimated at $150 million.
Orest gave a presentation about UCSS-V to the assembled delegates, highlighting the benefits that the medical supplies and equipment provided, and demonstrating that the goods had indeed arrived where they were supposed to through photographs of UCSS-V/RWH medical equipment in use in Operating Rooms, in wards and in recovery rooms as well as through “our own” first person accounts and Canadian news film crew documentation of the supplies’ safe arrival at their assigned destinations.
UCSS-V has partnered with a University of Victoria outreach, non-profit organization called The Victoria Hand Project (VHP). It is headed by a professor of the Biomedical Engineering Department and uses computer imaging and 3-D printing to manufacture, in less than a day, forearms and hands for amputees. VHP conducted a highly successful demonstration project in Vinnytsia earlier in the year – the fingers and hands are so dexterous that the recipients, after just a few hours of training, were able to pick up utensils and even button a shirt. VHP plans to return to Ukraine after the university’s spring semester finishes to set up sites in Kyiv and Donetsk. For the demonstration, UCSS-V paid for the generators and transport of equipment. The permanent sites are estimated to cost up to $70,000 per location and the intent is to manufacture and distribute the hands through a state-owned enterprise, all at no cost to the recipients.
As mentioned previously by its President, Roman Sawycky, UCSS-V depends 100% on tax-deductible donations from caring people in order to provide these life-giving and life-enhancing services to the victims of this unjustified and barbaric aggression.
United for Ukraine
In early February, the Vancouver-based charity, Maple Hope, organized a “United for Ukraine” gala banquet at the exclusive Vancouver Club. Participants were treated to interpretive dances and songs by local artists followed by a very lively auction. The recently elected Mayor of Vancouver, Ken Sim, provided the keynote address. Net proceeds of the gala exceeded $50,000 and will be used to fund humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
February 24th will be written in Ukrainian history books both as a day of infamy and a day when Ukrainians throughout the country finally began to coalesce into one nation, since it was on that day in 2022 that the brutal, aggressor nation, russia, sent hundreds of thousands of troops and artillery across the border once and for all to subjugate, nay, to eliminate, the Ukrainian nation and its culture and spirit. As we know, Ukrainians did not roll over and give up, but have fought back with ferocious determination.
On February 24, 2023, most major towns and cities in the free world held rallies to show support for the brave Ukrainians fighting for freedom from tyranny, not just for themselves, but for all of the civilized world too. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Vancouver Branch organized a candlelight vigil on the evening of February 24 at the Vancouver Library, which was followed by a larger rally on the 26th at the Jack Poole Plaza by the waterfront and Canada Place. Both attracted several thousand participants, not just from the Ukrainian community, but from other nationalities who support freedom: Lithuanian, Estonian, Latvian, Polish, Tibetan, Chinese Hong Kong and Iranian, to name a few.
Meeting with Minister
In mid March, under the sponsorship of Lubomyr Huculak, Honorary Consul of Ukraine to British Columbia, representatives from a number of Ukrainian organizations met with the BC Minister of Municipal Affairs, Anne Kang. The hromada’s primary issue presented to Minister Kang was the critical state of housing for displaced Ukrainians: both availability and affordability. Several possible solutions were described for Minister Kang who promised to review them with her cabinet colleagues, as they involved cross-portfolio responsibilities and actions. Minister Kang promised to return to meet with the group in a few months to present the government’s longer term proposals and to report on what had been accomplished to date.
On March 29th, at the Vancouver International Film Festival Theatre in downtown Vancouver, the Ukrainian Canadian Advocacy Group sponsored the Canadian premiere of a Ukrainian film, Vidanna, based on the novel, Felix Austria, by the Ukrainian author, Sofia Andrukhovych. The film was directed by Khrystyna Syvolap, who attended the premiere and addressed the sold-out crowd.
What should have been a joyous occasion was tempered by news delivered by Ms. Syvolap that her colleague, the editing director on the film, Viktor Onysko, had recently been killed while serving in the military defending his homeland from the invading moskali. Ms Syvolap spent a few minutes describing her friend’s many accomplishments and talents in the nascent, contemporary Ukrainian film industry. Unfortunately, he has joined the ranks of so many other Ukrainians who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend Ukraine from this evil that has needlessly descended upon it. Vichna yomu pamyat.
As for the film, everyone with whom your correspondent spoke thought that the acting, directing and set designs were extremely well executed and all really liked the story. Your correspondent completely agrees that the film was a top-notch production, equal to anything one sees from Hollywood or on Netflix; however, he wasn’t too keen on the storyline at first as, to him, it seemed to have no particular point to it. However, after reflecting on the film a bit, he began to formulate the hypothesis that the narrative was an allegorical portrayal of the centuries’ long co-existence and animosity between Ukraine and russia and that then changed his feelings about the story. Whether that is how the author and director had in mind for the story, does it matter? Interpretation is in the eyes of the beholder, no?
The Ukrainian Canadian Advocacy Group was founded by Olha Prodan and its raison d’etre is to aid children who have lost one or both parents to the Ukrainian russian war. The rehabilitation program was created with the immediate goals of providing psychological stabilization and physical recovery for these children and is held in a unique nature reserve in the Carpathian Mountains. There, the spacious forests, clean mountain rivers, and fresh air play a special role in rehabilitating children and fostering their well-being. UCAG’s goal for 2023 is to raise sufficient funds to assist 400 children. Readers who wish to learn more about UCAG can review their website: ucadvocacygroup.org.
Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC)
On Sunday, April 2, UCC Vancouver held its annual general meeting. Outgoing Vancouver Branch President, Iryna Shyroka, recapped UCC’s activities in the past year, which included holding a number of rallies to protest russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a well-organized Holodomor commemoration. Pani Iryna could not continue as Branch President as she had recently been elected President of UCC British Columbia: congratulations, Pani Iryno! Past president (and current Executive Member of UCC National), Natalia Jatskewich, ably conducted the AGM through several rounds of voting (something which hadn’t been seen in years) and, in the end, the delegates elected Pani Elvira Mruchkovska as President of the UCC Vancouver Branch.
Pani Elvira was initially a bit of an “unknown entity” to a few delegates; however, she brings to her role a most distinguished portfolio of education and experience: a) achieving a Bachelor’s degree in Social Policy and Social Work and a Master’s degree in Education Pedagogy from Kyiv Mohyla and Chernivtsi universities respectively plus completing several diplomas and courses at respected Canadian, Ukrainian and American institutions; b) successfully implementing a number of anti-human trafficking and anti-child trafficking projects in Ukraine and Turkmenistan and c) receiving numerous awards from Ukrainian government ministries for her achievements in social policy development and anti-trafficking programs. Pani Elvira is assisted by a highly talented and motivated Executive group, consisting of both experienced UCC Executive members and a number who are new to the UCC Executive.
When asked about her goals for UCC Vancouver, Pani Elvira says that she hopes to continue developing a strong Ukrainian community in Vancouver encompassing all generations of Ukrainian migration waves; to continue the advocacy campaign for establishing a Holodomor statue in Vancouver; to support vulnerable Ukrainian newcomers such as mothers with children; to maintain current relationships and to establish new ones between UCC Vancouver and Canadian authorities and donors for the continued support for Ukraine and to unite Ukrainian Canadian leaders’ efforts across greater Vancouver in supporting Ukraine in its fight against the terrorist state, russia.
All very worthy goals and we wish UCC Vancouver much success in achieving them!
BC Ukrainian Cultural Festival
On May 6th, the BC Ukrainian Cultural Festival Society opened its doors to the 26th showcase of Ukrainian culture which was held at the Clarke Theatre in Mission, BC, approximately 1 hour east of Vancouver. COVID disrupted the Festival for a couple of years but things were in full swing this time around with all allocatable space in the foyer spoken for weeks in advance, by vendors of vyshytya (embroidery), art, Ukrainian-themed t-shirts, crafts, frozen varenyky, pastries, kobassa, and the list goes on. Music ensembles entertained guests in the theatre’s lobby and in the cafeteria, where you could enjoy amazing varenyky, holubtsi , kapusta and kobassa prepared by a local catering company. The City of Mission declared May 6th as “Ukrainian Cultural Festival Day”.
The highlight of the Festival is the dance competition with dance ensembles coming together from around BC: Kelowna, Vancouver, Surrey, Kamloops, Victoria, Nanaimo, Prince George and, this year, Barvinok from Seattle, Washington. All were competing in various age categories from “under 6” to “22 and up”. Dances represented regions of Ukraine from Volyn and Bukovyna in the west to Polissia and Poltava in the eastern centre. Perhaps it is unique to western Canada, or maybe your correspondent has been living under a rock for a few decades (i.e., since his dancing days with Toronto’s Kalyna ensemble), but the idea of a Festival including a competition and an adjudicator is new to him. The adjudicator at this year’s Festival is part of the teaching “faculty” of Shumka in Edmonton, so, obviously, eminently qualified for this task. She very clearly, and in age-appropriate language, individually addressed the groups, from youngest to oldest, both advising them and demonstrating for them what to work on to improve their performances: smiles, hand placement, footwork, spins, spotting, etc. From conversations that your correspondent overheard in the lobby, the dancers take these competitions and scores very seriously. This year’s overall winning ensemble was Kvitka, from Surrey.
As an attendant at the Festival, your correspondent can assure readers that the place was hopping: several booths had to pack up and go home a little early because they had sold out of their goods. A notable feature of the Society is that it gives back to the community: 20% of Admission Fees are donated to UCC to fund humanitarian aid work and the Society awards several dance scholarships with one of them to help pay for one student’s attendance at a Shumka dance camp – the mind boggles at what one could learn at a Shumka dance camp!!
The BC Ukrainian hromada was represented at the Coronation of King Charles III by our Honorary Ukrainian Consul, Lubomyr (Mir) Huculak, who received an invitation to attend and witness the ceremony in Westminster Abbey. While in London, Consul Huculak paid visits to the Ukrainian Embassy and the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.
Of particular note is that while Pan Mir was walking on The Mall, the King’s motorcade was driving past, then stopped and King Charles got out of his car and shook hands with a number of onlookers, including Pan Mir. It all happened so quickly that no one could snap a photo, which is unfortunate because it sure would have looked really good on Pan Mir’s mantlepiece.
Culture and Rock Concerts
Rock: In the first half of 2023, Vancouver (and area) has hosted many top Ukrainian music artists, from the chart-topping Boombox and Okean Elzy bands to the very unique performance by Dakha Brakha and Eurovision winner, Jamala. The musical styles are varied and the shows are invariably sold out, with Okean Elzy being an interesting case where they performed in Seattle, Washington, some 3 – 4 hours drive from Vancouver. Your correspondent was there and noted a very large Vancouver contingent present, and not just your usual head-banging, hard rock/punk rock demographic, but quite a number of “ Boomers” in the group as well (I refer the reader back to the very first sentence in this article).
Culture: The play, First Metis Man of Odesa has been touring Canada and, from May 25 to June 4, it was Vancouver’s turn to host the production. It is described as, “A true story about love in the face of a pandemic and an invasion” and features award-winning theatre artists and real-life married couple Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova, who are Metis and transplanted Ukrainian respectively. The production is directed by 2nd generation Ukrainian Canadian, Lianna Makuch. Reviews have been uniformly very positive and the shows in Vancouver were selling out. Your correspondent attended a show with a couple of friends and all of us were quite taken with the production. The actors and story keep you thoroughly engaged; they expertly play on primary human emotions and elicit laughter, tears and anger. If the production comes to your city, or even somewhere near to you, do yourself a favour and go see it!
In early June, Edmonton’s Ukrainian Dnipro Choir performed its Contra Spem Spero (Against All Hope, I Hope) concert to a sell-out audience in the Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in New Westminster. The Latin title of the show is taken from a poem by Lesya Ukrainka, and the theme of the performance was to draw parallels between the experiences of Lesya Ukrainka, some 120 years ago, and what Ukraine is going through today. The voices were perfect; the narration tied the songs to the theme and one song especially, Ukraino/My Beloved Ukraine, brought some audience members to tears and then everyone to a very much deserved standing ovation. Proceeds from the show are designated towards humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
Vyshyvanka Day (Vancouver): Worldwide, May 18, 2023 was Ukrainian Vyshyvanka Day, set aside to celebrate Ukrainian culture through the display of the intricate and beautiful embroidery of our shirts, blouses and dresses. This year, like last year, Vyshyvanka Day had a special significance in that it also showed the world our defiance in the face of russia’s current brutal attempt to obliterate our rich and historic culture.
In Vancouver, the local branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress organized a rally on May 20th on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Several thousand people showed up, and, as it was with earlier demonstrations, we were again joined by representatives of a number of other sympathetic nations, most notably, Iranians, with whom we have developed a special kinship because of the unholy alliance between the cruel, barbaric and despotic leaders in Moscow and Tehran.
The program included a march through the downtown streets of Vancouver and a short program with greetings of support for our cause from all levels of government and the Opposition. The crowd was entertained by performances by local singers and choirs. In its planning for this event, UCC also wanted to draw attention to the plight of the Crimean Tatars who, since the russian takeover of Crimea in 2014, have been severely persecuted and many have been deported from their homeland.
Vyshyvanka Day (Surrey/Langley): A large number of the newest arrivals from Ukraine have settled in the more affordable suburbs east of Vancouver and, because many of them have no cars yet, and public transit from those regions to downtown Vancouver is long, tedious and convoluted, the parish council of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Church in Surrey organized a Vyshyvanka Day get-together on Sunday May 21st at a park in Langley, BC, just east of Vancouver. The food was “potluck”; people mingled; kids played and ran around and attendees were led in song by an impromptu musical duo which included, on guitar, Fr. Andriy Werbowy, the parish priest.
Your correspondent attended this event and was gratified to see the large number of people who showed up, most, as mentioned earlier, having arrived in Canada just a short time ago, some even within the last couple of weeks. It gave them a chance to meet other recent “arrivees” and to see that there is a local community of familiar language, heritage and interests in which they can immerse themselves and contribute to a common cause.
Just recounting these events, most of which your correspondent attended in person, has worn him out, and the first half of 2023 isn’t even finished yet. The last half of 2023 should be just as lively and he’ll definitely need the summer to recover, except, wait, there’s the Vegreville Pysanka Festival in July; more Ukrainian festivals throughout the summer in western Canada, not to mention Soyuzivka in NY State, the Ukrainian International Festival in Bellevue WA in early September, then the Ukrainian Bloor Street Festival in Toronto in mid September. It’s a good thing that he loves varenyky, kobassa and Ukrainske pyvo!
Slava Ukraini Heroyam Slava