Over 2,500 Gathered at the Ukrainian America Sport Center – Tryzub to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence
Sun., Aug. 28, Horsham, PA - The Ukrainian and American flags danced in the brilliant sunshine and mild breezes of another delightful summer afternoon at the Ukrainian American Sport Center-Tryzub. The intense, varied and complex thoughts, prayers and emotions of the gathering crowd were palpable.
Ukrainians, haling, directly or through ancestry, from nearly all regions of Ukraine, demonstrated solidarity with their homeland and her people through their spirited attendance, clothing and accessories: Beautiful embroideries and folk costumes (including also those of our Crimean Tatar Ukrainians), flags, tryzubs, Ukrainian sports and thematic jerseys and our beautiful language affirmed the presence of Ukraine’s immortal and immutable spirit in the festival glade, well before the concert had even started.
They came, of course, to celebrate Ukraine’s independence and the liberating force of the Maidan freedom movement, Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity. But they also came to pray, to find communal solace and to mourn and to honor the sacrifices of their brothers and sisters for the sake of our beloved ancestral homeland’s freedom.
Representatives of other nations, once also captives or vassals of the Soviet Russian Empire, were present; their national colors and symbols were lovely accent pieces to the Ukrainian imagery.
Many other non-Ukrainians attended and came to know and to experience the brilliant nature, culture and history of a people that, with the will, self-sacrifice and moral courage of free men and women, dares to defy Putin and his formidable arsenal of soldiers, arms, tanks, artillery, naval and air forces, advanced resources for foreign intrigue, and institutionalized weapons and mechanisms of mass destruction and deception.
Ukrainian Nationals’, Tryzub’s soccer program, President, Danylo Nysch, and Anatolij Murha and Julia Stupen, representatives of chief festival sponsor, the Ukrainian Selfreliance Federal Credit Union of Philadelphia, greeted the audience and introduced this writer as the concert’s master of ceremonies. Jonathan Peri, the newly installed, dynamic President of Manor College, America’s only Ukrainian heritage institution of higher learning, which had associated itself with this year’s festival as a Friend and Supporter, also greeted the festival-goers and offered brief remarks.
Ukrainian American Veterans Posts 1 (Philadelphia) and 42 (Lehigh Valley), dedicated to the memories of Anthony Bilyi, a young Ukrainian American who sacrificed his life defending Pearl Harbor, and Wolodymyr Palahniuk (“Jack Palance”), respectively, presented the colors. The crowd erupted into thunderous applause as the flag of Crimea and its indigenous Ukrainian Tatar population entered the stage.
The guest au cappella vocal group, Baltimore-Washington’s Spiv Zhyttya (“Living in Song”), and guest soloist, Philadelphia’s own Julia Stupen, delivered masterful renditions of the US and Ukrainian National Anthems, respectively.
Rev. Volodymyr Kostyuk, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church, in Jenkintown, PA; Pastor Viktor Shchypailo of the First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church; and Rev. Protopresbyter Taras Naumenko, pastor of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Philadelphia, offered prayers and benediction. A young Ukrainian American Crimean Tatar, Akhtem Esatov dressed in Tatar folk garb, recited a moving, prayerful poem by Bekir Sitki Chobanzade entitled “My Tatarness”.
The MC called all to a moment of silence in memory of those who have sacrificed and are sacrificing their lives and well-being in defense of freedom and human rights and dignities. Opening ceremonies closed with Spiv Zhyttya’s soulful rendition of “Prayer for Ukraine” and the playing of the Ukrainian Bandurist chorus’ stirring version of America the Beautiful (Ihor Kusznir, soloist). The tears could no longer be choked back.
Then, a tremendous caste of performers unleashed the “fireworks” of freedom and independence, a robust, colorful, vibrant and briskly paced cascade of Ukrainian music, song and dance that roused the audience time and time again.
As is the tradition at Tryzub, the artists themselves, spearheaded by Voloshky and Iskra Ukrainian Dance Ensembles’ artistic directors, Taras Lewyckyj and Andrij Cybyk, designed and created an integrated collaborative concert program. The artistic unity underscored the theme: “United Ukraine; United with Us”.
Over and over again, the Volsohky and Iskra dancers, at times accompanied by Innesa Tymochko Dekajlo’s vibrant violin and at other times accompanied by the voices of Spiv Zhyttia, having learned each other’s choreographies, took the stage and danced together, as one ensemble. Each number was a dynamic masterpiece that filled the stage with the majesty of Ukrainian performing artistry and generated a seemingly endless stream of encores and audience accolades.
In the midst of the celebration, the artists sprung an inspiring surprise. A Ukrainian-American Crimean Tatar music, song and dance ensemble named “Efsane” (Tatar Legend) had been invited to perform. Yunus Faizov, Uryane Faizova, Uriye Kermenchykli (famous Ukrainian Tatar singer); Dinara Faizova (ensemble choreographer); and Akhtem Esatov gave a memorable, ground-breaking performance that completed the mosaic of Ukrainian artistic and national unity.
The MC also extended greetings from Mrs. Ayla Bakkalli, Executive Member of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, Representative of the Mejilis at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and Adviser to the UN Mission of Ukraine on such matter. He conveyed her condemnation of Imperial Russia’s unlawful imperial conquest and occupation of Crimea and its brazen, ghastly human rights violations against Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians.
Voice of America correspondent Oleksandr Yanevskyy, who filmed and reported upon this year’s festival, commented on his Facebook Page: “This was an extraordinary festival. It was difficult to look into the eyes of the Crimean Tatars, inasmuch as it is difficult to covey in words the sorrow and longing they feel for their homeland, now stolen from them for a second time.” (“Це був надзвичайний фестиваль! Важко було дивитися в очі кримським татарам, оскільки неможливо передати словами ту тугу, яку вони відчувають за вкраденою вдруге у них Батьківщиною...”)
Another stirring moment occurred when ISKRA Ukrainian Dance Ensemble performed a dancing and musical tribute to pop singer – freedom fighter, Volodymyr Ivasiuk. The MC explained to the non-Ukrainian audience the unique role of Ukrainian artists, dancers, singers and musicians as dissidents and freedom fighters. The Vox Ethnika orchestra-ensemble, which had already once impressed the audience with a set of Ukrainian folk music, then accented this portion of the program with a medley of Ivasiuk’s brilliant works.
Tremendous performances by soloist Julia Stupen, Spiv Zhyttia and violinist virtuoso Innesa Tymochko Dekajlo completed the artistic beauty and diversity of the day.
Another surprise was a stellar performance by young rhythmic gymnast, Kristina Yakubets. Already recognized among the best young athletes of 2015, Kristina is not only part of the US Elite Squad for the year 2016, but is capping off a three year reign as the USA champion of the Junior Elite Team.
Throughout the day, the MC drew for the audience brief sketches of Ukraine, its geography and history, and its past and current struggles for freedom and self-determination. He emphasized that the Ukrainian people can, must and will fully attain and celebrate not only their independence, but also the freedom and dignity that promise to be the progeny of the Maidan revolution and movement. He encouraged everyone to take action to assist Ukraine and its people.
In tandem, Tryzub held a 50-50 raffle for the benefit of the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee’s humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine, raised awareness of the needs and encouraged all to visit UUARC’s table at the festival and to contribute generously.
Towards the end of the program, the MC called all of the performers to the stage for a final farewell and the singing of Mnohaja Lita. The Voloshky and Iskra dancers then broke out into a Hopak that was among the most vibrant and majestic that this writer has ever experienced. It was a salute and tribute to the selfless cooperation of the performing artists.
A vibrant Zabava-Dance at the outdoor dance pavilion followed to the tunes of Vox Ethnika. Throughout the day, festival-goers were able to visit vendor’s grove which was chock full of Ukrainian arts and crafts and, in many cases, the artists that created them. Face painting, caricature drawings and a myriad of amusements were available for “kids of all ages”. A lush menu of Ukrainian and BBQ foods, desserts and adult refreshments rounded out a very spirited, emotional and uplifting day.
Tryzub was honored that America’s only Ukrainian heritage institution of higher education (The Ukrainian Catholic Sisters of St. Basil the Great had founded Manor College in the year 1947, in Jenkintown, a northern suburb of Philadelphia) took part in the festival in so many worthwhile ways. In addition to promoting it through its media resources, Manor provided volunteers and manned two community tents. One offered very interesting and intriguing information about its historic, unique and accomplished position in the field of higher education; the other, sponsored by its Ukrainian Heritage Studies Center, offered displays and still and live master demonstrations and discourse of and about Ukrainian folk artistry, customs and traditions: embroidery, pysanky Easter Eggs, gerdany jewelry, wood-carving, weaving, folk costumes, etc.
UASC Tryzub had issued the following statement about the festival and its goals: “Recent events in Ukraine, the Euromaidan Protest and Revolution of Dignity as well as the twilight struggle against unlawful Russian aggression, have forged a unified Ukrainian national identity, both in Ukraine and in the Diaspora. America’s support of Ukraine’s commitment to a self-determined democratic future - to life, liberty, freedom and justice – has created permanent bonds of friendship between the two nations. This year’s festival, under the theme of United Ukraine – United with us was designed to honor and to strengthen these extraordinary relationships and developments.”
Photos: William Thomas Cain, The Intelligencer Newspaper