Sunday, August 18, 2013


Thought I'd share with you my comments to the folks attending the lovely Osvita Foundation Banquet in my honour  (am still amazed at that!).
on June 20, 2013 at the CanadInns Regent.

Dear Friends,

This is such an unexpected, overwhelming honour.  My deepest thanks to the Board of the Osvita Foundation – Vicky Adams, Marusia Haluk, Ken Romaniuk, for the nomination.  And apologies for messing up your schedule.  When Vicky called, she said the date was June 6.  I replied that I was going to be in Australia.  Deep silence on the other end.  They had to scramble to find another date and location.   Also, my thanks to Susan Zuk and Natalia Sovinska of MPUE.

This morning when I logged on – it said -- on the calendar:  you have no events scheduled today Thu Jun 20, 2013   (I guess I was getting ready for Australia)

I’m not sure that I should be up here. Over the years, I have contributed to Ukrainian education and information – but it’s for ulterior motives – selfish ones.  The research and the writing has been for me.  If I could share it, that’s a benefit, but primarily I do this for myself.  Ever since I can remember, I have wondered about why we Ukrainians do what we do.  Why this custom, why this food, why this ritual on this holy day, what does this song mean?  The reply from my parents was – bo tak, bo tak maye buty, bo tak vse robyly --- because, because that is how it is supposed to be, because it has always been this way.  Bo tak. 

Not good enough, especially for the unusual, sometimes strange customs.  As soon as I was able, and as soon as I had access to reference material, I began to find out “why.”
And have been doing so for decades now.  The more you find out, the more there is to learn.  I wrote for myself.  That first article on Ukrainian Christmas was to be for me and for a church bulletin, then Peter Crossley, editor of The New Leisure Magazine of the Wpg Free Press saw it, and the next thing I knew, it was on the front page of the magazine on Sviat Vechir in 1973.  The next year, he phoned in November that he needs another article.  This went on for six years.  The Ukrainian Weekly picked it up, and the next thing I knew, I was a columnist – and still am.  The translating came about the same way.  The sources just in Ukrainian needed to be translated into English and, again, this benefitted the mainstream.

I don’t seek projects out, usually.  People find me.  If I can, and know the subject, I’m happy to help.  I enjoy the search and the adventure.  The same thing happened when I started leading the tours to Ukraine – the late Irena Zadravec asked me to take a group, and I’ve been doing it for years now.  And the same with my trip to Australia – out of the blue I got an email inviting me.   What a problem, eh?  They found me somehow.

When my husband and I came to Winnipeg, we did not know a soul here.  And yet I was not worried at all, because I knew there were Ukrainians here. When we came to Winnipeg on our first exploratory trip, I had one name, Zoriana Hrycenko, whom I had met years before at Soyuzivka in New York State.  Through a roundabout way, we found her and her family, and they became like family.  Pani Anna Hrycenko and her daughters Zoriana, Vera, and Oksana, and Oksana’s husband Dr. Jaroslav Rozumnyj welcomed us – total strangers - into their home, drove us around and fed us.  And pani Hrycenko even “kidnapped” us from our hotel – “Mama won’t let you stay in a hotel – I’m coming to pick you up” – this was at about 2 A.M.  She even packed us box lunches for our trip back to South Dakota.  We also met Josie and Boxie Klymkiw, who invited us – again, strangers -- to their Boxing Day open house.  I remember meeting a teen-age Taras Babick there.  

Over the years, Winnipeg became our home, and we’ve made many close friends, to whom I am so very very grateful.  

My husband Myroslaw and I are so proud of our sons Boyan, Dobryan, and Ruslan, who have grown up into accomplished young professionals who continue to be proud and active members of the Ukrainian community. They attended the Ralph Brown program – Boyan from the very first class with Marusia Haluk.  Boyan and Ruslan are far away, but Dobryan just made it back from a conference in Washington!

I was fortunate to become part of the University of Manitoba family when Mr. John or Serhiy Muchin hired me for Special Collections.  It was so sad to hear of his passing on Sunday.  I had been thinking of him during the last weeks, and talked about him during my stay in Sydney and Melbourne.  I learned so much on so many topics from him.  He survived the Holodomor and World War II and was a font of information and memories.  He will still be at the University, because he donated his catalogue of all Ukrainian publications in Canada from 1906-1991 to the Archives, and I am inputting it into a database which will be accessible to all.  Vichna Yomu Pam’iat’.

One thing that was a constant during my ten years in Special Collections, in the Slavic Collection, was the number of adult students who were taking Ukrainian and Ukrainian subjects.  Their comments were along the line – “I’m angry at my parents for not teaching me the language.  I knew it while Baba was still alive, but after she died, well, they didn’t keep it up.  So now I’m learning it myself.”  I lost count of the number of times I heard that.  Many of these students are what I call “born-again Ukrainians.”   They missed out on their language and culture before, and are now catching up.  The children in the Bilingual Program have the advantage that the others did not.  

Interest and pride in ones heritage and culture cannot be forced – it is learned, and is absorbed by osmosis.  People who are comfortable in and proud of their heritage pass it on to their children just by living their lives.  Kids who are force-fed all this Ukrainian stuff get turned off, often later to regret it. 

My parents lived through very tough times.  Living first under Polish rule in Western Ukraine, then during the war, the DP camps, then immigration to the U.S. really messed up their lives.  They had no choices – all was a Hobson’s choice.  Somehow they survived and remained true to their Ukrainian nation and identity, and passed that on to my sister and me.  Mama always sang, Tato always had books and newspapers around, Mama taught me to read in Ukrainian when I was about 4 ½ -- she worked, and did not always have time to finish all the kazky – fairy tales I wanted to hear. Through my early years I never felt self-conscious or ashamed of being Ukrainian. 

What a contrast to the treatment the first pioneers got here, and how it continued until recent times.  Vicky had told me how she was punished by the teacher for speaking Ukrainian during recess (in the 1950s) – and was told to “talk white.”  How this has changed, now with the Bilingual program in the schools.

When I learned English at the age of four on the Jersey City, NJ streets, one day I came home and said to Mama, “Mamo, I want milk.”  My Mama later told me that she froze inside.  She did not survive the war and all the hardships to have her child speak to her in English!  She told me, “Dytyntsiu [very endearing term for “child”, in our home we speak only Ukrainian.”  And that’s what we did.  My sister Nusia and I are so grateful that our parents raised us in a Ukrainian home.  And our children are, too.

There was a connection to the program Down Under last week.  The wonderful band Tut i Tam (from Saskatoon    ) was a main feature at the 65th Anniv. of Ukrainian settlement in Australia.  The name Tut i Tam is an in joke.  I explained this to the folks down there.  The first reader for the youngest children in the Bilingual program is titled “Tut i Tam”.  Every Ukrainian kid in Canada knows the book, and Sirko, and all that.  The band is named for the book.  Sirko didn’t travel to Australia with the band, but was there in spirit.

I am proud that my work contributes to Ukrainian Canadian life and identity.  The more we learn about our heritage, the better.  There are a few projects I’m working on now, including the Rusalka Ensemble’s 50th anniversary book – still accepting memoirs from present members, Alumni, and anyone involved with Rusalka.  My other project – and here I’m using the old “if I tell people about it, I’ll have to do it” approach – is compiling my many Ukrainian Christmas articles into a book – for launch next fall.  If there are any philanthropists here tonight, please see me later!

Again, my humble thanks for this honour.

1 comment:

Orysia said...

A big diakuyu/thank you to my son Dobryan who arrived just in time from his conference in Washington, D.C., and sang for me at the banquet!