Saturday, 27 July 2013


Tourists give themselves away so quickly when they walk into new surroundings, rubbernecking, checking maps, and fumbling with the currency.  Fortunately, the tourist trade is often profitable business for the locals.  With experience, cajoling locals can entice eager tourists to open their wallets with the "gotta have it" trinket or treasure to remind them of their journey. We have all picked up little things that eventually, and laughingly, land in the bins of the "white elephant", or garage sale.  This Black Sea tour is loaded with such fare.  Little stacking matrioshka dolls, Black Sea beach towels, Black Sea Fleet hats and shirts, miniature plates and pots emblazoned with the location, small reminders of a good vacation by the sea.  And photos of this mysteriously beautiful sea! 

The Black Sea coast is a place of fabulous vistas, and absolutely inviting seascapes.  Warm and hospitable, the climate is perfect for a summers beach holiday.  We have seen lots of people swimming at the crowded beaches near town here in the summer, but that is not really what it is about.  In fact, the fresh water draining from the river deltas around populated port cities like Odessa continues to be polluted, and not recommended for drinking.  So most people use the opportunity to stroll endlessly, and visit arcades, cafes, bars and clubs here.  Nonetheless, at Chersonesus for example, while the archeology of the site speaks volumes, some obliviously walk through in search of a place to a "swim", to assert their dominance over a little portion of the pebbly beach at this fabulous government protected site.  They seem indifferent to the foreign eyes who thirstily soak up a sense of its hallowed and honorable past.  

I imagine living in a place absolutely soaking in history can affect a person's character, perhaps of the entire nation.  It might get tiring, boring or tedious to see old stones, old temples, places that are ancient, when you are yearning for new, for opportunity, for the newest technology, for prosperity.  It might seem that the stones could be better used, the artifacts crushed, burned, or repurposed.  All that old stuff means one thing to the locals, easily gotten resources to sell.  It is something completely different to tourists from newer civilizations. 

Feeling a bit like a tourist, a bit like a native/foreigner, and a curious traveller lately.  Can I bring more trinkets, more "stuff" into the collection of valuable artifacts that I call home?  What about embroideries, pottery, and textiles?  What about songs, dances, melodies, rhythms and subtle turns of phrase?  Stories and history?  Without my active engagment with them, they are silent as the stones at Chersonesus.  The treasures I am acquiring don't take too much room in my suitcase, my mind is a buzzing.  

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Propaganda Machine

Propaganda is an amazing thing.  Powerful and effective, it is also revealing in its simplicity.  The absolute need to impress the simple folk with desperate machinations speaks volumes.  Throughout this Black Sea Cruise we have been touring the important sites, hearing reputed speakers from America, and then setting off with local guides and interpreters.  Impressive, learned presenters from American universities who have a humility, a respect for the many players in the historical drama have shared some high points in the complex unravellings of the nation-states-people and "culture" of the area.  Lectures about the ikon tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy, authors of note, myth and legend have filled the "free time" hours of what would otherwise have been a beach visit.  Altogether very intelligent, very high class.  And very respectful.

Here on the territory of a sovereign Ukraine, it is interesting to observe the quality of the local guides hired to present the highlights of the region though.  My personal experience with local guides in North America, and Europe of course are my frame of reference.  In each of those cases as representatives of their culture, nation and people, I have noted the generosity and genuine love for their topic.  And pride for the accomplishments of their nation, people and culture.  It is a little different here.

We have seen the resourcefulness of local bus drivers, the generosity of local vendors, and appreciated the human faces that met ours.  At one museum I was approached by a young man keenly interested in selling some books about Ukraine, and found him a lovely, genuine person who cared for his country and tried to meet me half way between Ukrainian and Russian.  In another case, an old man playing a bandura, kobzar style, brought us to tears with his fervent plea for things Ukrainian here.  We have also experienced some social decorum faux pas, things that speak volumes about class and status. 

In Sevastopol the opportunity came for the Black Sea Fleet Ensemble to perform on the cruise ship.  Lovely singing, and graceful dancing - all appreciated by a North American audience.  But it was like seeing something from a place in history that does not seem to want to change.  Unfortunately here, the performers were not champions of Ukraine and her sovereign language, but a carry over from empire  times.  The songs and images had an old-fashioned-ness that for some, must speak if nostalgia, I guess.   But though my cruise mates admired, they were clearly aware, and observant.  Open eyes, open hearts and keen intellect catches things, you see.  Through North American eyes, it did seem a bit over the top to have a high-power troupe perform for simple tourists.  It just does not happen that the state troupe is conveniently available for a small cruise audience, at least in my world.  

I am a native/foreigner here and a tourist too. Being a consumer, I recognize quality, but I also know what I paid for. Is it too presumptuous to think this "high class" show was more than "cruise entertainment"?  Or perhaps was it cleverly packaged propoganda, a form of communication intentionally designed, in this case in emotionally loaded music and dance, to perpetuate an ideological, irrational fraud about Empire on unknowing consumers?  But does being a tourist in Ukraine necessarily mean one should believe all the big glitzy gestures? Do we have enough media and propaganda savvy filters to see what is real beneath all the "stage presence"? 

Monday, 22 July 2013

Remember Being a "Super Uke"?

Growing up as a hyphenated Ukrainian-Something in the diaspora has meant being a part of a smallish community, scattered thinly among a widely diverse world population.  Gathering together for the comforts of community, my people settled in rural environments, moving gradually through town living to urban centres.  Seeking economic opportunity, it has been important to integrate into the dominant culture linguistically and culturally, yet a small uniqueness remains.  For me, the romantic vision of my ancestral homeland has meant keeping the language, cultural traditions and faith of my ancestors.  Singing together, feeling the common heartbeat, dancing on language inspired rhythms of the ancients, and wearing embroidered shirts that told of magic and mysterious times when the hearth mother was the source of all comfort - these form my early memories. 

I remember the exciting performance trips with dancers, singers and instrumentalists who would trek through a series of small rural venues - to hear the appreciative applause, to see the beaming faces of people equally thirsty for the romantic vision of homeland.  Growing up I realize how small, indeed, these places were - halls holding perhaps 150 to 200 people.  It was a lot of effort, time and care to put these kinds of shows together - even moreso because it was an extracurricular event.  Parental support, families involved, communities galvanized to support the young people in their desire to maintain their ethnic ties.

Even now, performers of all sorts travel from the diaspora to perform in Ukraine, seeking the appreciative recognition of our one-ness in culture and nationality.  Seeking the homeland makes you think differently though.  We in the diaspora live a smallish life of Ukrainian-ism.  Coming to perform in small venues in Ukraine, you get a taste of that small town embrace, but "wow"  it is great to be something big and wonderful too.  What a rush to see people, like yourself, who welcome you as their own - their own countrymen - even if it is a native/foreigner experience. 

I suspect that people in a huge country like Ukraine, with nearly 50 million people whose dominant culture has been Soviet have a different perspective on things.  Today, everyone is seeking the economic freedom to step confidently forward with family life.  Political, cultural and practical issues are adapting to the times.  Will they have a nostalgia for the romantic visions of yore?  Will they spend their extracurricular time on heritage, culture and traditions we have cherished so long?  Only time will tell. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Maple Leaf Projects 2013

A while ago I mentioned the good work Maple Leaf Projects is doing helping girl orphans with getting a trade outside of the sex trade, in Ukraine. Pauline Lysak is asking you set the date Saturday, October 19th into your calendar for a special speaker, Victor Malarek, who will address the issue of human trafficking, and how it affects Albertans too! Fascinating statistics prove we are not doing enough to combat this huge human rights issue, here in our free and affluent Alberta, much less the huge world where women are vulnerable!

Intimidation is a huge issue for women.  Being prepared for the stressors in life is complex enough in the "enlightened"  civilized/western/progressive-thinking world much less the complexity women face in more "fundamentalist" inclined places.  Economic pressure, social stigma, marital strife, these build pressure in a woman's life, exterminating her huge potential for changing the world through the care and nurture of healthy children. Her potential is the issue, she could be so much more! I personally am glad to take a small part in lending a hand up to my women-friends in the world.  I hope you will contribute your time, care, and effort towards ending human trafficking, especially in Alberta, but everywhere in the world.  Please share this event with our sisters-by-another-mother everywhere!

From the Black Sea

Since childhood I have felt of "two worlds".  Canadian born, with Canadian born grandparents, I nonetheless consider myself not only of Ukrainian heritage, but Ukrainian.  I know that seems  ridiculous, but like many western Canadians of Ukrainian heritage the idea of becoming "only" Canadian, really offends my sense of ancestry, heritage and quite frankly, family.

Economic opportunity and a life of possibilities drew me great grandparents to Canada.  Though not necessarily impoverished at home, they worried incessantly about their children's children and how life would unfold for them.  So they assertively and adventurously set out for a life of delayed personal gratification, temporary self sacrifice and cultural impoverishment for the comforts of home, un order to secure better economic opportunities for their progeny.  They endured a life of communal melancholy for their ancestral home -ways, while simultaneously endlessly optimistic and high spirited for the limitless opportunities Canada offered them.  Their material gains nonetheless left space for a recognition that their children would be impoverished without the language, traditions and cultural artifacts of a thousands year old homeland.  I was fortunate to have had an enriched experience with all the trappings of an arts filled Ukrainian-Canadian lifestyle.

I have led the life of an "in-between-er", "bi-or-multi-cultural" through and through.  Over a century Canadian, I have a romanticized vision of the ancestral home life, and often long for things I have never known personally but vicariously.  

So I am on a voyage to the Black Sea to explore this interesting place I find in my head, the place where I am a native-foreigner, not a native born in Ukraine Ukrainian, yet not necessarily a foreigner because the language and culture is familiar.  Interesting melancholia/euphoria of a native/foreigner.  More to come.   

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Kyivan Rus' Sovereign, Saint and Hero

Monuments to great heroes, to champions of the good, monuments to mark sad moments that teach us never to forget, and then there are monuments which speak to the spirit. Calgary is home to a special monument, a type of structure explicitly created to commemorate a real person, and an extraordinary historical, cultural and spiritual event.

The Ukrainian Church closest to the Langevin Bridge off Memorial Drive adds some Eastern European flare to our Western Canadian cityscape.  While the hopeful start of the first Ukrainian Catholic Church in Calgary in 1912 was shortlived noteably because of Canada's First World War Internment Operations, the end of the war brought a resurgence of spirit.  The changing political climate in the ancestral homeland meant new Ukrainian Canadians would have to be self-reliant, so they forged ahead embracing the legacy of Kyivan Rus' Sovereign, Saint and Hero -Volodymyr. 

Baptism of Volodymyr-public domain
From the Feast Day in his honor on July 28th to August 14th marking Volodymyr's official Baptism and acceptance of Orthodox Christianity as the State Religion of Kyivan Rus', these are heady, legacy days for Ukrainians.  Interestingly enough,  The Primary Chronicle names Anna, the sister of Byzantine Emperors Basil and Constantine, and records that her brothers agreed to her marriage to Volodymyr upon his receipt of Christian Baptism, in Kherson.  It looks like Volodymyr married into the faith!  Heady times for me too since the the location of these events, the Ruins of the Basilica and Saint Volodymyr Cathedral in National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos, Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine will be part of my summer tour this month. 

Ukrainian-Calgarians, thankful for their huge Canadian inheritance, and emulating their ancestral Sovereign pressed forward with a vision of a people united by a common spiritual culture that transcended the parochial loyalties of their village past.  The church standing on Meredith Road looking over the river to downtown Calgary would welcome all those of Ukrainian ancestry.

St. Vlad's is a great community for Ukrainian-Calgarian hospitality.  On Sunday, July 28th the church marks its Temple Patron Feast Day with Divine Liturgy, followed by prayers and procession around the temple to honor Kyivan Rus' Sovereign and Saint, Volodymyr's  Baptism of Ukraine 1025 years ago. Come and contribute your favorite dish to the pot-luck luncheon, and you will be sure to meet friends, renew aquaintance and be spiritually uplifted!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Calgary Choir Wins

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Spiritus Chamber Choir of Calgary will be performing a concert of Ukrainian Sacred Music in late September!  Not once, but twice! Even more fabulous news though!  Just yesterday it was announced that Calgary's Spiritus Chamber Choir has just won the 2013 National Competition for Canadian Amateur Choirs!  Not only did the choir place first in their categories for mixed voice adult choir and contemporary music categories, but also won the prestigious Healy Willan Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts!
Spiritus in Dijon, France - 2011

The choir's first concert in the 2013-14 season will be Ukraine: Sacred Choral Concerti - a performance sponsored by the Ukrainian Millennium Foundation.  The first performance will be at St. Stephen's Ukrainian Catholic Church on Friday, September 27th at 8 PM, and the second on Sunday, September 29th at 2:30 PM at St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral.

So for the first opportunity this season to hear this amazing group performing masterpiece treasures of the Slavic Tradition, specifically the music of Artem Vedel' - perhaps including others, make sure to check the website and order your tickets to the performances and the reception in advance!

So when people ask what I do for fun,  this is my fun! I love it!  With a smile from ear to ear,  and with my singing compatriots - Spiritus-ers - in the "best choir" category for 2013 - and the fabulous maestro Tim Shantz - I invite you!

Monday, 8 July 2013

Ukrainian Summer Day Camps in Calgary!!

It's time to register the little ones in Ukrainian Summer Day Camp, here in Calgary!

The popular summer day camp program at St Vladimir's Sadochok has fabulous staff, great activities, and a wonderful dedicated Parent Board. Pass the information along to family and friends!

Programs run for the full week from July 8-12 ($250) and July 15-19 ($250), from 8AM til 5PM but if you can only do a drop in they are flexible too.   Call if you are interested in a more flexible schedule.  Crafts, singing, games, cooking and more, including outdoor time as weather permits.  The location is ideal for downtown people, but very accessible otherwise too.  Near Rotary Park, the program often treks to the incredible playground for activities and picnic lunches.  No previous knowledge of Ukrainian is required.   
Contact  or  for more information or to register for Ukrainian Summer Day Camp in Calgary!!  Make your Baba proud!!

Is there Ukrainian DNA?

While I have never been there, my mother's ancestral family in Western Ukraine originates in a tiny area - with a name that implies it was "behind the woods",  surrounded by other equally tiny settlements.  The location, the diminutive names, the "off the beaten track" route, and feeling of primitive times makes me wonder how far back the family has lived on the same territory.  What is the DNA of the soil and could there be ancestral links back thousands of years?

Intriguing opportunities now exist for technology to breakthrough the code of mitochondrial DNA and establish links through hundreds of generations, perhaps thousands of years.  Wonderful, dreamy, fairy-tale thoughts perhaps, but wouldn't it be amazing to step back into time and discover your ancestral great-great-great-great-great Baba? What would she be like, and would she recognize you?

Recognizing my weird penchant for family things,  dreamy fantasy about historical lineage questions, my family purchased a kit from National Geographic which proposes to be a start in discovering my deep ancestry.  The purpose of this Genographic Project is to chart the early stages of human history by comparing the DNA from world populations that have been genetically, and geographically stable for hundreds or thousands of years.  I may discover what different geographic regions around the world my ancestors migrated through.  I may also learn about my relationship to different human populations around the world and if there are Neanderthals or Denisovans in my ancestry.  Although I have no control over the project direction, I am excited to play an active role in this project, through my DNA!  I am excited to discover what the genetic markers might show about my ancestral lineage, before my great-grandparents migrated to the western world.

It would be exciting if such a project could take flight among the Ukrainian diaspora - wouldn't it be interesting to know how many of us are in fact family, maybe even close family - even though we may live on different continents?  If you have been paying attention to First Nations issues in Canada, a similar process is helping their community discover special pockets of deep ancestry.  It is their story.  It is our story.  It is the human story - how cool is that!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Ukrainian Language for Teens, Adults and Seniors

Some of my earliest memories have to do with connecting with family and honoring my ancestors.  By this I mean being Ukrainian in a North American culture, the photographic memory of my life is a tumble of embroideries, dancing, tastes and smells, traditions and events that brought family together. Holidays, embraces of young and old were all opportunities for conversation with and about those who were separated from us by time and distance.  Remembered by name, or by ritual, with laughter or tears, family stories and anecdotes never translated well.  Each time I heard the stories another layer of onion skin was removed as more profound and poignant meaning was revealed.  Simple words, but oh, so much more.

Like many North Americans of Ukrainian heritage, the language has adapted to my circumstance - and it is changing from generation to generation.  Actively engaging with the world, culture, history and tradition, I realize how rich having the language feels.  Communicating better is important for travel, for genealogical studies, for culture awareness, for understanding family and partners in life - and it has its own intrinsic value - it is positive and good.  

The Ukrainian Language Classes for Adults at St. Andrew's is a member of the International Heritage Languages Association.  Their interesting style of instruction, affordable classes, entertaining cultural arts experiences are all designed to improve language learning, reading and writing too.  Register alone, register with a friend,  register with your partner in life - enhance that deep feeling of togetherness with a Ukrainian language class this season! 

There will be approximately 24 classes from September 18, 2013 to March 19, 2014 on Wednesday evenings in Edmonton.  Check the site at  or call 780-469-1463.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Relatively Speaking

I have in my basement a beat up old travel trunk that is well over a century old.  It came with my grandfather when he emigrated from Western Ukraine.  When it was time to empty Baba's house on the Canadian prairies nobody really wanted to venture into the basement/ half-dugout,"it's too dark down there" area, so I did.  Remnants of the past caught my eye all over the room, tidy and organized, and where Dido had left his pile of tools there were old reminders of the handy way he "made things work" - the little squirting grease tube, pencils and old worn screwdrivers, beaten up hammers, some with handles, others without.  The pile of papers, scraps from woodworking, tins from wood stain and bags of rags for spills - these reminded me of Dido.  So I simply had to take the beaten up travel trunk - rusty and filled with the left overs of a handyman's life.  The smell of my grandfather's hands faintly lifting from the old wooden pieces made me ache for hugs of times passed.

Upstairs, I announced that the trunk was going home with me.  Everyone was annoyed with my stupidity - it was a junk-heap piece, they said.  Still, I held on.  What else was there left of Dido's?  Well, there is the old cap!

I remember Dido wearing the cap, with a scarf around his neck. Everyone pulled my toque down over my ears, but Dido's cap was always on the top of his head, until it got blustery and he pulled the ear flaps down.  Over the years since then, the cap has been part of the jumble of snow suits, mittens, scarves, rain gear, boots and junk in our front closet.  I have pulled it out every once in a while, for those really windy, cold days, because it has great ear flaps.  Warm, toasty, like my Dido.  I love that old cap, and so does my daughter. She's loved it forever - so now it's Pra-Dido's hat,  for another generation. And when the weather gets cold, maybe she'll pull the warm ear flaps down, just like Pra-Did.

Dido's story, like so many others, is a fine line of information, gently stitched together by the people who loved him for a whole lifetime and more.  But there is more.

Anybody searching for family ties, connections with Ukraine can take advantage of membership in the Alberta Genealogical Society, which interestingly, among its special interest groups has a Ukrainian Interest Group.  Sadly, though there are 11 Alberta Branches, there is no such branch in Calgary.  Nonetheless, it would be a fabulous venture to pursue. For a wealth of resources, a treasure trove of volunteer experts who can help guide your research into family connections, try their main website at .  Maybe there is an old cap story in the trunk in your basement too!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Where is the Largest Pysanka?

Alberta is celebrating community spirit, all over the province this summer of 2013! From extremes in weather, to extremes in social and community volunteerism, Alberta has it all. And perhaps it is not too bold to say that this has to do with the people of Alberta.

Before there was Alberta though, the government of Canada under Sir Wilfred Laurier desired to populate western Canada with farmers, to add production to the country, and to solve the "railway problem" and to help pay the national debt. The young country enticed hard workers to settle the prairies. And since that time it is not too bold to say that Alberta has been generously sprinkled with Eastern European thought, work-ethic, spirituality and respect for culture and tradition. 

Over the last four decades, the Ukrainian idea couldn't exist anywhere else in the diaspora better than Alberta. Artisans and craftspeople, performing artists and entertainers, writers and thinkers for whom the Ukrainian idea resonates have cultivated a welcoming public here in Alberta.  In fact, the manner in which Alberta has welcomed Festivals, dance groups, performing artists and choral groups into its popular culture is unique.  And the Ukrainian Pysanka Festival In Vegreville, Alberta this weekend has it all.  

Just a half hour east of the Star-Edna settlement where Eleniak and Pylypiw first shepherded their families in 1891 with grand dreams for their Canadian adventure, the charming town of Vegreville, Alberta is celebrating its 40th Anniversary Pysanka Festival this July 5-6-7, 2013.

Four decades of music, community spirit, collaborations, international and local artists bumping shoulders, exchanging ideas, enjoying the Ukrainian idea continues to draw crowds.  The Ukrainian festival is a model now emulated in Ukrainian communities all over the diaspora - in North and South America for certain.  Hopefully you will plan to be in Vegreville this summer for the 40th Anniversary Pysanka Festival,  for the festivities, admission will be free!  But if you cannot, they have a brilliant gift for all of us! 

The Festival has a 40th anniversary CD composed of favorite selections from the Ukrainian Pysanka Festival's most loved performers over its 40 year history. Check out the details at  Gotta get there and check out the trade show booths - so many new entrepreneurs to discover - so many new Ukrainian ideas to bring home!!  

"Blahovist" was in Calgary June 30,2013

How fortunate for Calgarians!  "Good News" - the "Blahovist'" Choir of Toronto's Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Holy Protection shared the responses to the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, June 30th at St. Stephen Protomartyr Ukrainian Catholic Church 4903-45 Street S.W.  Calgarians welcomed time to worship together with friends and "odnodumtsi" from Toronto this weekend.  
The male and female church choir "Blahovist' was established in September 2008 at the Church Of The Holy Protection Ukrainian Catholic Church in Toronto by deacon Serhiy Danko. The youth choir is composed by, both professional and amateur musicians. Among the team members one can meet conductors, opera singers, graduates of various musical institutions, members of the famous Lviv choir ˮ Dudaryk ˮ, school teachers, students, programmers, drivers, etc. They all share the love of sacred music and the desire to sing the glory of God. The choir not only sings during the Divine Liturgy, but also takes part in the secular and religious events that take place among the Ukrainian community of Toronto.

The repertoire of the choir - Mykola Leontovich's Liturgy and Andriy Hnatyshyn, hymns and carols by Ukrainian composers of classical and contemporary authors, Lenten Canons, Andrew of Crete, Resurrection Matins with Canon Artem, Vedel, weddings, etc..

The conductor Olesya Konyk is a graduate of the Lviv Conservatory. Through her perseverance and efforts the choir is ever-expanding their repertoire. The young people come to the choir for liturgical singing and find like-minded people here, spending leisure time together, singing songs, enjoying time together.

Sorry that I missed it, so I am counting on my readers for more info.