Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Notre Dame of the Kerchief - Покрова
Telling the truth can be dangerous, but very cathartic and healing, too.  Hidden behind the beautiful traditional Ukrainian kerchief хустка, women have consciously or not, hidden our culture's vulnerability, meekly submitted to patriarchal authority with a veneer of politic appropriateness while seething truths roil beneath. Romantic images of pious women praying, or stalwartly labouring, enduring drudgery and pain for the life of kin and kindred, this is the Ukrainian woman of ancestral tradition. But though family relationships dominate the thoughts of women everywhere, conflicts and conflicted emotions cannot but foster an inquiring mind.  Raising children means obsessing on the future. And children bring inexhaustible opportunity for questions, articulate discussion, and often piercingly accurate observations. And yet the indomitable, protective instinct of women persists and is the stuff of legend.

Statue of Lesya Ukrainka
 near the Murray Building, University of Saskatchewan,
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Raised in Canada, quasi-Ukrainian, interested in the culture, traditions and nice stuff, I was protected from the brutality my family endured in the home-places in Ukraine. A guest in their home, I accept the truths they were willing to share. In a shocking moment of truth, with the recognition of the blood line coursing forward through time, the guardian of truth performs a public heresy.  With Ukrainian Baba's urgent removal of her veil of silence she utters revelations about the vulgar acts of men, and their gut-wrenching dispensation with hope, life and opportunity.  (the war time experiences) A profound empathy engulfs me and I am awe struck by the deep, dark sorrow some of these women have carried in their hearts. I cannot fathom their gentle, kerchief veiled, pious stance on street corners and temples of prayer. I cannot suffer their patience, for the imperative of the modern world screams " it is enough", "it is time!"

One of the most interesting women literary heretics of the past century is Lesia Ukrainka Леся Українка (1871-1913).  Her exquisite mystical writing evokes Ukrainian folkloric beliefs and superstitions connected with natural phenomena. Yet she suffers a silent war even today, for in her dramas she quietly raises the question 'why?'  Fanciful and rich of spirit, today her voice is relatively silent while the inventive and hypocritical popular media brazenly lures with its vapid glamour, easy consumption and disposal.  And the wise keepers of the hearth who know better generously nurture the thirsty with coffee and beautiful handmade Ukrainian delicacies.
calgary ukrainian festival

Ancient wisdom ends the harvest season
and begins the wedding season
on the day of Pokrova.
A young bride
exchanges her veil for a kerchief.
Who will ask Baba 'why?' Why is it so?  Why did they emigrate? Why did they scrimp and save? What motivated the building of churches, community halls, libraries, museums and the like all over Ukraine's international diaspora?  Why the dance groups, the casinos, the bingos, the festivals, the community events?  Tired of the loneliness of silence, or fiercely tenacious?

Truth be told, our emigrating families fiercely blazed trail, surviving a barrage of dangers in the passionate hope of a better future. Beneath Baba's kerchief where pain and patience endured, Notre Dame of the Kerchief carries blessing, protection, intercession, and healing - the Pokrova, Покрова Пресвятої Богородиці.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Happiness is Singing in Korinnya Choir

Happiness is Singing in Korinnya Choir
Making music is one of the special human talents that persists across cultures, languages and through space and time. Researchers are beginning to confirm that music making may actually be a necessity of life, perhaps even a self-medicating process. There is recognition that listening to music, passive participation, gets more dopamine to the brain's pleasure spots. I have heard that music activates, stimulates and lights up the entire brain!

Active listening enhances hearing, a good thought that could help prevent age-related hearing loss. Active singing makes the speech process more effective too. And it has been proven that children who have musical training show increases in IQ, memory and verbal skills, too. Singing augments and sustains speaking.  When the beat, the rhythm and lyrics synchronize, and others hear, focus, listen actively and join in, there is learning.  All that curiosity about how to fit together helps develop empathy, anticipation, and intuition.  Solving the puzzle of what will happen next in the music makes a person feel positive, enthusiastic, confident and alert!  Singing takes focused breathing which takes discipline and increases aerobic strength. Your immune system and hormone responses are more healthy after singing too!Music making is like playing a game, and the brain actually lights up with delight!
Korinnya 2013

Even singing nonsense words, or snippets of songs from a deep place of memory can induce a health enhancing mystical, stress releasing reverie.  Music making breaches the uncomfortable chasm of social and emotional distance between humans and makes us more resilient!

No doubt your personal instrument is simply waiting for an invitation  - so while you ponder, put a bunch of Ukrainian Youtube karaoke videos on your playlist and make music! And for an enhanced feeling of belonging to a great group, that embraces the Ukrainian idea here in Calgary - Korinnya Ukrainian Folk Ensemble is inviting you!

Rehearsals take place on Monday evenings at the CYM Hall at 924 Edmonton Trail NE, but for more information check at or 403-283-7663.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Eighty Thousand Voices - Lethbridge Exhibition Park 2013

Eighty Thousand Voices
one of the songs presented at the Calgary/Banff unveiling
June/September 2013
Between September 30, 1914 and November 7, 1916, hundreds of civilian internees cycled through the Lethbridge Internment Camp, one of 24 such sites in Canada first National Internment Operations. The camp operations treated men, women and children who arrived in Canada carrying Austro Hungarian Empire documents as enemy aliens.  In hindsight it has been revealed that most of them were ethnic Ukrainians, immigrants to Canada, whose homeland was caught in the borderland territorial land grabs by empires surrounding Ukraine.

The impact of this type of war measure's act upon newly minted (or almost minted) Canadians, was huge. In this 99th anniversary year of commencement of the First World War, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Lethbridge city officials are unveiling a permanent memorial plaque to these civil internees on Tuesday, October 29th at 1:30 PM at the Lethbridge Exhibition Park, 3401 Parkside Drive South.

The ceremony will take place outside the South entrance of Heritage Hall, pending weather. With significant construction under-way in the area, traffic flow issues may cause guests concern. Therefore Calgary's Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association is planning to arrange for transportation for interested guests to the site at Lethbridge Exhibition Park.

For more information contact UKRAINIAN CANADIAN PROFESSIONAL & BUSINESS ASSOCIATION OF CALGARY at 403-670-5477 or e-mail: or  To make a donation, please contact Roman at

Arkan - the Lasso

Halyna Koszarycz
A friend of mine is taking a university course for which she needs to gather music representative of cultures studied in the Alberta classroom.  A music specialist, she and I speak a common language.  Leaning on the cultural inheritance of the non British world, we have an accumulated understanding that the rhythms and melodic shapes are directly derived from the language and syntax of indigenous peoples the world over. So when you hear a specific melody, a lilt in the phrase, a bounce in the rhythms, these are all pulled from the natural speech patterns of regular people in their culturally specific lives, somewhere in the world.

So I extracted a few Ukrainian folk songs for my friend's assignment.  I would have loved to provide her with authentic sounds and rhythms, but as she needed to interpret them herself for the class, it would have proven time consuming.  In order to make the process easy, I originally selected music that was perhaps more western in phrase and rhythm than indigenously Ukrainian.  And I suspect this is why our music is "straightened out" and "fixed", so often.

Nonetheless, the intent was to provide Ukrainian folk-song material to be included in the instructional cycle of a music specialist in public school.  I had an interesting time considering what would be appropriate and fun, so I chose a non-text melody for Arkan - the lasso.  If you have ever seen Ukrainian dancing, one of the circle dances of western Ukraine is Arkan. Arkan is a popular dance of Ukrainian Hutsul people, those of south-western Ukraine.  Traditionally performed by men around a burning bonfire, they stand with arms upon each other's shoulders.  Arkan refers to the step performed around the fire.  Stepping on the right foot, the left foot crosses behind, the right foot steps to the side again and the left foot is brought in front of the dancer with a bent knee, and then the right foot is brought in front of the dancer with a bent knee. The winding step is essentially a rope or lasso that encircles the flame.

The flames lap at their feet as the men fly around the circle in an attempt to capture the flame with their lasso, embracing the primordial vortex of energy  -  this is the arkan.  The cultural baggage with this arkan dance is probably rich with symbols and practical meaning.  I suspect is has to do with keeping the men fit and enthused during the long cold nights in the mountains, vigilant by night, possibly trading, lumber-jacking or on the war-path by day.  I once read how Ukrainian dance is a thinly veiled martial art.  Intriguing, no?

Аркан-гуцульський танець

We Were Here

Stone Baba
Velike/Velichne Art Exhibit
Kyiv August 2013amk
When Canadians see an Inukshuk, we are reminded of the ancient history of the Inuit people.  Their piled stone sentinels marked the Arctic landscape, sparsely populated but consistently inhabited for thousands of years.  Over the course of European presence in North America, these stone statues represent the lingering aspirations of a people, to be remembered. Reminders of the human hands that intentionally gathered, interpreted, shaped and piled the stones, their dreams of eternal memory linger. For Canadians, the Inuit inukshuk tells us of a people who were here long ago.

For the newcomer, the Ukrainian term Baba means grandmother.  Or rather, it is an honorific that is used when referring to an older woman, in this case a grandmother.  Baba, Babushka, Babusia,  Babunia, these are all endearments, all referring with respect and honor a woman of wisdom, perhaps but not necessarily older, representative of lineage, heritage, family, wisdom, care and love.  The term Baba is generously applied across the spectrum within the Ukrainian world, in Ukraine and in the diaspora.

stone baba
Odessa museum
July 2013amk
stone baba - Feodosia museum
July 2013amk
The storied history of the lands north of the Black Sea extends back thousands of years, many thousands of years into prehistory when preliterate cultures dotted the landscape.  Living full lives, and attesting to their very existence, they left stones of honor over kurhan grave mounds.  Whether simple, or carved, weather battered or protected under the soil, these stone Babas witness to the past.  And they are now protected in some of the great museums in Eastern Europe.

stone baba
Odessa museum
July 2013
Stone Babas, now battered and ravaged by weather, raiders, guests and colonizers once dotted the landscape.  Markers of ancient burial sites called kurhans, they protected the offerings of bone and wealth within, and witnessed the rising of the sun over the horizon, in anticipation of an afterlife for the souls released.  It is said that nothing goes wasted, so most of the stone Babas have put put to new use, recycled into the foundations of some temple to more modern ways.  The stone Babas that remain however, say "we were here" to anyone passing, even though now most of them stand lonely and silent in parks, museums and storage sites.

stone baba
Odessa museum
July 2013
I once mentioned the word Baba came from the east, from a time when languages were still young - and the word was an honorific. Today you can hear people of Hindi background refer to their honoured leaders, wise ones or valued life companions with the term Baba.  It makes me happy to know the rich, cultural baggage that comes with the honoured title Baba.  Baba - the guardian, the honoured one, the sentinel, the silent keeper of ancestral memory with but one wish - the hope that someone would notice - "we were here".     Eternal memory!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Can't Say Thanks Enough!

I have been marvelling at the tremendous activity in the Ukrainian community lately!  Perhaps it is because I am paying attention, but it is obvious that so many people are sharing the gifts of their time, talents and treasure within the Ukrainian community - and it shows!

Recently, while preparing to blog, I read the Ukie news, heard a radio clip about international relations between Ukraine and the EU, heard about the Ukrainian World Congress and their meeting about Ukraine and the EU.  Then got an email from the Ukrainian women's organization about their convention. Picked up the local newspaper to see a review of Calgary's Ukrainian Festival.  Then I had to go to work. Someone mentioned the CPO Ukrainian program.  At work, preselected some children's reading books, and found 5 really beautiful English publications on Ukrainian themes. Returned home for a Skype meeting with one board executive.  Picked up my email for an invite to another supper meeting in the local Ukrainian community. Set out for a rehearsal of Ukrainian choral music (program being sponsored by another Ukrainian organization).  Returned early to leave the car for husband who volunteered for a Ukrainian organization's casino-fundraiser.  Whew!  Normal day?  Am I just noticing now?

I marvel at the good will, efficiency and passion in the Ukrainian community, because all the little decisions add up!!  Even if the organizations spend half of their time on social gatherings, the tremendous contributions simply have to number in the thousands and thousands of hours of volunteer service!

I have heard the terms "mangers" and "leaders" and organizations really do thrive when they have both types of contributors.  But there must be a colossal team of Hetman quality leaders doing all the right things influencing goals, meetings, agendas, doing the preparation, the documentation, the scheduling, the minutes, the action items, the follow-up and - of course working efficiently, enjoying a happy communal feeling of belonging, and achieving great results.

Of course there are Ukrainian organizations that flounder indecisively, discuss, update, review, inform, report, present, check, dialogue, evaluate, connect, think, consider, educate, as well.  But I sense that busy people are too efficient to waste time, and the calculation of time expenditure is precious.  Effective people waste less time, decide and commit, and effect greater change.  Marvelous!

My grandmother used to say "you have written yourself into the family book", when someone married into the family.  I sense there is a powerful feeling of kinship among the people who give so passionately to the Ukrainian community too.  And congratulations to these amazing HETMAN quality leaders - (youth) Adrian Warchola, Oksana Iwaszko, (Calgarian)  Danylo Moussienko, (adult) Ivanna Szewczuk, Jason Golinowski, (Calgarian) Uliana (Elaine) Holowach-Amiot, (senior) William Dymianiw,
Larry and Donna Sendziak,  Ron Zapisocki, Nettie Kowal, (posthumous) Olga Alexandruk, and UCC-APC Exec. Steven Chwok to be honoured this October 6, 2013 at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (Alberta Provincial Council) Annual HETMAN AWARDS in Edmonton.  You, indeed, have written yourself into the ancestral legacy of Ukraine and her children in the international diaspora - especially here in CANADA!   A humble thank-you and BRAVO!