UCC-Toronto Celebrations at Centennial Park.
Nadia Prokopiw, Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Toronto.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress-Toronto Branch hosted the 27th Annual Ukrainian Independence celebration on August 18th at Centennial Park in Toronto – now deemed to be the largest celebration of its kind in all of North America and in the Ukrainian diaspora. Blessed with superb weather, an excellent turnout and a robust succession of prominent entertainment, the day was huge success. Once again, we were grateful to receive so many greetings and praises from all levels of Canadian Government and special guests.
After prayers and blessings, UCC-Toronto President, Taras Bahriy, opened the ceremonies and welcomed the crowd introducing this year’s theme “100 Years of Struggle for Freedom”. This dates back to 1918 when Ukraine rose up from the ashes of Tsarist Russia to declare the establishment of the first Ukrainian Republic; after this effort was brutally suppressed and defeated, the nation rose up again to fight both the Soviets and the Nazis in WW2; thwarted but surviving, the spirit of the people surfaced again with the collapse of the USSR when Ukraine declared its independence for a second time. The struggle for “Freedom from tyranny, freedom from bondage, freedom from continuous oppression, exploitation and injustice” is continuing today in Eastern Ukraine as “the people are still fighting and dying again against a relentless aggressor who is determined to once again subjugate the Ukrainian people under the Imperial boot of Russia” explained Bohdan Wynnyckyj, President of the UCC Ontario Provincial Council, in his introductory remarks.
Consul General of Ukraine, Andrij Veselovskyi greeted the crowd with his encouraging words: “The tide is against our invader because of all the international support and because of Canada’s strong support at the G7 meetings. We will win, and we will become a strong European country.” Perhaps the most heartening remarks came from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, who let us know that Canadian troops will be in Kyiv on August 24 marching in the parade in support of Ukrainian Independence, that Canada will be hosting the 3rd annual conference on Ukrainian Economic Reforms, and that she and President Poroshenko agree that standing with Ukraine and supporting the troops in Eastern Ukraine amounts to standing for freedom and democracy all over Europe and the World. Accompanying Minister Freeland were Minister Kirsty Duncan, and MP’s Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Arif Virani, Peter Fonseca, and Michael Levitt. MP Peter Kent, representing the Conservative Party of Canada, condemned Russia’s continuing illegal occupation of Crimea and the Russian sponsored aggression in Eastern Ukraine.
On the Provincial level, MPP’s Kinga Surma, Christine Hogarth, Natalia Kusendova and Kaleed Rasheed, came forward to provide greetings on behalf of the government of Ontario and Premier Doug Ford participated in the crowd festivities. Rima Berns-McGown, provided greetings from the NDP Leader.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, together with Councillors John Campbell, Stephen Holyday, Justin Di Ciano, and our very own Natalia Lishchyna, also applauded the incredible contributions of the Ukrainian community. Tory, who was instrumental in obtaining a prominent Toronto location for the Holodomor memorial, said he “will be there to proudly celebrate the unveiling of this monument…and this will be a very important occasion, a great day for Toronto, a great day for Ukraine, and a great day for all of the Ukrainian Community”. Also bringing greetings, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie quipped at how Ontario has now displaced the West in having the largest Ukrainian Diaspora.
Paul Grod, President of UCC National, in his closing remarks, thanked all levels of the Canadian Government for standing in support of Ukraine and helping keep an Imperialist Russia and the Kremlin at bay. The afternoon was expertly emceed by Larysa Bajus and Myron Konyk.
This year the very vibrant and colourful concert program and stage show included a variety of local Ukrainian dance and musical performers as well as special guest artists from Ukraine. The enthusiastic audience was entertained by Toronto’s renowned Dance Ensembles – Ukraina, Barvinok and Vesnyanka, the Baturyn Marching and Concert Band and the Prometheus Choir. Among the celebrated guest entertainers from Ukraine were: the musical Ensemble Otava from Ternopil, soloists Myroslava Solovyanenko, Pavlo Fondera, Ihor and Adrianna Artemiak, and Mad Heads front man Vadym Krasnooky from Kyiv, who delighted the audience with their performances.
The shopping bazaar gets better every year. Embroidered blouses, jewellery, and arts vendors offered their many wares to an eager crowd. As always, the Ukrainian Canadian School Board provided a robust Children’s Amusement Centre which included inflatables, games and crafts. A large classroom bus displaying and teaching the history of the Holodomor, was a moving attraction for those desiring to learn about the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine and genocide. The day was concluded with a lively outdoor Zabava at the Carpathian Lounge, where a capacity crowd of revelers danced to the music of Dunai well into the night.
“This annual celebration could not have happened without the help and support of many valued volunteers and our generous sponsors,” said Bahriy. Our Platinum Plus sponsor for 2018 were Horodynsky Farms and Northland Power. Platinum sponsors were Buduchnist Credit Union, The Zaraska Family and Transam Carriers. Gold sponsors were “Bitter Harvest” the movie, Caravan Group, Halenda’s Meat, Huculak Foundation, Meest Corp., Stageworks Systems and Ukrainian Credit Union. Silver sponsors were AA Floors, New Canadian Drain & Plumbing and the Shevchenko Foundation. CTV, Forum, Kontakt, Razom, Meest Radio and Song of Ukraine acted as Media sponsors.
The UCC-Toronto Independence Day organizing committee and an amazing team of hard-working volunteers, who after six months of untiring planning work, began on Friday to set up the event, ran it all day Saturday, and then completed the take-down and clean-up on Sunday, were invaluable to the smooth functioning, viability and great success of this event. Special thanks go to the Ukrainian Canadian Women’s Council, Toronto Branch, together with the Ukrainian Women’s Organization of Canada, League of Ukrainian Women in Canada, Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League of Canada and Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada for their tireless work at the entrance and information gate.
After the culmination of a successful, jam-packed event of stage shows, food fairs, beverage gardens, market places, children’s activities, sports tourneys, and Zabava, we invite all to join the Toronto Ukrainian Canadian Congress in the planning of and participation in next year’s Ukrainian Independence Day 2019!