Stay divided – be conquered!

St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Edmonton

Orest Soltykevych, Edmonton, AB.

Several years ago, a widower decided to return to his native village in Ukraine to spend his remaining years there.

He had immigrated to Canada after World War II as a displaced person. And after many years of hard work, a thrifty lifestyle, and some very successful investments, he had become quite wealthy.

He had no children, so he decided to use his wealth to build a church in his native village.

However, the villagers were very surprised to see that, in fact, the widower had built two churches, instead of only one! When he was asked about his decision, he explained that he will regularly attend services in one of the churches. But, as he pointed towards the other church, he said, “I would never step into THAT church!”

Even though this event (hopefully) never happened, it illustrates an attitude that exists in various areas of our Ukrainian community.

And it’s time, especially during this challenging period, for all of us to seriously evaluate the state of our larger Ukrainian community, and what we can all do to ensure its long-term sustainability and development.

In many of our cities and towns, we have community and church halls that took a great deal of effort and money to build. But they sit empty almost all of the time, while maintenance and utility costs still have to be paid. As an example, in Edmonton we have many Ukrainian parishes which have halls attached to them. And if any parish experiences declining membership, it makes it extremely difficult to maintain the operations of the church, let alone the hall.

We have different organizations that are extremely similar in their goals and purposes, but continue to exist as separate entities only because of historical political and religious differences. The Ukrainian National Federation, the Ukrainian Self-Reliance League and the League of Ukrainian Canadians are prime examples.

We have cultural and religious organizations that allow only women or only men, despite the fact that in today’s Canadian society, these gender divisions are looked upon as discriminatory and even downright old-fashioned. For instance, if a man wanted to join his spouse in become a member of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada, or of the Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League, the chromosomal makeup that he acquired before birth prevents him from doing so.

We have small museums scattered around cities, and none of these museums are comprehensive enough to attract enough visitors to be feasibly open during regular hours. In the Edmonton area, we have at least six different museums and archive collections that, if combined, would be a substantial entity that would make for a worthwhile visit and learning experience for Edmontonians and visitors to the city. (This initiative was recently tried and was unsuccessful, but that should not preclude another attempt in the future.)

There are two excellent women’s magazines – Promin’ and Nasha Doroha – that both cater to older Ukrainian Canadian women, but differ only because of their religious affiliations. Imagine how a merger of the two could result in substantial cost savings, more articles and content appealing to a wider interest.

In Edmonton, we have five Ukrainian youth organizations in varying levels of activity: Plast, Ukrainian Youth Association (CYM), CYMK – Ukrainian Orthodox Youth, Ukrainian Catholic Youth of Canada, and Ukrainian National Youth Federation (MYHO). All of these organizations have very similar objectives, but continue to exist as separate entities – again, largely because of political and religious differences.

Other examples of divisions in our community certainly may come to mind. And these issues become problematic when parishes and organizations begin to diminish in membership or relevance. And when they disappear, so do their members. Rather than joining another organization, the individual’s thinking may be closer to “I would never step into that church/building/organization.” And that person may never be involved in another Ukrainian organization again.

Life in our world will be different after the pandemic, and many Ukrainian organizations will find their work even more challenging than it is currently. So now is the time for all of us to put our minds to work, to put aside issues that needlessly divide us, to consider how truly similar our different organizations are, and to work on solutions to combine our resources, or even amalgamate our organizations and/or assets whenever possible. Businesses undergo mergers all the time, recognizing that successfully combining two similar entities results in economies of scale, a more dominant presence in the marketplace, and a sharing of ideas by people from varied personal and business backgrounds that helps the business succeed in a competitive global economy.

If we as Ukrainians remain divided, we will be eventually be conquered – not by any outside forces, but only by our own selves. We live in a free country, and thus we have total control of our destiny. The moment is now to use the potential synergy from our collective efforts, our skills and mindsets, and our forward-thinking outlooks to start working together to ensure our community’s success for generations to come!