The Trip That Changed Us

Philip and Andrew Rozhen have crossed Canada with their “The Winter That Changed Us” tour. They drove over 16,500 kilometers, visited nine provinces, had screenings in 22 cities and talked to more than 4,000 people. On September 18, 2014, they flew back to Vancouver to hopefully continue their Babylon’13 tour into the northern territories. Before they left, they sat down with the New Pathway for one final interview.
When asked what their most interesting moment of the tour was, both brothers pointed to the instances of meeting Russian audiences who had “other beliefs” on the situation in Ukraine. The most common question from them was “why not wait until the next elections in 2015 to get rid of Yanukovych?” The answer to this question was fairly simple: “because he wouldn’t have gone away peacefully anyway.”
The two brothers spent months in a car together and the question of their journey together was brought up. But, as the younger brother Andrew, explains, “everything was normal. We travel a lot together and have gotten used to each other.”
Afterwards, the brothers began talking about their journey across Canada and described what they saw as the differences and similarities of the Ukrainian communities in Canada. In Vancouver, the Rozhen brothers say, the Ukrainian community is not very well organized: “if you want to assimilate, you go to Vancouver”. However, there is a silver lining in British Columbia as there is now a new initiative to explore their Ukrainian identity. Maybe something positive will result from this determination to keep their Ukrainian roots alive in Canada’s western-most province.
At the beginning, no one believed they would achieve their cross-Canada dream and they freely admit many people thought they were crazy for trying. However, it was not until they reached the Vegreville Festival that they met their tour manager: Noella Paton from Edmonton. She helped organize nine screenings in Edmonton and Calgary. That’s where they truly started their tour. In Calgary, they were met with a well-organized and massive Ukrainian community who rented out a big movie theatre that sat more than 300 people (they also admit the same happened when they came to Dauphin, Manitoba).
The Rozhen brothers want to reiterate that they “saw Ukrainians in all the provinces, and all were different.” One of the strongest and most caring communities was that in the Prairie Provinces. In Saskatchewan, for example, they were greeted with Ukrainian food labels in their hotel fridge and the community even went as far as producing a “Kyiv Tart” for them. Phillip then reminisced: “we got a call to come to the lobby and there was this woman with this huge pot of borsch! There were so many people coming with gifts that we were always being asked to go to the lobby. It was nice to see that people cared about us.”
From one side of the country to the other they were confronted with the work of the Ukrainian community. In Montreal for instance, they were taken to “Verkhovyna” where the community organized a screening in the big kitchen that serves the annual CYM camp. Phillip was amazed to see how “organized the community was and in awe of ‘Verkhovyna”, how they could recreate the atmosphere of the Carpathians in Quebec!”
He also explained that it was in Quebec that they realized how differently the Ukrainian communities assimilated themselves into their surrounding communities. There were children of mixed races running around but who freely associated themselves with the Ukrainian heritage and culture. “They were still very patriotic about being Ukrainian.”
One of the most interesting people they met was Matthew in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Although he is not Ukrainian at all, he became interested in Ukraine’s struggle after witnessing the Maidan Revolution. The Rozhen’s were “surprised that anyone who isn’t Ukrainian is so interested in what’s happening in Ukraine.” Matthew managed to gather about 25 people for their screening in St. John’s and even printed off a blue-yellow flag so the brothers would feel more at home. As the brothers explain, although he may not have been the richest person, he was truly rich in spirit, heart and soul.
Philip Rozhen explains that “every province was different: the people, the atmosphere, the natural beauty.” However, what the brothers were most surprised about was the level of activity of the Ukrainian Diaspora in Canada. “Canada has helped Ukraine a lot but Ukrainians don’t really know anything about the Ukrainians in Canada.
They don’t know how people here help them. They need to have their eyes open to how Ukrainians in Canada work…They don’t know how Canadians live, about the different waves of immigration and there isn’t an active contact between the two communities…There is an abstract view of Canada in Ukraine. And this needs to change because there is a myth that when Ukrainians emigrate, they lose all sense of identity and just work menial jobs. Ukrainians in Ukraine don’t understand the power of Ukrainians in Canada.”
The Rozhen brothers have seen Canada through the eyes of the Ukrainian settlers. They have visited places that are important to Ukrainian-Canadian history and have experienced the product of the Diaspora’s tireless work in the community, politics, industry and business. They wonder “how does no one in Ukraine know about this? How is there not a film or information about how Ukrainians built up Canada and how is no one doing this?”
Both of them understand that if Ukrainians do find about all that their Diaspora cousins have done in Canada for Ukraine, “we will build up a country that is as great as Canada but we need help in this too.” They are thinking of creating a project that will allow Ukrainians from Ukraine to examine and view the lives of Ukrainians in the Diaspora (from Canada to Australia). As Philip explains, “there is so much potential there…if this project of ours is achieved, the work of Ukrainians in Canada will mean so much more to Ukrainians in Ukraine. They will have an example of what hard work and determination can do in their own country.”
When asked to give a final message to the Ukrainian-Canadian Diaspora before they head back to Vancouver, the Rozhen brothers wanted to exclaim that every one of us – those in the Diaspora and those in Ukraine – “need to do our own part in helping Ukraine…we have to give back because that is the only way you can be a responsible member of a community.”
Their work is often seen as the eyes to Ukraine – and it is why their proposed project to bridge the gap between Ukraine and Canada is important. As the two groups understand each other better, they will also have a greater influence on each other’s ideas, opinions and futures.