Ukrainians From Former Yugoslavia Celebrate 25 Years іn Canada

The New Generation. Marco Levytsky

Marco Levytsky, NP-UN Western Bureau.

Ukrainians from former Yugoslavia celebrated the 25th anniversary of their immigration to Canada over three days in Edmonton, May 18–20.

Initiated by Ilija Simcisin, President of the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association of Edmonton and Manager of Meest Edmonton, the celebration began with a presentation by Toronto journalist and poet, Deacon Mihajlo Ljahovic, director of the Canadian Association of Ukrainians from the former Yugoslavia, at St. Vladimir’s Parish Hall about the “Ukrainians From the Former Yugoslavia Through the Prism of History and Culture”, May 18.

May 19, a Pontifical Divine Liturgy officiated by Bishop David Motiuk and concelebrated with Rev. Fathers who themselves emigrated from former Yugoslavia, was held at St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. This was followed by a banquet at the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex.

Festivities concluded with a Zeleni Sviata (Pentecost) Divine Liturgy at the Ukrainian Catholic Edmonton Eparchy’s Camp Oselia, followed by a picnic, May 20.

Ukrainians from Transcarpathia first settled in former Yugoslavia in the 18th century, but considered themselves a separate nationality (Rusyns).

Ukrainians who identified themselves as such, first came from Halychyna in 1890 and numbered about 10,000. Like those who came to Canada at the same time, they came to seek a better life.

They settled mostly in Bosnia, but also in Serbia and Croatia and created a thriving community. However, when Yugoslavia broke up in 1991 and war erupted, they were caught in the crossfire and had to flee.

Many came to Canada. The Ukrainian Canadian Social Services (UCSS) Branch in Edmonton sponsored and helped over 370 refugees from the former Yugoslavia (mostly Ukrainians and also Croats Serbs and Muslims-Bosnian). 300 of these settled in Edmonton.

UCSS President Bill Shostak told New Pathway – Ukrainian News that a number of sponsorships were signed by other community organizations but UCSS provided settlement services. Board members and other community volunteers assisted in the settlement of refugees, including community fundraising, and bingos.

Speaking at the banquet, Dobrodiyka Luba Kowalchyk, then Executive Director of Ukrainian Canadian Social Services (UCSS) in Edmonton, said when she approached then UCSS President, the late Bill Diachuk, to organize the resettlement of refugees, then held at a Displaced Persons camp in Austria, “there was no hesitation in his mind”.

“He did not know you, he knew me and l knew most of you. l approached the late Bishop Myron Daciuk, Eparch of the Edmonton Eparchy at that time, so the Edmonton Eparchy would write letters of guarantee for your airfare to Canada. The late Bishop Myron Daciuk looked at me and said we will help our brothers and sisters in need with whatever we can. There were countless volunteers who made sure you had bread and milk in your fridges when you arrived from the refugee camp… I would like to thank all of those that contributed time, money and moral support to those in need… Ukrainian Catholic Clergy and Ukrainian Catholic Parishes, Edmonton Eparchy organizations, Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood, Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League, Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Provincial and Edmonton Branch, Ukrainian National Federation, Ukrainian Youth Unity and its Organizations,” added Kowalchyk.

Guest speaker at the banquet was Fr. Mehajlo Stahnek, Pastor of the Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Kozarac, Bosnia, which was the home parish for many of the refugees.

He was introduced by Rev. Julian Bilyj, Pastor of St. Nicholas Parish and one of seven priests from former Yugoslavia serving in the Eparchy of Edmonton.

Rev. Bilyj noted that Fr. Stahnek studied in Rome at the Minor Seminary of St. Josaphat, was ordained at Mother of God Parish in Devetina, whose parish priest at that time was Fr. Mihajlo Planchak (now at the Edmonton Eparchy) and in 1984 was assigned to Kozarac, where until that time, Fr. Antin Tarasenko (also currently in Edmonton) was the parish priest.

Speaking in Ukrainian, Fr. Stahnek gave a moving account of the tribulations endured by Ukrainians caught in the crossfire of war where former neighbours became enemies.

Three concentration camps were established in his parish alone, which lost 60% of its members during the course of the conflict.

He used the metaphor of life as an embroidered shirt with black and red crosses on a white cloth – red symbolizing love and black, sorrow. But where there are crosses, there is a church “Christ’s sure vessel of salvation”, he emphasized.

During the course of the war people lost the three elements of faith, love and hope, which people regained once they found their haven in a new land, after escaping the horrors of war.

“The long wait ended (as did the) uncertainty. The end of the tunnel and after that sunlight. The sun of hope. A new day… in a new world. And this new world is a land blessed by God – this Canadian land,” he stated while the audience applauded.

Representing the federal government, Edmonton Griesbach MP Kerry Diotte, who revealed that he was unaware of the full scope of what the refuges endured before that night.

“What some of you folks went through is simply awe inspiring,” Diotte said adding that the refuges came here with no government funding and were willing to take any job.

“It’s just an amazing story… I wish that every person who came to this country was as hard working and as dedicated,” he added.

Speaking for the Government of Alberta, Fort Saskatchewan – Vegreville MLA Jessica Littlewood said she was “honoured to recognize the importance of this milestone and the value in keeping this history alive”.

When the first families arrived in Edmonton in 1993, they brought “their perseverance, resilience and skills to their new home”.

“While this new life in Alberta was vastly different from the life they left behind — the harsh Alberta climate and cultural differences — they adapted and prevailed.

“A strong sense of community and unshakable will allowed these families to retain their customs and traditions while adapting to a new start,” she added.

Representing the City of Edmonton, Ward 3 Coun. Jon Dziadyk said that while we hear a lot about Ukrainian immigration to the Prairies and after World War Two, “we forget about what happened when Yugoslavia fell apart.”

“It’s an important story to tell. It’s about nation building,” he added.

Tony Korcaba, who shared MC duties with Irena Struk, read out greetings from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. After this, video greetings from Paul Grod, National President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress; Miroslav Hochak, President of World Congress of Ukrainian Youth Organizations; Ukraine Informational Politics Minister Yuriy Stets; the Head of the Ternopil Oblast State Administration, Stepan Baran; and Mykhaylo Ratushny, Head of the World Forum of Ukrainians, were screened.

“A lot has happened in the last 25 years that we all are grateful for,” said Korcaba.

“We are living in one of the best countries in the world with many opportunities. Our families have grown, we all have homes, jobs, and our kids are enjoying their schools and are accepted into the community.

“In the last 25 years, there have been 108 children born in Edmonton and many more all over Canada.”

Many of those children, whom Struk referred to as “The next Generation”, performed dances, organized by Slavica Lepki, for the evening

Entertainment was also provided by the Ruta Musical Ensemble of the Ukrainian Women’s Organization, Edmonton Branch.

In the foyer, entrance area, a collection of historical pictures, collected by Tomo Tihostup and Lidija Simcisin, were displayed.

“Tomo Tihostup was always capturing important moments of our lives,” Struk told New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

“Tomo was always ready with his camera. He was in the first group that came to Canada, and every person that landed on Edmonton airport, he was there to welcome and capture the moment,” she added.

Throughout the evening, videos were shown of the first steps that all the immigrant from former Yugoslavia took.

Among the other individuals who contributed to the evening were Franjo Krupenko, Josip Bojcun, Lida Butinjski, Petro Semenjuk, and Vlado Harasim.