UWC seminar highlights importance of collaboration between communities and leaders

Alexandra Holyk for New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

Ambassadors and leaders within the global Ukrainian community discussed the development of partnerships and collaborations with Ukrainians around the world as part of the Ukrainian World Congress’ (UWC) virtual seminar on Nov. 21.

The seminar—which took place on the seventh anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity and the 16th anniversary of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine—was moderated by Mariia Kupriianova, UWC’s executive director. Its guest speakers included ambassador of Ukraine to Canada Andriy Shevchenko, ambassador of Ukraine to Lebanon Ihor Ostash and Taras Bahriy, the head of the UWC mentorship program and former president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) – Toronto branch.

In his opening remarks, president of UWC Paul Grod stressed the importance of connecting with Ukrainian leaders, adding that the Church, embassy and community make up the “Holy Trinity” that acts as a voice and meets the needs of Ukrainians around the world.

“We have become a large, strong global Ukrainian community with more than 20 million Ukrainians living in more than 65 countries,” Grod said. “It’s really important that we strengthen our communities and…ensure that our diaspora is powerful, conscious and effective.”

Ostash, Shevchenko and Bahriy reflected on their experiences in working with community members in Lebanon, across Canada and in Toronto, respectively.

In Lebanon, Ostash said he is working with the community to dignify Ukrainian culture and history.

“Ukrainians first immigrated to Lebanon in the late 1970s,” Ostash said. “There was no [Ukrainian] schooling or cultural centres and Ukraine was seen as only a part of the Soviet Union. That’s the baggage that we’ve carried,” he added.

However, Ostash said that much has changed over the last four years. The second generation of Ukrainians in Lebanon are leaving their mark—celebrating Ukrainian traditions and feast days, translating Ukrainian literature into Arabic and erecting commemorative monuments, including one of Taras Shevchenko.

With so many ongoing projects, Ostash said that when it comes to prioritizing one over the other, he strives to communicate with the community members, saying, “the [embassy] is always open.”

According to an archived Ukrainian government website from 2019, there are approximately 5,000 Ukrainians living in Lebanon. Ostash compared the community in Lebanon with that in Canada as he had the opportunity to work with both countries—calling the communities “opposites” of each other.

“The Canadian community has a history of more than 125 years and has many powerful organizations under the umbrella of the [UCC], which is also reflected in the schooling, economy, credit unions and powerful community structures,” Ostash said.

Contrastingly, Shevchenko pointed out that there are more than 1.3 million Ukrainians living in Canada.

While showcasing what Ukrainian-Canadian life is like, Shevchenko shared an image from the Canadian Parliament on Vyshyvanka Day in 2019 which included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and several Ukrainian interns dressed in embroidered blouses and shirts. Shevchenko said although there are no community organization leaders present, the image represents the work they do.

“The embassy isn’t just a place for meetings; the embassy is a place where we work together to create meaningful results and discuss common interests and goals,” said Shevchenko.

Shevchenko said three key duties of Ukrainians in the diaspora as well as in Ukraine include: building a partnership between the community and the embassy, sharing your achievements and being actively involved in the country you call home.

“In Canada, being a good Ukrainian means being a good Canadian,” said Shevchenko. “Make the work you do [within your country] noticeable…it will strengthen the community and realize its importance and the importance of its goals.”

When asked about getting the youth involved—particularly young Ukrainians born in Canada—Shevchenko said educating students and connecting them with each other, their community at home as well as the global community of Ukrainians needs to be prioritized.

“Future generations of Ukrainians in Canada are being created at leadership camps run by Ukrainian organizations such as the Ukrainian Youth Association and Plast, as well as in Ukrainian schools,” said Shevchenko. “If we don’t spark an interest or make a connection with those who are 15 years old or younger now, then over the next 10, 20 or 30 years it will be hard for Ukraine to work with Canada.”

“This is the future,” Bahriy added, saying that there are many organizations under the UCC that promote active youth engagement.

Bahriy also looked at the Ukrainian communities in Canada, saying that there is a lot of positive work being done between communities and embassy workers. However, Bahriy said there can be different definitions of “community” and ways in which people can work with embassy leaders and ambassadors.

“The word ‘community’ could refer to me and my friend, but it can also refer to a developing structure that represents the interests of every Ukrainian within the country they live in,” Bahriy said.

Bahriy mentioned that one of the ways communities can work with ambassadors and embassy leaders is through diverse projects.

In order to start these projects and establish a connection with the embassy, Shevchenko said the Ukrainian Canadian community should utilize the UCC as an umbrella organization to speak with one voice.

“There are three collaborative parts that are required: joint planning, joint work and joint celebration over accomplishments,” said Shevchenko. “Nothing brings a community closer together than collaborative work and success.”

Bahriy also spoke about the need for unity amongst Ukrainians and strengthen the community despite any differences, specifically in regards to politics and the recent presidential election in Ukraine.

“I call upon everyone who lives in Ukraine and outside of Ukraine to stay together—don’t divide [based on elections or other ongoing issues]. Be together and work together.”

To close the virtual seminar, Grod reinforced the importance of connections with ambassadors, embassy workers and leaders within the global Ukrainian community.

“When there is one voice, when there is one united community, then it can be much more impactful within its country,” Grod said. “Without this, [action and progress] is impossible.”

Alexanda Holyk is this year’s winner of Ukrainian Credit Union’s New Pathway Fellowship​