The hall was full with those of Ukrainian descent, not only from the local area but from other areas as well, when the Rama Golden Jets hosted a Holodomor Commemoration in honour of the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian emigration to Canada.
The program for the evening included guest speakers Father Methodius Kushko; Cathay Wagantall. M.P.; Oksana Burback, formerly of Ukraine; and Glen Tymiak, all of Yorkton.
Many items dear to the Ukrainian settlers were on display in the hall: a model of the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Tadmore, built by John Prokop of Yorkton; decorated eggs made from real eggshells (pysanka); wooden nesting dolls (matroshka); handmade violins, and of course, bread made decorative as only the Ukrainians can!
True to their culture and in rural hospitality style, a bountiful banquet of traditional Ukrainian foods included pickles, cabbage rolls and beetniks, with trifle for dessert. Following the banquet, some members of the Vesna Ukrainian Dancers from Invermay performed a traditional dance, and The Zayshleys provided music both Ukrainian and other exhuberant tunes for the dance following.
The guest speakers followed the introduction presented by organizer Mary Kowalyshen.
“It is so very fitting that we pay tribute to those who left their homeland and their families in search for a better life in Canada. They were willing to face any hardships – the cold, the lack of English language, no house, very few possessions and tools – and the fact that they would need to clear the land to build their new home.”
Guest speaker Oksana Zanevich Burback, who grew up in Ukraine and emigrated to Canada with her parent about 16 years ago, spoke about the impact of the Holodomor on Ukrainians and Ukrainian life.
“I spent quite a bit of time with my grandparents who were survivors of the Holodomor and famine. When I didn’t want to listen and didn’t want to eat, my baba used to chase me around and said, ‘Oksana eat, because one day you might not have it.’”
“To hear the stories about how they had to eat the roots from the trees, they had to kill the birds, they had to do anything for survival, it just breaks my heart,” said Burback.
“My grandparents lived under Stalin’s rule, who put the country into Holodomor. Anything they had in the house, grains or anything, the Russians would come in and take it. If you hid something, they would beat you, they didn’t care. If you didn’t listen you were sent to jail.,” added Burback. “Both my grandfathers were sent to jail. One was 18 years old, he was in jail for five years politically because he was fighting for Ukraine’s freedom, then he was sent to Siberia. Another grandfather was 15 years old when he was sent to jail.”
“Gido always spoke, there was always sadness in his eyes, I remember that fear stayed in him until the end. At Christmas he was afraid to sing the carols, which were suppressed in Stalin’s time.”
Oksana and her mother Katerina (Catherine) then sang one of the carols that had been suppressed during Russian rule.
Father Kushko, who may be familiar to people from his radio and television shows out of Yorkton, spoke next. He discussed the history of Ukraine, from the time when Kiev was an independent state, through the adoption of Christianity; the invasions by the Ottoman Empire under Suleiman, and the subsequent conquering of Ukraine culminating in Russian rule and the Holodomor.
“The Ukrainian presentation of the Holodomor is not like ours; they have all these graphic pictures of tortures, very, very terrible,” said Father Kushko.
He then quoted from Ukraine: A History, “The famine that occurred in 1932-33 was to be for the Ukrainians what the Holocaust was to the Jews, and the massacre of 1915 to the Armenians. A tragedy of unfathomable proportions, it traumatized a nation, leaving it with deep social, psychological, political, demographic scars, that it carries to this day.”
“How many people died? Seven million, and Ukraine has not gotten over it. They killed so many of the educated people, the tradespeople.”
Mayor of Rama Darrel Dutchak then introduced Cathay Wagantall, member of parliament for the Yorkton-Melville riding. She spoke of memories of her Ukrainian grandparents.
“My mother’s parents came to Canada. It was a tough go for them when they first arrived here; we don’t hear a lot about that but it was difficult to immigrate, and to face some of the challenges of being in a new country, so I didn’t learn much of my Ukrainian heritage when I was young.
“My grandfather would sit us [Cathay and her sister] down, on their beautiful embroidered loveseat with all this gorgeous wooden engraving and then he would dance for us. That is really my only good memory of my Ukrainian heritage – other than being able to make a mean cabbage roll,” smiled Wagantall.
On a more serious note, Wagantall said the hardships of the Ukrainian people need to be remembered and “ … the tenacity of the Ukrainian people amazes me.”
Just before the banquet started, Oksana and Katerina lit the candle of remembrance, with one minute of silence to remember the victims of Holodomor.
Following the delicious banquet, Glen Tymiak, past-president of the Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood [of Canada], spoke about Holodomor Awareness week that is recognized provincially from Nov. 21 to 27, instituted in 2010. He also informed those present about the Holodomor National Awareness Tour, housed in a custom RV that is now touring the country, which includes audio-visual, interactive presentations.
The Vesna Ukrainian dancers in full costume delighted attendees with traditional dance. The performers were Alexa Bilokraly, Ivan Fidek, Faith Fidek, Dawson Pozniak, and Nikolas Bilokraly.
The evening finished with music from The Zayshleys, who play Ukrainian songs as well as popular and dance tunes.
It was an opportunity to learn more about Ukrainian culture and history, to speak Ukrainian with friends old and new, and to acknowledge the contributions and trials of Ukrainians to the world.
By Charlene Wirtz