Stamford, CT, USA  –  This past Saturday, October 28, the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (Orhanizatsiia Oborony Lemkivshchyny, OOL) held its 32nd National Convention on the grounds of Saint Basil Seminary and the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford. This marks 90 years of activity for OOL, whose roots reach back to September 1933, when a group of Lemkos gathered in New York City to form a committee to provide material assistance to their homeland. This committee evolved into OOL which, since that time, has conducted humanitarian, cultural and educational work to support natives of the Lemko region (located in current-day southeastern Poland) and their descendants throughout the world.

The 32nd OOL National Convention commenced with OOL President Mark Howansky greeting the delegates and guests, including Rev. Dr. Father Bohdan Prach (former Rector and current Vice President of the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in Lviv), Natalia Klymovska (Vice Rector for Development and Communications of UCU); Olha Zarichynska (UCU Donor Relationship Manager); and Rev. Bohdan Tymchyshyn (Rector of St. Basil Seminary). Noting that COVID-19 began immediately following the last OOL National Convention, Mr. Howansky led a moment of silence to honor those who passed away during the last three years, including Yaroslawa Halyk (former President of the World Federation of Ukrainian Lemko Associations), Stefan Kosciolek (former OOL Executive Treasurer) and Walter Uzdejczyk (former OOL Branch #2 member), among others. Mr. Howansky then turned responsibility for moderating the National Convention over to the selected Presidium, led by Chairman Peter Kosciolek, Vice-Chairman Toma Pyz, and Secretary Bohdan Kykta. 

Mark Howansky speaking at the 32nd OOL National Convention (Photo credit: Julie Wislocki)

The focus of the National Convention consisted of status reports on OOL’s work over the past three years, presented by existing National Board members and OOL branch presidents. Accomplishments of note, despite the limitations imposed by COVID, included: support and fundraising for the Ukrainian war effort and Ukrainian refugees; evolution of OOL’s press organ – “Lemkivshchyna” magazine – into an electronic format; inauguration of the OOL College Scholarship; renovation of the Ukrainian Lemko Museum; participation of OOL members in the World Federation of Ukrainian Lemko Associations, including at the 2022 international congress in Serbia; and financing the renovation of churches and gravestones in the Lemko region. During the convention working sessions, members also brainstormed ways to increase membership, improve interaction with existing members, and enhance OOL’s activities such as through committee development for the Ukrainian Lemko Museum and the Lemko Vatra.

Elections of OOL’s National Board then took place, resulting in the successful selection of the following individuals:

  • Executive
    • President: Mark Howansky
    • 1st Vice President: Michajlo Chomyk
    • 2nd Vice President: Peter Kosciolek
    • Secretary: Oksana Kykta
    • Treasurer: Toma Pyz
  • Officers
    • Organizational: Marika Shmotolocha
    • External Affairs: Lesia Kozicky
    • Welfare: Stefan Kapitula
    • Cultural Affairs: Andriy Khomyk
    • Press: Diana Reilly
    • Press: Julia Wislock
    • Social/Vatra Chair: Darek Kuzmiak
    • Museum Director: Lena Howansky
    • Member-at-Large: Halyna Semenyak
    • Member-at-Large: Pawel Hyra
  • National Auditing Committee
    • Chair: Bohdan Kykta
    • Member: Halyna Pecylak
    • Member: Jaroslaw Pregner
  • National Arbitration Committee
    • Chair: John Hvozda
    • Member: Stefan Malyniak
    • Member: Wasyl Harhaj

Additionally, the following resolutions were drafted at the 32nd OOL National Convention and ratified by the delegates:

  1. OOL reaffirms Lemkos to be part of the greater Ukrainian nation and, thus, will continue its goals of organizing all Lemko Ukrainians in their communities and fostering the greater Ukrainian culture, language, music, and traditions. 
  2. OOL denounces russia’s imperialistic ambitions towards Ukraine and supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as the provision of humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians who have been impacted by the kremlin’s heinous war on Ukraine.
  3. OOL appeals to the government of the United States to continue to provide U.S. foreign aid to Ukraine, including humanitarian, financial, and military support, in support of democracy around the world.
  4. OOL continues to condemn the Soviet-Polish population exchange from 1944-1946 and the forced resettlement operation known as Akcja “Wisła” in 1947, and calls on the current government of Poland to provide proper compensation to the people of the Lemko region as well as to the greater Ukrainian minority who were victims of these resettlement campaigns, including the return of former churches and other properties.
  5. OOL appeals to the government of the United States to denounce the actions of the Polish communist government that carried out the 1944-1946 Soviet-Polish population exchange and the 1947 Akcja “Wisła” forced resettlement operation.

Delegates to the 32nd OOL National Convention (Photo credit: Julie Wislocki)

Following the official close of the National Convention was a celebratory banquet, which began with a cocktail hour at the Ukrainian Museum and Library in Stamford, which also houses the Ukrainian Lemko Museum. Oksana Tomashewsky served as banquet MC, while vocalist and bandura player Olya Fryz provided musical entertainment. The Very Rev. Dr. Ivan Kaszczak gave the keynote address, recalling the history and words of his ancestor Dmitro Kapitula, a Lemko who served as Supreme President of the Ukrainian National Association from 1908-1917. OOL also honored Vasyl Harhaj, Branch #3 President, with a video montage for his many years of service as the MC of the Lemko Vatra.

Additionally, various banquets guests and honored representatives also offered greetings, prayers and congratulations to OOL on the occasion of the 32nd National Convention, including: Rev. Dr. Bohdan Prach; Bishop Paul Chomnycky (Eparch of Stamford of the Ukrainian Catholic Church); Andrij Dobriansky (Director of Communications and Media of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America); Lesia Harhaj-Kudryk (President of the National Board of the Ukrainian American Youth Association); Michael Szpyhulsky (Advisory and Auditing Board Member of Selfreliance Federal Credit Union); Yaroslav Koshelevskiy (Chairman of the Board of Ukrainian National Federal Credit Union); and a video recording from Sofiya Fedyna (People’s Deputy of Ukraine).

Guests at the 32nd OOL National Convention banquet (Photo credit: Julie Wislocki)

Written greetings were also sent to OOL by the: Oksana Markarova (Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United States); Marijka Krutiak (President of the Women’s Association for the Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine); Zenya Kovalchyn-Brozyna (President of the Society of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the USA); and Andriy Kozak (Chairman of the Plast National Board of Directors and National Council).

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