The 2012 Lemko Vatra at Ellenville was an outstanding event.
I was at all Vatras starting with 2001 and I can absolutely agree with this.
Spiritually, it’s all the same annual meeting of the Lemkos of the United States having a festival to remember and socialize. I am saying “USA lemkos”, because rare guests arrive here from “The great water” and, unfortunately, this year the time of the Canadian Vatra coincided with ours. This year the Vatrа field was also not crowded with many people because of the U.S. Independence Day, which attracted thousands to the Catskill Mountains. And though not very crowded, our Vatra was as warm as always. It was warm from the sun, which warmed the artists on the hot stage. It was warm in our hearts – once again we met together in the mountains, so similar to our Green Beskydy. Warm from the awareness – our Vatra’s “fire” is only a gleam in numerous sea of Lemko Vatras, that are blazing in many places in Lemkivshchyna in Poland, Ukraine and Canada.
On Saturday, 4th September 20012 our Vatra’s fire was lit by young men, who are young Lemkos already born in the U.S. They are here with relatives, who with trembling hearts are clapping at the Vatra opening. The leadership of Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna are on the stage and the indispensable Vatra’s Starosta Vasil Harhaj for the twentieth time greets the audience and the speakers. Father Kashchak is blessing those present and the show. In turn along with the greetings, Head of OOL Zenko Halkovych presents a new book published in English and funded by OOL – “Zakerzonnia: Ethnic Cleansing of the Ukrainian Minority in Poland. 1944-1947”. A member of the SFULO Presidium, Andrew Khomyk reads the greetings of the newly-elected SFULO Head Sofia Fedyna. She is not only a political scientist and Head of the World Federation of Ukrainian Lemko Unions, but also a famous singer. That same evening she performs at Lemko Vatra in Canada. The head of the Lemko Research Foundation emphasizes touchingly the presence of many young faces in the audience – they are our future generation (and there are not only his children but already grandchildren with him, like with many of those who are present.
The concert starts – and it makes this year’s Vatra definitely better than the previous ones. Year after year we see our favorites – the wonderful Pavlyshyn sisters, who like swans are becoming more beautiful and sing more beautifully. Alla Kusevych with Andrei Turchin begin and more than once weave their Lemko and Ukrainian songs “Cne mi cja za tobov”, “Jak ja sino grabala”, etc. Gorgeous girls’ voices from the “Samocvit” perform acapella and with their perfection. As always, Peter Vislockij read his “vici” to an ovation and laughter. Innesa Dekajlo’s Violin cried and laughed with folk and modern rhythms, flew up to the sky, fell and huddled with the audience.
This we were waiting for. Ukrainians are famous for their voices and talents. Only we are few here. Frankly speaking, here in the diaspora, we can’t count on as high a professional level of the concert as in Ukraine. It is there there are a huge variety of honorary and academic, polyphonic and chamber, of a different genre, and, most importantly, professional collectives. I grew up there and am accustomed to the richness. When I arrived in the United States I saw for several years on our stage artists who were very sincere and aspiring, yet amateurs. And I became accustomed, resigned to this – obviously inevitable – phenomenon. In the midst of foreign environment the cultural development of a minority – is anyway delayed assimilation … And what do we see today? The fourth wave of immigration brings here not just more and more people, but more and more talented people. This year the highest level of the Lemko Vatra in the United States has not been seen yet.
A trio “Gerdan” from Washington consisted of Andrew Pidkivka, Solomiya Gorohivska, and Richard Miller from Brazil and became a genuine discovery. Their acoustic guitar, both in Ukrainian and Latin rhythms, was fantastic. Andriy showed the wonders of his ability to play different authentic wind instruments, and in addition Salomija’s solo and violin, became a real ornamentation of the holiday. Something that we have been waiting for a long time. New experiments, not stagnation and admiring with
Ukrainian antiquity, but bold arrangements and the becoming of our melody on the modern level – that is what so pleased us in “Gerdan”. Also at the Festival debuted charming Natalya Kikta with the Lemko songs “Oj vershe”. We are hoping the debut was the first but will be not the last of her performance on stage in Ellenville.
As always between the performances those who are starving for the Ukrainian dishes could enjoy them at the kitchen (traditional roast pig («pacja») was on numerous plates (“tarilka”) long before the concert started.
In the evening – traditionally – was a lot of fun. Our wonderful indoor dance floor to the sound of “Thunder” those who wanted to dance competed with their weariness to the white dawn, and around on green grass and at tables – were memories and encounters, laughter and jokes, “pogarik and spivanki”… Left before sunrise, but for a short time…
5th September, early Sunday in the Lemko chapel Archbishop Paul Homnickij conducted a dirge dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Operation Vistula. OOL Departments’ and CYM’s flags were caressed by a light breeze. The birds died down… Lemkos stood in prayer. In our memory is indelible pain – a deportation. It was mentioned by Bishop in his sermon: “… these unwanted emigrants were scattered in a foreign land as autumn leaves. Unfortunately the modern Ukrainian Government doesn’t remember those who lost their lives or suffered during the Operation Vistula, or other events. We remember and pray for them. ”
On the 12th Vatra also was a food for intellect. Our dear Head of UCCA Askold Lozynskyj is making a report on the same anniversary of the evictions. Though anyone of grey-haired listeners do not need to remember what brought them that infamous relocation there weren’t lack of youth in the Hall. Mainly for them OOL issued in English already mentioned book «Zakerzonia …». Various aspects of Ukrainian-Polish relations were touched by the speaker and a thought “we must forgive, but cannot forget …” weaved as a red thread through the report.
Again the concert is coming on stage. And again “Gerdan” and L. Shipchik, A. Kusevych and A. Turchin, Pavlishin sisters and “Samocvit” are reminding to us their yesterday’s magic. There was a time for an art song – young and talented guitarist Maxim Lozinsky performed a modern composition “Don’t sleep, my native land” and “Get up!”
As pleasant surprise wonderful girls and boys of the “Babarosin” ensemble flitted on stage, heels clacked, skillful dancers flickered in incendiary dance. They are from New York City, and I would have thought – from Ukraine, so professionally their “Hopak”, “Kolomyjka” and “Kozachok” fascinated viewers.
You can see a lot of things on Vatra. And this makes Lemko Vatra glorious. It is a festival not only for young people that differ just in the music style. Vatra is for all generations. Old and small ones come here. They come to watch and listen, dance and sing. But also to pray and remember. They meet and remember. We have things to remember. We are the Lemkos. Most of us have lost their land, but none of us has lost his memory and his faith. New generations born in other lands grow, and great-grandfather’s land of the Lemko is knocking in their hearts. And they come to the Vatra. In various lands around the world, but with the one spirit in the hearts. No one can’t stop us so far we from coming to the Vatra. So far we are keeping our sources, so far youth lemko are trampling the grass with their bare feet before Vatra’s “ognisko”on Lemkivshina, in Ukraine, Canada and the United States.
For me personally it was priceless to see a book of my father’s, Vasyl Khomyk’s, poems in hands of our charming organizer – Galina Semenyak. Poems from the book weaved harmoniously in the canvas of the concert among its acts. And I will finish with the words of his “Lemko Prayer”:
«…Тебе благаєм кожну днину
Порви загради з днів війни
Верни нас в рідну Лемківщину
і самобутність сохрани».
“… We beseech thee every day
Tear the fence from the days of war
Return us to our home Lemkivshchyna
And keep our identity “.