By Lida H. Buniak
Participants of the OOL Information Session in Syracuse, N.Y. Picture by Tatiana Galinskaia SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Representatives from Canada and the United States of the Organization for the Defense of Lemkiv-shchyna and the president of the World Federation of Ukrainian Lemko Associations (known by the Ukrainian acronym SFULO), met on June 30-July 1 in Syracuse, N.Y., to discuss organizational goals and to provide information for local area Lemkos about the benefits of membership.
Historically the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (known as OOL) has deep roots within this Central New York Ukrainian community. The late Dr. Ivan Hvozda, born in the Wysoczany, Sianok district of Lemkivshchyna, was once head of the National Board of OOL. During his presidency, Dr. Hvozda facilitated the creation of the Lemko Research Department in the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and was co-founder of the Lemko Research Foundation (LRF).
During a moving vigil at his final resting place at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery on Saturday, June 30, member delegates of the OOL sang the Lemko folk song “Oy, Vershe, Miy Vershe” and reminisced about the impact Dr. Hvozda had on the creation of the World Federation of Lemkos and the launching of a socio-political movement to promote awareness about the almost extirpated culture and language of Lemkivshchyna.
A meeting of members of the national boards of OOL and the Organization of Lemko Canadians (OLK) also took place on Saturday. The two organizations discussed collaborative projects, such as the planned academic conference on September 7, in Lviv, on the topic of the forced resettlement of ethnic Ukrainians from Poland during 1944-1951.
Sunday’s information session for prospective OOL members at the Syracuse Ukrainian National Home included a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation by OOL President Mark Howansky, “I remember going to Ukrainian School as a child feeling a bit self-conscious about my Lemko accent, but now I have a different attitude… I am proud of what we have accomplished here for Ukraine as Lemkos.”
Lemkos began arriving to America in the 1870s. They were among the first to build Ukrainian churches and form fraternal organizations. World War I brought destruction to the Lemko region. This event likely precipitated the formation of the Central Committee of the Defense of Lemkivshchyna on September 9, 1933, in New York City. The Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna in America was subsequently formed in 1936 in Philadelphia.
The Third Wave migration of Ukrainians to the United States during the 1970s and 1980s yielded a significant expansion of the organization. Currently, besides such cultural events as the annual Lemko Vatra in
Ellenville, N.Y., OOL and LRF offer numerous publications about Lemko history, architecture and art, as well as a plethora of artifacts highlighting the Lemko heritage at the Ukrainian Lemko Museum in Stamford, Conn.
The established OOL branches in New York, Yonkers and Albany N.Y.; Passaic, Irvington and Jersey City, N.J.; and preliminary OOL branches in Philadelphia, Chicago, Syracuse, N.Y., and New Britain, Conn., have the opportunity to bring together members of all ages to learn about their heritage through Lemko pysanka and song workshops. Genealogy resources are also available to family members who were resettled to Soviet Ukraine during the years 1944-1946 or to northern and western Poland during Akcja Wisla in 1947.
Mr. Howansky underscored: “We want to be able to connect with the younger generation and English-speaking Lemkos through technology and social media, to help them learn more about their roots.”
The president of the World Federation of Ukrainian Lemko Associations, Yaroslawa Halyk of Yaremche, Ukraine, expressed her appreciation for the OOL members in the United States and Canada: “I know how hard you work here, raising your children and building a life, but you do not forget about your Ukraine.”
A soulful a capella performance by Lemko folk singer Julia Doszna at this information session was a stirring reminder of the joys and sorrows of this ethnic sub-group of the Carpathian Mountains.
The Lemko information session in Syracuse garnered enough interest in membership to reactivate Syracuse Branch 27 of OOL. Participants felt fortunate to have the late Dr. Hvozda’s son, attorney John I. Hvozda, ready to take over the reins of leadership.
The newly elected president summarized his intentions in an eloquent acceptance speech: “My father always said that throughout life it was important to wear comfortable shoes in order to facilitate your ability to get to where you need to go… And as our pastor once told me, your time inevitably comes to grow up and take the lead when the previous – in this case golden – generation passes on. I now have large shoes to fill, but my father is with me (looking down) and happy that this branch of the OOL has been resurrected. I will work hard with my fellow Syracuse Lemkos to preserve this rich cultural heritage.”
Published in Ukrainian Weekly on July 20 , 2018