Exploring Ukrainian history and culture through the past and present

Laurel Lawry, Dianna Kleparchuk and Debbie Karras (from left to right) stand outside the Ukrainian Cultural Centre.

Laurel Lawry, Dianna Kleparchuk and Debbie Karras (from left to right) stand outside the Ukrainian Cultural Centre.

The Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (AUUC) is commemorating their 85th anniversary, as well as Malanka, the Ukrainian New Year. Malanka celebrates the warmth of the sun and the long days after winter. The important cultural event, celebrated this year on Jan. 14, connects the younger generation to their cultural roots through folk dance, choirs and orchestras.

Eaten at Malankakutya is a special porridge served along with perogies, sauerkraut, poppy seed rolls and other traditional dishes. The food for the festival is cooked and served by members of the AUUC and devoted volunteers. Entertainment at Malanka includes performances from dance groups and choirs. Many look forward to the open floor traditional Kolomeyka dance at the end of the night.

“The kids gain a sense of community at [these events] and we include them. They’re not just coming in for the event and then going home. [The kids] also help prepare and serve the food,” says Debbie Karras, administrative director of the AUUC.

The History of the Ukrainian people and the AUUC

During the 19th century, many Ukrainians immigrated to Canada for a new beginning; and the 2011 Statistics Canada report estimates 84,640 Ukrainian people live in the Vancouver area. Dianna Kleparchuk, 72, president of the Vancouver AUUC branch, says there is a rich history of the Ukrainian people in Vancouver.

“Many Ukrainians settled around the [Strathcona] area. It’s as if you could walk outside and scream ‘hey everybody, there’s a meeting at the hall,’” says Kleparchuk.

Kleparchuk says the goal of preserving Ukrainian culture in Vancouver is still valued greatly today. Ukrainians used to be split up into two groups, one being the secular group, and the other being the followers of the Ukrainian Catholic church. Laurel Lawry, director of the AUUC Dance School, likes to note that the line between the groups has started to blur – and she hopes the line continues to blur until it no longer exists.

“Many people of all ages look forward to [Malanka] because of the special food and the dance,” says Lawry.

Kleparchuk and Lawry say that Malanka brings people of all Ukrainian backgrounds together and these special events are highly anticipated in the community.

Reflecting on the past and looking towards the future

Liz Kaminsky, 72, speaks very proudly of her Ukrainian heritage. Kaminsky was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and moved to Vancouver in 1967. Kaminsky stays involved in Ukrainian culture by singing in the Svitanok Chorus and attending church regularly. Kaminsky says the church plays a very important role in her life, and a lot of other Ukrainians’ lives as well.

“There’s not a large Ukrainian population [in Vancouver], it’s very fractured. In Winnipeg there was a larger Ukrainian population. [In Vancouver] we can do better to encourage others to participate,” says Kaminsky.

Kaminsky says the youth play an important role in Ukrainian culture and her community should be more proactive when it comes to encouraging others to embrace Ukrainian heritage.

Montana Hunter, 23, is an active youth in the Ukrainian community and dances with the Dovbush dancers at the AUUC. He says the Ukrainian culture at the AUUC is very important to Ukrainians who are looking for a sense of community.

“I try to encourage my friends to come out to events and dances. The culture has changed a little bit, so what we need is to adapt, advertise ourselves and sell ourselves a bit better,” says Hunter.

Hunter says a few of the Dovbush dancers aren’t Ukrainian, but they feel included in the community nonetheless. One of Hunter’s dance partners, Jennifer Bednard, 23, speaks proudly about her Ukrainian background and how she can contribute to her culture as a youth in Vancouver.

“We try to encourage friends and people from different backgrounds to come to [Ukrainian] events. [Dovbush] performs at different cultural gatherings, and we try to embrace and encourage our culture in that way,” says Bednard.