Editorial from The Ukrainian Weekly (February 24, 2019)

This week’s issues of both Svoboda (issue date February 22) and The Ukrainian Weekly (February 24) have special sections dedicated to a milestone anniversary of our publisher, the Ukrainian National Association – its 125th.

The UNA is the oldest and largest Ukrainian fraternal organization. Indeed, it is among the oldest fraternal organizations in the United States. President/CEO Stefan Kaczaraj points out in a story about the UNA jubilee that appears on page 5 of this issue: “At the beginning of the 20th century, there were more than 600 fraternal insurance societies. Now there are less than 100. We are one of them. This is a testament both to the commitment of the UNA to our members and our community, as well as the loyalty of our members and our community to the UNA. I am proud to say that, for 125 years, the UNA has been insuring our community.”

It was back on February 22, 1894, that a group of Ukrainian (then called Ruthenian or Rusyn) activists convened in Shamokin, Pa., for the founding meeting of what would become the Ukrainian National Association. Svoboda reported: “…on the day when all America celebrates the birthday anniversary of the great George Washington, fearless fighter for liberty and the rights of man, Rusyn priests, delegates of Rusyn brotherhoods and Rusyn patriots from many areas assembled at 9 a.m. in the Ukrainian church in Shamokin, Pa., to ask God’s help in launching this all-important project – the founding of the ‘Ruskyi Narodnyi Soyuz.’ ”

Those pioneers of the UNA had heeded the call of the biweekly newspaper Svoboda – founded in September 1893 in Jersey City, N.J. – which advocated the establishment of “a national organization… that would embrace each and every Rusyn no matter where he lives.” (An excerpt from that historic editorial dated November 1, 1893, appears to the right.) The paramount purpose of this organization, Svoboda explained, was to “work together to improve our lot in this new land.” This new national organization would seek to help the infirm and the widowed, promote education and enlightenment, and encourage immigrants to become American citizens and take an active part in the political life of their new country. At the same time, this organization would promulgate knowledge about the language, history and heritage of its members’ ancestral homeland.

At the fraternal organization’s first convention, held on May 30, 1894, in Shamokin, there were 17 delegates and assets totaled $220.35.  It was decided that Svoboda would serve as its official organ, even though the paper was not owned by the organization. Significantly, during that convention “Shche Ne Vmerla Ukraina” was heard for the first time in America, performed by the choirs of Olyphant and Shamokin. (The song was adopted as Ukraine’s national anthem in 1917.) 

By 1904, as UNA historian Dr. Myron B. Kuropas has documented, the RNS was undergoing ethnonational development and increasingly identifying as Ukrainian. As a result, at the 1914 convention the name of the RNS was changed to Ukrainian National Association. An announcement of the convention’s decisions published in Svoboda noted that the name change came as the fate of Ukraine was being decided during wartime and in the 100th anniversary year of Shevchenko’s birth. (It is worth noting that Shevchenko’s words “Uchitesia, braty moyi…” first appeared atop Svoboda’s front page in its premiere issue, and that Shevchenko is revered as the patron of the UNA.) And thus, “the organization …overtly acknowledged its connection to the 40-million-strong Ukrainian nation.”

The rest, as they say, is history. The Ukrainian National Association would go on to play a leading role in the development of Ukrainian American community life, as readers will see in this special section. Today, it continues its involvement in our community as an organization with a membership base and assets that have grown exponentially since its founding.

Dear Readers, please join us in celebrating the UNA’s 125 years of achievements and service to our community and our nation.