Esteemed members of the UNA,
Dear Ukrainian brothers and sisters:
The date of February 22 is cause for great joy and pride as we mark the success of our organized community life, which began way back in 1894. Let us ponder the significance of this date as we listen to voices from our history, those of our grandparents and great-grandparents, affirming: “We did it!”
At the end of the 19th century, the first immigrants from Ukrainian lands arrived here. They had no idea of how to live in this unfamiliar country. Step by step, through their own hard work and by overcoming extreme hardship, they followed their instincts and they learned. And they soon understood that it was best to heed the advice of those among them who were wiser and more educated. And that, too, is significant – for there was someone to listen to, someone to gather around, someone to follow in the economic, religious, cultural and educational spheres of activity. There were true leaders who clearly saw the road ahead and were able to steer their community toward a brighter future.
On September 15, 1893, the Rev. Hryhoriy Hrushka and like-minded colleagues published the first issue of the newspaper Svoboda, “a true beacon of light in the prevailing darkness of hopelessness and despair among Ukrainian immigrants in America,” as Anthony Dragan wrote in his history of the UNA (1964). Thanks to their extraordinary spiritual and moral strength, these pioneers of our community life were able to combine national values with human values. Each issue of Svoboda promoted the enlightenment of its readers and adopted as its credo Taras Shevchenko’s immortal words: “Study, my brothers. Think, read. Learn what others have to offer, but do not forsake your own.”
Just a few months later, Svoboda called for the establishment of a national organization “that would embrace each and every Ukrainian no matter where he lives,” for “in unity there is strength, and it is not easily defeated.” Remembering Shevchenko’s dream for Ukraine of its own Washington “with his new and righteous law,” the founding convention of that organization was scheduled for February 22, the birthday of George Washington.
“Sovershyshasia” – “It has come to be,” proclaimed Svoboda on March 1, 1894, in reporting on the birth of the fraternal society today known as the Ukrainian National Association. “We did it!”
From that day forward, the UNA assumed a leadership role in our community in this country. Its myriad achievements through more than 12 decades cannot be listed in this brief jubilee article, but we can at least recall some of the successes in which the UNA played a key part.
Already in the first decade of its existence, the UNA, its branches and its members – then numbering about 1,000 on the East Coast – built churches, established schools, and organized choirs and drama troupes. On the initiative of this new fraternal society, funds were set up to assist Ukraine’s Halychyna region, then struggling and fighting for its national identity. “We did it!”
At the beginning of 1914, the UNA declared the “Year of Taras Shevchenko,” and the Svoboda publishing house gave the youth of our community dozens of books of Ukrainian and world literary classics. That same year, with the eruption of the first world war, the official organ of the UNA, Svoboda, began raising money for the Fund for the Liberation of Ukraine, and beginning in January 1915 for the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen. “We did it!”
The pro-Ukrainian political efforts of the UNA triumphed in 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed April 21, 1917, as Ukrainian Day, when “the people of the United States may make such contributions as they feel disposed for the aid of stricken Ruthenians (Ukrainians) in the belligerent countries” and congressional resolutions expressed support for the independence and unification of all Ukrainian lands. “We did it!”
Consider what efforts were required on the part of our predecessors in the tragic 1930s when Ukrainian Americans tried to alert the world to what was happening in their ancestral homeland as Moscow was destroying Ukraine with a man-made famine – the Holodomor. It was precisely for that reason that the UNA began publishing the English-language newspaper The Ukrainian Weekly. “We did it!”
Next came the battle against slander of our nation in the wake of World War II, when our enemies attempted to portray us as Nazi sympathizers and to depict our national liberation struggle as collaboration. Defending our good name was crucial at a time when America was opening its doors to tens of thousands of displaced persons.
And how much effort was expended in promoting the Ukrainian cause and defending the Ukrainian patriots who became political prisoners of the Soviet Union. The UNA and its two newspapers played leading roles in urgent actions in defense of human and national rights.
And who, if not the UNA and its leaders, persisted against all odds and succeeded in achieving the seemingly impossible: the erection of a monument to Taras Shev-chenko in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.
Yes, “We did it!” We did it all.
All the foregoing represents only a small portion of what was accomplished by our community, that is, by you, dear members of the Ukrainian National Association.
I would especially like to note another important facet of our history: the role of Ukrainian women in the Ukrainian National Association. During the course of our 125-year history, thousands of women were able to use their community skills and organizational talents in the development of our fraternal benefit society. As early as before World War I, Svoboda paid tribute to our women, pointing to their all-important role in instilling in their children not only the love of their Ukrainian heritage but also the determination to defend their nation and its rights. The history of the UNA is replete with the names of prominent women who worked, and continue to work, for the good of our community and our nation within the UNA’s ranks and beyond.
Indeed, today there are many reasons for us to celebrate and to salute each other on the occasion of our jubilee – the 125th anniversary of the Ukrainian National Association.
On the occasion of this extraordinary milestone, I extend best wishes to all of you and your families.