Ukrainian Tones on Canadian Soil
(Page 2 of 3)
"Yet when I revisited Kiev last August," she continues, "yellow-and-blue flags were flying, churches and synagogues were being restored. Our Ukrainian choir from Winnipeg sang mass outside a cave in a Kiev park because the church couldn't hold all 60 singers and the congregation. Suddenly a contingent of Soviet militia surrounded us. I thought: They are going to break this up, arrest everyone ... .Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"We kept singing. Gradually most militiamen filtered away, though some stayed for the whole mass. And now everyone in Kiev, even young people, speaks beautiful Ukrainian."
My own father, who escaped Russia through the Crimea in 1920, spoke Ukrainian, as well as Russian, English, and French, but didn't teach me. My grandmother, who left the Soviet Union in 1933, taught me Russian and French, but no other child in my childhood spoke any second language.
Was it this semi-isolation - coupled with a strong sense of heritage - that nurtured me as a poet? And poetry was hardly a profession in the America of my childhood ....
During my own first visits to the Soviet Union, in 1986 and 1988, customs officials looked warily at my books of poems. Intourist hustled me through Kiev. I feared my ungrammatical Russian with its Anglo-French accent would scare off potentially friendly Russians. But I didn't dress like a tourist, and my accent was mistaken for Baltic. By the last visit, December 1990, my Russian had improved, and foreigners and poets were no longer feared.
In Winnipeg's community of Ukrainian exiles, however, Russian is "the language of the oppressor." Perhaps only a shared love of poetry - instilled in me by parents and grandmothers who recited poems before I was old enough to understand the words - made me acceptable here.
In Ukraine poets are revered: Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, and dramatist Lesya Ukrainka among the most famous. Plato would rejoice over how many of the current liberal politicians and parliamentarians there would fit in his kingdom of poet-philosopher kings: Ivan Drach, head of Ukraine's independence movement RUKH, is a poet; Dmytro Pavlychko, chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, is a poet; Volodymyr Yavorivsky, in charge of ecology for parliament, and Yuri Shcherbak, member of parl iament, are novelists. And now they can publish freely.
Winnipeg editor Nicholas Hryn also receives submissions of poetry from Ukraine. We translate one by Maria Bratachuk, a teacher in Ternopol, western Ukraine: "You are a tall poplar/ but you have grown thin and dry,/ wounded by foreigners./ Rise from your knees,/ My Ukraine, look around:/ you can see other nations/ now the wind has blown clouds away./ I pray you outlive your assassins."
No longer is it lonely to be a poet here either. I sometimes visit classrooms under artist-in-the-schools programs. Today in Winnipeg I meet Ukrainian artists-in-the-schools at the multilingual Ralph Brown elementary school. Principal Vicky Adams, a fourth-generation Ukrainian, has invited accordionist Myron Duda and his wife Zoriaslava Hlyadak, a choreographer and ballet-mistress, from the Verkhovyna Professional Folklore Ensemble of Drohobych-na-Lviv, to coach Canadian children mainly of Ukrainian extr action, but Filipino, Indonesian, Anglo-Saxon, and other backgrounds have joined in. Myron Duda has them singing an ancient Ukrainian song, which in translation means:
God, hear our prayers./ Misfortune ruins our land./ In unity our nation is strong./ God, give us unity.
Myron Duda and Zoriaslava Hlyadak are rehearsing for the traditional Malanaka pageant January 13, the saint's day of St. Malaniya, which according to the old-style Ukrainian and Russian calendar is also New Year's Eve.
"These celebrations of renewal and revitalization date from before the time, literally 1001 years ago, when ancient Kiev became the birthplace of Christianity in Russia," Myron Duda explains. "The early Christians superimposed saints' days on the existing pagan holidays. Gradually the rituals intertwined."