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28th National Convention of the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna

On November 7, 2009, the National Home in Passaic, NJ was decorated festively. It was here that the 28th National Convention of the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (OOL) was being held. A greeting of the Convention delegates took place on the stage, adored with a coat-of-arms bearing a trident and oak leaves, which are symbols of the might, strength, and invincibility of the Lemkos. A portrait of the distinguished Ukrainian poet Bohdan-Ihor Antonych sat the on the Presidium’s table, set with a snow-white tablecloth, and a bouquet of live flowers stood nearby, given that the annual meeting of OOL was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the birth of this great son of Lemkivshchyna.

The president of the National Council of OOL, Zenon Halkowycz, commenced the Convention. He greeted the delegates and guests, and suggested a moment of silence to honor the memory of Julian Kotliar, a former head of the National Council, as well as other members of OOL who recently passed away. The honor of leading the Convention then fell to the Presidium, made up of Maria Duplak (president of the Presidium), Zenon Voitovych (vice president), and Bohdan Kikta (secretary). Members were, additionally, selected for OOL’s verification, resolution, and nominating committees.

The work of the Convention proceeded fruitfully and constructively, adhering to all of the organization’s rules and statute norms. The president of the National Council, as well as his vice president and the heads of all of the branches, presented their reports. Through the speeches that were made, a clear picture of the organization’s large-scale activity and concrete work appeared. The delegates were united by a sincere interest in everything that was discussed, with the greatest interest focusing on the report of Mr. Halkowycz. As President of the National Council, Mr. Halkowycz, in full detail, informed those present about the state of affairs within each branch, about the achievements of OOL during the previous period of time, and about the possibilities for developing the organization in the future. Mr. Halkowycz’s report was then supplemented by the reports of his deputies and the heads of the branches.

The delegates asked questions of each of the speakers and discussed each of the reports. They suggested concrete proposals to improve work, and made suggestions about economic and organizational issues, including: the renovation of the roof of the chapel in Ellenville, NY, which has begun to leak; the dissemination of holiday cards; preparations for Christmas caroling (because this event is the main source of revenue for the organization’s relief fund); attracting new Ukrainian immigrants to the organization; the active work of the Ukrainian Lemko museum in Stamford, CT; how to increase the participation of Lemkos in the organization of Christmas Eve dinners; the publication of English-language materials regarding the history and culture of the Lemko region’s achievements; changes and additions to statutes; the search for costs to finance the magazine “Lemkivshchyna”; as well as many real current problems that required urgent attention.

The question of publishing OOL’s periodical, the magazine “Lemkivshchyna,” received particular attention. For 30 years, the magazine has inhabited a unique place in the lives of Ukrainian Lemkos, whose fate has forced them to become immigrants and to search in foreign worlds for a better future for themselves and their families. Within this magazine, it is always possible to find diverse information including current affairs, art topics, memoirs, the bulletin of SFULO (International Federation of Ukrainian Lemko Organizations), organizational news, and reviews. Thanks to the tireless work of Maria Duplak, the magazine is popular around the world. Readers, not only from the United States but also from Ukraine, are constantly sending correspondence. The magazine is also read with pleasure in Lemko schools in Ukraine and Poland. With regard to OOL’s periodicals, the president of the Women’s Association for the Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine, Chrystia Vereshchak, remarked that the quarterly publication of “Lemkivshchyna” and the publishing projects of the Lemko Research Foundation represent pearls of work and deserve great recognition.

The delegates also enthusiastically welcomed the creation of an OOL website devoted to Lemkivshchyna and Lemkos. The development of this website was possible thanks to the efforts of a group of OOL members under the direction of Steven Howansky and his like-minded colleagues. The members of the website committee included: Andriy Khomyk, Diana and Lena Howansky, Zenon Halkowycz, and Maria Duplak. The website includes information about the history and culture, towns and villages, and famous as well as regular people who made Lemkivshchyna known around the world. This archive of national memory, which is available through the webpage:, is accessible always and to everyone. The delegates also spoke about the need to conduct research among their native people, so that Lemkos can share the yellowing, historical pictures from their grandmothers’ keepsake boxes, so that a chronicle of their lives remains available to their grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and future generations for years to come.

The so-called question of “self-identification” was specifically raised for discussion. The deputies confirmed their stand against the efforts of certain pro-Russian separatists to divide the Lemkos as a separate nation of Rusyns in order to attack the unity of Ukraine, and maintained that the name “Rusyn” is tied to Lemkos in the same way that it is to every other Ukrainian. “We are, first and foremost, Ukrainians, and then Lemkos,” the delegates stated in solidarity concerning their readiness to rebuff the separatist movement in the Zakarpattia region and with regard to all matters relating to the defense of Lemkos and Lemkivshchyna.

Later, the delegates voted on the members of their National Council. The following people were elected to the National Council of OOL for the next term:

President: Zenon Halkowycz;
First Vice President and Museum Administrator: Steven Howansky;
Second Vice President: Ivan Fil;
Secretary: Thomas Piz;
Treasurer: Stefan Kosciolek;
Review Board: Maria Duplak – external relations; Vasyl Harhaj – organizational issues; Ivan Zavada – humanitarian issues; Andriy Khomyk – cultural-educational issues, Diana Howansky – press; Peter Vyslotskiy – economic issues; Control Committee: Stefan Kapitula – head; Paul Hyra and Bohdan Kikta – members of the committee;
Court of Colleagues: Peter Rusynko – head; Stefan Maliniak and Ivan Wasiczko – members of the committee.

The approval of the XXVIII National Convention’s resolutions was, next, proposed to the delegates. A variety of the main principles of the Convention participants’ political activity are aimed at the following resolutions:

  1. “During the 62nd year following the deportation operations and the completion of Akcja “Wisla”, the National Convention demands from the government of Poland:
    • The complete rehabilitation of the Ukrainian people of Lemkivshchyna and all of the Zakerzonnya region who were the victims of the inhumane policies of the authorities of 1944-1947;
    • The return of the Ukrainians’ churches and other communal properties (such as Ukrainian National Homes) in Lemkivshchyna and other Ukrainian lands;
    • The teaching of Ukrainian languages in those Polish schools where there is an appropriate number of children of Ukrainian descent.
  2. The National Convention appeals to the President and Supreme Council of Ukraine to defend the rights of the Ukrainian minority in Poland and to define the status of those deported from the Ukrainian lands of Poland from 1944-1947.
  3. The participants of the National Convention of OOL once again underline that Lemkivshchyna is the furthest western Ukrainian ethnic territory and that Lemkos are an inseparable part of the Great Ukrainian Nation, and, therefore, condemn Lemko separatism and political Rusification as harmful to them and the entire Ukrainian nation, as well as do not wish for anyone to count them among a separate nation of Lemkos, Rusyns, or Carpatho-Rusyns, and categorically deny the right of political speculators of Rusification to speak in their name in international forums.

Among the internal-organizational directions of activity that were noted as OOL’s ongoing priorities were: assistance to Ukrainian churches, civic organizations, school, and individual native people who require it; the publication of English-language historical literature about Lemkivshchyna; the continuous renewal and renovation of the website; the reestablishment and strengthening of declining branches of OOL; assisting the publication of the magazine “Lemkivshchyna”; and supporting the development of the Ukrainian Lemko Museum in Stamford. In a separate point in the resolutions, the delegates also made the decision to protest the vilification of good Ukrainian names (such as heroes and the authorities of the Ukrainian State) in the speeches and books of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, as well as other Polish institutions.

Finally, the Convention approached its conclusion. The participants had much to be proud of, and OOL’s activity as a member of the World Congress of Ukrainians and the Congress of Ukrainians in America has earned the organization an honored place in the civic life of the diaspora. At the XXVIII National Convention, representatives from numerous diaspora organizations acknowledged these achievements and the importance of OOL’s work in their speeches and letters of welcome, including: Consul General Serhiy Pohoreltsev, Consulate General of Ukraine in New York; Stefan Hladyk, President of the Union of Lemkos; Tamara Gallo-Olexy, President of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA); Kvitka Semanyshyn, Vice President of the Providence Association of Ukrainian Catholics; Michael Koziupa, President of the Organization for the Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine; and Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka, Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

At the end of the Convention, the newly-elected president thanked all of those present for their active cooperation and wished everyone productive cooperation in the next term. Finally, an inspired rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem concluded the Convention.

In the evening, in honor of the XXVIII National Convention, the participants and guests gathered as a large Lemko family for a banquet in the festively decorated hall of the second floor in the Ukrainian National Home in Passaic, NJ. Adding to the solemnity of the affair was the attendance of highly-esteemed guests, including the Most Reverend Paul Patrick Chomnycky, O.S.B.M., Father Andriy Dudkevych (St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic, NJ); Father Oleh Zhovnirovych (Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Clifton, NJ); Tamara Gallo-Olexy (UCCA); Genia Blaha (Ukrainian Youth Association (CYM)); Maria Liber (Women’s Association for the Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine); Ivan Burtyk (Organization for the Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine); and Bohdan Harhaj (President of Foundation “Volya”).

The Most Revered Bishop Paul Chomnycky blessed those present, commencing the celebration. The president of OOL Branch #3, Vasyl Harhaj, introduced the guests and Mrs. Halyna Semeniak led the concert program. The evening, full of cultural-recreational performances, produced memories of the homeland. A speech about the uncompromising fight of the Ukrainian national hero Stepan Bandera for the freedom and independence of Ukraine, read by Mr. Ivan Burtyk, awoke feelings of the need to continue serving the Ukrainian nation. Contributing to this feeling was a literary-musical composition, which members of CYM prepared in honor of the 100th anniversary of Bandera’s birth and the 50th anniversary of the day of his assassination. Additionally, the Pavlyshyn sisters performed and, together with all those present, inspiringly sang the Lemko national songs “Hory Nashi, Hory” and “Vershe Miy, Vershe,” as well as other songs filled with love to the native homeland. In her speech, Vira Pavlyshyn also spoke about the poet B.-I. Antonych and his unique ability to paint the beauty of the Lemko land, mountains, and valleys in his poems.

In between dances, representatives from government and civic organizations and institutions continued to deliver short words of welcome, speeches, and acknowledgement. Thus, late in the evening, the guests departed the celebration with wishes for prosperity, hopes of attracting new generations to Lemko issues, and sincere blessings and good will, inspired by an energy of continuing to work to return Ukraine to its deserved place in Europe and the world.

Written in original Ukrainian by Nadia Burmaka Translated into English by Diana Reilly

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