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8th Annual Lemko Vatra in USA

The bonfire at the traditional “Lemko Vatra in the U.S.A.” festival burned for the eighth year in a row, from July 4-6, 2008 at the resort of the Ukrainian Youth Organization, Inc. (CYM) in Ellenville, NY. Each year, this bonfire blazes amid a constellation of other Lemko Vatras around the world – in Zdynia on Lemkivshchyna, Monasteryska in Ukraine, Svidnyk in Slovakia, Serbia and Canada – where fate has dispersed Lemkos from their never-forgotten homeland.

This year, the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (known by the acronym OOL) conducted this festival together with Ukrainian American Youth Association to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine and the 70th anniversary of the tragic death of the Ukrainian military commander Eugene Konovalets.

Early on Friday, July 4, guests started to arrive to the picturesque CYM resort in Ellenville, where they had a chance to listen in the late afternoon to the music of the ensemble “Cheres” and to the “Suzirya” soloist Luba Shchypchyk, among other artists. In the evening, guests danced to the music of the band “Hrim”.  Throughout the day on Saturday, the scent of roasting pig – already an annual tradition at the Vatra – wafted through the air, as guests had the opportunity to eat a piece, along with other plentiful Ukrainian dishes, such as pyrohy, kovbasa with sauerkraut, and hot borshch.

At 5pm, the festival “starosta,” (traditional village elder) Vasyl Harhaj welcomed all those present and officially opened the 8th Lemko Vatra. In his welcoming speech, he indicated that the Lemko “Vatra” is a Ukrainian festival of Lemko culture, which is evidence of the fact that Lemkos continue to preserve their traditions and culture, and which is an indication that historical memories and ethnic feeling still exist.

Next, he invited on stage such leaders of the Ukrainian-Lemko community as: Zenon Halkowycz, head of OOL in the USA; Steven Howansky, head of the Lemko Research Foundation in America; Stefan Zhuravsky, head of the Committee for the Building of the Lemko Chapel; and Bohdan Harhaj, head of Ukrainian American Youth Association, each of whom took turns welcoming the hundreds of participants who came to the festival. Mr. Harhaj also invited on stage the heads of the OOL Branches and thanked them for helping to organize this event.

Additionally, Mr. Harhaj greeted other leaders of the Ukrainian community who were present, such as: Most Rev. Bishop John Bura of Philadelphia, PA; Ivan Burtyk, member of the New Jersey State Board of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America; Michael Koziupa, head of the Four Freedoms of Ukraine (ODFFU); Valentyna Torakhivska, head of the 7-th Branch of ODFFU; Volodymyr Waskiv, member of the National Board of the Second Division of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army; Zenon Wojtowycz, the keynote speaker and Second Vice President of the National Board of OOL; and Peter Kosciolek, director of the CYM campgrounds.

To conclude the opening ceremony, the traditional ritual of lighting the festival bonfire was conducted by OOL members Zenon Halkowycz, Petro Gres, Bohdan Kikta, John Zawada and John Wasiczko. The ensemble “Promin,” under the direction of Ms. Wolanska, sang the Lemko hymn, “Hory Nashi Karpaty,” and the sound of Lemko music floated across the festival field.

The concert program then began, led by the Mistress and Master of Ceremonies, Halyna Semenyak and Mykhaylo Huchko. The ensemble “Promin” opened with a performance of several Lemko folk songs, followed by performances of Ukrainian and Lemko music by such artists as Lilia Ostapenko, the sisters Uliana and Natalia Malhivsky along with Bohdan Bykhvak, the duet “Bandurna Rozmova,” singer Vika Hordieva, the duet “Udech,” and others. The folk dance ensemble “Obrij,” which also performed many ethnic traditional dances, created particular excitement among viewers. Additionally, local humorist Petro Wyslocky entertained the audience with his original jokes.

From the evening until the early morning, guests were then invited to enjoy themselves at dances inside the main hall with the musical group “Halychany,” as well as downstairs in the bar with the group “Udech.”

The next day, July 6, Sunday’s program began with a Liturgy in front of the Lemko-style St. Michael the Archangel chapel. Members of OOL, CYM and other organizations gathered and held flags, while the Most Rev. Bishop John Bura of Philadelphia – accompanied by Fathers Andriy Dudkevych of St. Nick’s Ukrainian Catholic Church of Passaic, NJ and Philip Weiner of St. Michael the Archangel’s Ukrainian Catholic Church of Yonkers, NY – conducted the Mass and Panakhyda to commemorate the 1932-33 Famine and 1938 death of Eugene Konovalets. The choir of St. Nick’s Ukrainian Catholic Church sang during the Liturgy.

Afterwards, ODFFU head Michael Koziupa delivered a commemorative speech and members of the Ukrainian community placed flowers on monuments in memory of Eugene Konovalets and others.

The Vatra program then resumed at 2pm on the outside stage, where Vatra participants listened to the keynote speech of OOL Second Vice-President, mgr. Zenon Wojtowycz, titled, “Holodomor and Akcja “Wisła” – Genocides of our Nation.”

Sunday’s concert also continued with performances by the ensemble “Mriya,” the choir of Nick’s Church, singer Tanya Chorniy, and others.

Finally, on behalf of the organizers, Vasyl Harhaj thanked: the performing artists for entertaining the audience for three days; the members of OOL and CYM for their efforts in making the event successful; all the volunteers for preparing the food and tending the kitchen and food stands (particularly Nick Kulyk and Petro Lukashyn for roasting the pig); and all of the participants who attended the event.

Like every good festival, the 8th Lemko Vatra eventually came to an end, as Mr. Harhaj finally officially closed it by saying: “Have a safe trip home, and see you at the 9th Lemko Vatra.”. All are invited for the 9th Annual Lemko Vatra, which is planned around for the early summer of 2009.

– Stefan Howansky, Head of OOL Branch#2 in Yonkers, NY

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