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Lemko Culture Celebrated at 6th “Vatra” in USA

The Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (OOL) in the USA. conducted its festival, called the “ Lemkivska Vatra ,” for the sixth year in a row, from June 23-26, at the Ukrainian-American Youth Association, Inc. (CYM) resort in Ellenville, NY.

While the weather in greater New York was rainy, the sun shined at the CYM resort, and hundreds of guests at the festival had the opportunity to watch a beautiful concert and to hear songs from the Carpathian mountains of the Lemko region.

At the official opening of the Vatra , Mr. Vasyl Harhaj – the “ starosta ,” or host – welcomed all the guests and invited on stage the president of OOL, Mr. Zenon Halkowycz; the president of the Lemko Research Foundation, Mr. Steven Howansky; the honored head of the Lemko Research Foundation, Mr. Myron Mycio; guest speaker Ms. Catherine Mycio; and the former president of OOL, Mr. Julian Kotlar, as well as other representatives of OOL’s branches.

In his welcome speech, Mr. Halkowycz underlined the importance of conducting the Vatra every year, stating in Ukrainian, “It brings people together and unites them. Such Lemko festivals take place every year in Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia and Canada – everywhere around the world, where fate dispersed the Lemkos from their never-forgotten homeland.” On the very same day, for example, the Vatra in Svidnyk, Slovakia was taking place, Mr. Halkowycz informed the audience.

Mr. Howansky, then, wished the guests a happy festival, reminding everyone that the organization by the diaspora of events like the Vatra is a tradition that dates back to the emigration of Lemkos to the United States before World War II. In the Lemko museum in Stamford, CT, there is a picture of emigrants from the Lemko village named Vysloka Velykoho celebrating on a farm in Pennsylvania on August 6, 1939, Mr. Howansky stated.

Next, Mr. Kotlar and various members of OOL, including Ivan Zavada, Ivan Wasiczko and Andriy Kaszczak, were invited on stage to light the traditional festival bonfire. During the lighting, performers from the musical groups “ Cherverta Khvyla ,” “ Pid Oblachkom ,” and “ Metelytsya ,” sang the traditional Lemko song, “ Hory Nashi Karpaty ” (Our Carpathian Mountains.) Thus, the concert program – which was led by mistress and master of ceremony, Anna Pregner and Stepan Sheryliv – began with the sound of Lemko music floating across the festival field and tears of nostalgia in the eyes of many who remembered their homeland.

The concert program included professionals and amateurs, singers and dancers, novice and seasoned, such as the dance groups “ Mria ” from Passaic, NJ, “ Iskra ” from Whippany, NJ, and “ Barvinok ” from Astoria, NY; young performers like the sisters Lidia and Gabriella Oros, Inna Sydorak, and Vika Holybieva; the ensembles “Vidlunnya ” and “ Cheres ”; the singer Hryts Bobula from Lviv, Ukraine; a ballet group under the direction of Natalia Lemishka; and the comedian Peter Wysocki.

Throughout the day, the scent of roasted 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, like pierogies, kielbasa with sauerkraut, and hot borscht.

Then, from the evening until the early morning, guests were invited to enjoy themselves at two dances: one outside with the musical group “ Halychany ,” and one inside a hall with the musical groups “ Budem Razom ” and “ Cherverta Khvyla .”

On Sunday, June 25, the festival continued, beginning at 10am with a Mass in the Lemko chapel recently built in the memory of the victims of “ Akcja ‘Wisla’ ” and blessed in the name of St. Archangel Michael. Father Bohdan Danylo, rector of the seminary in the name of St. Basil the Great in Stamford, CT, conducted Mass, during which the choir “ Akollada ” from Philadelphia, PA sang.

Afterwards, the concert program resumed as well, with musical and dance performances.

Ms. Catherine Mycio also gave her keynote speech, “Ruins of Ukrainian Zakerzonnya ,” which provided the audience, particularly those who were born in the U.S., with much historical information.

The Vatra eventually came to an end with various musical groups singing the traditional Lemko song, “ Oy Vershe Miy, Vershe ,” and with the festival organizers thanking everyone who volunteered their time, performed and attended.

And, as each year, a sign above the CYM resort’s gate that reads, “See you next year,” invited the festival guests who were returning to their homes to come back for the 7 th Annual Lemkivska Vatra , which is already planned for June 23-24, 2007.

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