How well do we know the Ukrainian Diaspora?
By Iryna YEHOROVA, The Day
Tuesday, 4 April 2006

The first international scholarly conference entitled “The Diaspora as a Factor of Ukraine’s Confirmation in the International Community” helped citizens of Ukraine discover the Ukrainian Diaspora, which is largely unknown to us. Over 250 members from 25 countries gathered at Lviv Polytechnic University in what was a meeting of minds. Besides scholars, the conference attracted members of the public, political elite, and business community.

In the space of three days the conference participants heard over 170 papers attesting to the speakers’ desires to be of service to Ukraine. The reports dealt with a variety of key questions, like preserving the spiritual values of the Ukrainian nation — a long-standing Diaspora activity — and ways to consolidate our independent state and shape Ukraine’s positive image abroad. The conference was a wonderful example of how a Ukrainian citizen who lives in this land should treat his country.

A variety of institutions helped organize the conference: the Ukrainian Ministry of Science and Culture, the Ukrainian World Coordination Council, and the Scholarly Research Institute of Ukrainian Studies. However, the conference would have been impossible without its main initiator and driving force — the International Institute of Education, Culture, and Links with the Diaspora at Lviv Polytechnic National University. Therefore, we address our questions to the institute’s director, Iryna Kliuchkovska.

“Mrs. Kliuchkovska, how did the idea of the conference come about?”
“It came about with the change of circumstances in the country. Before, relations between Ukraine and the Diaspora were rather formal. For example, we had a government program to support Ukrainians abroad to 2005. If you look at its documents, you can see that the program was simply wonderful. If at least one-hundredth had been implemented, we would have considered it a success.

“Ukraine’s ties with the Diaspora have been maintained by civic organizations, such as the Ukrainian World Coordination Council, which is headed by Mykhailo Horyn and with which we cooperate actively. Although it is very effective, it is still only a civic institution. Forums were held at the state level with the participation of the president himself. Still, they were more of a facade with nothing behind it.

“The first serious step was the creation in July 2005 of the department for links with Ukrainians abroad at Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Funds have been allocated, and a government program is being developed. I am very hopeful that it will work. I have my own view of it, which is reflected in the conference materials: above all, a state concept must be developed, i.e., ideas from which the government must develop a program as a means of bringing these ideas to life.

“Meanwhile, funds should be allocated for a ready program. Only then will everything function and work normally. Moreover, we should not build this program exclusively on the basis of our own vision. We should find out the problems that concern the Diaspora. To this end we circulated questionnaires and conducted an opinion poll during the conference.”

“What questions do you consider indispensable to such a program?”
“It must have several main strategic directions, such as the development of schooling, not just secondary schools, but an entire educational chain that involves upgrading teachers’ skills and providing educational and methodological support adapted to the conditions of countries populated by our Diaspora.

“Another direction involves efforts in the information space, which currently resembles an information vacuum. By this I mean more the Eastern Diaspora that formed after the breakup of the USSR. While the Western Diaspora is well structured and wealthier, the east is having a hard time, and people there work on pure enthusiasm. In fact, Ukraine does not know its own Diaspora in the fullest sense of this word. Meanwhile, it is a tremendous stratum, which we must know and support.”

“Whom would you single out from this Ukrainian rainbow abroad?”
“Vasyl Babenko is an example for me in many respects. He is an ethnic Ukrainian and directs the Ufa (Bashkortostan) branch of the Sholokhov Moscow State Open Pedagogical University. His life’s commitment is to work for the good of Ukraine. This is what he writes:

‘Fate decreed that I should research the history of Ukrainian resettlement in the near Ural region and the problems of preserving our culture. I witnessed how the flower and foundation of our spirituality were perishing. And then I swore an oath to the people, promising to do everything in my power for our history, our soul, our song, and our word to survive and not perish.’

“The university branch in Ufa has a Ukrainian Studies Department, where students learn various disciplines relating to Ukrainian history and culture. Babenko has established a library of Ukrainian literature and organized amateur talent groups.

“Or consider Kyrylo Horishniy, a postgraduate student at the Sorbonne and a Frenchmen of Ukrainian descent. He chose the 1960s Ukrainian dissident movement as the subject of his dissertation, thereby acquainting his Sorbonne professors with our reality. He is also an avid photographer, who brought his exhibit to Lviv. With this photo exhibit he travels from country to country representing Ukraine: the Orange Revolution through a Frenchman’s eyes, the Hutsul land and Epiphany holidays, and other images from the life of contemporary Ukraine.

“The conference saw the presentation of an exhibit by Liudmyla Skrypnykova from Karelia. She does amazing things with community funds. For example, she is behind the recent widely publicized unveiling of a monument in Sandormokh, the final resting place of hundreds of Ukrainian patriots, the flower of the nation, who were taken from the Solovky Islands and executed there. Among them were Les Kurbas and the Krushelnytsky family.

“Ten years ago Yevhen Savchenko of Nyzhnekamsk, Tatarstan, created an organization from scratch, and today it is a strong and functioning association. When we visited him, we attended a festival of Ukrainians from the Volga region, who came from 10 Russian republics, such as Mari-El. When we mentioned our upcoming trip to Tatarstan at the Polytechnic, people would ask us where it was. Perhaps this shows our ignorance, but it also means that in many corners of the world that we are not even aware of there are people doing wonderful things that deserve Ukraine’s attention.”

“Would you expand on your statement that we must change our attitude toward the Diaspora?”
“In essence, Ukraine does not know its own Diaspora, or it only knows one side of it — the Western Diaspora whose representatives bring things to us and distribute them. Meanwhile, we do not realize that today we ourselves must help our fellow Ukrainians living abroad. Granted, the Western Diaspora has done a lot to preserve spiritual values, the structure of political parties and civic organizations, and archival materials. All of this has returned to Ukraine, for which we are greatly indebted to them.

“But this cannot continue forever; this movement cannot always be one-way. Now we need synergy, i.e., the joining of efforts of both sides. Finally, movement must start from Ukraine toward the Diaspora, and we must do our utmost for this movement not to be amorphous. We must define priorities that will have to be implemented in specific strategic directions. Then all of this should be filled with activity.”

“What papers would you single out, and how will the conference materials be used?”
“The conference approved a decision that includes an appeal to the president of Ukraine and the Cabinet of Ministers, requesting them to develop a state concept of cooperation between Ukraine and the Diaspora. So far there is no such program. We have also appealed to parliamentarians on behalf of the conference participants, requesting parliamentary hearings on questions relating to the Ukrainian Diaspora. No such hearings have ever been held. In our view, this would attract the public’s attention to these questions.

“The conference format consisted of individual and plenary sessions. Significantly, the audience was filled to capacity during the closing session. As a rule, the session halls are always half-empty near the end of a conference. This time there was no room to swing a cat. People had something to say to each other, and share their experience and opinions.

“Yaroslava Khortiani, head of the European Congress of Ukrainians, presented a paper during the plenary session. She spoke about creating a positive image for Ukraine in Europe and listed the specific steps being undertaken by an organization called State Self-Government of Ukrainians in Hungary, which she also chairs. She mentioned a very interesting fact: thanks to her efforts the Hungarian parliament has recognized the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation. This is what a civic organization can accomplish if it works persistently.

“Reverend Sapunok of Italy presented a very useful paper analyzing Italy’s fourth wave of emigration and related social problems and consequences. He presented statistics illustrating the brain drain of intellectual forces from Ukraine. Consider the following fact: female educators comprise 15 percent of Ukrainians, who immigrated to Italy during the last wave. He also described the role of the Ukrainian church as a consolidating factor abroad.”

“Who supported the conference?”
“We received considerable support from Lviv Polytechnic University. We are its structural division, but for this conference the best resources were used. We staged a Shevchenko lecture and concert, using multimedia equipment. The university also provided accommodation for the conference participants at a hotel-type campus, covering part of the costs.

“We received support from the Ukrainian World Coordination Council, which partially covered travel costs for Ukrainians from the Eastern Diaspora and paid for the printed materials. The Foreign Ministry allocated 29,900 hryvnias for accommodation, meals, and travel. So far we have not received this money, and we put people up at hotels in exchange for written guarantees of payment from the institute. Maybe this money will arrive eventually.

“We received sponsorship funds from the Forum Bank and Express-Bank. Now that I mention philanthropy, a businessman named Volodymyr Luhovskis, a Latvian citizen of Ukrainian descent, came to the conference with a group of his fellow countrymen, and paid for their travel and accommodations. He also organized an exhibit devoted to Ukrainians in Latvia at Lviv’s House of Scientists.

“Finally, I would like to emphasize that the participants of the conference called it a small forum. A full-scale forum was planned for last August, but it was postponed three or four times. It will finally take place this August on the 15th anniversary of Ukrainian independence as a token of our gratitude to the Ukrainians who offered us a helping hand during the Orange Revolution. This applies to both the Eastern and Western Diasporas.

“I have set myself the task of following up on the effectiveness of the resolutions of the conference and how they are implemented. Meanwhile, the International Institute of Education, Culture, and Links with the Diaspora will be editing the conference materials and, of course, contributing to the development of a state program to support Ukrainians abroad until 2010. This program recommends holding such conferences once every two years. The subject of the next conference in 2008 is ‘Ukrainians in World Civilizational Processes’.”