STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Ukraine gained its independence from Russia on August 24, 1991. Every year since, the Ukrainian American Sports Center has planned a party to celebrate. And everyone’s invited!
This year, the 24th annual Ukrainian Folk Festival will take place from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23. The event explores Ukrainian folk art, music, dance, food, arts and crafts, and more. The fun celebrates Ukraine’s independence and showcases its rich culture and heritage, organizers say.
Live music and dance performances dominate the day. Headliners include the Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble (of Jenkintown), the Iskra Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, violinist Innesa Tymochko Dekajlo, Vox Ethnika Orchestra, and Prometheus Ukrainian Male Chorus, of Philadelphia. Voloshky and Dekajlo will perform together, too.
Dariya Medynska dances with Voloshky. She started dancing as a child in her native Ukraine and continued when she came to America with her family about seven years ago. She first attended the Voloshky School of Ukrainian Dance, then progressed into the performance Ensemble, she said.
She’s excited to be performing at the festival.
“We’re telling stories and showing Ukrainian culture,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “The dances really show how strong Ukrainian people are and how amazing the culture is.”
It’s fun, too, with colorful costumes and the flowers they get to wear on their heads, she said. It’s a way to connect with people, to educate them about Ukraine, but it’s also a way for her to express herself.
“It’s like a different language, a new way to communicate to people,” she said.
In addition to dancing, Medynska, who will attend Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in the fall, is looking forward to the food.
“Definitely the Pierogies,” she said, “preferably with cherries, but they’ll probably be potatoes, which is also good.”
Other foods available: Holuptsi (cabbage rolls), sausage-kielbasa, baked goods, and barbecue picnic fare.
The day also brings current events into focus. Medynska thinks that’s important in these times when Ukraine is struggling to fend off invasion from Russia.
“Especially now, it’s important to be ambassadors of Ukrainian culture,” she said.
Organizer Gene Luciw, of Towamencin Township, agrees.
“It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate our ancestral homeland Ukraine’s independence from centuries of imperial rule by Russia and other despots, to celebrate a very American concept — liberty,” he said in an email interview. “Our homeland has dedicated itself fully and completely to a future of freedom, democracy, and liberty in the sun of the developed Western world.”
It’s also a reminder that freedom and liberty have a price and must be defended, he said. Thousands have been killed in the most recent battles with Russia and thousands more have been injured.
“We mourn these tragedies and call to mind the suffering of the families of these brave young men and women,” he said. “We admire our peoples’ refusal to surrender to Putin, despite his might. We admire the freedom, love, and dignity that rule their hearts and souls, and we pray for their success and for their peace.”
Honoring that and celebrating the country’s independence and culture is like a “Ukrainian Fourth of July festival,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to celebrate freedom and liberty by setting off what we call Ukrainian Fireworks, a vibrant, fast-paced cascade of colors and sounds that our dances, music, and song create in a very vibrant and explosive way.”
For Medynska, it’s a way to celebrate with friends her life in her new country while remembering and honoring her homeland.
“I’m glad I’m a part of this group because we share a lot of things off stage and on,” she said. “We’re there for each other. We understand how we should tell the story to the audience by working together. We really get our message across.”
Dancing helped her to feel comfortable in her new home, as she learned English and a new way of life. Festivals like this are a great way to keep Ukraine alive for her here, for years to come.
“No matter where I go,” she said, “I really hope that Ukrainian traditions will always be a part of my life.”
IF YOU GO
What: 24th annual Ukrainian Folk Festival
When: Noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23
Where: Ukrainian American Sport Center, Lower State & County Line Roads, Horsham, PA
Admission: $15; Students $10; children younger than 15 free. Free parking.