Many thanks to Ivan and Anna Yavorsky and Basia Barna Andrushko from OOL Branch # 6 for organizing the OOL Information Session in Philadelphia, PA on April 22, 2018 conducted by OOL National Board members Mark Howansky and Toma Pyz after the book presentation of Ukrainian Catholic University Rector, Father Bogdan Prach
Lemko organization reinvigorating branches in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse
By Diana Howansky Reilly
On September 9, 1933, a small group of immigrants gathered on 13th Street in New York City, with the goal of providing material and moral support to their homeland: “Lemkivshchyna,” the Lemko region in what is current-day southeastern Poland. They elected a committee, began activities such as creating traveling libraries in the Lemko region to promote education and, three years later, held their first national congress in Philadelphia, officially forming the “Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna in America” (Orhanizatsiya Oborony Lemkivshchyny, OOL).
This past April 22nd, OOL reinvigorated its Philadelphia branch with new membership as it held an information session to promote OOL’s mission of organizing Lemkos in their communities and conducting educational, cultural and humanitarian work among them. More than a dozen membership applications were submitted in one day, and individuals are still welcome to join online. The event, which took place at the Ukrainian Educational & Cultural Center in Jenkintown, PA, was a continuation of OOL’s information and membership campaign that kicked off last year in Pittsburgh, in order to re-introduce and grow the work of the organization.
“You might ask, ‘Why should I sign up to the organization? I am already active in church, in CYM, in the credit union, I do a lot for Ukraine, I send money to Ukraine . . . OK, you have a point, but I will tell you that our focus is unique,” said the President of OOL, Mark Howansky, “If you have a special place in your heart for or care about Lemkos, the best way to focus on this is through us.”
Mr. Howansky explained how OOL is evolving, including using new technology and social media to communicate more effectively with members, and giving additional attention to younger generations of Lemko-Americans who communicate primarily in English. He outlined OOL’s many activities, including the Lemko “Vatra” summer festivals, workshops on the Lemko Easter egg drop-pull technique, exhibitions of Lemko artists like Mykola Bervinchak, preservation of cemeteries and churches in the Lemko region, assistance with genealogical research, lectures and book publications by Lemko academics or on Lemko topics, and humanitarian assistance to Lemkos, such as those living in the war-torn areas of eastern Ukraine. “We help Ukrainians in general, but always have one eye on helping our Lemkos,” Mr. Howansky said.
The April 22nd information session was preceded by the presentation by Rev. Fr. Bohdan Prach, PhD, of his book “The Clergy of the Peremyshl Eparchy and the Apostolic Administration of Lemkivshchyna.” The book explores the period of 1939-1989, when the Church experienced the extreme hardships of World War II, Soviet/German/Polish repressions, the forced liquidation of its ecclesial structures, and the imprisonment and exile of both the clergy and the faithful. OOL has a long history of cooperation with Fr. Prach and provided financial support for his research of the book.
“The idea to create such a meeting was born when we found out about the presentation of our honored guest, Fr. Bohdan Prach. During Soviet times, no one spoke about the real history, culture and traditions of the persecuted Lemkos,” said the head of OOL’s Philadelphia branch, Anna Yaworsky.
Fr. Prach, who is Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, based in Lviv, Ukraine, was born in Poland and wrote his dissertation about Lemkivshchyna. “I made great use of the achievements and work of the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna,” he said, discussing his academic life during the communist period in the 1970’s and 1980’s, “and without your financing and publishing in America and other countries, that literature would not have been available to us in Poland. This was the foundation, particularly your ‘Lemkivshchyna’ magazine. I have all the editions of ‘Lemkivshchyna,’ from the first until current day.”
Fr. Prach explained how many Lemkos who had been deported to Soviet Ukraine in the 1940’s feared expressing their unique culture or using the Lemko vernacular, instead of Russian, so as a result, the consciousness and culture of Lemkos in Ukraine began to disappear. However, now, Ukrainian Catholic University had established the Center of Research on Ukrainian-Polish-Slovak Borders and cultivated a solid group of young Lemko academics. He encouraged the members of OOL to continue to cooperate with them through educational exchanges, conferences and other types of academic work.
For more information about OOL events or how to sign up for OOL membership or a “Lemkivshchyna” magazine subscription online, please see the organization’s website at: www.lemko-ool.com. OOL’s next community information session will take place in Syracuse, NY on Sunday, July 1 at 12pm at the Ukrainian National Home, 1317 West Fayette Street. The Syracuse information session will feature remarks by the President of the Ukrainian Federation of Lemko Unions (SFULO), Yaroslava Halyk, and a short performance of Lemko folk songs by Lemko singer Julia Doszna. Julia Doszna will also headline OOL’s upcoming Lemko “Vatra” festival in Ellenville, NY on July 7-8.
Published in Ukrainian Weekly on June 8, 2018