The Organization for Defense of Lemko Western Ukraine in America, Inc. (OOL) is one of the oldest and most influential organizations among Ukrainians born in the Lemko region.
Lemkos, forced to leave Lemkivshchyna, brought love with them during emigration – love for God, love for their Ukrainian nation, their traditions, culture and customs. They also brought with them during emigration a love for their native villages and cities. This love was the stimulus that led them to organize themselves, to form clerical brotherhoods, to build churches, to organize brotherly humanitarian associations (Ukrainian National Association, Ukrainian Fraternal Association), etc.
But there came a time when it was necessary for the Ukrainians from the Lemko region to form their own organization. World War I brought much destruction to their native land. It was necessary immediately to help families in the homeland, through a national-cultural, civic organization.
We read about the beginnings of the formation of our organization in “Lemkivski Visti” [Lemko News], ed. 6, 1964:
“…on September 9, 1933, a small group of people gathered at 613 13 th Street in New York, with the intention to begin to bring moral and material help to their brothers in the homeland; first, to buy a large amount of books in the Association “Prosvita” in Lviv, in the form of traveling libraries, and in this way to widen the education among our villages in Lemkivshchyna. We elected a committee and named it the “Central Committee of the Defense of Lemkivshcyna in America.” The first head of the Committee was Oleksa Roman, a former Sich rifleman of the Ukrainian Army.”
The measures of the Committee in the native villages of Lemkivshchyna were carried out by the Traveling Library “Prosvita,” and dozens and hundreds of copies of “Nash Lemko” [Our Lemko] were prepaid for local readers.
From this time on, the strengthening of the war front in Lemkivshchyna is antedated by moral and material assistance from America. At the consummation of this front was the formation in 1936 in Philadelphia of the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna in America, which began to publish the monthly “Lemkivskiy Dzvin” [Lemko Bell].
From the beginning of its existence, OOL organized its fellow countrymen, so that they would not get lost in the wide sea of American life, and helped its native people, organizations, and institutions, as well as defended (along with its native people) the positions of other lands, languages, religions and cultures.
With the arrival of the Second World War, OOL halted its activities. It came alive immediately with the flow of new emigration, when Dr. Julian Nalysnyk became the soul of the organization.
With each year, as the organization grew, the activity of its members grew, as did the need grow to renew the publication Lemkivskiy Dzvin, which stopped being published during the period of the Second World War.
In 1958, the 2 nd Branch of OOL in Yonkers, NY began to publish the monthly Lemkivski Visti, which the National Board of OOL took over the publication of afterwards.
Having its own press organ, in other words a method of connecting with its members, OOL grew significantly during this time. It founded new branches, as well as increased the number of fundraisers to help the Lemko region, increased the number of subscribers to the newspaper, etc. During these years, “Lemkivski kalendari ” [Lemko calendars] (editor Julian Tarnovych) emerged, a book of published poems by Bohdan-Ihor Antonych came out, etc.
The second stage of the revival of the activity of OOL was in the 70-80’s, when the “third immigration” came to the territory of the United States. During this time, a profound number of branches revived their activity, and new branches (Chicago, Jersey City) were formed.
During this time appeared the beginnings of the activity of the Lemko Research Foundation, which was called to life by the National Council of OOL in 1976, to conduct educational and publishing activity. The heads of the Congress of Directors of the Foundation were Myron Mycio (1976-1994), Volodymyr Kikta (1994-2000), and Steven Howansky (2000-present).
To date, the Foundation has published the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th editions of “Annals of Lemkivshchyna.” The first two editions emerged by means of the World Federation of Lemkos. The editor of the first five editions of the “Annals” was Dr. Ivan Hvozda, and Maria Duplak edited the sixth edition. LRF also published the work of A. Varyvody, “Wooden Architecture of the Ukrainian Carpathians”; I. Filipchak, “Za Sian” [Beyond Sian]; T. and M. Lopatkiewicz, “The Small Sacral Architecture of Lemkivshchyna”; and sponsored “Lemkivshchyna on Fire” by M. Ostromyra; “1947 Commemorative Book” by editor Bohdan Huk; “Woodcarvings of the Lemko Region” by R. Odrechivsky; and “Our Lemko Land” by V. Khomyk.
Starting in 1979, the journal “Lemkivshchyna” began to be produced in place of “ Lemkivski Visti ,” with the following editors: Uliana Liubovych (1979), Orest Pytlar (1980-1984), Ivan Lyko (winter 1990-1992), Petro Matiaszek (1993), and Maria Duplak (1985-fall 1990; 1994-present). The journal, which also has an English-language section, is excited by its large popularity not just among the members of OOL, but also among those who left the Lemko region and are residents of other countries.
Out of the publications of OOL, it is necessary to remember the large, two-volume educational collection of work, which was published in 1988 by the Shevchenko Scientific Society (NTSh) Memoranda series, which emerged by means of the 1st Branch of OOL in New York and the work of Myroslava Truchan, “Ukrainians in Poland after World War II.”
Under the direction of OOL exists the Ukrainian Lemko Museum, which found its place in the episcopal palace in Stamford, CT. OOL, its leadership, which understands the large need to preserve the spiritual and material culture of Lemkivshchyna, began the initiative for the collection of exhibits for the Lemko museum.
The first museum-archive representative to the National Board of OOL was Ivan Skvirtnianskiy; from 1970 to 1992, it was Mykola Duplak, and from 1992 the representative of the museum has been Steven Howansky.
In the museum, the official opening of which took place on November 7, 1981, it is possible to view models of Lemko farm tools, Lemko Easter eggs, reproductions of Nikifor’s drawings, as well as originals of other Lemko artwork. The material culture of Lemkivshchyna is also well represented (with authentic grindstones), and various portraits from the life and work of OOL are displayed. The archive of OOL and the library of Lemko-related studies and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) have also found a place here.
The 1970-80’s also brought along various changes within the activity of OOL up until this point. Tied to the partial easing up of the life of Ukrainians in Poland, OOL could widen and significantly increase its humanitarian activity.
Material assistance was donated in large part to Ukrainian schools, churches, artistic ensembles, and Ukrainian educational institutions. OOL did not limit its humanitarian activity only to Lemkivshchyna, but also helped in all areas where émigrés of Lemkivshchyna lived, who were scattered throughout all of Poland and the then Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a result of the harsh forced relocation campaign “ Akcja ‘Wisla ‘.”
In order to conduct any kind of successful activity, particularly humanitarian, it is necessary to have a tight network of branches. In recent years, young people and the young immigration (the so-called “third immigration”) have taken over the leadership of many branches of OOL. They often understand differently the current circumstances and current situation in their lands, which they left not too long ago. They often know better the way in which to help those people who live there. Also, in the management of the National Council of OOL, the majority of members are the new emigration. The older generation includes those who renewed the activity of OOL in the 1950’s and have remained active in its ranks.
OOL earned its authority within our Ukrainian community and found its place in the leadership of a national central organization, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.
Today, during a time of partial easing of the life of Ukrainians in Poland, as well as in the new, revived Ukraine, new tasks will be set before us to help our people and to help revive our native land, Lemkivshchyna, because helping them (morally as well as materially), we help lay the foundation for assisting our fatherland – Ukraine.
Source: Marie Duplak
HEADS OF OOL:
• 1933-1936: Oleksa Roman (then the Central Committee for Relief of Lemkivshchyna)
• 1936-1950: Dmytro Fenkanyn
• 1950-1959: Julian Nalysnyk
• 1959-1964: Ivan Skvirtnyanskiy
• 1964-1969: Julian Kotliar
• 1969-1973: Ivan Hvozda
• 1973-1977: Myron Mycio
• 1977-1981: Mykola Hryckowian
• 1981-1983: Myron Mycio
• 1983-1999: Maria Duplak
• 1999-2013: Zenon Halkowycz
• since 2013 – Mark Howansky