This year’s annual Washington DC Ukrainian Festival gave a glimpse into a community that is suffering the mixed emotions of tremendous pride in their culture, while maintaining a burning concern for their loved ones and homeland that has been under siege since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Though the festival, hosted at St Andrew’s Orthodox Cathedral, was similar to many held in past years, Yaromyr Oryshkevych, who served for a total of thirty years as an active Guard and reservist in the United States military, said: “It’s war time. Ukraine is being attacked by bloodthirsty Russians. The Ukrainian community in not just DC, but in other cities, and other non-Ukrainians, have come to support Ukraine.

“People are coming knowing that this is also a fundraiser that will help humanitarian and medical needs of Ukrainians driven out of their homeland.”

Oryshkevych said that “seeing the crowds yesterday, I was amazed by the turnout. The non-Ukrainian turnout has been huge to support the Ukrainian cause.”

Ukrainian singer Oksana Bilozir. Photo by Jason Jay Smart.

The war’s effect could be felt on every corner: Whether it was the items being sold to support war-orphans, the icon of the Virgin with the request to “Pray for Ukraine,” or the photos of the vast human suffering that were displayed in the sanctuary, the painful scars of the war lingered on the event.

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“Most people want to help Ukraine. Ukraine’s an underdog against the Russians,” said Askold D Mosijczuk, a retired US Army Colonel.

Mosijczuk acknowledged that the war will “ultimately, make the US safer. It’s prophylactic action to fight off Russian aggression,” underlined Mosijczuk.

The crowds attending were as ethnically diverse as the Washington DC area, and cars were parked in the neighbouring Muslim Community Center and the adjacent Lutheran Church. Despite the warm weather, people well into their 90s, as well as newborns, were present.

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An ethnic Russian who had emigrated to the US said to the Kyiv Post that he felt that it was important to attend, stating that he strongly opposed the war and Putin, and wanted to show his support for Ukraine.

Wives of Ukrainian Prisoners of War from the Azov Battalion gave an emotional plea for greater support to bring their husbands home.

The role of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States has been a critical element of supporting Ukraine’s freedom and development for decades.”

Nodding to this, famed Ukrainian singer Oksana Bilozir, who began her US tour by giving a free concert at the festival, said to the Kyiv Post that “We see that the influence of the Ukrainian international organization and diaspora and to be one front together, and war made us need to unite.

Image by Jason Jay Smart.

The event, despite the clear undercurrent of the war, was by no means sombre. Along with the traditional youth ensembles dancing, and related activities, the 2004 Eurovision winner, Ruslana, led the crowd in an emotional singing of Ukraine’s national anthem before launching into a wide number of her hit pop songs.

Fr Volodymyr Steliac, speaking to the Kyiv Post, said that this year was “of course” more significant than previous years.

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“We started this festival 20 years ago to showcase Ukraine culture,” he said. “Ukrainians are peace loving and you can see the beauty. And by all of things here – the clothes, food, etc., for 20 years we wanted to cover it. Now due to the war, people are much more curious, and the people are very sympathetic. The attempts to take away our identity. However, Ukrainians will fight to preserve their culture. Look here, we have beauty, and we want to support,” said the priest.

The Ukrainian diaspora in America has been running a wide number of initiatives to support Ukraine. Even the Cathedral hosting the festival’s website begins with a landing page for a fundraiser to purchase four ambulances at a cost of $80,000, of which the parish has already achieved 71% of their goal.

Attendees to the event, many wearing veshyvankas or pro-Ukrainian t-shirts, were given Ukrainian flags upon entering. The brochure given to everyone entering perhaps though best summarized this year’s event, with the welcoming headline, in highlighted text, stating: “Amidst the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, we honour the heroic Ukrainians, pray for peace, and welcome you to enjoy our beautiful Ukrainian culture.”

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