Local Ukrainian-Americans to celebrate 23rd Independence Day

Published Aug 19, 2014 at 2:39 pm (Updated Aug 20, 2014 at 8:15 am)

When Halyna Mykhailiv Ciarallo raises her glass on Aug. 24, it will be in celebration of 23 years of Ukrainian sovereignty. The 51-year-old resident of Carnegie will also celebrate 17 years in America, eight of which she has been an American citizen. Coming from Western Ukraine, she didn't have to deal with the pressure from Russian authorities in the East.

“The Russian occupation on the other side of the country is very controlling – of religion, of culture. They were communists with a puppet president propped up by Putin,” she said of former president Viktor Yanukovych, who is now a fugitive likely hiding in Russia.

Mykailiv Ciarallo is, however, an optimist when it comes to Ukraine's future. Despite more than 2,000 civilian and military deaths since April in the ongoing conflict between Ukrainians and pro-Russia separatists, she believes the new president can lead the country past the bloodshed.

“President (Petro) Poroshenko – we trust him. He is Ukrainian. He speaks the language (unlike Yanukovych) and didn't rig elections, or stop the signing of treaties. Poroshenko is good for Ukraine ... But they are no longer fighting just for peace anymore. They are fighting for democracy and the ability to keep their own livelihoods.”

She said she wishes the U.S. would send military aid, as the Canadian government did in April by sending six fighter jets and trainers to help fight Russian loyalists.

Natalie Kapeluck is, too, an optimist. The Collier resident is director of the Kyiv Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, which will perform at the Independence Day Celebration at the SNPJ Lodge 255, W. Allegheny Road, Imperial, on Aug. 24.

“Ukrainian dance is for everyone, and its art is a reflection on life ... so for this show coming up, I wanted to capture the energy and the anxiety of the conflict going on over there, but represent it in a positive light. What people need right now is to see the beauty of the culture,” she said.

One of the dance routines will use contemporary Ukrainian dance music – upbeat and electronic – and combine it with traditional garb and moves.

Students with the dance ensemble, one of two troupes that will perform, are ages 4-13, with teen and adult apprentices performing with the group as well. Students come from Bethel Park, Peters Township, Castle Shannon and Chartiers Valley – and some from as far away from Youngstown, Ohio.

Yet still other local Ukrainian-Americans hope their optimism isn't misplaced.

“I hope this celebration of our independence in Ukraine doesn't become an oxymoron,” said Michael Jula, Independence Day planning committee member.

“If Russia completely takes over, there's no reason to have this. Or Ukraine may unfortunately be working toward a third declaration of Independence.”

The first day of independence before the 1991 separation from communist powers came in 1921, following the Ukrainian War of Independence from 1917-1921, which saw the country rise out of a multi-nation conflict to become the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Historians typically view the conflict as part of the final stages of World War I.

Jula said there is a strong local concentration of Ukrainian-Americans in the South Hills suburbs, but also a bigger regional connection to Ukraine: Donetsk was named Pittsburgh's sister city by then-mayor Tom Murphy and city council in 1999.

For tickets to the Ukrainian Independence Day Celebration, call Anne Konecky at 412-343-0309. Adults are $10, children's tickets are $1. All proceeds go to the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America to help support local and Ukrainian affairs.

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