Nadia Demko delivering the 2014 Thank you
Bonsoir mesdames et messieurs. Je suis en train d’apprendre le français les samedis matins, donc je vais continuer en ukrainien et en anglais. Добрий вечір шановні члени комітету “Father Jean”, студенти, родичі, та гості. Дякую за можливість говорити перед вами сьогодні вечір. I believe I am the second Manitoban to be speaking here today; the last one was none other than Senator Paul Yuzyk in 1984!
I would like to ask the students seated in this room here today to picture themselves completely isolated—without their family, friends, and community. I think we can all appreciate that we are hear today largely because of the unfaltering support of the loved ones in our lives and the dedicated community members who have provided opportunities for us to become involved and connected to something bigger.
The Father Jean Foundation is an excellent example of a community structure that supports our young people. In a multicultural place and technological time such as this, where it is easy to become distracted by many other things, I think it is particularly important to show students that their work and efforts in the community are valued. I can’t think of a better way of doing this then by investing in their education. Thank you to the Father Jean Foundation for appreciating this. Thank you to all the members of the selection committee who took time out of their busy lives to go over applications and to interview students. Thank you to the banquet organizers for hosting this annual celebratory evening in honour of a great community leader and the youth that hopes to follow suite. Thanks to the donors, sponsors, and everyone here tonight for supporting our community’s young people. Finally, thank you to the students for giving your time, energy, and enthusiasm to the Montréal Ukrainian community!
Now, in case I do not look familiar to all of you, let me tell you a little bit about myself and why I am here today. It was when I came to Montréal four years ago (at the age of 18) to start my undergraduate degree at McGill that I appreciated the importance of the Ukrainian community in my own life. I arrived, bright-eyed and ready to immerse myself in academics. By my last year of high school in Winnipeg, I had a full plate like many of you—everything from Ukrainian dancing with the Rusalka ensemble and dance teaching, weekly Plast skhodyny as both a yunachka and a vykhovnytsia, church choir practices, among other involvements. Sound familiar to any of you? Upon arriving to Montréal, I thought about taking a little break from the Ukrainian community. However, as much as I tried to get involved in general university life, I felt something was missing—I didn’t quite feel settled in. That’s when I decide to join the McGill Ukrainian Students’ Association—known endearingly as MUSA. This is honestly where I found my home away from home.
My involvement as a Ukrainian Canadian student over the last few years in MUSA and later, SUSK—the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union—has played a large role in shaping my community beliefs. I took a much greater interest in political, social, and health issues as they relate to the Ukrainian community, including the diaspora and Ukraine itself. I became a volunteer camp counselor at a summer camp in Ukraine for orphans, gained a deeper understanding of Ukraine’s history and politics, and became interested in connecting my future career in medicine and passion for Ukraine. I noticed the lens through which I observed my own Ukrainian-Canadian identity change. I no longer felt that I had to engage in all of the stereotypically cultural activities to continue feeling an attachment to the community, and took on meaningful projects and responsibilities that excited me.
So what is unique and exciting about MUSA or being a Ukrainian-Canadian student for that matter? A couple of things—firstly, as students, we’re at a unique point in our lives where we are self-aware enough to have a valid opinion and dynamic enough to challenge the norm. As well, most people are always ready to support students. Every time we’ve held an event, we have been able to count on community organizations like KYK and Kasa to help advertise and often fund our event, and for community members to come out and support us. This has been true regardless of our event—large or small, from politics to performances. We’ve hosted lectures, discussions and film screenings on a number of topics, including the sociopolitical situation in Ukraine, human trafficking in Eastern Europe, the Holodomor genocide, and the state of the health care system in Ukraine. We’ve held fund-raisers for Help Us Help the Children—a biannual winter and summer camp for orphaned children in the Carpathian Mountains. We’ve organized lighter-themed events like gerdany-making workshops, one-woman plays, and a question-and-answer-period with a Ukrainian rock star. We’re currently planning a Ukrainian musical concert in partnership with McGill music students to share high-quality Ukrainian music with the general population on campus, as well as a Maidan photo exhibit featuring Anatoliy Boyko. So, to the young people out there: if you have something you want to do, don’t shy away from making it happen. There are lots and lots of people here to support you, from large community structures to fellow students like myself!
The second unique thing about MUSA is that, through a common passion for being Ukrainian, it has brought people from far places like Winnipeg, Ottawa, Odessa, Ohio, Kyiv, Vinnytsia, New Jersey, Lviv, and the very distant Toronto, among many others, to the Montréal Ukrainian community. We are a diverse bunch. Some native Ukrainian speakers, others non-Ukrainian-speakers. There are Orthodox, Jewish,
Catholic, and non-denominational Ukrainians among us. Some grew up in Ukraine, whereas many others were born in the diaspora. Some have been very involved in community organizations all of their lives, whereas others have never before been involved in anything Ukrainian. Having such a diverse group of people makes for really interesting discussions, unique ideas, and stimulating team dynamics always.
Father Jean is the perfect example of a person who challenged the boundaries of what it means to be Ukrainian. Despite not being born into an ethnical Ukrainian family, he chose to dedicate his life to promoting the Ukrainian cause—religiously and politically. He lived in Ukraine and learned the Ukrainian language. I think it is in our community’s interest to be as inclusive as possible and it is our responsibility to foster interest in becoming involved in the community. MUSA is a unique venue that does exactly that. Just this past month, we held a Ukrainian week that attracted many non-Ukrainians—students, professors, and the general public alike—giving us the opportunity to spread awareness about our history, culture, and current political situation to people who had been previously less aware.
Another take-away that we can make from Father Jean’s story is the work that he did advocating for Ukraine. His main role while working as a diplomat in Geneva was to disseminate information about the political situation in Ukraine. At that time, western Ukraine had just declared its independence, so his role really was to assert this to political leaders in other countries, such as France, Britain, and Germany. Today’s Ukraine is facing not only a physical war, but also an informational one. The extent of inaccurate information that is being spread about Ukraine, even in mainstream media, is unfathomable. Today, more than ever before in our lives (at least those of us born after an independent Ukraine), it is critical to be politically informed and to spread awareness and accurate information to
classmates, colleagues, friends, and the general public. Just the other day, a classmate thanked me for explaining the situation and pointing him towards reliable sources. He mentioned afterwards that his own family had emigrated from Ukraine earlier in the 20th century. Also, don’t hesitate to write about Ukraine in assigned papers and coursework and to advocate for Ukraine at your school or on your campus. Get involved with large-scale student initiatives like SUSK (the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union), which brings together Ukrainian students across the country to have a unified and powerful voice. As Past Vice-President of SUSK, I had the opportunity to meet with former ambassadors of Ukraine to Canada, MPs from both Ukraine and Canada, and many community leaders. Through SUSK, we also had the opportunity to make direct connections with students in Ukraine, learn more about how the political situation has affected them, and support them in direct ways through statements of support and donations. Please stay tuned for the annual SUSK Congress, as it will be in Montréal this year! Come talk to me if you’d like to participate in this.
Although this is a difficult and heart-wrenching time for Ukrayina, appreciate that it is more important than ever before to be a Ukrainian in a country such as Canada, where we can provide both political and financial support without really worrying about any repercussions to our personal lives. On the one-year anniversary of the beginning of Euromaidan and the 81st anniversary of the Ukrainian genocide, let us not forget the many Ukrainians who have stood up against oppressors, both in their own government and in the Russian one, and let’s become inspired by Ukraine’s ongoing revolution for human dignity. To the students—join your local Ukrainian students’ associations at McGill, Concordia, and Université de Montréal or start one if one does not already exist at your school. I look forward to seeing you at our or at your next event! Дякую вам за увагу!