The mood in Chicago’s Ukrainian National Museum was somber. Maria Klimchak, curator and weekly host of a Ukraine-centered radio show, told Ruth and me that she had been in perpetual tears for 2 weeks.
Kiev is Ukraine’s capital. Maria’s parents live in the city of Lviv. Anti-government protestors peacefully occupied Kiev’s Independence Square last November after President Viktor Yanukovych called for, among other things, stronger ties with Russia. On February 18, 2014, violence escalated with police moving in to deal with the protestors and 77 were killed within 48 hours. The first display Ruth and I were led to was a memorial to these young Ukrainians. The death toll now exceeds 100, Yanukovych has left the country and, according to CNN, attended a conference in Rostov-on-Don last week, Russia has taken Crimea, and troops are reportedly massing on Ukraine’s eastern border.
Among memorial items were a black cloth on which the names of 78 of the victims had been placed and a helmet worn by a self-defense volunteer who was defending Kyiv Maidan Square. It was given to Reverend Mykola Buryazdnyk and donated to this museum. Those killed reportedly ranged from age 17 to 35, and many young Ukrainians now admit to naivety.
That the Ukrainian National Museum is in Chicago is understandable. The first Ukrainians came to America in 1658. Like the Pilgrims, their reasons had to do with religious persecution. There are now about 100,000 people of Ukrainian descent in Chicago and 15 churches serving them. There are also sizable communities in New York and Cleveland.
Ukraine has a history of trouble and domination. It was an independent nation from 1917 until 1921 and again after 1991 when it broke from Russia. A country of steppes, uplands, forests, mountains, and Black Sea coastline, it is said to be Europe’s 2nd largest country. Over the years when I asked Ukrainians if it was a good time to visit their homeland, I was told, sadly, no. Now I know why.
The UNM is at 2249 West Superior Street and is opened Thursday through Sunday from 11 am until 4 pm. It’s a genuine and vivid repository of Ukrainian culture with a 26,000 volume library, 100,000 archived items, and 10,000 artifacts. Many of the latter, like the traditional Easter egg called pysanky shown above, are seen on floors above the reception area. Among displayed costumes, musical instruments, jewelry, etc. are several permanent exhibits about Ukrainian-American veterans, a horrific 1932-33 famine, an interesting tribute to Illinois State Senator Walter Dudycz, etc.
I left with no doubt that the community is strong, on-going, and deeply concerned about Ukraine’s future. This is an excellent time to visit the Ukrainian National Museum and show your concern and support. Ukraine’s most respected poet, Taras Shevchenko, said in a poem in 1847,
“Love your Ukraine,
Adore her in the piercing times of evil,
In the last terrible moment
Pray to God for her.”
His words echo today.