HANNOVER TWP. – A few thousand people came to the New Jersey Ukrainian American Cultural Center (UACC) in Whippany to watch live music and dances, hear elected officials speak up for Ukraine, and fight what the director of the UACC, Roksolana Vaskul, called the “culture war” of Ukrainians. Saturday September 24.
Florham Park resident Vaskul said this year’s Ukrainian Festival is different from the previous 12 because the event is generally festive.
This year, local Ukrainians must think of their brothers and sisters who do not have the ability to celebrate and peacefully walk around like the children present, because they did not have to worry about something falling from the sky, Vaskul said.
“So we celebrate this with responsibility because we can’t fight, but it’s our culture war,” Vaskul said. “They tried to destroy our culture, but here we are. We are here for everyone to see that we are a peaceful, hardworking and compassionate people who want to be a democratic country.
The festivities included playing the bandura, a 58-string instrument played by Morristown resident Oksana Telepko, deacon of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Whippany, and her twin sister who arrived from the city of Lviv, New York. western Ukraine in June. with his daughter.
There were also dozens of vendors selling art, food, and other items to support Ukraine in one way or another; these included a group that makes jewelry, magnets, and other trinkets.
Among the children selling jewelry to people entering the car park was six-year-old Nikita Medved, who recently moved from Ukraine to eastern Hanover.
The jewelers were supporting a few causes this time, including the Ukrainian American Youth Association.
The group was also raising money for winter clothing for two frontline soldiers who are the brother and father of Denville resident Julia Fatula; her brother is in eastern Ukraine and her father in the south.
Fatula said they were both in places where the Russians attacked the most.
She also said that over the past few months she has tried to do as much as possible. Members of the local Ukrainian community have their daily routines, but every day they reflect on how they can support their loved ones.
“I’m just happy to say that for now it’s like before, so nothing has changed,” Fatula said of her brother and father. “But on the one hand it’s good, but on the other it’s a shame because we want them to be at home; we want them to be in a safe place. But they are still at war; they are still there; they are still in the red zones.
After some singing and dancing, Reverend Father Stepan Bilyk of St. John the Baptist said a prayer praying for the friends of Ukraine who have reached out to save Ukrainians from death and extinction in this difficult time. of war and suffering caused by evil, specifically the Russian government.
UACC board member and Cedar Knolls resident Jerry Kuzemcak then introduced several elected officials on stage; he told people in the crowd not to forget who was on stage when they voted.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you should be proud of these people,” Kuzemcak said. “Not only are they here today, but they know the Ukrainian cause. That’s why they support us. That’s why they wear the Ukrainian shirts. Each of these members has been in our community many times. They are fully aware of what is happening right now with the war.
Among those on stage were Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, D-11; State Senator Anthony Bucco, R-Morris; State Deputy Aura Dunn, R-Morris; State Senator Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris; Heather Darling, surrogate from Morris County; Morris County Sheriff James Gannon and Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi.
Morris County Commissioners Deborah Smith, John Krickus and Tom Mastrangelo were also on stage. In attendance were Hannover Local Government Mayor John Ferramosca, Deputy Mayor Thomas “Ace” Gallagher and committee members Brian Cahill and Ronald Francioli.
Krickus explained how officials from the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and County Board of Commissioners donated 100 bulletproof vests to the Ukrainian military through the UACC on Wednesday August 24, Ukraine Independence Day.
Krickus also talked about how he was in St. John the Baptist on Thursday, February 24, the first day of the Russian invasion, and he recalled the “beautiful singing” of Telepko.
Sherrill referred to the presence of an M777 howitzer artillery piece at the event; these were developed at Picatinny Arsenal, and several members of the arsenal are currently in Poland training Ukrainian forces, Sherrill said.
Sherrill also recalled her July trip to Ukraine where she told President Volodymyr Zelensky that she wanted to convey the love and support Ukraine has from New Jersey.
“I can’t tell you how hard people work to support you,” Sherrill said. “And so, as we sit here today, as we come together to think of all Ukrainians who are fighting today, not only for Ukrainian democracy and freedom, but for democracy and freedom in worldwide. I just want to thank you all for all you do to support this effort.
Senator Bucco said as he was moved as he walked into the UACC that day and saw a sign that read, “I thought I knew bravery, then I met Ukraine.”
“I am convinced that Ukraine will win this war because, as has been said, God is on Ukraine’s side,” Bucco said. “And I look forward to the day when we can be here and celebrate a peaceful and free Ukraine.”
Mayor Ferramosca encouraged those in attendance to purchase one of the many “Stand With Ukraine” lawn signs that were on sale that day.
“Good versus evil, that’s what it’s all about,” Ferramosca said. “The light of Ukraine and the peoples of the world will overcome the darkness of Putin. Ukraine will be victorious. We are at Ukraine’s side; we support Ukraine, and we also ask you to show your support for Ukraine.
At the UACC Social Club bar, attendees ate pig’s ears and smoked cheese, drank and watched sports.
Among those at the bar were former Randolph mayor Roman Hirniak, a Ukrainian who has mingled with people including Republican congressional candidate Paul DeGroot, who is running against Sherrill in the 11th congressional district.
Hirniak said the participation of the non-Ukrainian community is invigorating.
“We are doing so much to help Ukraine, and the opportunity for us to be able to count on our non-Ukrainian brothers and sisters to join us in this effort, today is a wonderful example of how special that is.” , Hirniak said.
DeGroot said the people at UACC are friendly and he’s been introduced to a lot of great Ukrainians.
He also said he was looking forward to meeting as many people as possible.
“That’s what I have to do; that’s what I want to do,” DeGroot said. “I want to hear what is going on in their lives.
“I know what is happening in Ukrainian society, and it is a travesty what is happening abroad. Russia is the aggressor. Russia is certainly the enemy that we should have looked at before, and when I am elected to the American Congress, Ukraine will have all the weapons possible to be able to defend itself and take back the country that it lost years ago with Crimea.
After the speech of the elected officials, the music and the dance resumed; among those listening were Parsippany resident Oksana Kotliar, a librarian at the Morris County Library in Cedar Knolls, and her mother Zoya Matula who came to live with her in March after moving from the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih.
Matula traveled to Lviv at night in an unlighted bus and stayed with friends for a few nights before taking another bus to Warsaw, the Polish capital.
Matula couldn’t get a ticket, so she stayed at a Marriott for three days after Kotliar called the US Embassy in Warsaw for help. After that, Kotliar was finally able to offer her mother a ticket to John F. Kennedy International Airport, where Kotliar and her daughter met Matula.
Matula has pain in her knees and cannot walk without a walker, and she needs insulin injections twice a day to treat her diabetes. She brought no luggage, only her passport in a small pouch around her neck, Kotliar said.
“It was terrible,” Kotliar said. I was on the phone with her all the time, and I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t be there physically, so I had to coordinate everything over the phone.
Matula has been on YouTube all day learning English since arriving. Kotliar said it was difficult because Matula didn’t have health insurance.
“I have a mountain of paperwork to get her green card, and it’s all very expensive,” Kotliar said. “And I’m just a librarian, so I’m not really rich. So it’s very difficult, but we’re getting there. This is the most important part that she is safe from shelling and death.
The event was chaired by Michael Halibej, Social Club Director and UACC Board Member, a Cedar Knolls resident.
“We are blessed to have such a vibrant and hardworking community,” Halibej said. “With families with parents, grandparents, children and extended family working together, we are accomplishing amazing things. We all come together, building a special bond.