By Larysa Stech
I live in a place where the Ukrainian community is very large and active. The meaning of those words has gradually changed over time as I got older. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to belong to a Ukrainian elementary school, which taught me my mother tongue. My parents put me in Ukrainian folk dancing at the age of six, and both Saturday Ukrainian school and the youth organization called “CYM” at seven. The after-school activities that helped in forming my identity were looked at as a regular, daily occurrence. I believed that it was normal for everybody to participate in things related to their culture. In my situation- three of the seven days of the week were dedicated to Ukrainian activities.
As I transitioned to a more multicultural high school, I was surprised to see that my thought was not completely correct. Not every culture had many after school activities dedicated to enlightening their youth. Some communities were so small, that people would keep their cultures alive only by following their traditions at home. This truly was the turning point in my life. I have come to realize that being a part of the Ukrainian community was something to take a lot more pride in.
Completing my undergraduate studies at McMaster University, I was introduced to a new Ukrainian community outside of the GTA. Yes, I automatically signed up to be a member of the Ukrainian students’ club, and yes, I wanted to do more than simply register for events. Seeing how the community there is so tight-knit, I wanted students to have that same pride about their Ukrainian culture as I did. I decided to become a part of the executive team to enjoy the riches of our proud culture while hosting educational and social Ukrainian events. Through zabavas, Holodomor sessions and embroidery events, my love for Ukrainian traditions and customs grew.
My mindset about my Ukrainian culture has drastically changed over the years. What seemed like something that every culture experiences quickly changed to embracing my own way of life. Yes — I do live in a place where the Ukrainian community is very large and active. And I passionately say every single word in that sentence. Because for me, growing up in that lifestyle helps me learn more about who my ancestors were, who I am as a person right now, and who my children will be in the future.