Scholars and community leaders gather to discuss diaspora's experiences
by Zenon Zawada
Kyiv Press Bureau
NIZHEN, Ukraine - More than 80 scholars and community leaders gathered at Hohol Pedagogical University in Nizhen for three days beginning on June 23 to share their scholarly pursuits and experiences in the global Ukrainian diaspora.
On the quaint, wooded campus in the Chernihiv Oblast where Mykola Hohol once studied, scholars from eight different nations discussed their studies on diverse topics ranging from Ukrainian communities in Paraguay to the status of Ukrainian language studies in Moscow.
Community leaders, such as Valentyn Pylypchuk of Kamchatka, Russia, offered updates and raised awareness of their efforts to retain Ukrainian identity and consciousness.
"Education is of primary importance in the diaspora," Mr. Pylypchuk said. "It's the only way to fight against assimilation."
This year's conference in Nizhen is the second such event co-organized by Dr. Roman Yereniuk, director of the Center for Ukrainian Canadian Studies at the University of Manitoba.
It follows the first conference held at the National University of Ostroh Academy last year, and it appears as though the diaspora academic conferences are now an official annual event in Ukraine, Dr. Yereniuk said.
A network of Ukrainian universities with diaspora centers has emerged in recent years and the annual conferences will rotate between them, he said.
This year, "we wanted to make a presence in northern Ukraine and let them see there is a Ukrainian-speaking diaspora and that Ukrainian should be spoken in northern Ukraine," Dr. Yereniuk said.
He organized this year's conference with Stanislav Ponomarevskyi, director of the Center for Humanitarian Cooperation with the Ukrainian Diaspora at Hohol Pedagogical University in Nizhen.
The university is particularly proud to host the conference this year because it's celebrating the 200th anniversary of its founding, Mr. Ponomarevskyi said.
Former President Leonid Kuchma issued the decree in 1999 that established the Nizhen diaspora center, which is the only government sponsored diaspora center in Ukraine, receiving its financing from the university itself.
The Nizhen center distinguishes itself because it has a specific emphasis on fostering ties between the Western Diaspora community with the East, particularly those communities in the former Soviet Union, he said.
The conference's other goals, organizers said, were to analyze Ukrainian immigration, examine educational institutions and their roles, and to recognize important individuals in the diaspora, Dr. Yereniuk said.
Next year's conference will occur at Lviv Polytechnic University, Dr. Yereniuk said, and will be organized by its International Institute for Education, Culture and Diaspora Relation.
This year's participants traveled from Canada, Poland, Russia, Bulgaria, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Portugal.
Among them were scholars with no immediate Ukrainian ancestry or command of the language, but who are involved in academic pursuits dealing with the Ukrainian Diaspora.
For example, Antonio Eduardo Mendoca, director of the Center for Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies in Lisbon, Portugal, spent the last several years examining the burst of Ukrainian immigrants to his country in just the past five years.
In 2001 Portugal had created a new residency status called "permit of stay," which was extended to several thousand Ukrainians.
"A few weeks after their legalization, the Ukrainian immigrant community became the biggest in Portugal," Dr. Mendoca said. "It went from nothing to the biggest."
Nonetheless, Brazilians continued to make up the largest immigrant group in Portugal, but among the tendencies setting Ukrainians apart from other ethnic groups is they have settled in many of Portugal's rural communities and are engaged in agricultural work.
"Almost a quarter of the Ukrainian immigrants did agricultural work," Dr. Mendoca said. "For some of the rural areas, if not for the immigrants there would be no agriculture."
Community leaders like Mr. Pylypchuk described how challenging it is to support and operate a Ukrainian-language Sunday school class of 28 students in Kamchatka, especially in a country as hostile to the Ukrainian language as Russia.
"Russian chauvinism is present among all officials," Mr. Pylypchuk said.
Although she does not speak Ukrainian and is not ethnically Ukrainian, Svetlana Elebesova of the Karasaev Humanities University in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, spoke of the need for Ukrainian language instruction in her city, where it is virtually non-existent.
Such interaction between the Eastern and Western diasporas is an achievement for the conference, Dr. Yereniuk said.
The conference was also a success in exposing Nizhen to academics in the diaspora who might not have otherwise had the opportunity to visit the city, said Dr. Orest Cap, professor of vocational technical teacher education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
Through the conference he said he was able to recognize the deep Ukrainian cultural and historical roots in the Chernihiv Oblast, Dr. Cap said. It was his first time east of the Dnipro River.
"What impressed me about Nizhen were the pearls of Ukrainian history in the university's museum," Dr. Cap said. "The people were warm, receptive, and they want to share your heritage. It's not only western Ukraine, but other parts of Ukraine."
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, July 10, 2005, No. 28, Vol. LXXIII
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