Ukrainian Independence Folk Festival at Tryzubivka

By Eugene A. Luciw
Photos Courtesy of Christine Syzonenko

A perfect summer day welcomed nearly 3,000 festival-goers at the 28th Annual Ukrainian Independence Day Folk Festival, on Sunday, August 25, at the Ukrainian American Sport Center - Tryzubivka. The shady festival glade was adorned with the flags of the United States and Ukraine, and with the vibrant and colorful Ukrainian embroideries, folk arts and crafts, jewelry, emblems, motifs and wares displayed by the vendors.

Ukrainian Independence Folk Festival at Tryzubivka

Ukrainians, haling, directly or through ancestry, from nearly all regions of Ukraine, demonstrated solidarity with their homeland and with all fellow Ukrainians: Beautiful embroidered shirts and blouses, flags, Tryzubs, Ukrainian sports and thematic jerseys and our beautiful colors and language affirmed the presence of Ukraine’s immortal and immutable spirit, well before the concert had even started.

Many non-Ukrainians attended and came to know and to experience the brilliant nature, culture and history of a people that continues a seemingly timeless fight for freedom and human rights and dignities.


Also, the Banner of Jasna Gora historical re-enactment group accented the splendor of the grove with living, walking, talking displays of the clothing, armor, armaments and daily wares from Ukraine’s Kozak era. Their presence and presentation of arms on stage during the festival concert’s opening ceremonies was a brilliant reminder of the legendary struggle of Ukraine’s Kozaks for the freedom and independence. This year Kobzar Alex Lahoda added his talents to the lore, demonstrating the magic of the Bandura, an indigenous musical instrument that is known as the Voice of Ukraine.  

A bountiful Ukrainian kitchen and BBQ grill served tasty meals and desserts. An assortment of tap beers, wines, spirits and other refreshments added to the colors and flavors of the day.

Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals - Tryzub’s soccer program’s President, Danylo Nysch, and Anatoli Murha and Yuliya Stupen, representatives of festival sponsor, Ukrainian Selfreliance Federal Credit Union of Philadelphia, greeted the audience and introduced Ms. Natalia Tarasiuk and this writer and  as the concert’s MCs.


Ukrainian American Veterans Posts 1 (Philadelphia) and 42 (Lehigh Valley), dedicated to the memories of Anthony Bilyi, a young Ukrainian American who sacrificed his life defending Pearl Harbor, and Wolodymyr Palahniuk (“Jack Palance”), respectively, presented the colors. Philadelphia’s own Yuliya Stupen and Sofiya Pitula delivered masterful renditions of the US and Ukrainian National Anthems, respectively.  

Tryzub’s co-chaplains, Rev. Protopresbyter Taras Naumenko, pastor of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Philadelphia, and Rev. Roman Pitula, rector of the Ukrainain catholic cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, as well as Pastor Dmytro Lohin, pastor emeritus of the First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church of Philadelphia offered prayers and benediction. Then, Yuliya Stupen sang Taras Petrenenko’s signature piece, “Lord Have Mercy on Us”.


Representatives of the area Vietnamese (led by Teresa Tran and Vicky Ung), Korean (led by Grand Master Bong Pil Yang), and Indian (led by Manish Ingle) communities, some dressed in their national folk garb, also participated in the opening ceremonies.

The Korean-American delegation, emissaries duly authorized by the Ministry of Patriot and Veteran’s Affairs of the Republic of Korea, awarded their homeland’s “Ambassador of Peace” Medal to five Ukrainian American veterans of the Korean War and ensuing demilitarized zone (DMZ) conflict: Victor Litkewycz; Roman Wasylyshyn; Michael Hryshchyshyn;  James Jubinski; and Christopher Labiak (accepted by his mother, Joanne Labiak). The medals were accompanied by Official Citation certificates expressing the thanks of the Korean people for their distinguished service.

Korean Ambassador

Then, a tremendous caste of performers unleashed the “fireworks” of freedom and independence, a robust, colorful, vibrant and briskly paced cascade of Ukrainian music, song and dance. It roused the audience time and time again. As is the tradition at Tryzub, the artists themselves, spearheaded by Voloshky and Iskra Ukrainian Dance Ensembles’ artistic directors, Taras Lewyckyj and Andrij Cybyk, designed, created and executed an integrated collaborative concert program that underscored the theme: “A Celebration of Liberty and Unity”.

Repeatedly, the Volsohky and Iskra dancers, having rehearsed and learned each other’s choreographies, took the stage and danced together, as one ensemble. Each number was a dynamic masterpiece that filled the stage with the majesty of Ukrainian dance artistry and generated a seemingly endless stream of audience accolades.


Iskra and Voloshky also wowed the crowd with an interesting “mash-up” dance. Iskra artistic director, Andrij Cybyk’s discovery of the fact that the music for Holubka, the Chyprychuk choreographed dance from the City of Kolomyia, Ukraine, and the American Southern country dance song “Cotton-Eyed Joe” have nearly identical transitions and share the same key, tempo and musical structure, inspired Iskra him to fuse the two mountain cultural expressions and to re-characterize the dance. The dancers performed the classic Ukrainian number dressed in Southern mountain garb to the tune of “Cotton-Eyed Joe”. Cybyk commented, “[Holubka]  has always been one of my favorite dances as it has a loose, [mountain] quality to it, yet it is all so very structured, geometric and beautiful; my interpretation is meant to show respect for a brilliant choreography and celebrate how a completely different musical culture can capture the same spirit.”

This year’s featured performers, Korinya Ukrainian Folk Band, gave an awesome, spirited performance of traditional Ukrainian folk songs and melodies, all masterfully and uniquely arranged by them. Noteworthy is the fact that they played living instruments -- violin, accordion, drum and bass -- and were of genuine, earthy and vibrant voice.


Also premiering on Tryzub’s stage was a special martial arts demonstration, performed by Grand Master Bong Pil Yang’s School. This reminded the audience of the fact that many Ukrainian dances, especially Hopak, are based on the martial and other fighting arts of Ukraine’s Kozak Warriors.

Amazing and inspiring performances by violinist Innesa Tymochko Dekajlo, by the Ariana Lem Joy Trio, and by singers Yuliya Stupen and Sofiya Pitula, completed the mosaic of Ukrainian artistic and national unity.


Festival-goers received greetings from some special guests: Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA 8th); Philadelphia Superior Court Judge Carolyn Nichols; Col. Rober DeSousa, J.D., State Director for and representative of PA State Senator Patrick Toomey; and Jonathan Peri, J.D., President of Manor College.  Notably, Manor College, the only Ukrainian Catholic heritage institution of Higher Learning in North America, annually attends the festival as a Fiend of Tryzub.

At the concert program’s finale, The Voloshky and Iskra dancers broke out into a Hopak that was among the most vibrant and majestic that this writer has ever experienced. It was another salute and tribute to the selfless cooperation of the performing artists.


As the encore music of Hopak continued to play, MC Natalia Tarasiuk called all of the performers to the stage for a final good-bye. Jurik Matolak, lader of the Vox Ethnika orchestra led a rousing group singing Mnohaya Lita. He played the accordion as he sang and was accompanied by Innesa’s incredibly diverse violin.  Shouts of “Glory to Ukraine” – Glory to its Heroes” closed the concert.

A vibrant Zabava-Dance at the outdoor dance pavilion followed to the tunes of the Vox Ethnika orchestra. Face painting, caricature drawings, balloon art and other amusements were available for “kids of all ages”.