Every year in August, communities across America — from San Francisco, to Houston, to Chicago, to New York — celebrate Ukrainian Independence Day.
Nearly 900,000 people with Ukrainian heritage live in the United States. Many mark August 24, the day Ukraine gained its independence from the former Soviet Union.
“It is not enough just to preserve Ukrainian culture among Ukrainians; we need to share it with the local community so we are better understood,” says Valeriy V. Goloborodko who organizes the annual festival in Bellevue, Washington, near Seattle. Last year’s festival attracted more than 12,000 people, he said.
Here’s a look at what happens at many of the Ukrainian Independence Day celebrations in America:
Dancing the “hopak”
A highlight of the festival is watching dancers perform traditional Ukrainian dances, as seen above at the festival in Horsham, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. A favorite is the fast-paced, foot-stomping “hopak.”
“Our ties to our brothers and sisters in our homeland are very deep and emotional,” says Eugene Luciw, a Horsham festival organizer. “Americans are very receptive to this ‘Ukrainian message’ of freedom and human rights and dignities.”
Wearing traditional garb
Visitors to the festivals learn about diversity within Ukraine, including Crimean Tatars and Kuban Cossacks. “I am proud to introduce my American friends to our unique Ukrainian cultural traditions, our turbulent history and help to create wonderful connections between American and Ukrainian people,” says Olenka Kaben, a festival organizer of the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Displaying the Ukrainian flag
The blue-and-yellow flag is a common sight at Ukrainian festivals in America. Above, young people unfold the Ukrainian flag in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church at Metropolia Center in Somerset, New Jersey. “The new generation will carry the Ukrainian memory and legacy,” says Ivan Tchopko, the deacon from that church.
This year marks the 25th year of diplomatic relations between the United States and a sovereign and independent Ukraine.
“America is very proud of the ties that we have and the profound friendship that has developed,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Kyiv, Ukraine, this summer.