Time for dialogue, reform, inclusion, planning and effectiveness

by Orest Baranyk and Maria Shcherbyuk

On Wednesday, May 18, the Illinois Branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America took a step forward to heal the rift that had developed in the community over the past year. On that date, the Illinois Branch of the UCCA held an extraordinary annual meeting, which was conducted as a result of the postponement of the regular annual meeting scheduled for March 20. That meeting was cancelled due to lack of compliance with the by-laws, verbal confrontations and a flagrant disregard of protocol.

After that unproductive first meeting, a verification committee was appointed to review the by-laws requirements regarding membership and to prepare a list of qualified voters. A computerized list of all donations and membership dues to the UCCA was organized and delivered along with the list of qualified voters. The definition of who was qualified to vote was based on the requirements of the UCCA by-laws, which served as the basis for the process of orderly and legitimate elections.

The meeting was chaired by Jaroslav Hankewych, president of Chicago’s Ukrainian National Museum. The meeting secretary was Nadiya Volos. A small group attempted and failed to cancel the meeting. When their motion for chairman was roundly defeated, less than 10 individuals walked out. The elections proceeded with nearly 80 participants filling the hall.

Mykola Mischenko, chairman of the nominating committee, proposed a slate of candidates for the upcoming year. That slate was seconded and the following officers and board were unanimously elected: President Orest Baranyk, Vice-Presidents Mykola Mischenko, Pavlo Bandriwsky and Bohdan Melnyk, Secretary Maria Shcherbyuk, Treasurer Stepan Strilchuk, and a board of 23 additional members.

The meeting included reports of the achievements and work performed during the past year, as well as commentary from the audience. Remarks from the audience included various issues related to the reports and to the challenging situation.

The principal observations concerned the following subjects: the significant role of the community in organizing and participating in mass demonstrations in support of the Orange Revolution and the need to recognize and thank those who contributed to the effort; the concerns that resulted from the merger of First Security Federal Savings Bank and the need to separate that issue from the activities of the UCCA; the role the UCCA fulfills both in representing the Ukrainian community in the United States and in acting as a unifying factor for the entire community, and the need to pro¬pose recommendations to the By-laws Committee formed by the national board of the UCCA in order to update the bylaws and clarify some of its articles.

A brief summary of the work that was performed by the Chicago Branch in the last year included: publicly commemorating important dates in Ukraine’s history (Kruty, January 22 Acts, Independence Day, November 1918 uprising), as well as organizing the most successful Ukrainian Days festival ever which drew over 13,000 attendees and demonstrated how well the old and new waves of immigrants can work together.

During the most crucial time last year, the UCCA provided personnel and resources to assist in the conduct of Ukraine’s presidential election in Chicago. The branch formed a committee to focus on preparations for the October elections. Members of the branch worked side by side with the Election Committee 2004. Understanding how critical the election would be, some UCCA members volunteered to become international election observers in Ukraine at their own expense. They joined over 2,000 other Ukrainians from throughout the world as official observers. The UCCA’s Kyiv office was instrumental in obtaining credentials for these international observers.

Financially the branch had a very successful year: raising over $80,000 for the Ukrainian National Information Service between the UNIS benefit and the Ukrainian National Fund. As in prior years, Chicago proved itself to be quite generous.

In the upcoming year the Chicago Branch of the UCCA will again rise to the challenge of serving the interests of the Ukrainian community. Plans include projects such as the annual fund-raiser for UNIS, the Washington office of the UCCA (which informs elected and appointed United States government officials of Ukrainian interests), the annual commemoration of Ukraine’s independence, and representation of the Ukrainian community at various state and city functions and meetings with various public officials on behalf of the Ukrainian American community.

One of the principal objectives of the newly elected officers will be remediation due to several factors which, although unrelated to the work of the UCCA, had a negative impact on the community’s effectiveness and cohesiveness. The issue of the merger of the community bank was a matter for its board of directors and shareholders, and should not be forced onto the UCCA’s agenda.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the creation of an ad hoc Committee to review and recommend to the National By-laws Committee proposals that support uniformity in governance in all the branches of the UCCA and at the executive level. Such a project should serve as a basis for professionalism, trust and mechanisms for adherence to rules.

Simultaneously, the UCCA should encourage a series of informational publications about the purpose, objectives and work of the organization to make the community aware of the importance of its work and mission in providing critical information to the governments of the United States and Ukraine, as well as its role as a crucial entity that unites the Ukrainian community in the United States. In addition, there is a need to sponsor a series of seminars for prospective future leaders. These seminars should not be a forum for incumbents to review their accomplishments. Instead, they should focus on a systematic explanation of the organization’s mission, review its history, and serve as a means to train a new generation in the necessary leadership skills for the informed implementation of activities and strategies that serve the Ukrainian American community.

At a time when Ukraine has undergone a transformation that brought about political, economic, social and organizational reforms, it is time to realize that the mission and work of the UCCA needs to be aligned with the current situation. The UCCA fulfilled its mission and played a significant role both in Ukraine and in the United States in promoting the Orange Revolution. Now there is a need to include the process of change that is transforming the Ukrainian community in the United States. The community has been enriched by the massive influx of new immigrants and by the participation of a new generation of people of Ukrainian heritage born in America. Both of these constituencies which are equally represented on the newly elected board belong to a generation that is informed, communicates through the Internet, and is concerned about Ukraine’s role in the world. These new constituencies in the Diaspora demonstrated their involvement in Ukrainian issues their participation in the elections, demonstrations related to the Orange Revolution, and through their highly active role in informing members of the government and media of the United States at the time of Ukraine’s crisis. This was done through personal intervention and a massive effort via the Internet.

Such a development is a very positive sign for the future of the Ukrainian Diaspora and for the UCCA. This is the right time to develop a plan of inclusiveness for the next generation and to prepare for its future leadership role. Now is the time to initiate a constructive dialogue, which can be achieved only when the interests of the community take precedence over disruptive personal scores between individuals.

This is the time to recognize the work of those who contributed in the past and to prepare those who will contribute in the future. This is the time for dialogue, reform, inclusion, planning and effectiveness. Together we are many; together we will build an organization with wise leadership for the future and bring reconciliation to our Chicago community, as well as strengthen the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.


Orest Baranyk is president and Maria Shcherbyuk is secretary of the UCCA’s Illinois Branch.