Ukrainian folk festival returns to Horsham amid war in Ukraine


HORSHAM — Thousands of miles away from the war in Ukraine, Ukrainian Americans from across the region will come together to celebrate their heritage.

The 2022 Ukrainian Folk Festival will take place from noon to 8 p.m. on August 28 at the Ukrainian American Sport Club, located at the intersection of County Line and Lower State Roads, in Horsham.

“A festival like this is extremely important despite the fact that we have this situation in Ukraine,” said festival organizer Eugene Luciw. “First and foremost when we celebrate, the festival was designed to celebrate Ukraine’s freedom and its independence from the Soviet Union, which was declared on August 24.”

The long tradition of the Ukrainian folk festival spans almost three decades, according to Luciw. Local residents and visitors will be treated to traditional Ukrainian culinary delights and live entertainment.

“At this particular time, we are celebrating this holiday… through a veil of tears because we are celebrating our culture, our independence and our freedom and yet we have this war going on in Ukraine,” he said.

Admission is $15 per person, $5 of which will be donated to the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee.

“It will be a huge, tremendous fundraiser for humanitarian relief,” Luciw said.

Ukrainian violinist Innesa Tymochko Dekajlo, right, started playing when she was 6 years old. She has toured across Europe and North America. Dance are performers from the Voloshky and Iskra ensembles at the 2019 Ukrainian Folk Festival. (Photo courtesy of Christine Syzonenko)

Importance in the midst of turmoil

Luciw stressed the significance of the festival amid the turmoil unfolding in his ancestral Eastern European homeland. Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, causing devastating destruction and forcing millions to flee as refugees.

“We’re going to tell them how separate people we are,” he said. “We are going to tell them how genocidal, barbaric, brutal, unjustified and designed this attack is to annihilate the Ukrainians, take control of their lands and turn the whole situation into an imperial essence belonging to Russia, and … Ukraine defends not only its own freedom, but the freedom of all of Europe, and the freedom of the United States, ultimately, and is also a bulwark for peace in Europe.

When asked what people can expect from this year’s event, Luciw said events happening on the world stage will be recognized here in Montgomery County.

“There will be times when there will be dark tones, especially in the beginning,” he said. “We are going to have a prayer service and a moment of silence. We’ll mention things that happen in Ukraine, and maybe we’ll occasionally have… dark songs.

“So there will be reminders, but we won’t deviate from the fact that it’s meant to be a fun experience because our cultural identity is one that evokes fun. It’s bright, it’s vibrant, it’s colorful,” he continued. “We think our culture of celebrating independence is like setting off fireworks.”

Return in person after COVID

Planning for the annual event usually begins a year in advance, according to Luciw, director of external relations for the Ukrainian American Sports Club, who will serve as emcee. There are 12 people on the organizing committee, Luciw said, and more than 75 volunteers who will help organize the August festival.

About 3,000 people typically attended the Ukrainian folk festival, Luciw estimated. This year, there’s a sense of added excitement and anticipation as the event returns in-person after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given the fact that people have been looking forward to coming to this festival for over two years with cancellations, and the huge interest in Ukraine, and the understanding of what Ukrainians are and who they are – the larger question of what it means to be a Ukrainian – I think we’re going to completely get through 3,000,” he said. “I expect we’ll have 4,000, if not more.”

Great community

Luciw stressed the importance of building relationships with nearby tourist offices in Bucks and Montgomery counties, as the event draws crowds from near and far.

Luciw noted that there was a “high concentration of Ukrainians” in Montgomery County, with about 70,000 more residing in the Delaware Valley region. Along with the southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey contingent, Luciw said people from Connecticut, Virginia and western Pennsylvania will make the trip to attend the Ukrainian folk festival.

Attendees can experience a myriad of live entertainment at this year’s Ukrainian Folk Festival.

Uryane Faizova of the Efsane Crimean Tatar Ensemble performs during the Ukrainian Folk Festival at the Ukrainian American Sports Center in Horsham on August 28.  Debby High - For Digital First Media
Uryane Faizova of the Efsane Crimean Tatar Ensemble performs during the Ukrainian Folk Festival at the Ukrainian American Sports Center in Horsham (Debby High – For Digital First Media)

Several dance troupes will be present at the festival, including the Ukrainian Dance Ensemble Iskra, the Ukrainian Dance Ensemble Voloshky and the Folk Dance Ensemble Carpathia. Singer-songwriter Iryna Lonchyna and singer Yuliya Stupen will perform. Violinist Innesa Tymochko Dekajlo along with Alex Lagoda and Cold Ravine Band will perform during the concert portion of the event.

Luciw said he was especially looking forward to sampling the festival’s “staples,” including pierogis, kielbasa sausages and cabbage rolls.

In addition to food, Luciw said attendees can enjoy the Vendors’ Grove, which will host booths for vendors to display their arts and crafts, embroidered fabrics and “gerdan,” or Ukrainian jewelry.

“You bring your Christmas list for this one,” he said.

Luciw aims to balance fun and action as we approach the Ukrainian Folk Festival 2022.

“We expect people to have fun, but we will remind them of the bitterness of the situation so that they fully understand what is happening in Ukraine, and we will ask them to defend (for) Ukraine in a way positive,” he said.

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