The UNF Redefined

By Volodymyr Kish

I am heading off this coming weekend to the UNF National Convention in Montreal, the 36th time in its history that the Ukrainian National Federation and its affiliated organizations will come together to elect its national leaders and plan its future.  The first such convention that I attended was close to forty years ago when I had the privilege of being the National President of the Ukrainian National Youth Federation, and by virtue of that fact, I became ex officio a member of UNF’s National Executive, then better known as the Presidia.

As a member of the Presidia, it did not take long for me to come into conflict with the UNF’s leadership at that time, which was composed primarily of OUN activists of the Melnyk faction that came to Canada after World War II and soon managed to take control of the UNF.  Their priorities were strongly focused on Ukraine’s struggle for liberation from the Communist yoke and the organization became far more of a political organization and less of the educational, cultural and social entity that it had been in the past.  In the process, its orientation shifted from support of Ukrainian culture and community here in Canada to fighting the great ideological battle against the Communists in the Ukrainian homeland.  Regrettably, some of the “home grown” talent that had helped build the organization during its first few decades such as Walter Klymkiw, Michael Pohorecky and Senator Paul Yuzuk, were pushed aside. 

At that time, as a Canadian-born Ukrainian, I had more than a few difficulties in accepting the goals and direction of the parent UNF body.  I felt strongly that as a Canadian organization, the UNF’s first priorities should always be on the growth and development of Ukrainian life and culture here in Canada.  I had no issue in providing support for the cause of a free Ukraine, but such support should not be at the cost of neglecting the needs of Canadian-born Ukrainians.  I pushed hard to try and get the Presidia to dedicate the majority of their time, effort and financial resources towards educating and developing the younger generations of Ukrainian Canadians so that the future of the organization could be secured.  Sadly, my efforts at that time met with little success and eventually out of frustration, I left the UNF for a lengthy period of time.

Eventually, in the late 1990’s a younger generation of Canadian-born UNF members managed to regain control of the UNF from the “Melnykivtsi” that had held sway for almost five decades.  Unfortunately, by then the UNF had shrunk considerably to but a handful of branches and the youth wing had disappeared almost completely.

Fortunately, over the past decade, the UNF has been slowly rejuvenating itself.  In the past three, four years especially, a determined effort by a motivated new Board of Directors under the dynamic leadership of Taras Pidzamecky has produced encouraging results.  Four former branches of the UNF that had gone defunct have been revived and the UNYF is once again an active organization.  At a time when virtually all Ukrainian organizations in the diaspora have been in decline, the UNF is one of the few that is actually growing.

I am also personally gratified to see that the primary focus of the organization finally is on developing our youth and creating programs and initiatives that are of relevance to Ukrainians here in Canada.  This is not to say that the UNF has abandoned the “Ukrainian cause” – the UNF always strongly supported and will continue to support the cause of Ukrainian freedom and independence.  However, it now realizes that this can best be done by ensuring that it is a strong and broad-based organization here in Canada that can wield some clout and influence on the Canadian government as an effective ally in the cause.  Further, the UNF can only become a strong and broad-based organization if it can demonstrate its relevance to that vast majority of Ukrainian Canadians that have been alienated from and remain unengaged from the Ukrainian community.

The convention in Montreal will seek to gain even further traction and motivation within the UNF to continue its rejuvenation efforts.  After a prolonged period of decline, the UNF is once again on the move and looking to regain its clout and prestige as an organization that can encompass the aspirations of all Ukrainian Canadians, regardless of religion, political beliefs, country of birth or generational membership.  For the first time in decades, there is actually a good reason to believe that this is indeed achievable and not just wishful thinking.