Ukrainians bring Easter traditions to Stamford
Dressed in Ukrainian garb, the children clasped hands and danced across the lawn of St. Volodymyr's Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral on Wenzel Terrace. The songs evoked imagery of chirping birds and...
Dozens of students from Stamford's School of Ukrainian Studies celebrated Easter and the arrival of spring Sunday with the traditional song and dance "Hailky-Vesnianky."
Dressed in Ukrainian garb, the children clasped hands and danced across the lawn of St. Volodymyr's Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral on Wenzel Terrace. The songs evoked imagery of chirping birds and blossoming crops while heralding the resurrection of Christ.
"The roots of these dances go back into pre-Christian times," said Tania Priatka, the school's director. "When they used to worship the sun and nature."
Many parishioners wore traditional embroidered Ukrainian clothing, with stylistic variations representing different regions of the country. A young girl wearing a long red apron over her white skirt was dressed in attire from the Western Ukrainian region of Hutsel, Priatka said.
"Every region has its own design," she said.
Most of the clothing is handmade in Ukraine. Another tradition unique to the culture is the blessing of the Easter baskets, a ritual that takes place on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, Priatka said. Families prepare their baskets, which are filled with Easter bread, eggs, Ukrainian smoked sausage, ham, cheese and horseradish root, which symbolizes a cleansing of the spirit.
The baskets are blessed at church, and then after fasting Saturday night the food is the first nourishment parishioners eat after Sunday morning church services. Easter Sunday marks not only the end of weeks-long fasting, but also the end of 40 days without music, Stamford resident Michael Kozyak said. Ukrainian tradition calls for observers to avoid non-religious melodies during Lent, he said.
"It's a joyful and peaceful day," Kozyak said Sunday as he stood outside the church with his family. "We will go home and pray before eating. After, we will drink a little bit, of course. We will listen to a little music."
Kozyak and his wife, Lyubov, moved to the United States from Western Ukraine in 1992, two weeks before the birth of their daughter, Lilia. They also have an 8-year-old son, Adrian. Both children speak Ukrainian fluently, they said.
Priatka, a Cos Cob resident, said Fairfield County's Ukrainian population is largely centered in Stamford, with several families scattered in Norwalk and Greenwich. The area's Ukrainian community has expanded rapidly in recent years, she said.
"I'd say in the last five to 10 years there's been a tremendous influx of people coming here from Ukraine," Priatka said. "There's a lot of young families."
The influx has meant a rebirth for St. Volodymyr's, which has seen a boost in participation at the church, religious school and associated activities, Priatka said. Families who came to the United States several years ago for economic reasons have found jobs and started to put down roots, and now have more time to focus on their Ukrainian culture, she said.
"It's gotten to be such a fun community now," Priatka said. "Now that their primary focus is no longer getting settled, they are able to spend time on keeping up Ukrainian traditions."
Norwalk residents Maryana and Ostap Soulima moved to the United States from Western Ukraine, and said they send their two children to Ukrainian school, which lasts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
"It's a different country, obviously," Ostap said. "But we try to keep up the traditions. That's what makes this country great, all the different cultures."
"And we have a big community here," Maryana said.