A Brief History of the Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio
(Українське Культурне Товариство в Огайо)

A Brief History of UCAO

Among Ukrainian communities in North America, Columbus is one of a growing number that reflect the mobile nature of our modern society. Ukrainian immigrants did not come here during the first big influx of 1890-1914. They did not come between the two World Wars. Thus,  the churches, banks, stores, fraternal associations, and youth organizations built by immigrant groups from those periods and so familiar in big Ukrainian centers like New York and Chicago are absent here.

The first trickle of Ukrainian immigrants appeared in Columbus in the early 1950s, following the huge displacement of people after World War II. That is when families such as the Fedeczkos, Shymkiws, Kopelziws, and Magoras settled here. They banded together with other Slavic families from the Carpathian region and eventually organized a church, St. John Chrysostom. While not strictly of the Ukrainian rite, this Byzantine Catholic church became a hub for the tiny Ukrainian community.

UCAO Charter Members
Luba Heinemann 
Myroslava Mudrak
+ Jerry and Orysia Husak 
George and Christine Mychkovsky
Magda and Nestor Kolcio 
Andrew Pankiw
Lubomyr and Oksana Krushelnycky 
+ Aka and + Constantine Pereyma
Alan Landgraf and + Arcadia Melnyk 
+ Wasyl Sidorenko 
Lubomyr and Maryann Lichonczak 
+ Halina Stepanovsky 
+ Alexandra Melnyk 
Irena and James Wallace

By the 1960s, The Ohio State University had become a magnet for Ukrainian students from the post-World War II generation, especially from the Parma/Cleveland communities, and some of them stayed in Columbus after graduation. When American Electric Power relocated its headquarters from New Jersey to Columbus, more Ukrainians followed. Job opportunities in health care, scientific research and development, and banking drew others. By the early 1980s, there were enough Ukrainians in the area with common interests to start thinking of creating a formal organization. It took a year of preparation, but the 14 founding families and individuals did it, and so, on June 19, 1983, the Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio or Українське Культурне Товариство в Огайо was born.

The founders could not have predicted that from such a modest beginning, and always with fewer than 100 members and no outside support, this organization would keep going for 40 years and accomplish so much.

This new Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio (UCAO) set itself the mission to preserve and promote Ukrainian culture, both amongst themselves (since they were having children) and in the larger Central Ohio community (since they were still struggling to get recognized as Ukrainians).

UCAO immediately started publishing a newsletter, printing 79 issues between 1983 and 2012. In 1983 UCAO also got involved in the annual Columbus International Festival and continued every year until 2015 (when the festival was discontinued), winning many awards along the way. Since there was no UCAO building, picnics became annual summer opportunities to gather.

From 1984 to 1989, UCAO ran a Ukrainian Saturday School and pre-school (Sadochok) until the community ran out of children. Members’ homes became forums for lectures on Ukrainian culture and history, ceramics classes, torte baking workshops, and receptions for visiting artists and dignitaries.

But from the very beginning, UCAO also thought BIG:

  • In 1983 UCAO got the City of Columbus to issue a Proclamation of the 50th Anniversary of the Great Ukrainian Famine on September 26. Rev. Telawsky, accompanied by the Pokrova Ukrainian Catholic Church choir from Parma, Ohio, celebrated a Divine Liturgy at St. John Chrysostom Church in Columbus.
  • UCAO kicked off the celebration of the Millennium of Christianity in Ukraine (988-1988) in 1984 with a Divine Liturgy at the St. Thomas More Newman Center on the OSU campus, celebrated by Bishop Robert Moskal, assisted by the Cathedral Choir of Cleveland. In 1988, UCAO continued the celebration with two radio programs featuring liturgical music and a Pysanka Exhibit at the Columbus Arts Center.
  • During the Christopher Columbus Quincentennial Jubilee Celebrations in 1992, UCAO organized a pysanka workshop for high school art teachers, followed by a juried student exhibit entitled “The New World of Pysanka Symbols.”
  • At the international exhibit, AmeriFlora ’92, at Franklin Park, UCAO presented an exhibit entitled “A Ukrainian Tapestry of Bloomsshowcasing pysanky and paintings by artists Aka Pereyma and Tania Osadca, as well as student art.
  • In August 1992, the Children of Chernobyl Fund’s Mriya (Anton An-25), the world’s largest plane, and three Ukrainian Mig-29 fighter planes participated in the Rickenbacker Air Show in Columbus. UCAO hosted the CCF staff and 27 airmen. After the show, Mriya was loaded with medical supplies and two ambulances bound for the areas affected  by the Chornobyl disaster. This was the final Children of Chernobyl Fund airlift.
  • To mark the 10th Anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster, UCAO planted an oak tree in April 1996 in Franklin Park, blessed by Rev. Eugene Linowski, Rev. Valdemar Kuchta, and Rabbi Hirsh Chinn, witnessed by Ukrainians, Byelorussians, and Poles, including a fireman who worked to extinguish the Chornobyl fires.

The community experienced a notable influx of Ukrainians around 1989, when the first religious refugees began to arrive in Columbus. They were Pentecostals from northwest Ukraine, mostly Volyn’.  As former refugees themselves, UCAO members helped as much as possible to get social services, work, and schools set up for them. The first family to be welcomed and assisted by UCAO members was the Fedorchuks, who arrived in Columbus on June 2, 1989. Today that community of Ukrainians numbers more than 5,000, centered around Grace Evangelical Church in Galloway.

The biggest changes in community life started after Ukraine’s independence in 1991.

  • In 1991, the Supreme Court of Ohio under Chief Justice Thomas Moyer joined forces with the Supreme Court of Ukraine to create the Ohio/Ukraine Rule of Law program.
  • As subcontractor to RAROLC (Russian American Rule of Law Consortium) in Vermont in the late 1990s, UCAO served as official social liaison in Columbus for delegations from Ukraine visiting the city as part of the Open World Program at the Library of Congress.

Suddenly Columbus was a hotbed of exchanges with Ukraine! Between 1994 and 2011 UCAO hosted an estimated 300 visitors in more than 40 delegations from all over Ukraine, including Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Khmelnytsky, Sumy, Ternopil, among others. These were judges, mayors, teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, librarians, representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and scholars. Many came through the Rule of Law program, others through the Columbus International Visitors Council, the Library of Congress Open World Program, or U.S. Agency for International Development, still others through the Ohio State University. The last group came in 2011 from Luhansk. In the early years, UCAO often provided Ukrainian translators as the delegates did not speak English. As hosts, UCAO members took the visitors sightseeing, organized dinners, sometimes provided lodging, and took them shopping.

In the meantime, UCAO members created new opportunities for preserving and celebrating their culture.

  • Each November, on International Holodomor Remembrance Day, UCAO marks the anniversary with events such as public screenings of documentaries, lectures, and wreath laying.
  • In 2004 and 2005, Arcadia Melnyk and Hania Essenhigh, as part of the Annals of Immigration Project, interviewed members of the community, documenting their passage from Ukraine and Europe to the U.S. after World War II. The interviews are archived at The Ohio State University Knowledge Bank (kb.osu.edu).
  • In 2005, UCAO joined the United Ukrainian Organizations of Ohio (UZO) in Cleveland, strengthening the organization’s ties with other Ukrainian communities in the state.
  • Starting in 2011, pysanka workshops became official UCAO-sponsored annual events advertised and open to the public, drawing increasing numbers of participants.
  • Malankas became annual winter affairs starting in 2015, attracting Ukrainians not only from the Columbus metropolitan area, but also Cincinnati, Dayton, and Athens, Ohio.
  • UCAO planted a silken lilac tree in the International Peace Garden in Franklin Park in 2015, placing Ukraine among the other nations of the world represented in the garden, which is sponsored by the International Voluntary Organizations (IVO).
  • UCAO participated in the return of the Ukrainian booth to Dayton A World A’Fair international festival (2017), the Troy Festival of Nations (2017), and the Dublin B.R.E.A.D. Festival (2017-2018). The booths featured pysanka demonstrations, displays of folk embroidery, ceramics, beadwork, as well as traditional breads.
  • In August 2017, UCAO began participating in the annual Ukrainian Independence Day Parade and festivities in Parma.
  • In July 2022, UCAO made its first appearance at the annual Westerville Arts and Music Festival with pysanka demonstrations and motanka crafts for children.

UCAO expanded its early sponsorship of lectures on arts, culture, and history, moving from meetings in private homes to public spaces, such as public libraries. In partnership with The Ohio State University Center for Slavic and Eastern European Studies, UCAO has co-sponsored  lectures on Ukrainian literature and culture, as well as screenings of Ukrainian films and documentaries. In addition, UCAO has welcomed visiting scholars working in various other departments at OSU.

After independence, many arts groups from Ukraine began to tour the U.S. and Canada, and several stopped by in Columbus for a performance. The Lysenko String Quartet, Veselyi L’viv, Ostap Stakhiv Folk Theater, and Veseli Halychany all performed at either OSU’s Music Department or Chemical Abstracts. UCAO also had our own U.S. arts groups come to town: the Kobzari Ensemble of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus, a touring group from the Kashtan Dance Ensemble of Cleveland, and Fata Morgana band. Most recently, UCAO hosted Jurij Fedynsky and his Kobzar in the New World tour in 2018 and 2019. And, as the number of young children in our community has grown again, we have invited Sviatiy Mykolai (St. Nicholas) for annual visits.

UCAO has done more than party and shop with our countrymen in the 1990s and 2000s. For many years, UCAO’s main source of income was from sales at the Columbus International Festival. In the early 2000s, that money was supplemented with earnings from the RAROLC subcontract and dues. As part of its philanthropic mission, UCAO supported a host of causes both in the U.S. and in Ukraine, distributing  more than $40,000 as of August 2020.

Some of the causes financially supported by UCAO

  • Ukrainian Museum-Archives, Cleveland       
  • The Orange Revolution        
  • Ukrainian-language schools in Ukraine
  • Smoloskyp Publishing, Kyiv                            
  • Revived Soldiers Ukraine     
  • Narodne Mystetstvo journal
  • Fund to Aid Ukraine on Maidan                     
  • Individual scholars               
  • Election Education Aid in Ukraine
  • University of Pittsburgh Ukrainian Language Program              
  • Restoration of Lesia Ukrayinka statue in Cleveland

The events on the Maidan in Kyiv were a turning point for Central Ohio Ukrainians, as they were for many around the world. With more than half the community now being recent immigrants from Ukraine, interest in providing humanitarian aid to the volunteers on the frontlines and their families was intense. In October 2014, UCAO formed the Ukrainian Relief Initiative, a separate fundraising arm, which brought in $17,000 over three years. This money was sent to Ukraine as quickly as the organization was able to raise it through mega-garage sales, numerous fundraising events, and private donations. To raise awareness of Ukraine’s political situation, UCAO organized numerous rallies at the State Capitol in downtown Columbus and The Ohio State University, as well as letter-writing campaigns. Since rapid communication among members was key at this time, UCAO revived publication of its newsletter in October 2014, switching from print to e-mail.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 24, 2022 was a turning point for the organization. Its mission to continuously raise awareness of Ukrainian culture in U.S. society was now coupled to a desperate need to raise funds to support humanitarian needs in a stricken Ukraine. UCAO organized rallies in the capital city that brought together Ukrainians of every faith, every generation, and every region of Ukraine, whether recent immigrants or Diaspora generations. In 2022, funds raised through donations, workshops, crafts fairs, and concerts were directed to Revived Soldiers Ukraine, Razom for Ukraine, From Ohio with Love, and many smaller, targeted charities.

In 2023, its 40th year of service and support, UCAO is committed to helping Ukraine in every way feasible. First and foremost, by keeping the horrors of the Russian invasion in the consciousness of an American public that has tired of that news, for whom the war is distant and who challenge the cost of the war. Second, by continuing to raise money that can save lives and mend souls in Ukraine.

All the older generation who defined this community in the 1950s is gone. We are grateful for their commitment to their heritage and for their commitment to our future. It is our hope that our newest members share the same longing to celebrate our culture and history and language that first gave birth to the Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio. Now, with fresh memories of Ukraine and a new vision for the future, let us all share this commitment and invest our energy into building the next decades of this community.

Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio