At first glance, this is a typical North Jersey cultural celebration, filled with folk dancing, traditional costumes and homemade food.
But Sunday’s Ukrainian festival at St. Ascension’s Cathedral in Clifton was a joyous and somber occasion.
For the first time in three years, hundreds of congregations have gathered to celebrate the annual feast after two cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since many thoughts on Sunday were about returning to war-torn homes with loved ones, the holiday became a major fundraiser for humanitarian aid.
“This year is special because we need to collect as much as possible,” said Pastor Oleksii Holchuk, whose siblings and extended family still enjoy being in Ukraine. “It’s critical.”
the festival takes place in a few days Russian President Vladimir Putin vows He delivered a massive military mobilization to his country in a televised address as the Ukrainian counteroffensive continued to push his invading forces back to the Russian border. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the United Nations General Assembly last week, imploring the United States and other countries to continue supporting Ukraine with aid and sanctions against Russia.
A Ukrainian soldier and the wives of two Ukrainian prisoners of war pleaded for help as the congregation piled high plates and sausages and dumplings on the grass behind the church on Sunday — part of a campaign in recent weeks in the U.S. Including playing drums and meeting with congressional representatives at community rallies to bolster government support.
Yuliia Fedosiuk spent months telling the world about her husband Sgt’s plight. Arseniy Fedosiuk, captured last spring at the Battle of Mariupol, including an appeal to the Red Cross to visit prisoners of war.
“We need to improve conditions because we have some soldiers who are exchanged that look bad,” she said. “I’m worried about my husband and so are other families, so we need help.”
Fedosiuk likens the plight of the Ukrainians to those during the American Revolutionary War. “We are all fighting an aggressive empire,” she said. “Americans feel our struggle. They understand it. Ukrainians in America are supporting us too. We are winning this bloody war because of them.”
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The congregation and surrounding communities have raised $300,000 in cash for the war and shipped 15 containers full of medical supplies to Ukraine.
“We’re still doing it,” said Wolodymyr Mohuchy, vice-president of the church council. “We’re not going to stop until it’s over.”
Veterans raised Ukrainian and American flags, while the congregation led the rally during the two national anthems. Children in straw hats and traditional costumes sang and danced on the stage.
Among those addressing the large crowd on Sunday was Clifton Mayor James Anzardi, who spoke about Ukrainians’ contributions to the city and the geopolitical forces that nearly everyone cares about. He was greeted with applause when he spoke about Putin in a less flattering way.
“When the war criminals are gone, we’re going to have a bigger celebration!” Anzaldi said.
This article contains information from USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ Ukraine festival: Thoughts turn to war-torn homeland