On May 9, 2023, I marked my one-year anniversary as Executive Director & CEO of the Ukrainian Museum of Canada. As luck would have it, I spent that evening at St. John’s Cultural Centre in Edmonton in conversation with the amazing women from the various branches of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada (UWAC) in and around Edmonton. Every time I meet with UWAC members, the importance of our Museum’s mission is reinforced, and I continue to be inspired by the energy and dedication of our founders and their descendants. 

The Museum has seen a lot of change in the past 12 months, including the building of a brand new team. 

Two of the Museum’s staff members – Anastasiia Misan, our Library and Education Officer, and Oleksandr Gorobets, our new Retail and Visitor Services Officer – are recently displaced persons from the war. Anastasiia came with her teenage brother in the spring of 2022, while Oleksandr arrived with his wife and young children in March 2023. Their presence at the Museum brings depth to our discussions of Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian heritage — why it’s meaningful, not only to Ukrainians and people of Ukrainian descent, but for people of all cultural backgrounds and ethnicities.

Whenever we can, we aim to make connections between our collections and current events and issues. For example, our recent exhibition, Pysanky: Icons of the Universe (Part 1: Symbology), links our museum’s history to the war, while also educating visitors on an ancient art form. The show pays homage to the achievements of Mary Tkachuk, Marie Kishchuk, and Alice Nicholaichuk, whose 1977 book Pysanka: Icon of the Universe (published by the Museum and UWAC) sold more than 16,000 copies and graces the shelves of pysanka writers worldwide. But visitors have also learned about how the practice of making pysanky was banned during the Soviet era, demonstrating that Russia’s attempt to erase Ukrainian culture and heritage is not new. The art form was protected and maintained by Ukrainians living in North America, including the women of our UWAC, and it returned to public prominence in Ukraine only after 1991, when the nation gained its independence. Our exhibition has been a resounding success, with several features on local and national media, and scores of visitors.

One of the great challenges of the past year has been balancing two related but conflicting needs: the desire by community members to use the Museum to help fundraise for Ukraine in its war effort and humanitarian relief, and our own genuine need to fundraise for the Museum itself. Thanks to the work of Chernivtsi-based artist Taras Polataiko and his ever-growing team of volunteers, the Museum has been able to do both. Taras, who was born and raised in Chernivtsi but completed his MFA at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, returned to his hometown when the war began. Through his make-shift nonprofit organization, Someone Prays for You, he has been raising money to purchase protective equipment and medical supplies for civilians fighting on the front lines. While he receives direct donations, he also sells donated art, and the Museum has been able to purchase works by Ukrainian Canadians, with all proceeds going to relief and protection for civilian fighters. This summer, we will exhibit some of our initial purchases, including the full suite of photographs made by Taras with senior Ukrainian artists, and a selection of prints by Toronto-based artist Denise Hawrysio.

Over the past year, the Museum has sought to diversify its funding sources. Historically, the lion’s share of funds for the Museum has been provided by our membership and a select number of foundation grants, and augmented in the past few decades through the sales of property. In the past year, we have been able to obtain several significant grants from the federal Museums Assistance Program for specific projects, including a collections audit and the development of a digitization strategy, along with a new grant from the City of Saskatoon for a “facelift” to the front of our building (landscaping and signage). We have also received smaller grants from foundations and non-profits, which we have put towards educational programming, including a kids’ camp this summer!

The war in Ukraine has highlighted the critical importance of ensuring the sustainability and vitality of our Museum. This was put to me beautifully in a recent email from one of my own relatives, Orest Putsentela, from the Lviv based Putsentela family of violin makers:

“Culture is one of the weapons. If Russia destroys our culture and language in the occupied territories, it only means that everything Ukrainian must be reborn in another place. Canada is a wonderful place for the development of Ukrainian studies. Many traditions, even forgotten in Ukraine, or forgotten old words and expressions are still preserved in Canada thanks to a strong diaspora.”

Ukraine’s heroic fight for survival and our Museum’s mission to acquire, preserve, and protect Ukrainian culture and heritage have met at a cross-roads; there has never been so much at stake.

I extend my deepest gratitude to all our members for your ongoing support, encouragement, and engagement. Please keep your comments, questions, and suggestions coming, and whenever you have a chance, come visit us in person. As you will read in this newsletter, summer 2023 will be a great time to be at the Museum.

I wish you all my very best.

Слава Україні!

Jen Budney,
Executive Director & CEO