The November 1 East Coast Virtual Fundraiser to support the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) gathered supporters from the region and beyond, intriguing attendees to an interview with Pulitzer-prize winning historian and staff writer for The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum.
Interviewer John Kurey, former president of the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation, spoke with guest Anne Applebaum. “The first question,” he noted, “is one that I think a lot of people are wondering… How did a nice young American-born person, raised in America such as yourself, who came of age at the height of America’s power in the international community, perhaps… How did you choose for your professional expertise the brutal legacy of Marxism-Leninism in Eastern Europe?”
“I was attracted to something like the opposite of my own society,” she responded. “When I was at university, it was the height of the Cold War, a kind of second Cold War. Reagan was president. And there was a lot of conversation about ‘The Evil Empire.’ It was really just curiosity. I didn’t know what it was.”
She ended up studying Russian in college, visited the Soviet Union in 1985, and stopped in Lviv while changing trains on the way to Budapest and Vienna. “The city was for me, at that time, a kind of revelation” She visited Lychakiv Cemetery, with gravestones in Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and German, “You get a real sense of a rich and complicated history, one that I’d never been taught in school. And, really, that moment stayed with me for a long time and was one of the things that really drew me back into the region.”
She became a journalist based in Warsaw but “visited Ukraine quite often in the 1990s” and wrote a book Between East and West, “a travel book partly about Ukraine,” and more recently, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine.
Asked about Ukraine today, she responded: “I think Ukraine is going to demand a lot from its citizens for a long time. It’s going to demand a lot from people like you, who can contribute to educating young Ukrainians and can push for change in the right direction. But it’s always going to be two steps forward and one step back. And that’s how it’s going to be for many decades.”
She expressed her admiration for UCU because “you give your students a kind of civic education,” in addition to computer science or other major subjects. “I really do believe that if UCU can continue to produce class after class of graduates who are not only experts in their fields but also have some deep commitment to rebuilding, re-making, and reforming their country, and if you can find ways of encouraging them to found similar institutions, I see a really hopeful future for Ukraine.”
While the New York City Friends of UCU’s fundraisers are in their 17th year, this was the first of their events to be produced entirely online, which lent to this year’s expanded geographic reach. The event was co-hosted by former US Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak and Lida Buniak of Syracuse. In all, over 260 couples and families joined the event, from Friends of UCU committees in New Jersey, Boston, and Philadelphia, as well as supporters from Texas, Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia, Montreal, and Calgary.
In a live greeting from Kyiv, Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, thanked listeners for their support, of UCU which, among other things, educates future priests, nuns, and lay people who will be involved in many fields. “And,” he added, “I ask you to continue this and even, if possible, to increase your support for UCU.”
The event had great variety. Ukraine’s a cappella group, Pikkardiyska Tertsiya, provided the main musical entertainment. An auction offered icons painted by UCU students, necklaces, ceramic plates, paintings, and tour of a North American winery and the city of Lviv, Ukraine. And the UCU choir sang some folk songs.
A brief video about UCU talked about recent events at the University, including the first entrants to the university’s bachelor’s in law degree program. As first-year law student Stanislav Pytkivskyi revealed, when asked why he chose UCU: “It’s much more interesting to study with smart people.”
Two current UCU students and graduate Ivanka Diman also told their stories. When Diman and her mother visited UCU before admission, she remembers “smiling teachers, happy students, an atmosphere of trust and respect and a spirit of freedom.” She studied social work and now works for Building Ukraine Together, which she describes as “a response to the critical need to re-build destroyed houses in the east of Ukraine and help people return to their normal daily lives… We build not only houses but we build trust and a sense of community.” Over the six years of its existence, Building Ukraine Together has had volunteering camps in 74 cities with some 3,000 volunteers.
UCU’s President, Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia Borys Gudziak, noted the top SAT scores of incoming UCU students but emphasized “We need to be virtuosos in love and service and communication.” With a smile, the archbishop added: “If you did well on the stock market this year, don’t wait for the election results to come in. Send your stocks to UCEF. Take advantage of capital gains and deductions… Thank you all,” Archbishop Gudziak concluded, “for your support and your prayer.”
A friend of UCU, top business consultant Adrian Slywotzky, said during the event that UCU “has been, by far, the best investment I’ve made over the last 30 years.”