“Everyone is tired of depression,” said violinist Vasyl Popadiuk, another performer at the festival in Silver Spring, Maryland. “We need a little break. After that we will have more power to fight.
His mother and brother are still in Kyiv, and his bandmates there have “traded in their instruments for weapons…it will never be like before”.
The traditional shirts called vyshyvanka that were lined up for sale outside the church were labeled by regions now better known for battles than embroidery: Chernihiv, Donetsk, Lugansk. Notably, there was a jersey for the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since 2014.
In addition to crafts for sale at the festival, there was a shipping container of medical supplies to send to the front. After weekly services, there is now a line to light candles for the dead, said Tamara Woroby, parish council chairwoman. Father Volodymyr Steliac said around 20% of parishioners are now refugees.
But like years past at the festival, children enthusiastically lined up to recite poetry in stumbling Ukrainian and dance in bright red leather boots, red velvet waistcoats and crowns of pink and blue, gold and green flowers. .
“You want to see the soul of a nation, look at the colors,” said Steliac, who dreamed up the festival two decades ago. “Look at the clothes, look at the dancing. You see the beauty. Anything that interferes and tries to take them, they will resist.
Some of those helping to organize the festival expected to be in Ukraine. Natallia Korolchuk and Mykolenko Yaroslava met while folding some of the 15,000 varenyky dumplings for sale. Korolchuk, 55, made a nasty joke, which reminded Yaroslava, 32, of her mother. On Friday evening, they stayed at the church until 11 p.m. slicing pliatsok and honey cake.
Korolchuk was visiting his son in DC when the war started. Now she doesn’t know when she might return. Yaroslava was at home in Cherkasy, but planned to return to Maryland in March for work. Instead, her mother came to the door in tears on the morning of February 24.
“It’s war,” she said.
Yaroslava wanted to stay. But “my parents pushed me,” she says. With the help of strangers, she made her way to the United States via Poland, hiding from the rockets while waiting to be transported across the border.
Their hearts beat faster when they hear Ukrainian music and see people waving their flags. There is some comfort in no longer being confused for Russians. (Now Yaroslava’s boyfriend is getting warnings about Ukrainians’ creepy reputation.) They’ve also met more Russian natives, some of whom have started coming to church in solidarity.
Others did not expect to be in the United States. Vladyslav Zhaivoronok, 29, lost a leg and an eye defending Mariupol. He woke up in a Russian prison. Released in a prisoner exchange, he and his regiment are now in the United States asking for help in freeing more captives.
“All my friends still in Russian prisons are dead,” he said. He and other released prisoners of war addressed the crowd in Ukrainian between children’s dance groups. As a teary-eyed line formed to shake hands with Zhaivoronok, smiling teenagers ran onto the stage and began swaying in circles.
“Last year we were partying, we were having fun. This year we are doing it more so that people don’t forget that there is a war going on, there are people dying,” said said Khrystyna Preutesa.
The 26-year-old came to the United States five years ago for a master’s degree at American University. she is now married and expecting a baby with her husband. Jordanian by birth, he held a huge yellow and blue charcoal grill. Preutesa wore nothing Ukrainian; she said she wanted to buy the traditional clothes in Ukraine. She had planned to come this year. Now she talks to her family in Chernivtsi as sirens wail in the background.
“This year, the feeling is so different. Yet… you can be happy for a moment,” she said.