I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for my first camp outside of Perth. I’m used to camps that are a little more laid back and easy going. So coming to Sydney’s campsite at Colo River was an exciting & new experience for me. The area itself was tucked away nicely in the valley, and if I had ever gotten up early enough I’m sure I would have found the sunrise over the hills and mists in the valley lows utterly spectacular.
The first thing that impressed me was the standard to which Molytva (prayer/assembly) was run. Learning how to respond to all the commands, seeing everyone in the proper uniforms, the doling out of onions, were the things I had heard about but not experienced yet. One of the innovative things during these molytvy was to have one or two people from each age group introduce themselves to the rest of tabir, which was a great way to meet people, find out who had similar interests (the discoteca!) and also gave a chance for people to speak in front of a large crowd – one thing I’ve always been happy I’ve experienced in all my Ukrainian camps and retreats. The opportunity to be put into the spotlight is excellent for building public speaking skills and confidence.
Which served me well when one day the druzhynnyky had to participate in a debate on the topic “Australia would be a better country if Ukrainians gave up their identity” – which is a statement I completely disagree with but unluckily ended up having debate in the affirmative. One of the big themes of this tabir was our Ukrainian identity – who we are and where do we come from. This debate saw us arguing what it was to be young Ukrainians in today’s Australian society. I think we all believe that our cultural, historical and religious background adds some extra flavour to the tapestry of multiculturalism in Australia (and I think that flavor is med-z’pertsem). I know many of us chatted generally about how proud we are to be Ukrainian, to do Ukrainian things, and tell our non-uki friends about the activities we participate in.
The second part of our identity that I mentioned earlier was the ‘where do we come from.’ We had a few talks on our ancestors, generally our grandparents’ generation, who were forced from Ukraine during the Second World War and eventually ended up in Displaced Persons camps across Europe, some of whom then travelled around the globe, especially to places like America, Canada and of course Australia. People shared stories of their grandparents, the trials and suffering they endured, firstly to survive, but then to start new lives in new places completely foreign to them, and to build communities and prosper. Most of us can’t imagine going through what they did, but they succeeded.
I think the key were the communities that kept them together; they formed tight bonds, stayed true to who they were, and created what we have today, for which we are exceptionally grateful.
One of the key communities that drew new Ukrainians together was the church; in Australia, Ukrainians were lucky enough to practice their religion, whereas in Ukraine our Ukrainian Catholic Church was outlawed, in an attempt by the Communists to phase our Ukrainian Identity by wiping out the communities that bound Ukrainians together and gave them faith and hope. Of course, you can never keep a good Ukrainian down, and as we know, the churches went underground, became secret and stayed strong. As a group, we were challenged to think about how we would react if right now in Australia our religion was made illegal.
The highlight of the tabir for me though, was the Vesilja (wedding), done in true Ukrainian tradition. Everyone helped dress the Bride, Groom, bridal party and family in some stunning outfits, as the wedding was acted out and we got to learn the way the whole ceremony was undertaken, from when the parents of the couple meet to arrange the match, to the ceremony, and then the wedding celebration. Personally, I think the bride won big-time, you just needed to see Tim’s moves on the dance floor during the festivities to know he’d make a great husband.
All in all, it was a fantastic camp. I learnt a lot and got to participate a fair bit as well. I had a few late nights by the campfire, but it was time spent with great friends I have met over the previous years, during many other Ukrainian youth events, for which I am grateful. The opportunities and experiences I have had as a result of being Ukrainian would far outweigh anything I may have done if I weren’t, which makes me excited and proud of my Ukrainian identity and heritage.
Author: Peter Valega
Translator: Andrej Opryshko