Diocesan News

Brooklyn Parish Hosts Concert for Ukraine

As protestors continue to stand their ground in Maidan Square, Ukraine, Our Lady of Refuge parish, Flatbush, will host a benefit concert in solidarity with those fighting for independence and government accountability.

Andriy Zinchuk decided to organize the event as a way to bring diversity to the New York efforts in support of his home country. Although various artistic efforts have taken place in the European country and around the world, demonstrations in New York have been mostly limited to rallies.

The Maidan Benefit Concert is meant to bring artistic expression to the struggle for freedom, Zinchuk said. It will also allow people, who may not be able to go to the streets to demonstrate, a way to support Ukrainian freedom. Proceeds will benefit those who are protesting in Maidan Square.

Father Michael Perry

“What’s needed even more than the money is the knowledge that people outside of Ukraine are offering their moral support,” said the American-born priest of Ukrainian heritage.

He said the people of Ukraine have been struggling for freedom for centuries and have many obstacles standing in their way. Knowing that people all around the world are supporting them and praying for them helps them stay true in their resolve.

“In a situation like this, when your country is surrounded by military, it’s easy to start panicking and fleeing,” said Irena Portenko, pianist, who will perform at the concert.

Portenko, who was born in Ukraine, said she still speaks with friends, family and professional colleagues in her native land. However, she has not heard of anyone trying to flee the country.

“I’m actually very proud … I know they are working right now and life is going on as normal,” she said. “It tells me they are stronger than any pressure that can be created around them.”

Zinchuk said he is relying on the Ukrainian people’s resolve to keep a sense of normalcy in their lives. He is a businessman and as such wants stability to prevail to allow the potential of economic growth.

The 25-year-old entrepreneur is a partner in the Kiev, Ukraine-based company A7 GROUP. He has been in the business sector since the age of 16 and has recently earned a master’s in business administration on a scholarship from the U.S. Dept. of State.

The concert is his final way of contributing to the fight for the freedom of Ukraine before he returns to his home country to personally join in the struggle.

“I will be home by Easter,” he said joyfully.


People Have Been Awakened

Although he is looking forward to his homecoming, Zinchuk admits he does not know exactly what is waiting for him and how the country has changed. He said people are more awakened.

The Orange Revolution helped establish a sense of nationalism in Ukraine, he said.

The largely non-violent 2004 Orange Revolution also took place in Maidan Square. It was said to have been a movement in opposition to Russian influence.

The popular uprising was organized in part online and through text messaging in support of Viktor Yushchenko, who was reported to have lost the 2004 presidential election to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

People suspected ballot fraud, a notion that was supported by exit ballots and several domestic and foreign election monitors. The movement resulted in a second election. At the end of December in 2004, the nation’s Central Election Commission gave Yushchenko 51.99 percent of the vote.

Six years later, in 2010, Viktor Yanukovych ran once again, and this time won the Office of the President of Ukraine. He remained in the office until February, 2014 when the people stood up against him and he fled Kiev. The Ukrainian parliament voted to impeach him and then issued a warrant for his arrest.

Zinchuk said the greatest mistake of the Orange Revolution is that people did not monitor the actions of their leaders after they won the initial battle.

“This mistake cost us 10 years,” he said. “Ukraine cannot afford to make another mistake – economically, politically, or geo-politically.”

Therefore, he said, the demonstrators in Maidan Square are crucial for the well-being of Ukraine. They are there to keep politicians accountable for their actions. Thanks to these demonstrators, the Ukrainian parliament knows that if it does something against the people, the demonstrators will rise in number from a couple hundred to a couple thousand.

Now, he said, the people of Ukraine are paying attention to what their government leaders are doing in their name.

“Why are people interested? Because they learned their lesson,” he said.

Portenko, who recently visited Ukraine, said she has noticed a change in the people. “I saw how much people’s consciousness grew, even since the Orange Revolution,” she said. “I think this is one of the most precious things.”

Father Perry said the people still have a ways to go before they can see the true light of freedom.

“I think the tunnel is very long,” he said. “Hope is sometimes all we have. And we have hope. The Ukrainian people have lived with faith for centuries.”

The priest pointed to the Ukrainian Holocaust, man-made famine and the outlawing of Christianity during Soviet rule.

“The Soviets killed the clergy,” he said. “They tried to kill the Spirit, but they couldn’t. Because you can’t kill the Spirit.”

Among the Christian institutions that were preserved in the former Eastern-bloc was the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU). It was moved to the Vatican during Soviet rule, but has since been revived in Ukraine. It is this institution that brought Zinchuk to Father Perry.

When Zinchuk was looking for a positive way to contribute to society in Kiev, he turned to UCU. He joined the executive committee of charity banquets that helps the university with fund-raising efforts.

Father Perry has an ongoing relationship with the university and even hosts UCU seminarians at his parish during the summer. Therefore, when Zinchuk came to the U.S., his contacts at the university put him in touch with the Brooklyn priest.

Father Perry gave Zinchuk leeway to organize the fundraising concert at his parish.

The Maidan Benefit Concert will take place on Sunday, March 23, at 5 p.m at Our Lady of Refuge Church. Doors will open at 4:30 p.m. Pianist Irena Portenko, soprano Liudmila Joy-Vasuta and Ukrainian chorus Dumka will perform. Tickets will be sold at the door. To reserve your place, send an e-mail to news@razomforukraine.org.