‘Mix of emotions’ as Folklorama’s Ukraine-Kyiv pavilion opens its doors

As the conflict in war-torn Ukraine rages on, organizers of one of the community’s Folklorama pavilions in Winnipeg say it’s a time of celebration and sorrow as it opens its doors to the public on Sunday for the first time in three years.

“We’re definitely coming into this with a mix of emotions,” said Mariana Sklepowich, the Ukraine-Kyiv pavilion’s spokesperson, in an interview Sunday at Maples Collegiate, where it is being hosted.

“Our hearts and our souls are constantly in two places at this point.”

The Ukraine-Kyiv pavilion is one of Folklorama’s first group of 12 pavilions, open over the next week as the long-running cultural festival returns in person after two years due to the pandemic.

The festival then presents a different 12 pavilions the following week, through Aug. 13, including the Spirit of Ukraine pavilion at Soul Sanctuary on Chevrier Boulevard.

Sklepowich said given the ongoing war with Russia in her eastern European homeland, organizers of the Ukraine-Kyiv pavilion chose to have a slightly more serious edge to its programming compared to years past.

In addition to displays of folk art and Ukrainian dance, the pavilion will highlight aspects of the country’s history — including some of the cities which have become household names in Canada and beyond since Feb. 24, the day Russia began its latest military invasion.

But it’s not gloom and doom, Sklepowich suggested, as she stood in front of a colourful display highlighting the cultural and architectural beauty of her hometown, Lviv, which she left to come to Canada in the 1990s.

“There’s been so much heartache over the last months that we really want to make sure that people know about the positive points, about the rich culture,” she said.

Ukraine-Kyiv pavilion spokesperson Mariana Sklepowich says organizers are coming into this year’s pavilion with mixed emotions due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Revenues from the pavilion will go toward supporting refugees fleeing the war and coming to Manitoba, and toward humanitarian efforts back home, said Sklepowich.

Coming back after COVID-19 restrictions shut down in-person gatherings has been emotional, but it’s worth it to be able to share Ukrainian culture with Manitobans again, she said. 

“Ukrainians have been such a big part of building Canada into this wonderful multicultural country,” said Sklepowich.

“To be all together again is incredible,” said Folklorama’s director of marketing and communications, Tanya Williams, who added that preparations for this year’s festival began a year ago.

Williams said she couldn’t predict what turnout would be overall this year, but said 80 per cent of VIP tours had sold out on Sunday — the day they were first available.

Festival guides are available for free on Folklorama’s website.

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