How one highly acclaimed New York museum preserves Ukrainians’ heritage in the USA

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The Ukrainian community in America has worked tirelessly for decades to promote Ukraine’s rich cultural heritage abroad. It also promotes younger artists as well. Here, at the Ukrainian Museum in Manhattan, all sorts of different exhibits are on show.

For 40 years, this museum has been a pillar of the Ukrainian-American community. Tucked away within the artistic and vibrant East Village neighborhood, the galleries and exhibitions here form an integral part of New York City’s vast, diverse cultural landscape. The museum strives to collect, archive, showcase and promote everything — from traditional Ukrainian folk costumes and accessories, textiles, rare books and photographs — to stamps, woodwork and more — all with the aim of preserving the heritage of the tens of thousands of Ukrainian immigrants who have settled in the US and Canada since the turn of the 20th Century. Maria Shust, the museum’s director, explains more.

Maria Shust, Director of ‘Ukrainian Museum’

Each wave has its own character. The wave after the First World War — the people that came — came here really for economic reasons… and I think, as most immigrants, they tended to form these niches or different communities — usually surrounding churches at that time. They would form choirs and theatre groups and that’s what knit them together.

The significant wave of Ukrainian immigration occurred even before World War I broke out. Many rather poor and uneducated in the Austro-Hungarian Empire fled to the likes of New York, New Jersey and the coal mines in Pennsylvania. Then, in the 1940s and 1950s around World War Two — another wave of immigrants — many were well educated, anti-Communist and experienced in agriculture.

The biggest movement came almost half a century later — in post-Soviet times. During all these time periods, Ukrainian immigrants brought their culture with them.

Maria Shust, Director of ‘Ukrainian Museum’

When they came here, they really were very conscious of the importance of keeping one’s culture and one’s language so they started schools, Saturday schools, various organizations… and one of the things they created was this museum.

Laying the foundations of the project was no mean feat. During the 60s and 70s, the museum’s founders, the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, raised money through small and medium-sized donations, something the administration still mainly relies on today. Yet, money is not everything. It’s really the generations of Ukrainian history, culture, values, and traditions that really makes this museum what it is today.

Maria Shust, Director of ‘Ukrainian Museum’

Art in Ukraine has always been very strong. If you look at the history of Ukraine, Ukrainian artists have contributed a great deal to the world and culture. Whether it’s (Alexander) Archipenko who really brought in the idea of the void into sculpture, people of the avant-guard period who did incredible work — known in the world as Russian as avant-guard artists but most of them were Ukrainian.

It’s this Ukrainian heritage — the artists, writers, scientists, craftsmen, and musicians — that the museum wants to preserve and promote — to ensure the talents and traditions of past generations are passed on to the next.

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