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excerpt from the Interview with BILANIUK NyKOLAI

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Date and Place of Birth:  Apr. 27, 1962, Toronto, ON  
Date of Interview:  Dec. 3, 2019
Place of Interview: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Length of Interview: 42 minutes
Interviewer: Ihor Tomkiw
Language: English


Interviewer: Did you visit Ukraine and when and what were your impressions?

Nykolai: I went three times in total. When the Soviet Union was still going strong, the sheer fear on the part of my father's family would have precluded going there. He was afraid that something could happen to us. So the first time I went was when the Soviet Union was already very rocky and this was in July 1990 when the Ukrainian ensembles from Toronto went to Ukraine to sing on the anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. So that was the Ukrajinski Molodizni Ensembli *as they're called. My wife was singing in the choir and I just tagged along, that gave me the opportunity to break away from the group and visit Kolomyja** and knock on some doors and find out where my relatives were. We had lost contact and it would have been dangerous for them to receive mail especially during this Soviet period. I was able to reestablish contact so it meant a lot to me. It's a very emotional moment……… grandmother's older sister was still alive even though my grandma had already passed away in Canada. So I could bring my family up on all the news of the Diaspora, they had last had contact during the Khrushchev thaw.

Then coincidentally in October of 1990 I was at a conference, a technical conference in Kyiv…. It was an interesting moment in political history too. It was the first so-called Namytove misto or  tent City on the Maidan*** at the time of October, October 1990. Students were protesting against Vitalij Masol, the Premier. He actually resigned while I was there and I went out on the street and the kids were celebrating and so it was an interesting moment and I thought, wow, like the Soviet union really is caving in.

It wasn't until this year that I made another trip to Ukraine so in March, during March break I spent a week visiting our kum****, Roman Waschuk, and so we stayed at Canada House at the Ambassadors residence and Oksana, his wife showed us around, so things had changed a lot.

Interviewer: How important is your non-Ukrainian parent’s culture to you?

Nykolai: There's a lot of very interesting things in Germany and it's a country that while it has also, you know, committed some nasty things, especially during the Nazi regime, it also added a lot to world culture and science. So there's a lot that Germans can be proud of, too, in their accomplishments, so yeah, I have always felt strongly connected to both of those cultures…..

So why did I devote much more energy to the Ukrainian community than the German one, which in fact I did, and the reason was that, especially back in the Soviet period there was this feeling that the Soviets are actually trying to destroy Ukrainian language and culture, nobody was doing that to Germany. Germany was quite stable and healthy as a cultural and linguistic project so I felt that Ukraine needed me more.

*  Ukrainian Youth Ensembles

** Kolomyja - City in Western Ukraine

*** Maidan - Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine

**** Kum - Godfather