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Annual Picnic Celebrates American, Ukrainian Culture



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Annual Picnic Celebrates American, Ukrainian Culture

By Larissa Lytwyn

For the past 28 years, Ukrainians across New York and New England have gathered on the lush fields of Olga Paproski’s Hattertown Road farm to celebrate both their native country and America, their present home.

Many Americans, including Newtown residents, also visit for a taste of Europe’s breadbasket just a few miles from their front doors.

The festival has taken on an even more patriotic ring the last 13 years; on August 24, 1991, Ukraine declared its independence from the now former Soviet Union.

Sponsored by the Holy Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Bridgeport, the picnic traditionally takes place on the last Sunday in August.

On August 31, the 2004 festival opened with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at 11 am by Father Stepan Yanovski of Holy Protection.

At noon the grill opened serving up mountains of pyrohy (potato or sauerkraut-stuffed dumplings); baked stuffed cabbage, consisting of chopped meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves; borscht, a rich beet soup; and a light, German-style-like potato salad.

The potato salad, heavily garnished with dill, onion and other seasonings, was mayonnaise free.

Pyrohy and stuffed cabbage is also available for sale by the dozen or half-dozen.

Fairgoers with a yen for traditional American-style food could find satisfaction with the crisply grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage and onion platters, corn-on-the-cob and barbequed chicken.

The sisterhood of Holy Protection prepares and serves the food each year.

Also available are a variety of baked goods, including prune-filled rolls and babka, Ukrainian-style sweet bread.

Holy Protection parishioners, including the church’s unofficial master baker Taras Slevisnky, prepare most of the treats.

After picnicking, visitors could enjoy all the trappings of an old-fashioned country fair, exploring the cow-dotted grounds or trying to catch a frog by the property’s small, algae-covered ponds.

Though the heat this year was too stifling for the children’s pony rides and petting zoo, the Paproski family’s brood of domestic ducks was set up in a small fenced area for youngsters to interact with.

Of course, no Paproski picnic could ever be complete without its annual hayrides — a favorite among children. Many fairgoers admired an annual exhibit of Ukrainian folk art and crafts. There was also an annual raffle of household and decorative items. Holy Protection parishioners donate most of the pieces.

  Ralph and Evelyn Gustafson of Danbury said they came every year to support the Paproski family, personal friends.

“The food is always excellent,” said Mr Gustafson, his fork still embedded in a piece of stuffed cabbage.

“It always is!” declared Ms Gustafson.

First-time fairgoers Ruth Newquist and Jeanne Concillo, both of Newtown, said they were enjoying their visit.

“The [Ukrainian] food was particularly delicious,” said Ms Concillo.

“We live just down the road,” laughed Ms Newquist, “and always wanted to come. But this is the first time we’ve ever actually been able to make it! I’m glad we did.”

A program of Ukrainian music and dancing always highlights the afternoon. “We’re looking forward to the program,” said Ms Newquist. The program opened with the singing of the American and then Ukrainian national anthem by the “stage,” a portable wood raised floor.

Both the Ukrainian and American flag flanked the stage.

Ms Paproski’s daughter, Gloria Horbaty, dressed in a traditional Ukrainian style blouse, skirts and boots, welcomed visitors to the picnic. Ms Horbaty herself is involved in a variety of area Ukrainian heritage organizations and churches.

“Who here is from Connecticut?” she called, smiling at the eruption of cheers.

“What about New York?”

 More cheers emanated forth.

 There were also visitors who had traveled from New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Several were also new to America, having emigrated from the Ukraine during the last few months.

After delivering her welcoming address, Ms Horbaty recognized the hard work of the Holy Protection and the dedication of its members to preserving Ukrainian heritage.

Paul Lytwyn of Fairfield is the president of the Ukrainian American Club of Southport. The club, always open to the public, organizes various social and cultural events for Ukrainians and Americans alike to participate in.

Next, Ms Horbaty introduced Ukrainian journalist Myroslawa Rosdolska of Stamford. Ms Rosdolska discussed Ukraine’s history leading up to its independence.

Maria Germann, also of Stamford, the chair of a Stamford-based Ukrainian youth organization, acknowledged that Ukraine only became independent a little over a decade ago.

“There is always a major transitioning process,” she said. “But I have hope that in the decades to come, we will be able to economically grow and flourish!”

The children of Holy Protection performed a number of Ukrainian folk songs.

Also featured was a performance by an area children’s Ukrainian dance troupe as well as Kryj, a Ukrainian folk band.

Young Holy Protection parishioners Alex and sister Lydia Kowinko and Iliana Pendakiwskyj said they enjoyed going to the Paproski picnic every year.

“It’s always fun to hang out with your friends,” said Lydia.

This year, the kids helped out with the festival’s operations, managing the refreshment stand.

The children agreed that they still had opportunities for fun amidst the work.

“I can’t wait to go on the hay ride!” said Iliana.

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