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Natalya Danylenko, a philanthropist and patron of art
Natalya Danylenko, an American of Ukrainian descent who lives in Philadelphia, is a respected public figure, philanthropist and patron of art.
For years, she was involved in charity work and she says she would like to devote more time to herself. Whether she manages to do that Mariya VLAD tried to find out during an interview that Mrs Danylenko kindly agreed to grant to Welcome to Ukraine magazine.
Were you actually born in Ukraine? Could you say a few words, please, about your early years?
Yes, I was born in Ukraine, in the village of Buzhany, in the Land of Volyn. During the Second World War, my grandfather clandestinely provided the Ukrainian Insurgent Army soldiers with medical help and even performed operations. The Gestapo must have been tipped about his activities because one day he and my stepfather, Dmytro Honta, were arrested and they were never seen again in our village. The German officers of the unit that was quartered in our village established a sort of headquarters in our house and threw us — my grandmothers, my mother, my eighteen-year old sister — out. But we somehow managed to survive and soon found ourselves in the city of Bratislava in Slovakia. Later we moved on and settled in Munich for some time. After the American forces entered west Germany, I found my stepfather, Dmytro Honta, in a concentration camp which was situated in the vicinity of Munich. Later I moved to the town of Erlangen in Bavaria.
Did you learn German after you had found yourself in Germany?
No, I knew some German even before I got there — I had studied it at school. Thanks to my grandmother, I knew also Polish and Russian. But it was not the languages that I was mostly interested in — it was chemistry. And I was able to go to study to a German university where my major was chemistry. While still in Germany I joined the Ukrainian Youth Plast organization and I also became a member of the Ukrainian Nationalist Organization. Upon graduation, I went to Canada to work. My mother and my stepfather went to the USA, and later I also moved to the USA where, in the city of Philadelphia, I studied chemical terminology at Temple University.
Did you work as a chemist?
Yes, I was lucky to have interesting jobs. One of them was at a chemical laboratory. I also worked in the pharmaceutical research. And my work was not only interesting — I worked hard too.
Did you have enough time for your family?
Unfortunately not enough. I worked from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon. It was in America that I met my future husband, Ivan Danylenko. He was a Ukrainian from the city of Poltava. When we got married he was still a student and we had to pay for his studies. I used to be so tired that I could not sleep at night. But I do not regret anything. And now I tell myself that I will devote more time to my family.
Does it mean that you will stop your charity work?
No, I don’t think so… But you see, I feel I do not give enough time to my family and to my home. While I am here in Ukraine, I give all my time to philanthropy. One day, I get a telephone call from my husband who says that the roof of our house in Philadelphia is leaking and that he is going to fix it himself! That means he is going to climb onto the roof and that may be dangerous! I’m worried about him! I do think I should give more of my time to him — and to myself too.
Do you entertain many guests at your home?
Oh yes, quite a few. In recent years, we’ve had about fifty guests from Ukraine, all of them people of consequence, paying visits to us at our home. Among the guests were Lina Kostenko, the prominent Ukrainian poetess, and Nina Matviyenko, the wonderful singer… It would take too long to name all of them. We are always happy to welcome guests. We are happy too to help Ukraine with whatever we can. I do hope that what we do is indeed of some help to Ukraine.
You do a lot of public work too, don’t you?
Yes, I do. I am Vice President of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women Organizations, and I am responsible for the work of this organization in America. Also, I write articles and essays for newspapers and magazines. Recently, I interviewed Borys Tarasyuk, the Ukrainian minister for foreign affairs, and I’ll have that interview published.
But I know that you also had some books published too. Which one did give you a particular joy to see in print?
It was Kholmshchyna i Pidlyashshya (The Lands of Kholmshchyna and Pidlyashshya), a book of historical and ethnographic studies which was published at the Danylenko family’s expense in Kyiv in 1997. I myself took part in collecting materials for that book in the Lands of Kholmshchyna and Pidlyashshya. We, together with Professor Valentyna Borysenko, who is an ethnologist, visited many villages looking for costumes of the traditional national dress and works of folk art, with the intent to make those little treasures of Ukrainian culture better known. We discovered that the ethnographic work in this direction was badly neglected. Nobody had ever collected the materials of the kind that we did. It did take a lot of painstaking effort but we felt we were doing a very important job. The result was that book devoted to the Ukrainian traditional dress and folk art of the Lands of Kholmshchyna and Pidlyashshya. Some samples of the Ukrainian traditional dress from that area can be seen in a Ukrainian museum in New York. There was also another book that I would like to mention — Ukrayinky v istoriyi (Ukrainian Women in History) which was released in 2005 and five thousand copies of it were quickly sold out in Ukraine. The book was the result of the work of Professor Valentyna Borysenko.
I know that you were instrumental in setting up the Information Centre for Ukrainian Women Organizations of Ukraine and of the Ukrainian Diaspora.
Yes, I was. It happened like this. Back in 1997, I met Professor Zoya Khyzhnyak from the National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy at the annual conference of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women Organizations. It so happened that later we found ourselves in the small town of Seneca Falls in the State of New York. It was in that town that the Woman’s Rights Convention, a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women, was held in 1848 and thus, the American Women Liberation Movement began. We saw an information centre in that town which provided information about US women organizations and about prominent American women. It was then that the idea came to Mrs Khyzhnyak and me to set up a similar centre at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kyiv.
How long did it take to create such a centre?
After negotiations with the National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy we were given a room which could be used for our purposes. We had this room refurbished and furnished at our expense and now we have the Information Centre of Ukrainian Women Organizations of Ukraine and of the Ukrainian Diaspora established there with a considerable number of books and other publications about the Ukrainian women movement in the world.
I visited that centre and I saw a number of portraits of prominent women of Ukraine. Incidentally, I happen to know the painter, Larysa Ivanova, who painted most of these portraits.
The Centre turned out to be quite a successful project. Its director, Nadiya Buhay, is a very energetic person who does a lot for the Centre — and free of charge. I think that this Centre can be turned into a museum of prominent Ukrainian women. I am particularly interested in presenting there the work of Ukrainian women-scientists. In the soviet times, they were particularly hard hit by persecutions.
You seem to have a soft spot for the Academy.
I do. Jointly with Lida Kyj, another philanthropist from America of Ukrainian descent, we found the means to provide those of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy students who are orphans or who have to move about in wheelchairs.
Recently, Mrs Danylenko has been awarded a medal of St Petro Mohyla by the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy for, to quote the citation, “A considerable contribution to the resurrection and further development of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and for taking part in the building up of Ukrainian national education, science and spirituality.”
Photos are from
Natalya DANYLENKO’s archive
and by Oleksiy ONISHCHYK
Natalya Danylenko and Professor Valentyna
Nadiya Buhay, director of the Information Centre
The house of the Danylenko family
Natalya Danylenko’s pet, dog Ksenka;
At the exhibition of works by Kateryna