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“Love for the Native Land” — Roman and Danyila Loun, Ukrainian culture enthusiasts
Roman Loun and his wife Danyila Loun are citizens of Ukraine who live in Philadelphia, USA. Mr Loun is a representative of the Ukrainian Culture Fund in the USA and Canada. Mr and Mrs Loun founded the Syla Dukhu (Power of Spirit) Society in the USA to foster among the Ukrainian Diaspora in America Ukrainian national awareness, patriotic feelings toward Ukraine and respect for the history and culture of the Ukrainian people. Mr and Mrs Loun were interviewed by Mariya VLAD.
If you don’t mind, let’s begin with that Christmas show, Peace and Joy to Your Home, that you staged in America. The show was captured on film and the film Peace and Joy to Your Home was shown in the House of Artists in Kyiv in January 2008. Could you provide some details about the show?
The idea for this show was developed in the 1990s and it was staged for the first time at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, USA, in December 2002. Representatives of about 200 countries of the world saw the show. It was a sort of a world Ukrainian Vertep (traditional Ukrainian theater, mostly associated with Christmas). The show begins with a scene in which a family gathers for Svyata Vecherya — Christmas Eve Dinner. The father brings in Didukh — a sheaf of cut stalks of grain which was believed to be a symbol of protection against evil forces. Sprits of the ancestors are also invited to join the family for the supper. And all kinds of Christmas miracles begin…Then Rizdvyana Nichenka, Rizdvyana Svichechka and Rizdvyana Zironka (Christmas Night, Christmas Candle and Christmas Star) appear on the stage and open the show. Pradavnya Ukrayina (Ancient Ukraine) tells the story of Ukraine in ancient times beginning from the Trypillya culture, Scythians, and then the Slavic tribe of the Antes. Then enters Maybutnya Ukrayina (Future Ukraine) that thanks God for giving Ukraine what it has. In the third act, Saint Mykolay (Nicholas) with Angels bring the Golden Chest with spiritual treasures — gifts from God for the Ukrainian children. The chest is opened and the Angels pull out a rushnyk — decorative embroidered towel — from the chest. The towel is embroidered with the words Love for the Native Land on it. St Mykolay asks the Angels to take this Gift of God to every Ukrainian household in the world. In Act Four, Shchedrivochka, Kolyadnychky (Christmas Carols), Yalynochka (Christmas Tree), and Sribny Dzvinochok (Silver Bell) call for peace and spiritual unity. In Act Five, the historical personages Grand Duchess Olga, Grand Duke Volodymyr, Grand Duke Yaroslav and Grand Duke Roman call for the preservation of spiritual legacy of the Ukrainian people and for passing this legacy to the generations to come; they also call for unity among the Ukrainians. Act Six is devoted to the unity of the Ukrainians in the world, and in Act Seven, which is the climax of the show, the Good overcomes the Evil.
In 2003 we founded the Syla Dukhu (Power of Spirit) Society. It is a non-profit organization which purpose is to maintain Ukrainian traditions through the arts, literature and music. The theatrical company of this society performed the show Peace and Joy to Your Home at the national Opera of Ukraine in January 2006, and it was televised for all Ukraine to watch.
I saw both the broadcast and the film and was very impressed. Particularly impressive were the costumes and stage scenery.
I was a theater director and producer and Danyila was an art director and costume designer. We tried to make them look as authentic as possible. For many years we have been doing our best to promote Ukrainian culture among the Ukrainian Diaspora in America. Through our shows and other cultural events we have been praising God and Ukraine. In our show Peace and Joy to Your Home we wanted to promote humanistic ideals, to tell people about the important events in the history of Ukraine, about ancient traditions of the Ukrainian people, to call from the stage for unity among the Ukrainians of the world, to foster the feelings of love for the native land, of dignity and pride of being Ukrainian.
Rev. Oleh Zhovnirovych from the United States said at the presentation of the appreciation certificate from the Kyiv Patriarch Filaret, “It is the spirit that makes people beautiful, not the physical beauty… If everyone of us finds such power of spirit in their hearts the way the members of the Syla Dukhu Society have done, we shall be people in possession of high spirit and we shall be able to maintain Ukrainian traditions and values in America.” Could you elaborate a little on the Syla Dukhu Society? I know that you and your wife have received an official letter of gratitude for your activities from Kateryna Yushchenko, the wife of President Yushchenko of Ukraine, through the Consulate General of Ukraine in New York; also, I know that your wife has been awarded the Orders of St Varvara and you — St Mykolay by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate.
The Power of Spirit Society was established as a cultural center of what is called “the fourth wave” of Ukrainian immigration to the USA. In addition to running a theater studio and doing many other things, the Society runs an art and music school. Some of the students are small children. We are happy that these talented children come to us. We are happy to see the bright colors they use in their drawings and paintings. Many of our students master elaborate technique of painting. Our students are exposed to Ukrainian culture, to Ukrainian music and age-old traditions. It helps them choose the right path in life, avoid pitfalls of consumerism and of chasing petty things and of succumbing to unworthy temptations.
It’s not easy to be running a theatrical studio and an art and music school. It takes a lot of effort and of constant devotion. It involves having to borrow money and looking for sponsors. A lot of projects initiated by the Society would have come to nothing if not for investing a lot of our own money and time as well as the help from such patrons of art as the Chopivsky family Foundation, the Voskobiynyk family, the Trade Mark Domashne Svyato in Ukraine, the Aerosvit Ukrainian Airlines, the Ukrainian Cultural Fund, the International Charity Fund Ukrayina-3000. Love brings charity, it helps find talents, it brings people together, it makes people feel united with their national roots.
Mr Loun, what are your roots?
My parents passed on to me the national values and understanding that love is the basis of life. My brother and I grew up in Lviv and in the village of Turkotyn in the Land of Lvivshchyna. My father Ostap showed us the national symbols of Ukraine when we were still quite small and explained their meaning. When I was sixteen, my father told me about his membership in the Ukrainian Insurrection Army.
When I got married, my wife and I raised our twin daughters Maria and Daria and our son Nazar in the spirit that had been passed on to me by my parents. Our life was never easy here in Ukraine. We lived with our children in a small room of a dormitory. We worked, we studied, we established for ourselves creative goals. Our search for possibilities to carry out our plans took us to America.
Mrs Loun, could you provide some autobiographical details too?
Originally, I hailed from the city of Lviv. It was my mother, my uncle Vasyl and later my father-in-law Ostap who instilled in me national values and views. My grandfather had clever hands — he built houses, made furniture, and at the same time he could play the violin. My mother did embroidery and sewing. In fact, it was she who made clothes for the family and for those who commissioned her to do something for them. She taught me and my sister to do a lot of things. And she also taught me to be strong in spirit, to be creative, to learn from others who are talented and never to be envious. “Watch and learn,” she kept saying. I have very good, warm memories of my childhood. My mother made clothes for my dolls but later I began doing it myself. I liked doing it so much that after completing my secondary education, I went to study at the Decorative Arts Institute in Lviv where I majored in fashion design. My skills came in handy when we, with my husband, began to carry out our major project — the show Peace and Joy to Your Home. I designed the costumes for the show doing my best to make them as authentic as possible. I am happy that the world has seen this show.
I read in a newspaper that last year you greeted US President George W. Bush on Christmas at the Christmas Tree on the lawn of the White House when he arrived in his helicopter. Did you have a chance to meet Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine?
I did. I took part in his election campaigns as a representative of a public organization, Za Ukrayinu, za Yushchenka (For Ukraine, For Yushchenko!). I was deputy head and later secretary of a Ukrainian polling station in New York. I am a member of the Nasha Ukrayina Party… I’ve developed a project to establish a World Ukrainian Cultural Center in Kyiv. This idea was supported at the World Forum of Ukrainians which was held in Kyiv in 2006. I wrote a letter to Mr Yushchenko describing my project in detail. I hope he will support my idea as well.
I do hope too. This year your Christmas puppet shows were performed at the Ukrayinsky Dim Culture Center and at the Ukrainian Culture Fund. Also, you were instrumental in establishing the Ukrainian Saint Mykolay (Nicholas) Day in America.
We wanted to explain to the American audiences that Santa Claus had come to America from Europe, and that in Europe St Nicholas had been known under different names — Mykolay in Ukrainian. We’ll do our best to have St Mykolay’s Day marked not only in Washington but also in the capitals of the countries which have Ukrainian diplomatic representations.
(Says Mrs Loun) St Mykolay entered my heart when I was five years old. He gave me his gifts then — a book, a kaleidoscope and oranges. I felt the gentle touch of his hand on my head… When we moved to Philadelphia in the USA, we had our first show devoted to St Mykolay… Our motto is — Love what you do. We give to the people what comes straight from our hearts. Religious feasts help us deliver our message to the people. We are convinced that good deeds come from love.
Photos are from the achives of the Loun family
Danyila Petrivna Loun is a member of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine (since 1989), a cofounder of the Syla Dukhu Society in Philadelphia and head of the art studio for children. She designed costumes for the Derzhteleradio Ukrayiny organization and for the ballet of the Zhovtnevy Palas in Ukraine; she has done other similar commissions. In 1991, she took part in the Autumnal Salon in Paris. In the years from 1992 to 2002 she showed her decorative art work, including mosaics and dresses, at exhibitions held at the Ukrainian Culture Centers in Toronto, Canada; Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York, USA; her works can be found in private collections of Ukraine, USA and Canada.
Roman Ostapovych Loun is a representative of the Ukrainian Culture Fund in the USA and Canada (since 1991), a cofounder of the Syla Dukhu Society in Philadelphia; he is a recipient of an honorary title of the Merited Artist of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Culture Fund was established in 1987; Mr Loun was the organizer and initiator of a number of charity events (Rode nash krasny; Shchedry vechir; Chervona kalyna, to name but a few), concerts, shows and exhibitions in Ukraine, Canada, the USA and France. In 1993, he organized the transfer of the archives of Ulas Samchuk from Toronto to Kyiv, and in 1997 he organized the transfer and delivery of the archives of the Government of Ukraine in exile from Philadelphia to Kyiv.
In 1999 and in 2000 he organized the participation of “The Princess of Ukraine” at the popular All-America Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC, USA.
Roman and Danyila Loun are coauthors of the Christmas book for children Ukrayinsky Vertep (published in Toronto in 1991) and of the book Ukrayintsi kolyaduyut’ v Amerytsi published in Lviv in 2003.
In 2002–2006 the Louns staged shows Peace and Joy to Your Home and Ukrainian Christmas in America; among the venues where the shows were performed were:
2002–2005 UN Headquarters in New York, USA
2003–2006 Ukrainian Culture Center, Philadelphia, USA
2002–2005 Ukrainian Institute of America, New York, USA
2004–2006 International Festival of Lights, Washington DC, USA
2004 Credit Union Culture Center, New England, USA
2005 St Andrew Culture Center, Bound Brook, USA
2005 Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, Philadelphia, USA
2006 National Exhibition of Ukraine in the USA, Chicago
2002–2006 Embassy of Ukraine in the USA, Washington DC
Consulate General of Ukraine in New York
January 8 2006 National Opera of Ukraine, Kyiv
December 2007 Ukrainian St Nicholas Day, Washington, USA
January 2008 Ukrainian Christmas Exhibition, Kyiv, Ukraine
Roman Loun, Danyila Loun and their son Nazar.
Twin sisters Daria and Maria Loun,
and Oksana Vovchuk.
Ukrainian family at Christmas Eve Dinner.
The puppet arrangement.
Kateryna Yushchenko and Mykola Zhulynsky, head
of the National Culture Council at the Presidential
Administration at the puppet arrangement
created by Danyila Loun. Kyiv, 2008.
Danyila Loun, Roman Loun with Patriarch Filaret
at Christmas reception in the Patriarchate
headquarters in Kyiv. 2008.
The show Peace and Joy to Your Home at
the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Philadelphia. 2004.
Grand Duchess Olga as played by Natalya Zayshlyi,
the member of Power of Spirit Society.
The show Peace and Joy to Your Home performed
at the UN Headquarters in New York, 2004.
30th International Festival of Lights in Washington
DC, USA, and the launching of the Ukrainian
St Mykolay (Nicholas) Day. During the month
the exhibition was visited by over 240,000 people.