Ukrainian festival: Fun, food and culture, with a serious undertone as war rages on

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IRONDEQUOIT, NY. — As the war in Ukraine rages on, this year’s 51st annual Ukrainian Festival is taking on new meaning to those dedicated to sharing the country’s unique culture and customs with Rochesterians.

More than just food and fun, this year’s Ukrainian Festival is focusing on building support and aid for a country fighting for its freedom.

A little rain and cool weather didn’t stop anyone from coming out to St. Josaphat’s Church in Irondequoit to enjoy everything this festival has to offer — a show of support that is particularly meaningful to Ukrainians living here in Rochester.

Arriving by ship to the United States at age 6, Ukrainian immigrant Irene Grassmann says it was the trip of a lifetime.

“I tell everybody, I came by boat, so I tell everybody, that was my one and only cruise!” she said.

Each year Grassmann looks forward to the festival where she can share her handmade jewelry borne out of Ukrainian tradition.

“I stick to my Ukrainian arts. So i do Ukrainian Easter eggs. And my second addiction, because my first addiction is Ukrainian Easter eggs, is Ukrainian beaded jewelry,” Grassmann said.

But amid the fun and celebration this year, Grassmann says her heart, like that of so many others, is with the Ukrainian people suffering in a war zone.

“It hurts. It just hurts. Because when Ukraine became free like maybe 30, 32 years ago, they wanted to be like us here in the United States. They wanted to have the freedom,” she said.

Eighteen months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, RocMaidan, board member Elena Dilai says providing aid has never been more important. that’s why RocMaidan, the charitable arm of the Ukrainian Cultural Center of Rochester, set up a booth at the festival, selling shirts and collecting donations.

“This festival is 51st. It comes a year and a half after the war has started. By now people got used to the war, right? And we hope that this will rejuvenate their understanding that the help is much needed,” Dilai said.

That’s a takeaway that Grassmann hopes everyone keeps in mind as they enjoy the food, culture and art unique to a country fighting for its freedom.

“We are the best country in the world. I don’t care what anyone says. and now, especially now, we are so fortunate because we really don’t have to worry about anything, You know, we are safe. our government. no matter what,” Grassmann said.

The festival, which started Thursday, continues from 1 to 11:45 p.m. Saturday and 6 to 11:45 p.m. Sunday. There is authentic food including pierogies, cabbage, and sausage. There also is a Ukrainian Bazaar with embroideries, ceramics, amber, Easter eggs, paintings, icons, and jewelry. The festival also includes folk dancing, live music, and tours of the church. On Sunday, there will be a prayer for peace in Ukraine at the church starting at 11 a.m. You can see a full schedule, menu, and list of vendors here.