• By: Eric Murphy

Politics, Perogies and Celebrating Ukrainian Heritage

Photo courtesy of Lemon Bucket Orkestra.

This weekend, the first ever Capital Ukrainian Festival is bringing a handful of amazing bands and about 16,800 perogies to Ottawa.

Aside from celebrating Ukrainian arts and heritage, the events will shine a light on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and the country’s long struggle to remain independent of its neighbour to the east.

The festival kicks off Friday night with back-to-back shows from bands that were formed in Canada, but inspired by Ukraine. The first to play will be the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, Canada’s best, and only, balkan-klezmer-party-punk-super-band.

Fifteen members of Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Photo by Eamon Mac Mahon.

“It’s a mix of like, really intense set performance and stage pieces, and then off the cuff sloppiness,” says Mark Marczyk, describing the band’s live act.

Marczyk is one of LBO’s multiple singers and violinists. A year and a half ago, he went to Ukraine to take part in the 2013 protests that led to former president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country. Marczyk also stayed for much of the subsequent conflict.

“It was pretty intense,” he says. “Friends of ours that we had known in different contexts, whether they were IT technicians, or musicians, or writers…all of the sudden they were on the front of a war.”

Marczyk stayed in Ukraine for some time, volunteering to help civilians and fleeing refugees who needed supplies to survive the winter. He also played music to inspire Ukrainian soldiers, and met his future wife.

Marczyk could say a lot about the political situation in Ukraine, but this weekend he’s going to let his music talk for him.

“Playing the repertoire that we do play is a political act in and of itself,” he says, adding that “the main message is to enjoy this culture and enjoy this music. And if you do enjoy it, and if you’re moved by it, then you should definitely look into the place where it’s from.”

Jane Kolbe, one of the Ukrainian festival’s organizers, takes the same approach as Marczyk.

Ukrainian Fest
Photo courtesy of the artist.

“We want to respect the gravity of the situation,” she says. “Primarily though, we’re celebrating the culture and the history.”

That celebration extends across three days filled with music, dancing, food and crafts. The Lemon Bucket Orkestra is playing twice, sharing the stage with local acts like Ukrainia on Friday, and Ukrainian jazz-fusion band DoVira on Saturday.

Sunday is the community picnic, where they’ll have an enormous sing-along and a multi-faith prayer for peace in Ukraine.

Although the conflict overseas certainly influenced this festival’s creation, next year marks the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. Kolbe believes that the anniversary alone is worth a good celebration and a look at how many former Ukrainians have influenced their new home.

“We helped weave Canada’s historical fabric,” she says.

Finally, one of the festival’s biggest highlights will be the thousands of perogies, all hand-made by festival volunteers using traditional recipes.

“Something magical happens when you do it (by hand), I don’t know how I convinced everybody,” Kolbe laughs.

Friday’s pub night takes place at the Ukrainian Orthodox Hall at 1000 Bronson Avenue. Admission is $20. Both Saturday and Sunday’s events are free and will be held at St. John the Baptist Shrine at 952 Green Valley Crescent. You can find out more at capitalukrainianfestival.com.