Friday, May 15, 2015

Q-and-A with Andrew Stasiw, chairman of the St. George Ukrainian Festival

[Festival photo from 2012 by Bobby Williams]

The 39th annual St. George Ukrainian Festival, held on East Seventh Street between Second Avenue and Cooper Square, starts this afternoon at 4.

In the aftermath of the deadly gas explosion on March 26 on Second Avenue at East Seventh Street, festival organizers decided to donate 10 percent of the profits to The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City (designated to the East Village building collapse fund). Organizers said that they will look to showcase the unity and the resilience of the East Village with the 2015 edition of the festival.

Here, Andrew Stasiw, chairman of St. George Ukrainian Festival, answered a few questions via email about this year's event.

Were there any conversations about canceling this year's festival?

Yes. Monday after the explosion, I met with key people on the festival committee. We were all horrified by the reality of the accident, and especially by the loss of life.

We determined to wait until I had a chance to reach out to OEM (NYC's Office of Emergency Management) and SAPPO (NYC's Street Activity Permit Office) to determine whether we would even be allowed to have a street closure so quickly. Both offices assured me that the street closure 1 1/2 months later would not be a problem.

Another consideration we discussed with the church committee was our "Grandfather Status" with the City of New York. Should we for moral reasons choose to not hold our festival, we would lose our status, and not be allowed to have a three-day closure again in the next year. The City no longer grants three-day closures, and has not for two decades.

Our festival has now been a 39-year tradition, and an integral part of our outreach to our surrounding community. Our community would be devastated if we lost our permit. Though we could have requested a reprieve from the city, we opted to move forward with the festival, and do something for our community as well.

Thus, the festival committee along with our pastor, Father Bernard Panczuk, agreed that we should proceed with the festival. We reached out to our performers and partners, and all agreed that we should do something to help our community. This is when we determined to utilize part of our net profit to donate to the East Village Relief Fund established by the City. This will benefit both merchants who lost their businesses trying to reboot, and tenants who lost their apartments.

To increase our revenues, all performers have agreed to perform for free in order to help our church, school and the East Village Relief Fund.

How will this year's festival showcase the unity and the resilience of the neighborhood?

There is a passion in the hearts of the people in our neighborhood that is now stronger then ever. We at St. George Church are so grateful, and proud of our neighbors who have reached out to us, offering support for our efforts.

More then ever, this year's festival feels more like a collaborative community event versus just a Ukrainian ethnic festival. The neighborhood is resilient because they are coming together to celebrate our Ukrainian heritage as well as to honor and assist those suffering because of the explosion.

[Photo by Bobby Williams]

What do you personally look forward to each year with the festival?

The kids! Yeah, we get amazing professional artists performing, but it is all about the children. Ukrainian dance schools exist all over the tri-state area, and this festival gives them and their families an opportunity to perform in the City. Through these schools, these children of Ukrainian descent get to learn about their heritage and then share it through song and dance with the people of New York.

As an educator, I see the value for children in these types of after-school activities — helping to build parametric connections in their brains through movement and counting, and also build friendships that last far into their adulthood.

For this year, we are very excited about our festival, but our hearts are broken for the loss of Moises Ismael Locón Yac and Nicholas Figueroa, two young men whose time was cut too short because of the explosion.

At St. George, we pray for them and pray that God comforts the weeping hearts of their families. Personally, I wish I could have done more during this tragic event. I witnessed [the explosion], and it was impossible to get back into the building and look for more potential victims. That day is still hard to talk about, but now we need to focus on what we can do to keep our community strong.

The festival hours are tonight, 4 to 9; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Anonymous said...

Like the Russian congregation on 10th Street, St. George hardly reflects the neighborhood anymore. Following Maria Hrynenko, many have opted for the suburbs, but kept their church and a few properties in the family. The loss has been to our neighborhood, not St. George's congregation. I just want to stress that. Had Hrynenko lived in the neighborhood, though, she'd have been more in touch and a tragedy might have been adverted. Otherwise the Ukrainian street fair beats all those other street fairs that all have generic street food fare by a long long distance.

I'm sorry Grieve. I had to say this.

Gojira said...

They made the right decision. It would have benefited no one if we lost the people, the animals, the buildings, AND the Ukrainian Street Fair. That just would have been one more gaping chunk out of the fabric of the EV quilt.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:21 AM, how is Hrynenko any different that other greedy landlords in the neighborhood? In what way is the fact that she's of Ukrainian descent relevant? I'm in a building owned by an American landlord who is just as bad, including gas leaks and all. I don't understand why you chose to bring that vile woman into a conversation about an important event to the Ukrainian community.

Personally looking forward to the festival and agree with Gojira above. Besides, there already was that awful generic "street fair" right in front of the site at 2nd Ave 2 weeks ago, so I think it's time for the area to try to go back to normal. We'll never get back all that was lost, but hopefully we can use the opportunity to fundraise for the victim fund and the Ukrainian church / community center. Thanks to EV Grieve for covering the event and to all neighbors who come. With the conflict in Ukraine right now, having a community event like this provides some comfort to us, especially seeing neighbors without a connection to Ukraine join us and enjoy our food and culture. Thank you.