Vice President of the Ukrainian World Congress Stefan Romaniv lives in Australia, but actively cares about Ukraine. In the face of the threat of a possible Russian inbreak, the UWC is campaigning in support of Ukraine, lobbying our state’s interests in foreign governments, and even preparing to provide assistance to future migrants. About this, as well as the life of world Ukrainians and countering Russian propaganda – in an interview with ZMiST.
– The first congress of Ukrainian nationalists took place 93 years ago, which resulted in the emergence of the OUN. OUN members fought for Ukraine’s independence, and the same goal became central to the World Congress of Ukrainians. Tell me, what did the UWC borrow from the OUN? Can we say that without the OUN there would be no UWC?
The OUN has repeatedly influenced the development of the Ukrainian state. I think we can talk not so much about the influence of the OUN, but mainly about the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism. Of course, those who formed the World Congress of Free Ukrainians at that time professed this ideology.
But it should not be confused. Russian propaganda wants people to believe that the OUN and the Banderas are bourgeois nationalists who wanted to control everything and influence all processes. On the contrary, I say that the WCFU was created by those people who understood what the Ukrainian conciliar state was, and their goal was, as well as the goal of the OUN, the sovereignty of Ukraine.
– What OUN achievements are useful for independent Ukraine today?
Some ask, “And where is the OUN today?” But I ask a different question: “Where is no OUN today?” As an OUN leader, I believe in what I call the “broad church”. When we talk about the OUN, we certainly remember the courage of Yaroslav Stetsko, the courageous steps of Stepan Bandera or Andriy Melnyk. But when we talk about the “broad church”, we mean that we will accept all those who support our basic goal – the development of Ukrainian independence.
Stepan Bandera said that Ukraine in his time sought to have sovereignty from the Moscow Soviet Empire. In fact, today nothing has changed. We have the same common enemy.
– Until 1993, the UWC was called the World Congress of Free Ukrainians. How did the name change happen?
Until 1991, members of the WCFU were ambassadors of independent Ukraine. We tried to defend the interests of the sixties, seventies, eighties. We demanded to leave the Soviet Union.
And after 1991, some members thought that if Ukraine had already become free, we as an organization had achieved our goal. I was in Congress deciding whether to liquidate us. But the common sense of people who understood the geopolitics and essence of our existence, suggested that it is still far from the Ukraine we all wanted to have. Therefore, to better reflect reality, the name was changed to the Ukrainian World Congress. In my opinion, it was a very good decision by our predecessors.
– The situation in Ukraine is tense today. What steps is the UWC taking to prevent aggression?
Together with the Surrender Resistance Movement in Ukraine, we launched international actions #StopPutinNow and #StandwithUkraine. The #StandwithUkraine campaign on Twitter took the fourth place in the trends for some time. And on February 6, #StandwithUkraine was held in 17 cities in Canada.
The UWC is lobbying Ukraine’s interests before the governments of the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany. On February 9, in the Australian Parliament, the head of the Ukrainian-Australian parliamentary group stressed that Australia should support Ukraine.
We constantly emphasize that this is not only in Ukraine’s interest, but also in the issue of international peace or international war. If tomorrow the Russian boot will be on Ukrainian soil and the West will not fight back with us, what do you think China will do with Taiwan the day after tomorrow?
In a few days, events on the Normandy and Minsk agreements will take place in Kyiv, Washington and New York. We also have a program of red lines, which stipulates that separatists and the legal status of the DPR or LPR cannot be recognized in any way.
The UWC is trying to coordinate messages with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President of Ukraine. We are confident that if our governments hold firm, there will be less opportunity for Russia to act.
– You say that you are communicating with the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine. Tell me, do you have joint projects with Ukrainian authorities?
In addition to coordinating possible Russian aggression, the UWC has signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Denis Shmygal. There, for example, is a program for the construction of museums of the Holodomor, Babyn Yar and the Revolution of Dignity. We also have a section in the Memorandum on cultural and artistic exchange. We have an educational section where there are issues of the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian schooling. We are currently very interested in the situation around the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and Serhiy Kvit.
This Memorandum is bilateral. We can influence for our part, and the state of Ukraine can help us as a diaspora.
– In Russia, the UWC is recognized as an undesirable organization. How does communication with Ukrainians in Russia continue today?
To protect the leaders of our organizations in Russia, we advised them to leave the Ukrainian World Congress. They left voluntarily to avoid any problems. But at the same time, we are defending this situation in international court. There are also other organizations that keep in touch with the Ukrainian community in Russia. We are trying to show that 10 million Ukrainians in Russia are an integral part of world Ukrainians. But we must be careful in communication so as not to endanger Ukrainian people.
– You travel a lot in Ukraine and around the world. Tell me, how has the Ukrainian community changed since independence?
Before Covid-19, I often visited Ukraine. During the Orange Revolution, my wife and son and I came. During the Revolution of Dignity, I traveled to Ukraine for almost three months. The most striking thing today… Today’s Ukrainian understands what freedom and democracy are, and he doesn’t want to lose it.
Young people have seen the world and know what travel and freedom are. I believe that today Ukraine may well take one of the first places in Europe, because the Ukrainian people have changed. The Soviet man is slowly ending.
– And what transformations have taken place with the world Ukrainians?
There are many moments in the life of the diaspora when it experiences exaltation. After 1991, the diaspora was euphoric – there was a conciliar autonomous Ukrainian state. Our parents were the happiest, never seeing, but always dreaming of a free Ukraine.But later the diaspora was confused. “What should we do now?” They asked. After all, the Ukrainian state has already emerged. We used to take to the streets for an independent Ukraine, and it kindled a fire in our hearts. What now? Will there be any harovarshchina and dumplings left?
But very soon it all changed, because the situation in Ukraine has changed. We can say that the diaspora rejoiced and was inspired along with the Ukrainians after the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity. During the revolutions in Ukraine, the diaspora gradually began to find itself. They understood that Ukraine is still far from what we would like to see, and we still have to work.
Of course, the diaspora has changed. And today it also continues to change. In the face of Russian threats, the diaspora community is becoming more active. On the one hand, it is a threat to Ukraine, and on the other, it unites the diaspora, because we have a common enemy.
– Have you ever wanted to move to Ukraine? Maybe in 1991?
I personally did not want to. Although I have many friends in Ukraine who have moved. Andriy Haidamaha, the late Vera Haidamaha, Petro Matiash, Kateryna Yushchenko, Andriy Vaskovych. They have all done a lot and continue to do so for Ukraine. I don’t know if I could move, especially now that I have grandchildren here.
But I explain so. Imagine that 20 million Ukrainians of the diaspora will return to Ukraine tomorrow. Ukraine cannot stand it. But it must be understood that if we all came, who would lobby and advocate for Ukraine here?
We need to understand that we are one big Ukrainian family. We can all join the development of the Ukrainian state where we live. Our parents dreamed of returning to Ukraine all their lives, but life paved the way for them a little differently. They came to America, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and created their Ukraine in those lands. They earned little money, but had the following principles: a penny for the family, a penny for the church, a penny for the community. They build because they felt an integral part of the Ukrainian people. And we feel the same way now.
My wife Anastasia complains that we haven’t been to Ukraine in a long time. We miss it, we need to be there, it’s part of our being. I want to be with my family in Ternopil, in Kyiv, in Lviv. And in 2010 I started the Hike to the East program, and then we went to all parts of Ukraine up to Stakhanov. I would like to extend this program.
– You mentioned Russian propaganda. You can see how it works and its power much better. What can Ukraine do to counter propaganda?
Our colleagues in Portugal, Spain, Estonia and Greece are constantly reminding us that the effect of propaganda in their communities is very strong. We understand how Russian propaganda works, but sometimes we find it difficult to fight it.
We try to influence the media, politicians, and magazines. But first of all, the fight against Russian propaganda should be Ukraine’s strategy.
It is necessary to understand that Russian disinformation has insane amounts of money. Their Russia Today program was banned by Germany. We wrote to the Australian Minister of Communications to recognize RT as misinformation. A huge center of Russian propaganda is also the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Ministry of Communications of Ukraine must invest in relevant programs that can be released on foreign channels. We have an agreement here in Australia that on state television we can air in prime time for 30 minutes, at 21.00 every other day. But we need an English-speaking program from Ukraine that promotes the Ukrainian side.
It is also very important for the authorities of Ukraine to have proper communication. What are the message of conflict now? The world cries out that Russian aggression is possible. And the President says that there is no crisis. And the head of the National Security and Defense Council says. that there is no crisis. We understand why. They don’t want panic. But you need to understand how to say it.
They say that evil cannot come out well. But the fact that in the face of Russian aggression, Ukraine has appeared in the pages of major world media is an unusual event, and we must use it to promote our position.
– How did you organize communication during the pandemic in order to remain effective and cohesive?
For 40 weeks in a row, the heads of the regional communities of the Union of Ukrainian Organizations of Australia met every Wednesday with representatives of churches and creditors to find out how to help our people survive. I don’t know how in Ukraine, but here in Melbourne, we had a record – 276 days were closed during six lockdowns. We were not allowed to leave the house from 8 pm to 6 am. During the day we were not allowed to leave the house for more than two hours.
That’s why we did different webinars. We asked our artists to exhibit their works on FB: Painting, embroidered shirts. We have also opened a separate site for positive thinking. We thought it was important to keep in touch with the community. We asked psychologists to make them available and give them advice.
– The UWC Annual General Meeting was held on October 23, 2021. There were a lot of participants?
This meeting is determined by the statute, because we have to report on our financial condition. There were an extremely large number of participants. On the one hand, the coronavirus is bad, but on the other hand, Zoom has made it possible for many more people to join.
We held several roundtables where most of the members could speak and discuss. The conclusions of these round tables were presented in the resolution.
At the end of last year we had a meeting with the Minister of Veterans of Ukraine. In Australia, after the Invincibles Games, we launched a permanent fund to help veterans. This is our collaboration with Caritas. In Congress, we will talk about how to coordinate aid properly.
– We know that on August 25-27, the UWC will celebrate its 55th anniversary. Please tell, how will you celebrate?
From August 25 to 27, we plan, if God allows and there will be peace and tranquility, for all of us to come to Kyiv. On the first day, we have a joint event with IIEC: there will be a joint diaspora program in Lviv with Ms. Klochkovska (Director of the International Institute of Education, Culture and Public Relations – Ed.) And her team.
After that, we will hold our annual meeting, convene an electoral congress, and elect a new representation and leadership. There will be roundtables on community development, education, the Ukrainian language, foreign policy, and the Holodomor Genocide Commission. We also have humanitarian aid issues. A separate commission on this issue is headed by Andriy Vaskovych. If Ukraine is in trouble, we want to be able to help the displaced.
After these events, we want to make a “March to the East”, meet people from eastern Ukraine and determine how we can work together.
ZMiST correspondent Emma Soldatova spoke