Ukrainian culture was on display Saturday afternoon at the first annual BMore for Ukraine festival in Patterson Park.
The Baltimore-Odessa Sister Cities Committee organized the event to support war-torn Ukraine and to celebrate the vibrant Ukrainian community during these difficult times, said committee chair Karina Mandell.
More than 100 people had registered for the festival and dozens of attendees, some sporting the colors of the Ukrainian flag, which are yellow and blue, had gathered by early afternoon despite the sweltering heatwave in Baltimore.
“It’s almost too easy to get comfortable here,” Mandell said. “We are tired of the war and we have forgotten that what is happening (over there) affects us directly.”
The festival opened with Funklore, a folk group based in Maryland who sang folklore in Ukrainian. The group was dressed in colorful traditional Ukrainian outfits, which the members presented to the crowd between performances.
Some people sat on the grass in the shade and watched the show. More than a dozen vendors have been set up nearby, some selling original paintings made in Ukraine.
The committee said it received $4,000 in ticket sales and donations, and all proceeds will benefit World Central Kitchen and United Help Ukraine, which are nonprofits working to help Ukraine.
For Mandell and other committee members, the event was personal – some members immigrated to the United States or still have family in war-affected Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian community has a long history in Baltimore, from residents working in the Bethlehem Steel factories at the Pride of Baltimore sailing to our sister city’s port in Odessa,” Mandell said. “Residents today are business owners, civic leaders and arts owners.”
Ukrainians began settling in Baltimore in the 1880s, particularly in Highlandtown, Fells Point and Patterson Park, according to Mayor Brandon Scott. In the early 1900s, many worked for the city’s steel and glassmakers. Others followed soon after in part to escape World Wars I and II.
The Baltimore-Odesa Sister City Committee has existed since 1974 to promote mutual economic development and educational, cultural and other cooperation and exchanges between Baltimore and its sister city of Odessa, Ukraine, said Slava Kuperstein, secretary of the committee.
The Baltimore Sister Cities program was established in 1974 by then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer with Odesa as the second oldest relationship operated by Baltimore Sister Cities, Inc, a non-profit organization.
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Kuperstein told the crowd Saturday that this festival is not just a celebration of communities coming together to support Ukrainians, but also serves as Baltimore’s “love letter to Ukraine” given the history of the city.
Earlier this year, Governor Larry Hogan ended Maryland’s “sister state” partnership with St. Petersburg due to Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine and rekindled relations with its sister city of Odessa. . The Black Sea port is located 50 miles by sea from Russian-occupied Crimea.
Maryna Lvovska, who has performed for Funklore, says gatherings like Saturday’s festival are key to reminding people that war is still ravaging Ukraine.
Lvovska said the festival is a perfect event to unite Americans and Ukrainians because it brings people together to talk about Ukrainian culture. She believes that the more dialogue created through such gatherings, the more people around the world will be welcoming to Ukraine.
Lvovska, who immigrated to America 15 years ago and now lives in Rockville, Maryland, was drenched in sweat after playing in the heat. Lvovska wore a traditional Ukrainian outfit, which consists of a shirt called “sorochka”, a skirt, an apron and a scarf called “khustka”.
She said she had many university friends who still lived in Ukraine and that her cousin was forced to flee to Germany in March because of the war. This is the reason why she continues to promote Ukrainian culture.
Until the war in Ukraine is over, “we must not stop talking about it”, she said.