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Ukrainian festival welcomes visitors and bandura player

On a hot Saturday afternoon, visitors flocked to Dickinson State University to attend the 31st annual North Dakota Ukrainian Festival. Guests watched traditional Ukrainian dance, instrument playing and experience the overall culture.

Children perform traditional Ukrainian dance in traditional clothing. (Press Photo by Mary Shown)
Children perform traditional Ukrainian dance in traditional clothing. (Press Photo by Mary Shown)

On a hot Saturday afternoon, visitors flocked to Dickinson State University to attend the 31st annual North Dakota Ukrainian Festival. Guests watched traditional Ukrainian dance, instrument playing and experience the overall culture.

"It is strong and growing," said Tess Howie, executive director of the Ukrainian Cultural Institute and co-chair of the festival. "The festival has a committee now that is very focused on creating a strong brand and making sure that it is known that the festival is for everyone."

Western North Dakota has strong ties to the eastern European culture. Many from the Belfield area can trace their ancestry back to Ukraine.

"The Ukrainians were some of the most dominant homestead group from the early 1900s and a lot of their descendants are still here," Howie said. "They definitely have a big footprint in western North Dakota, but that is history for everybody to learn. It's for everybody."

As the festival continued on for five hours, traditional clothing and hairstyles were seen all around the DSU campus as visitors could visit booths and purchase Ukrainian trinkets such as colorful flowered wreaths to place on someone's head. The Ukrainian culture was felt all around.

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"In the western United States, anywhere west of the Mississippi, we are the only Ukrainian festival," Howie said.

 

The bandurist

One feature of the festival was bandurist player Julian Kytasty. A third-generation player, Kytasty describes the instrument as a symbol of Ukraine.

"It was a special instrument, an accompany instrument for an epic song," he said while describing the plucked string, folk instrument. "[It] was used by blind singers, who are a specialized professional group of singers with their own rules, training and repertoire."

Kytasty claims the kobzar, or blind singers, were eliminated by the 1930s, but thanks to one man, the tradition of the old songs live on.

"They sang about how truth is gone from the world and falsehood has taken to calling itself truth," he said. "Truth is left standing at the door and falsehood invited in of the mansions of the rich."

As he plucked on the instrument, he sang in Ukrainian, and then explained to the audience of 30 what he was speaking. Banters of women complaining about their husbands beard, tales of young men getting motivated to do something with their lives-stories that were turned into songs and spoke to everyday Ukrainian life.

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"In so many ways, they didn't need the instruments at all, they just needed their songs, the instrument just helped."

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