To get from New York to “Soyuzivka”, you must cruise 85 miles on the expressway and then drive through picturesque local roads, along which lie old towns; as if from a historic film about the beginning of European life in America.
Kerhonkson Field Road rises steeply into the mountains of the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Holy Trinity, appears on the left-hand side, built in a Carpathian style. Overlooking on the right-hand side are more steep hills leading to “Soyuzivka”.
Another way to get there is by a winding mountain road, unless steep, sharp-curving asphalt paths frighten you. Canadian architect, Rodoslav Zhuk, designed the Ukrainian Catholic Church and Yakov Gnizdovskiy designed the iconostasis.
The name of this recreational village is “Soyuzivka” and it’s somewhat an enigma for Americans. The literal meaning of the village’s name means that it belongs to the Ukrainian National Association whose host is the Ukrainian Folk Foundation.
The Ukrainian National Association dreamed of having their very own mountaintop village since before the World War II. At the convention of 1950 – the – the election meeting of the UNA stated that within two years such a town would be constructed. The neighbors, the Ukrainian Brotherly Union, were the first to buy a large area in the mountains with quality houses from the company “Singer”. In the first half of 1950, the first Ukrainian town “Verkhovyna” was thus founded.
The Administration of UNA founded the rehabilitation facility of Dr. D. Ford or 1952, which was the hope of the community. The UNA had already set aside $52 thousand US dollars, but the price turned out to be much higher. Therefore, the administration appealed to all UNA members to donate $1 for the purchase of this town. At the time, the UNA counted 67,000 members and the sum of their donations was significantly higher than the asking price. On July 17, 1952, the UNA became the owner of the town and contractors, Vladimir Stasyuk and Daniil Slobodyan began its renovation.
Since then, former students of camp schools in post-war Germany and veterans of the UNA came to annual meetings, teachers attended methodology conferences, and tennis players and swimmers came for September competitions. At “Soyuzivka”, there was a plethora of vast activites. Anniversary celebrations and weddings took place there as well as the annual, “Miss Soyuzivka” Contest. Dance lessons in Roma Prima, the Bogachevska Academy, camps for children, events combining American and Ukrainian cultures, as well as, adoption of Ukrainian children all were held at the quaint mountain town. The annual Festivals of Ukrainian Culture became particularly popular. Its’ enriched program attracted guests from the United States and Canada.
Feelings of nostalgia struck the heart and soul when taking in the mountains covered with blue smoke, monuments of legendary Ukrainian people, and the names of hotels resembling the faraway Ukraine.
Among “Soyuzivka’s” guests include: former President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk, Cardinal Iosif Slepoy, Ukrainian human rights activist Valentin Moroz, Ukrainian diplomats from New York, artists Ruslana Lyzhichko, Marychka Burmaka, Vitali Kozlovsky and many others.
In my personal archive I still have a letter addressed to the newspaper “Svoboda” dating back to June 11, 1956 from Theodor Dzhus, son of a famous benefactor Vladimir Dzhus. The latter, gave the Ukrainian community: The Ukrainian Institute of America in New York, a former residence of the prominent Stuyvesant family. The letter states: “I want you to know that I enjoyed the weekend at “Soyuzivka” very much. Dad and I arrived home safely, without any interruptions due to traffic”.
It was especially pleasant to come to “Soyuzivka” from a big city, to feel the fresh mountain air, whispers of trees, rumble of currents, and the hospitality of the staff headed by Nestor Paslavsky for many years. Guests quickly fall in love with the magical place and later hold weddings here with Ukrainian catering. I was immensely impressed when celebrating Christmas Eve next to the fireplace in the living room, while guests were quietly singing carols and snowy pine branches peek in through the windows.
I vividly remember cuddling with our large dog, Vezhlivy (“Polite One”) and lying next to the fireplace. He is no longer with us, however, everyday passes and only the good memories remain.
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