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Close-Knit Community Strives to Keep Spirit of Ukraine Alive in S.D.

One in an occasional series on immigrants in San Diego.

August 27, 1986|KAREN KENYON

SAN DIEGO — Gain knowledge, my brothers; think, read!

Study the culture of foreign e rs

But do not forsake your own,

For the one that forgets his mother

is punished by God. -- Taras Shevchenko, Ukrainian poet

Inside the small frame structure of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 50 voices sing the Eastern rite Catholic Mass in their native Ukrainian. The plaintive melodies, derived from Ukrainian folk tunes, blend with incense and candlelight as Father Andrew Mykyta, 70, kneels before the altar. A tabernacle made by a parishioner is in the shape of a church in Kiev, and a painting of the Virgin of Kiev hangs above, draped with a rushnyk, or traditional embroidered cloth.

It is here that about 300 San Diegans of Ukrainian descent worship, socialize, feel a sense of community and preserve their heritage each Sunday.

For first-generation Ukrainians, the journey to San Diego has not been an easy one. Most came right after World War II. A few others have come more recently, escaping to other Eastern bloc countries, then asking for asylum in Western Europe before making their way to America and San Diego.

Mykyta came to the San Diego parish in December.

His own journey from Peremyshl in the Ukraine began June 30, 1944. After finishing his studies in theology he escaped to Italy and arrived in Rome in 1945, where he studied until his ordination Jan. 1, 1948. In May, 1950, Mykyta arrived in the United States, and after spending seven years on the East Coast was sent to San Francisco. He learned English from reading newspapers and watching TV.

Mykyta spend the ensuing years in the San Francisco parish and in Santa Clara, with a brief sojourn in Arizona, then back to the San Francisco parish before being sent to San Diego. He still has two sisters in the Ukraine.

Through a patio area next to the sanctuary is the church hall, where socials and dances are held.

Nadja Cham has brought her granddaughter to the church today. Cham escaped in 1949 to Poland and went to Michigan before moving to San Diego in 1956 because of her husband's work. She is from the western part of the Ukraine and also has ties back home. She cautiously says she has been indirectly in contact with relatives since the Chernobyl accident.

Cham, who teaches Russian and German at Gompers High School, recently returned from Fulbright Scholarship study in Berlin, and she spoke of the numbers of refugees from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia she encountered in West Germany.

"I'm sold on democracy," she says, "because I've seen Communism and Nazism at work. This country has so much opportunity for young people. Everyone has impact. No one else in the world has that."

John Bumbar, 72, and his brother Peter, 68, sit together in the church hall and tell how John came to the United States in 1949--and Peter four years later. Both made the trek first to Canada, then to the States. The Bumbar brothers have been in San Diego 30 years, and John, started the parish church 25 years ago as a mission. This Oct. 26 the church will celebrate its 20th year as a parish.

Bob Klymkowych figures there are about 2,200 Ukrainians in the San Diego community. "Our concerns," he said, "are to preserve our roots and heritage--our traditions. We believe very much in what America stands for. We are totally involved in the system and love this country, but we have a heritage where we've come from. And we would not want America to ever become prey to the force (of Soviets) that is insidious, inhuman, very calculating."

Klymkowych's family history, too, is one of oppression and persecution. "I had uncles tortured and killed by the Soviets, and my grandfather was a priest (formerly, in Eastern Rite Catholic churches, a man could become a priest after he was married) and died in a Siberian labor camp."

Klymkowych came to the United States in 1948 at age 12 with his parents, migrating first to Canada, where later he attended the University of Alberta. He came to San Diego in 1969 because of his wife's health.

"Here we have plans, hopes--to expand and retain the culture. Maybe someday we'll have a community center--and we'd like to add to the crafts of America," he said, with things like Easter egg decorating, music and woodcraft)

"We love to sing," he added. Klymkowych belongs to an ensemble that meets often to sing and play the bandura , a national Ukrainian instrument.

"We like to get together, sing, tell stories. But it is fluid here in California--not like in the East where people feel ghetto ties."

Klymkowych and others in the community want the world to know they aren't Russian. "Even U.S. News and World Report called the nuclear explosion a 'Nightmare in Russia,' " he said. The Ukraine, of which Kiev is the capital, is one of 15 major non-Russian cultures and republics within the Soviet Union, and the second largest country in Europe.

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