Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Spotlight On: Kassandra Luciuk

This is the first in a fresh series of "Spotlight On" profiles that aims to share the exciting work and efforts of young Ukrainian-Canadian leaders today, and how their work is shaping the future of our community. From the arts to academia, there are many exciting conversations and events happening around us that should be celebrated and promoted. There is much to be learned from their fresh perspectives on our community, and we ask that you please take a moment to support their efforts by spreading their messages, sharing events and info, and perhaps getting involved yourself!

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Kassandra Luciuk, recipient of the 2014 UCU Board Chair's Scholarship to hear about what she's up to and learned about the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter - a very interesting conversation that's come to surface within the turmoil in Ukraine.

Tynia Soltys: Hi Kassandra! How's it going!

Kassandra Luciuk: Hi! I’m doing great! How about you?

TS: I firstly wanted to congratulate you on your UCU Board Chair's Scholarship - it is very exciting for us to see young community members involved in such an interesting array of projects and causes.

KL: Thank you! It was unexpected but much appreciated. I’m not sure if people realize how far a scholarship like this can go for a graduate student. I was actually able to travel to Winnipeg and Edmonton for research and got to spend some really productive time in the archives. I honestly could not have done that without Ukrainian Credit Union Limited and so I’m extremely grateful.

TS: So tell me a bit about yourself! How do you stay involved in the community?

KL: Well, my parents are both really involved in the organized Ukrainian community, which inspired me from an early age. My greatest passion is Ukrainian dancing – I’ve been dancing for twenty years – and being able to pass that on to others is really important to me. Since moving to Kingston in 2008 to start university I’ve been a dance instructor with Maky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble. During my time in Kingston I also served as the President of the Queen’s University Ukrainian Students Club. Since starting graduate school I’ve tried to pick projects that highlight my academic interests and serve as practical, “hands-on” outlets for that. For the last year I’ve served as the Youth Liaison for the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter Initiative.

TS: By the way, what are you studying?

KL: I’m a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Toronto. My thesis looks at the politics of citizenship and identity in postwar Cold War Canada with an emphasis on the Ukrainian experience. But, when my friends ask, I like to joke that I’m studying their babas and didos.

TS: Why did you decide to go on and do a PhD in Ukrainian Canadian history?

KL: Well, first of all, I’m a big advocate of doing what you love. If the work you do doesn’t enliven you then I don’t see the point. So, I think the simple answer is that I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. But, also, there were just a lot of unanswered questions for me when it came to my own community and it was important for me to have those answers.

TS: You mentioned you are involved with the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter. Can you tell me more about the organization and what interested you in working with them? 

KL: The Ukrainian Jewish Encounter was launched in 2008 as a collaborative project between Ukrainians, Jews, and others in an attempt to promote stronger, and deeper, relations between the two peoples. Essentially, the UJE believes that Ukrainians and Jews have much to gain by better appreciating their individual and mutual historical experience in all its complexity.

I got involved with the UJE because I sincerely believe that this is really important work. The UJE offers a safe space for some of the more difficult conversations and historical investigations while also emphasizing the more positive, cohesive aspects of the relationship. That balance is really great.

TS: Is it simply about discussing events of the past, or does it have objectives for the future?

KL: It certainly has objectives for the future. I think that any attempt to understand varying perspectives and to break down embedded stereotypes is done with the intention of changing the narrative for the next generation.

TS: Why do you think it is important to keep the dialogue open, and specifically with youth today?

KL: I really want to get youth involved in the discussion now with the hope of ensuring that we don’t fall into some of the “traps” of the past. There certainly is a risk of that happening because it’s happened before. I recently had the opportunity to hear Josef Zissels (World Jewish Congress Vice-President Chairman, Vaad of Ukraine) speak in Toronto. He summoned our communities to work together, instead of apart, in order to bring about some real, meaningful change. The reaction to his request was really inspiring – I saw handshakes, business cards were exchanged, and some really interesting conversations ensued. This is what I want to see continue with my generation.

TS: How have events in Ukraine changed the your approach on the subject?  The relationship between the two communities is definitely something that's come to the forefront in light of events in Ukraine, and now, more than ever it's important to make efforts keep the story straight. Thoughts?

KL: I think that the ongoing situation in Ukraine has forced the subject of Ukrainian-Jewish relations out into the open. For many Ukrainians, especially younger ones, this was the first time that they were exposed to large-scale misinformation and propaganda about their community. I get the sense that it’s really made people want to educate themselves and address some of the subjects that academics, community leaders, and organizations like the UJE have been tackling for a while now.

For me, the peak in interest as a result of the events in Ukraine has emphasized how relevant Ukrainian-Jewish relations remain and how important it is that both communities have access to essential information. That realization is definitely motivating me to make sure I’m doing all that I can, through the UJE, to provide that.

TS: So how can we find out more and participate in this discussion?

KL: This Fall (check our website for details as they become available), the UJE, in collaboration with the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto, will be holding a graduate student symposium that will explore the relationship between Ukrainians and Jews in the context of the Euromaidan. This event is open to the public and I strongly encourage Ukrainian and Jewish youth to attend. Not only will it provide you with an opportunity to hear about the research graduate students in this field are doing but it will also give you a chance to ask questions and participate in some really interesting discussion.

For anyone interested in learning more, or participating, please see our website: or ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

TS: Any final thoughts?

KL: If anything, I’d just stress how important it is for Ukrainian Canadian youth to get involved. Whether that’s through Ukrainian dancing, Plast or CYM, academic work or something else – it’s necessary and important. Pretty soon it’s going to be our job to maintain this community – we’re going to have to decide who, and what, we stand for. We can’t do this if we’re apathetic.

And now for some fun facts:

Favourite Ukrainian quotation:
“Mayesh kryla, mayesh sylu, ye koly litaty.” – Banduryste, Orle syzyi, Taras Shevchenko

Favourite Ukrainian pop song:
This is definitely a tie between Ne spy moya ridna zemlya – Mandry and Vona – Taras Chubaij.

Favourite Ukrainian food:
Varenyky with cottage cheese.

Favourite Ukrainian heartthrob:
Artem Milevskiy (Ukraine FIFA World Cup Team 2006)

Favourite university course:
The Canadian Left in the Twentieth Century (Queen’s University).

More about the UJE's Graduate Student Symposium:

Ukrainian Jewish Encounter
The Ukrainian Jewish Encounter Initiative in collaboration with the Chair of Ukrainian Studies (University of Toronto) is pleased to announce a call for proposals for a graduate student symposium entitled “Ukrainians, Jews, and the Euromaidan” held in the Fall of 2014 at the University of Toronto. This symposium intends to bring together young scholars for one day of presentations and discussion regarding the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

The goal of this symposium is to engage in scholarly debate and present new research that explores the relationship between ethnicity, nationality, and political unrest in Ukraine.

The symposium is open to graduate students and recent PhD holders from North America and Europe.

Submissions can focus on a variety of topics including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Protests, demonstrations, and civil unrest in contemporary Ukraine (particularly the Euromaidan and Orange Revolution)
  • Ukrainian-Jewish relations
  • Ethnicity, identity, regionalism
  • Language
  • Sociopolitical and economic development
  • Anti-Semitism, fascism, nationalism, communism
  • National history and the politics of memory
  • Foreign relations, diaspora communities
  • Ethnic minorities in Ukraine
  • Media and propaganda in Ukraine, Russia, and the diaspora

Proposals should be sent to by 31 July 2014 and must include a presentation proposal (500 words maximum), a current CV, and a brief biography. Successful candidates will be notified by the end of August 2014. Travel costs, accommodations, and a stipend will be provided.

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