By Rita Kueber
For seventy years, Cleveland’s Ukrainian Museum Archives has housed a collection of thousands of items documenting the immigrant and refugee experience. These treasured artifacts include records of daily life from books and newspapers to photographs – a collection made poignant by the current war in Ukraine.
“We are here to be supportive of Ukrainian culture – our mission is to protect and share that, but we are not just a Ukrainian museum – we are an American museum,” says Andy Fedynsky, Director Emeritus and Resident Scholar.
“At the end of WW2, Ukraine was dominated by Stalin’s Soviet Union. His policy was to destroy Ukraine’s culture, and other cultures,” Fedynsky says. “Refugees like my father [Andrew Fedynsky] and the original museum director [Leonid Bachynsky], took it upon themselves to work towards preserving the Ukrainian culture, saving artifacts when artifacts in Ukraine had been deliberately destroyed. They set up a museum in Tremont.
The museum/archives is not so much a depository of genealogical material, but helps people translate documents such as marriage and birth certificates, in addition to the archiving.“We have massive amounts of information about individual villages, and towns, Fedynsky states. He describes how the collection has been of interest to academic researchers and scholars for years. “We are not the largest Ukrainian community in the US, but we have the richest collection, and there’s been a surge in interest and media inquiries since the war began,” he says.
The cataloged material includes 10,000 rare books, collections of periodicals, and records of displaced people during WW2. Working with the Holocaust Museum, the archives have digitized 75,000 pages of postcards, maps, publications, and more. The collection preserves the story of Ukrainian immigration to the US, but it’s also a microcosm. “The journey of the Ukrainians closely mirrors that of other cultures – other people who have come to Cleveland and elsewhere, America being a rich mosaic of so many different cultures,” Fedynsky says.
“Refugees were driven from their homeland to all corners of the world,” he adds. “They ended up in Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, New York, and eventually on the west coast. They became a political force opposed to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, investing trillions with allies in the west, yet here we are with the same struggle.
“Ukraine wants freedom, democracy, a civil society, and has aspirations to European prosperity,” Fedynsky says. “Russians want the same, but Putin doesn’t want Russia to have that – he doesn’t want his people to have that,” Fedynsky says.
He talks about efforts to support Ukraine even before the war began, pointing to demonstrations that took place on Public Square demanding Ukraine’s independence. (The country became independent in 1991.) Local fundraisers organized by the Ukrainian community and its supporters resulted in truckloads of medical supplies as well as ten ambulances, all shipped to the country years ago.
Cleveland has always been a champion of Ukraine, and Fedynsky indicates the area is already building a response regarding the Ukrainian people. He points to MedWish as a resource that’s shipping medical equipment and more to the war-torn country. He also mentions Cleveland Maidan, a grass-roots, all-volunteer non-profit, and how Global Cleveland is working to welcome refugees to the area – not just Ukrainians but Afghanis and others seeking shelter and asylum.
Fedynsky also talks about the fact that people here with family connections are hosting relatives coming to the Cleveland area – not to resettle here, but to wait out the war. “People are resilient, and they will return home to raise a family, and hopefully the country will be restored.”
The Ukrainian Museum Archives is located at 1202 Kenilworth Avenue, in Tremont. Tours are available. A gift shop is on-site and also online. Their website is umacleveland.org. To donate to American-based organizations, the Museum Archives has recommendations at umacleveland.org/stand-with-ukraine/
Local organizations assisting Ukraine with humanitarian aid, medical supplies, and refugee assistance:
Cleveland Houses a Part of Ukraine
By Rita Kueber