Brandon Ukrainian festival celebrates culture and dance

Ukrainian dancers performing on the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium stage take pride in showing off their culture and heritage.

Valeriya Boiko, 17, has been dancing with the Brandon Troyanda School of Ukrainian Dance since she was six. Boiko, who hails from Ukraine and moved to Brandon about a decade ago, loves sharing her culture and where she’s from.

Since the Russian invasion, she said she and other dancers feel a drive to show off and celebrate Ukrainian culture.

Boiko still has a lot of family in Ukraine.

A woman puts on make up wearing a Ukrainian dance costume.
Dancer Alyssa Romaniuk finishes her makeup before a performance. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“Both of my grandparents are still there. A lot of my family is still there,” Boiko said. “My grandparents on my mom’s side came to visit us in the last month or two.… They actually came to one of my performances and they loved it. They recorded all of them.”

Her grandparents are proud she is showing off Ukrainian culture, she said.

A woman ties a sash around a boy wearing a Ukrainian dance outfit.
Ayden Stone, 12, has his polissia sash tied by Holly Fjeldsted. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Boiko joined around 1,000 other dancers at the Brandon Troyanda School of Ukrainian Dance Festival over the weekend. She is also an instructor with the group and was thrilled to see her students on stage.

Ukrainian dancers rehearse in a hallway corner.
Dancers rehearse in an empty hallway before a performance. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

When dancing, Boiko takes great pride and tries to showcase the beauty of Ukraine as much as possible. She also tells her students to have fun and dance with pride.

For her, the festival is a chance to show how bright and diverse Ukrainian culture and people are. 

A close up of a hands in front of a Ukrainian dance outfit.
The festival saw about 1,000 dancers from across the Prairies compete in Brandon. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

She hopes those visiting the festival get a taste of Ukraine, inspiring them to keep supporting her besieged home country as the Russian invasion continues.

“It brings … joy to me to know that I can share my passion with other people,” Boiko said.

Ukrainian dancers hit the stage.
This year marked the first festival since the COVID-19 pandemic began. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Ukrainian pride on display

Wanda Kurchaba, chair of the Brandon Troyanda School of Ukrainian Dance, said the festival saw dancers from across the Prairies visit the Wheat City from Friday to Sunday.

Ukrainian dancers hit the stage.
Wanda Kurchaba, chair of the Brandon Troyanda School of Ukrainian Dance, says the festival is ‘all Ukrainian, everything Ukrainian,’ with a focus on celebrating dance. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

She describes the festival as “all Ukrainian, everything Ukrainian,” with a focus on celebrating dance. It has been taking place since 2000 every two years, but faced a hiatus due to COVID-19 shutdowns.

A girl dressed in a Ukrainian dance outfit smiles sucking a lollipop.
Dauphin resident Charlotte Sedor, 7, watches a dance group rehearse outside the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

This is the first year since the shutdown dancers from 29 clubs have been on the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium stage together. 

The group has a range of dancers, including some who have recently migrated from Ukraine or come within the last few years, Kurchaba said. There are also people from Ukraine who speak Ukrainian, and some dancers who are not Ukrainian. 

They are all bound together by a love of Ukrainian dancing, Kurchaba said.

Little Ukrainian dancers line up against a wall.
Troyanda dancers wait for their turn to compete. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“It’s not just for Ukrainian people. Ukrainian dance is open to everybody because the costumes are amazing and the dance steps … follow a lot of the ballet criteria,” Kurchaba said.

“But of course, there are a lot of people that somewhere along the line have a connection to the Ukrainian culture somewhere down in their lineage.”

She said the Russian invasion likely inspired more interest in Ukraine and Ukrainian dancing.

A group of Ukrainian dancers hold hands praying before a performance.
Troyanda dancers hold a prayer before a performance. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“I think people are just so, so proud and they want to do what they can to support…. What we can do is still promote the Ukrainian culture, and we can do that through dance and through music and through our food and the artwork and the souvenirs,” Kurchaba said.

“I believe we are making a little smidge of a difference…. We’re not on the front lines. But I think that that does make a difference and it makes people proud to know that we are sharing our culture in other countries and with other people.”

Ukrainian dancers watch each other rehearse.
Dancers watch a group rehearse before they compete. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

For now, Boiko is grateful to have the festival she grew up with back in Brandon.

“I love it,” Boiko said. “The energy that everyone brings to this is, like, amazing and I’ve kind of craved it like all these years. And with everything going on in Ukraine, it’s so nice to have the culture here and everyone just bringing their all.”

Ukrainian dancers hit the stage.
Troyanda dancer Valeriya Boiko says the festival is a chance to showcase and celebrate Ukrainian culture. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)