The Ukrainians living in Denmark are keeping their cultural heritage alive

By Vasylyna Bulyk, photos by Olga Piskun

Preserving the culture and traditions in a new living environment, and integrating into society at the same time is a challenging task. Still, it’s the best way for newcomers to successfully adjust to the new life. Ukrainian diaspora in Denmark is big and fast-growing – according to Ukrainian Embassy, in 2019 over 14,000 were living here, yet it is still young and unsettled.

Most of Ukrainians have migrated to Denmark in 2005-2010. They came to the country as part of Danish agricultural program providing internship opportunities to Ukrainian students and young professionals. Later, many of them decided to stay. Thus, today the Ukrainians of Denmark are making the first steps in building their community here, and all their activities to some extend are designed to solve the preserving the identity dilemma.

Traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs “pysanka”. The fair on the Ukrainsk kulturdag – 2019 (photo: Olga Piskun)

Kids Are Our Future: Establishing Ukrainian Schools

Although the cultural preservation starts in family (speaking mother-tongue, learning traditions etc.), often it’s not enough: people need more space for cultural expression. Some years ago, this was one of the reasons why the Ukrainian organization “Lastivka” (“Swallow” from Ukrainian) opened the first Ukrainian school in Denmark. Nowadays, there are seven Ukrainian schools all over the country, the newest one has been opened in Roskilde in November 2019.

“In these schools, children can enrich their Ukrainian language, learn about their national traditions, culture and history. These lessons are mainly aimed at children born in Denmark, as they have no idea about what Ukraine is,” the Head of “Lastivka”, Maria Padovska says.

The workshop on handspinning on the Ukrainsk kulturdag – 2019 (photo: Olga Piskun)

The number of Ukrainian kids born in Denmark is constantly increasing as most migrants from Ukraine are young people starting families. According to the Ambassador of Ukraine in Denmark, Mykhailo Vydoinyk, during nine months of 2019, 200 Ukrainian children were born in Denmark, comparing to 340 children born in 2018. He sees that till the end of 2019, the number of newborn Ukrainians may exceed last year’s number as recently the embassy receives 5-6 applications for registration of children every day.

“Of course, there are also children who moved to Denmark at the age of 7-10 years old and who know a lot about Ukraine. For them, the Ukrainian school helps to adapt to a new society. After moving to a new country, they suddenly find themselves in an environment where no one understands them and they don’t understand anyone. Thus, meeting with other Ukrainian children once per week gives them opportunity to socialize and find friends,” Maria Padovska says.

The straw guardian angels. The fair on the Ukrainsk kulturdag – 2019 (photo: Olga Piskun)

Except for lessons about culture, Ukrainian schools focus on creativity: workshops on making handcrafts, play-acting and other events are held in each of schools. Moreover, “Lastivka” organizes some joint events for its all departments, e.g. summer camps and St Mykolai Day (Ukrainian celebration similar to Santa Claus held on December 19th, when kids are given Christmas gifts).

Unity is strength: coming together to organize big events

However, weekend schools can neither give enough opportunities for expression to adults nor provide proper communication between Ukrainian community and Danish society. To cover these needs, Ukrainian NGOs in Denmark are organizing public events aimed at introducing their traditions to the Danish community.

The workshop on pottery. The fair on the Ukrainsk kulturdag – 2019 (photo: Olga Piskun)

The biggest challenge in organizing these big events is the lack of volunteers, Maria Padovska admits. The situation has improved a bit in 2018, when most of Ukrainian organizations in Denmark have united into one association. It enabled them to hold the first Day of Ukrainian Culture (Ukrainsk Kulturdag) with over 500 visitors. The guests of the festival could enjoy Ukrainian classic and modern music, dances, workshops in applied arts and traditional cuisine. This year the Association of Ukrainians in Denmark has held the second Ukrainsk Kulturdag, and the number of visitors has doubled.

Performance by Tetiana Grohn, Ukrainian girl who was presenting Denmark on the World Aerial Hoop Championships (2019) and won 3rd place. The concert on the Ukrainsk kulturdag – 2019 (photo: Olga Piskun)

Events like this offer the Danes a window into Ukrainian way of living. And lack of information about Ukraine remains the main challenge in relations between Ukrainians and Danes, the Ambassador of Ukraine in Denmark says.

“My personal impression is that the situation [in relations] is stable and positive. However, the knowledge about Ukraine was formed by reports on war and loss, so the Danes perceived Ukraine as an unsafe place. There’s a certain lack of information among Danes about Ukraine, and we are trying to work on it,” Mykhailo Vydoinyk says.

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