In hard times, after our exile, Lemko activists spent a great deal of time thinking of a way to resist the forced assimilation of our tribe. This assimilation was accelerating with time, because our people had been intentionally dispersed over a wide area. Long years were passing in cursed silence, and more and more people were "drowning" in the foreign sea, as anticipated [back in 1947] by the Polish chauvinistic regime. Not everybody was able to withstand living for forty years being branded as a Ukrainian gangster-"reezoon" ("cut-throat"), therefore certain individuals were written off as lost to the national cause, and they died without their true national origins ever being revealed. Living for forty years in strange surroundings provides sufficient time for a human being to turn into a mannequin, one that is happy not to be hungry or thirsty. According to the bible, the Jewish people spent forty years in Babylonian enslavement. Were all of them able to resist assimilation? That is doubtful. But at the first opportune moment, most of them returned to the soil of their ancestors, thereby demonstrating to the entire world that the Jewish people are immortal.
By 1983 even the most optimistic individuals lost faith awaiting the happy star for our people to follow. It seemed as if the fanatics were grasping the razor's edge in order to stay afloat. A genuine life saver turned out to be the Lemko Vatra in 1983. It was organized by Volodislav Hraban from Krynytsya, Fedir Gotch from Zyndranova, Pavlo Stefanivskyj from Bilyanka, along with the talented conductor of the musical ensemble "Lemkovyna" from Bilyanka, Yaroslav Trokhanovskyj. It is to him that the Lemko community is most grateful, because even before the first Vatra, he offered enjoyment of our native music and song to our people. His labor awakened those that were asleep and indifferent, his songs turned around those that were dead to the daily life of our people. His concerts attracted people from one end of the country to the other, appeasing the thirst, which had tormented them during these long decades. People wept with happiness and wiped away the bitter tears of stateless orphans and pain, to which there was no end in sight. They would return from such concerts to their daily life, but the native song burned in their souls and brought forth a spark of hope for a better future. They would share their impressions with those who would not believe, and argued that Lemkivshchyna, despite appearances to the contrary, is alive although in ruins, and can be rebuilt in the future. Yaroslav's ensemble "Lemkovyna" first dared to forsake the village and urban band stands, and in the capacity of a sovereign master of the green Carpathians, began to sing at the top of their lungs, with its native mountains as the backdrop. The spruce forest at Chernyakhiv's Peak quietly hummed, as if bidding a cordial welcome to its legal masters after a long separation. The aged, gray-haired Lemko farmers often were seen leaving the burning "Vatra", where young people gathered to display their knowledge of the Lemko language, history, and geography, and leaning on a cane would "submerge" themselves into the thickets to breathe air, permeated by the smell of pine resin, and to reminisce about the taste of Carpathian berries, to inhale the familiar smell of known mushrooms, and to have a drink of clean spring water. The splendid singing of "Lemkovyna" like a giant bell reverberated from mountain to mountain, from Verkh to Rotunda, from Dyva to Psarova, and via the blue range by Konechna traveled to Zakarpatya, to our Rusyn brothers. Man-made borders do not exist for the native song, because a song - that magical invisible entity, is something that nobody can steal, or destroy. "Hory nashy hory, hory nashy Karpaty, nikhto neh zna, znav neh budeh, kil'ko vy v nas vartateh"(Mountains our mountains, our Carpathian mountains, nobody knows, and never will know, what you are worth to us). Only here, in nature's lap, did "Lemkovina" reveal herself, and show what she can offer under a native sky. "Nykomu mih vas neh dameh, hory nashy Beskeedy, boe nam daty neh kazaly nashy deedy prahdeedy" (We will turn you over to no one, our Beskid mountains, since our grand-parents and great grand-parents told us not to give you away). And it seemed to those present, that a green periwinkle bloomed once more on the desecrated graves of our ancestors, that the destroyed crosses managed to rise up, and the rustling of the weeping willows could be heard again. It seemed, that these were not the Lemko exiles singing, but the celestial Cherubs from our stolen tserkvas [churches]. "Dostiyno yest yakozheh voyeesteenno" ......("It is truly meet to bless thee.....") they are ours today, today and forever. One could feel those Easter bells of our childhood within "Lemkovyna's" songs, which crush ice within our soul, pry open the handcuffs of our slavery, and even shake the foundations of the Babylonian tyranny.
Such was the first Lemko "Vatra" on a glen "Polyana" between villages of Chorneh and Ustya Rus'keh, which with the permission of the managing committee, yours truly ignited on July 21, 1983.
The subsequent Lemko "Vatras" in the villages of Chorneh, Hanchova, Bortneh, and Zhdinya attracted more and more of our people, of all different ages and professions. The first "Vatra" was attended by about 300 people. In Zhdinya, in 1992, there were almost 10,000 people. But this was already at a time when the warm wind of "Glastnost" had started to blow over eastern Europe, and our already glorious "Vatra" began to host people from all over the world. Large numbers of Lemkos from Czecho-Slovakia and Ukraine started arriving, there was also a large number of guests from beyond the "Great Mud Puddle" and other western countries. Freedom is a great gift from God, but freedom in your own home, and on your native soil, is like the air you breathe, without which you can not survive. None of the European people cherishes the price of freedom, like the Ukrainians do, so let us be worthy of independence, and offer freedom even to those, who for centuries deprived us of it.
Copyright © 1997 Jon W. Madzelan
This Home Page was created on Monday, May 05, 1997
Most recent revision Wednesday, January 14, 1998