Ukrainian Canadian Students' Union (SUSK) Congress 2019

I take inspiration from anywhere I find it.

This can be from travel, from dance, from books and documentaries, from random things I come across during my day, and of course from people.

I first got into this mindset after hearing an interview with Mandy Patinkin (a.k.a. Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride) about six years ago. He had said he steals from anything that comforts him, be it religion or lyrics or otherwise.

His words stuck out to me — and have stuck with me since — because I think sometimes people feel the pressure to have one interest or source of inspiration and one only, as if there is a hierarchy of what is allowed to matter to you in life.

I’ve always been someone who’s had many interests, the big three being science, writing, and Ukrainian culture, plus all the things that fit under those categories, so hearing someone say that’s OK, that I can be interested in any and all things that comfort me, was relieving to hear (even if that someone was a Hollywood actor).

Last month I got a surge of inspiration from attending the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union, or SUSK (Cоюз Українськoгo Студентства Канади), Congress.

Ukrainian student organizations from across Canada gathered in Winnipeg for the 2019 SUSK Congress from May 2 to 5.

Ukrainian student organizations from across Canada gathered in Winnipeg for the 2019 SUSK Congress from May 2 to 5.

No, I’m not a student, and no, I was never part of my university’s Ukrainian student organization. But a friend was helping organize the event, and she asked me to take some photos at it.

I only attended one day of the conference, but much like my one year in Ukraine gave me a lifetime of stories, my one day at the congress gave me a year’s worth (at least) of inspiration.

SUSK Congress

The day started with a panel featuring Iyvan Michalchyshyn, Carolyn Nazeravich, Patrick Kuzyk, and Joan Lewandosky. They discussed professionalism in the Ukrainian community, and how their Ukrainian roots got them to where they are today.

I took some notes during the day but seeing as my writing is extremely messy and that this event happened a month ago, I don’t exactly remember what everything I wrote down referred to, but I do remember at least the gist of it.

This first panel was mainly about taking the skills you’ve learned while being part of some kind of Ukrainian community — youth groups, dance groups, student groups, church, family, just knowing you’re Ukrainian — and applying those skills to your job.

The students wrote postcards to Ukrainian prisoners of war.

The students wrote postcards to Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Next up were Andrii Shcherbukha and Valerii Pasko, the guys from Ukrainian Winnipeg magazine. They started the magazine a few years ago because they saw a need to connect the Ukrainian community, especially newcomers, and to keep them up to date on happenings in the city.

Anastasia Leshchyshyn then presented about the Ukrainian Political Prisoner Project where people are encouraged to send postcards to the Kremlin’s (the Russian government’s) Ukrainian political prisoners. You can read bios of the prisoners and learn how to send a letter to them at

Key takeaways

About applying the skills you’ve learned from the Ukrainian community to other parts of your life: I don’t remember exact examples the panelists gave, but I think that’s because my mind went wandering, making connections between the skills I’ve learned from the main Ukrainian community I’ve been a part — the dance community — and applying those to how it’s helped my career.

Teamwork is a big one — as a dancer, there are many times you have to work together with your group or your partner to resolve problems or perfect difficult dance steps or get along with each other after spending day after day with each other during a tour. You also dance with all kinds of people — some with similar interests, some with different interests, some older than you, some younger than you. This can all be applied to your workplace. It doesn’t matter what type of job you have — at some point you’re going to be working with others. And knowing how to get along with each other is pretty important to get things done.

On the opposite side of things, being a leader is important in the workplace, and much like teamwork, dancers learn this from their very first year in class — maybe they lead the circle into a line or maybe it’s their job to remember to stay on centre so the other dancers are evenly spaced on stage or maybe they help their friend with a tricky step. Dance teaches you how to be an effective, and not pushy, leader — you know you’ll be seeing that person the very next week, so you learn to get your thoughts across in a respectful way.

Of course there are way more skills from dance that apply to the workplace (taking and giving constructive criticism, time management, pushing through — and smiling — until the end of the dance/project), but working as a team and being a leader are a couple that encompass other skills as well.

Something that came up a few times was about reaching out to various Ukrainian communities, not just the ones you’re a part of. And don’t reach out strictly when you need something — like funding, for example. Try to stay in touch all year round, and give back to the community by offering your service, not necessarily with an agenda but just because.

I also want to note that it doesn’t matter how involved you are with any part of the Ukrainian community. Just being Ukrainian (or whatever other background you have) makes you part of that community! At times, I think we, much like other communities, can feel like it’s a competition of how Ukrainian you are — what church you go to, what youth groups you’re a part of, what events you attend, who you dance with, who you sing with, who you know, what crowd you hang with.

But in the end, we’re all connected by our love for Ukrainian culture (whether you have a Ukrainian background or not — for example, I know some dancers who don’t have a Ukrainian background but they are still interested in learning about and celebrating the culture).


If I’ve ever had a conversation with you, there’s a pretty good chance I’ve written down something you said. (Again, there I go taking inspiration from anywhere and everywhere.) Here are just a couple from the congress that stood out to me.

Keep going back to the buffet.
— Iyvan Michalchyshyn

Imagine you’re at Puzata Hata. You grab some borsch, some salat, some deruny, and some Chicken Kyiv (and four other things, because how can you resist). You eat your meal, but you know what, the salad just wasn’t your thing. But that’s OK, because at least it helped you reach your vegetable count for the day.

So the next time you go to Puzata Hata, you grab the mix of cooked vegetables instead of the salad. It was everything you imagined and then some. Not only did you meet your veggie quota, but you also enjoyed the food, plus these vegetables gave you the energy you needed to go on with your day.

Don’t be afraid to try different things. You can always go back to the buffet, whether it’s the buffet at Puzata Hata or the buffet of life. Take what you want at the time, and if something doesn’t work out for you, no problem. Go back to the buffet, and try something else.

I have been to this buffet of life a few times (a dash of science, earning a degree, a handful of journalism, graduating with a diploma, and a giant dollop of Ukraine, living there for a year). I have no plans to stop going back to this buffet.

And just because you don’t like it at first doesn’t mean you can’t like it later. (Much like how as a kid, I didn’t mind borsch, then would eat only the broth, then stopped liking it all together — shocking, I know — only to come to my senses, as recently as the past five years, and realize it is one of the greatest dishes on the planet.)

Move at your own pace, and be diligent.
— Patrick Kuzyk

In whatever you do, you’re not going to be successful overnight. That’s fine. And while reaching your goal, you might not be achieving it as fast as that person over there. But that doesn’t mean you should give up.

Put as much effort into it that feels like a good pace for you, and stick with it.

This also ties into something that Iyvan said about when he was in a grey area with life, “a time when I was nothing in particular.” Maybe it’s that time between high school and university. Or that time after university before you enter the workforce.

Or maybe it’s while you’re in university and realize you don’t want to be a scientist anymore and want to instead maybe be a writer but also you haven’t written anything besides lab reports for the past four years and so you question everything and almost get a statistics degree but then out of nowhere apply for a communications program and then get accepted so you attend and graduate but then you move to Ukraine for a year and come back to Canada and yet again you’re in the grey area of life, not knowing exactly what’s next.

But the grey area is fine. Not knowing what to do next means you can do absolutely anything.

To go back to a quote my pal Mandy Patinkin said in that same interview: “I haven’t a clue what’s going to happen next — that’s one of life’s great gifts — and I can’t wait to find out.”

The students also toured the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The students also toured the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

In conclusion

SUSK Congress 2019 got me excited about being Ukrainian — not that I ever was un-excited, but this event just reminded me of how much I’ve learned from the Ukrainian community and that these are valuable skills that can be applied to so many areas in life.

If you’re in some sort of post-secondary institution, find out if it has a Ukrainian student organization (see a list here) or start your own.

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