The Canadian Ukrainian Youth Association (CYMK – Союз Української Молоді Канади) was founded in 1931 as a component member and under the parental guidance of the Ukrainian Self-Reliance League of Canada (USRL – Союз Українців Самостійників), itself formalized as a national coordinating body in 1927. The principles upon which the USRL is based are self-respect (for individuals, organizations, and nations), self-help, and self-reliance (in political, economic, and religious life). As a USRL affiliate, CYMK also subscribes to this ideology.
The idea of a youth organization originated in the 1920’s during the national conventions hosted annually by the three institutes in the Prairie provinces – Petro Mohyla in Saskatoon, its affiliate in Winnipeg, and Mykhailo Hrushevsky (now St. John’s) in Edmonton. The 1927 convention spoke about the need for a youth group that would be a part of the USRL family. Such an association would prepare youth for the future and for their future role in the Ukrainian Canadian community.
The original name of the youth organization was “Орли й Орлята” (Eagles and Eaglets), chosen for its symbolism of freedom and courage. Only at the end of 1931 was the name officially changed to CYMK. The structure of CYMK was based on the order of the Sich, a mass physical education and fire fighting organization that was active in Halychyna from 1900-1930. What we now call a CYMK відділ or branch was then called a сотня or Cossack squadron. Instead of a leader or president, there was an отаман, and so on. These names were changed to the more modern form in the mid-1930s. Each сотня was named after a hetman, a полковник (colonel), or a prominent or distinguished person in Ukrainian history. Each сотня was given a number according to when it was formed, with Saskatoon being No. 1.
The goal of CYMK was to educate and to train young people to be exemplary citizens of Canada and contributing members of the Ukrainian community. CYMKivtsi were to be loyal to the Dominion of Canada and to the British Empire; at the same time, they were to love and respect the Ukrainian people, language, church, faith, and traditions. Each CYMK member took a pledge to fulfil his or her duties to God and country, to assist others, and to be prepared for work and sacrifice.
CYMK’s program of activity was built on cultural, educational, and religious grounds. It included debates, lectures, speeches, theatre, drama, Ukrainian folk dancing, singing, the study of Ukrainian literature, handicrafts, setting up libraries, social gatherings, sports, and choreographed Sich exercises (vpravy).
In May 1931, the USRL and the Institutes engaged Hryhory Tyzuk as the first CYMK organizer. Tyzuk began his work in Saskatchewan and later travelled to Manitoba and Alberta. He spent several days with the youth in each locality, organizing a CYMK local and teaching Sich exercises (vpravy), Ukrainian dancing, public speaking, and procedures for conducting meetings. This culminated in a final concert and play, which showcased the talents of the new CYMKivtsi. In 1935, Petro Krypiakevych replaced Tyzuk as the chief CYMK organizer. There were eight CYMK locals with 340 members by December 1931. This rose to 30 locals and 1500 members by the end of the following year.
The first national CYMK executive was comprised of the following individuals: President: Rev. Fr. S. W. Sawchuk (who was also the head of the Consistory of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada); Vice President: Myroslaw Stechishin (who was also the president of the USRL); and Secretary: Andrij Pawlik. Rev. Fr. Sawchuk remained in his position as CYMK president for two terms, after which he became CYMK’s long-time chaplain.
There was such interest in CYMK that a second organizer, the young Pavlo Yavorsky, was hired in October 1932. Yavorsky travelled throughout the Prairie Provinces, as well as to British Columbia and Eastern Canada. The CYMK organizers had no steady source of income; they relied on funds from the local community in which they worked. Several district CYMK jamboree-conventions were held in 1933, attended by as many as one thousand people.
CYMK supported Ukrainian Canadian institutions. In particular, it played an active role in campaigns to secure new subscribers to Ukrainian Voice, a weekly newspaper published in Winnipeg since 1910 and the voice of the USRL. In 1934, CYMKivtsi contributed financially to the Jubilee Fund to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada. Andrij Pawlik was the CYMK delegate to the Ukrainian Youth Congress, which was held August 16-17, 1933, during Ukrainian Week at the Chicago World’s Fair.
The 1933 national convention was the first at which CYMK held its own separate deliberations. An oratorical contest (контест красномовства) was also introduced. This became an annual convention event and enabled CYMKivtsi to hone their public speaking skills. In 1934, the directors and the editorial board of Ukrainian Voice donated a plaque to be presented to the winner of the yearly competition.
The CYMK queen contest began in 1936. The main goal was to raise funds. The national executive obtained raffle items and distributed tickets to the locals. Each local chose a candidate for queen and helped her to sell tickets. The winner of the contest was the candidate who sold the greatest number of tickets. The crowning took place at the national convention. The first queen was Maria Markowska from Meacham, Saskatchewan.
CYMK began broadcasting a radio program in Edmonton in September 1936. There were nine such informative programs, which ultimately were cancelled because of lack of funding. In February 1937, an eight-week CYMK leadership course took place at Mohyla Institute.
A system of provincial and district councils was adopted at the 1936 National Convention to more effectively administer the increasing number of CYMK branches. Each province was divided into districts, which had their own number and a name based on a place of historical significance in Ukraine. Each district, composed of eight to ten locals, had its own executive, called its own gatherings, and was accountable to the provincial council. The provincial councils, in turn, were responsible for the work in their provinces.
By the end of 1937, CYMK had 6,500 members in 168 locals. At the end of the decade, it expanded into the United States, with branches in Pembina, North Dakota, and Hallock, Minnesota, near the Canadian border.
CYMK maintained contact with Ukrainian organizations and editors of publications in the United States, Europe, and Asia, most notably with the Ukrainian Youth Association in Manchuria. The national executive also had ties with Ліґа Українcької Молоді Америки (Ukrainian Youth League of America), a coalition of secular, non-partisan youth groups founded in 1933 in Chicago. Their representative, Volodymyr Zhelekhivsky, attended the 1938 eastern CYMK convention in Toronto; shortly afterwards, a CYMK delegate participated in the ЛУМА congress in Pittsburgh.
CYMK monitored events in Ukraine and in 1938 condemned the actions of the Polish government in seizing Sokil-Batko’s sports field in Lviv, and in disbanding “Союз Українок”, the largest Ukrainian women’s organization in Western Ukraine during the interwar period headed by Milena Rudnytska. CYMK experienced success in the 1930’s because of the dedication and watchful guidance of the USRL parent body, the talent of the organizers sent into the field, and the association’s multifaceted activities.
Compiled by Mrs. Uliana Holowach-Amiot, Calgary, AB, 2003