The Visit of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall with the Ukrainian Community in Ottawa

On 18 May 2022, the Ukrainian community in Ottawa was honoured with the visit of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales* and The Duchess of Cornwall. This visit was part of their three-day royal tour to Canada to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and to show their support for war-ravaged Ukraine. They had specifically requested to meet with a Ukrainian community during this royal tour. This visit attracted international media to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Ottawa, reflecting the significant impact the war on Ukraine has had on Ukrainian communities in Ottawa, Canada and worldwide.

In the May sunshine Prince Charles and the Duchess arrived at the Cathedral both wearing locally handcrafted blue and yellow sunflower lapel pins as a sign of their solidarity with the Ukrainian people. They were first greeted by Halyna Beznaczuk, parishioner of the Cathedral and member of the Royal Visit Organizing Committee, and Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO & Executive Director of National Ukrainian Canadian Congress, who were the Masters of Ceremonies for the visit.

The royal couple were then officially welcomed by Reverend Father Taras Kinash, Dean of the Cathedral, who had just arrived from Tetiiv, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine on 22 April 2022 to begin in his position with the Cathedral, Elizabeth Malarek, Parish President of the Cathedral, Yuliya Kovaliv, Ambassador of Ukraine to Canada, Oksana Kyzyma, First Secretary of the Embassy of Ukraine in Canada, Alexandra Chyczij, President of National Ukrainian Canadian Congress, and Yvan Baker, Member of Parliament - Etobicoke Centre.

Following the official welcome, the Prince and the Duchess were greeted at the entrance to the Cathedral by Right Reverend Mitred Archpriest Dr. Ihor G. Kutash, Dean of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Montreal, Québec, Very Reverend Volodymyr Kouchnir, Dean of St. Sophie Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, Montreal, Québec, and Very Reverend Protopresbyter Maxym Lysack, Dean of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church, Ottawa, Ontario. They entered the Cathedral to attend a special Prayer for Peace Service to pray for peace in Ukraine where about 100 parishioners were in attendance. The service started with Their Royal Highnesses lighting two candles and placing them in the candle stands next to the tetrapod. During the service, the Cathedral choir, led by its conductor Larissa Mason, sang the Paschal troparion Christ is Risen! ("Khrystos Vosskress!" – Христос Воскрес), the Lord's Prayer ("Otche Nash" – Отче Наш), Mnohaya Leeta (Многая Літа) to wish Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II many many more years, and concluded with the Prayer for Ukraine (Боже Великий Єдиний), the spiritual hymn of Ukraine.

The prayer service concluded with greetings offered by Fr. Kinash speaking in Ukrainian, saying "Today, your visit has brought great hope to Ukrainians around the world, especially to those in Canada who, with an open heart and soul, are doing everything possible to help Ukraine, preserve its unique culture and national unity." Dr. Kutash offered greetings speaking in French and Fr. Kouchnir spoke in English, saying "Your country is truly a friend of Ukraine, having extended a helping hand, not only militarily but also as fellow citizens of our planet. We will never, never forget that."

Following the prayer service, Their Royal Highnesses entered the Cathedral's hall for their 30-minute walk-about where they met with a variety of representatives of Ottawa's Ukrainian community. They were first greeted in Ukrainian and English with the traditional Ukrainian greeting of bread and salt by Angie Reshitnyk, president of the Lesia Ukrainka-Ottawa branch of the Ukrainian Women's Association of Canada (UWAC-Ottawa), Myron Oleskiw, a parishioner of the Cathedral (both Myron and Angie were members of the Royal Visit Organizing Committee), and three members of Ottawa's Svitanok Ukrainian Dance Society – Kristina Slodki, Elena Whittam and Erin Ewing. The intricately decorated ceremonial greeting bread had been hand made by parishioner Jennie Dutchak.

The presentations in the Cathedral hall showcased Ukrainian culture and its traditions as well as Ottawa's Ukrainian community 'beehive' working to support Ukraine. Similar to Ukrainians in Canada and world wide, Ukrainians in Ottawa have been busy doing traditional activities that have significant meaning and provide personal and collective healing and hope. Similar to bees, Ukrainians seem to be programmed to be workers who forego their own personal needs and then organize and work to get done what needs to be done.

The royal couple started their walk-about by first meeting with Olia Rudenko and her three children who had recently arrived from Ukraine. It was very evident that they were very interested in speaking with the Rudenko family to learn about their experiences in Ukraine and their journey to Ottawa.  The Prince then met with Cassian Soltykevych, Olenka Bastian and Nataliia Stepchuk, representatives from the Ottawa branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), and Orest Sklierenko of the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, where he learned of the many initiatives these organizations have undertaken to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine and to assist and support displaced Ukrainians arriving in Ottawa and Canada. Cassian Soltykevych, national secretary of the UCC, said "It was an honour for our community to meet with them and give them a sampling of what our Ukrainian-Canadian community does here and to help Ukraine."

At the same time, the Duchess visited with the Art of Pysanka display and demonstration presented by UWAC-Ottawa. This demonstration was led by Tamara Rudenko-Charalambij who had organized and co-ordinated over 30 pysanka workshops over a four-week period in March-April 2022 which raised over $30,000 for Ukrainian humanitarian aid. The Duchess was visibly delighted when she tried to write a pysanka using a kistka and beeswax. "I've always admired these eggs so much," she said.

Next, the Prince and Duchess proceeded to the demonstration of making varenyky which was led by Angie Reshitnyk.  They learned more about this humble combination of flour, eggs, oil, water, potatoes and onions, and how the selling of varenyky has raised money to build churches, schools, and community centres for Ukrainians throughout Canada. Over a three-week period in March 2022, Angie had organized and managed teams of volunteers to make over 17,000 varenyky which raised over $15,000 for humanitarian aid in Ukraine.  The Duchess very much enjoyed hand crimping a varenyk for the first time.

The Prince then proceeded to speak with Akord, the Ukrainian Men's Choir of Ottawa, under the musical direction of Larissa Mason.  From the start of the walk-about the choir had been quietly singing several well-known Ukrainian patriotic and traditional songs, notably Ой у лузі червона калина and Заповіт, creating a soft stream of melody floating throughout the hall.

While the Prince was speaking with Akord, the Duchess met with Tamara Pastuch, the director of the Lesia Ukrainka Ukrainian School of Ottawa, as well as Viktoriia Babich, a teacher, and several students from the school and admired some of their work on display.  The royal couple also took a few moments to speak with some of the young members of PLAST Ottawa.

The Prince and the Duchess moved on to admire a display of the Cathedral's many liturgical embroideries, and were fascinated to see and learn about the exquisitely decorated Ukrainian wedding bread korovai and the Ukrainian wedding ceremony crowns all of which were presented by Jennie Dutchak.  This was followed by a display of the traditional Ukrainian Easter basket and its many components by Khrystia Humeniuk, Sally Tchorewski and Eileen Maychruk from the Ukrainian Catholic Women's League at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Shrine in Ottawa.

During the walk-about, the photo exhibit titled Klen & Kalyna created by parishioner and documentary photographer Chrystia Chudczak had its premiere. This exhibit featured Chrystia's photos showing the impact that the war on Ukraine has had on Ukrainians in Ottawa and in other parts of Canada as well as on Canadians as a whole – photos of rallies for peace, protests to stop the war, musical performances and the many other activities that raised funds to support humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

The royal visit concluded with Their Royal Highnesses signing a guest book and Alexandra Chyczij presenting them with a gift of a hand-written pysanka and an embroidered cloth on behalf of all Canadians of Ukrainian heritage.  When The Prince and the Duchess left the Cathedral hall they surprised several of the many people waiting outside by walking up to them for a brief chat. They then returned to bid farewell to Fr. Kinash and to wish him the best for the future. Upon reflection, Fr. Kinash said he found the Prince and the Duchess to be very engaging and approachable which made speaking with them like an everyday conversation.

The royal visit was a historic event and an incredible honour for Ottawa's Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral and its Ukrainian community to represent all Canadians of Ukrainian heritage.  Sofia Sawka, a long-time parishioner, member of UWAC-Ottawa and one of the ladies demonstrating the making of varenyky during the walk-about, commented: "All the pomp and ceremony hurriedly came and went; it was delightful to be a part of it! Compliments to the organizing committee for the attention to details, and the thoughtful overview of our Ukrainian culture, traditions and community to ensure an informative and tangible visit for our royal guests, Charles and Camilla. It is, indeed, by these efforts that a lasting, evocative memory has been imprinted for our parish!"

* On 8 September 2022, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away and The Prince of Wales ascended to the British throne as King Charles III.