Ukrainian history on exhibit at Andrew Carnegie Free Library

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

Sharply defined by two world wars, a period of Soviet control and a devastating man-made famine, Ukrainian history over the last century both mirrors and stands apart from other eastern European countries.

A glimpse of the fascinating era can be seen this month at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library.

Natalie Kapeluck, artistic director of Carnegie's Kyiv Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and School, was pivotal in bringing a traveling exhibit to the library from the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of New Jersey.

“It was sort of a juncture of two parts of my life,” said Kapeluck, who is also a national youth director for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. “The more I thought about it, it came together.”

The exhibit — which is on display on the library's second floor through Thanksgiving week — tells the story of the Ukrainian immigrant experience and showcases the country's culture, using old documents and photos, as well as stylized art pieces.

But perhaps the most powerful displays are those detailing the Holodomor — or, in Ukrainian, “death by hunger.”

The name refers to a period in the early 1930s in which Soviet Union policies led to an artificial famine in the Ukraine, producing millions of deaths.

“Ukrainians do consider it a genocide,” Kapeluck said. “It's estimated 3.3 million people died due to the efforts of Stalin.

“There are many, many survivors here in the United States. We're trying to preserve their stories before they leave us.”

Count Lynne Cochran, the library's event coordinator, among those who had their eyes opened to the forgotten chapter of history.

“I was a history minor, and I had never heard of it before,” she said. “It's always timely, learning something like that. The great danger to any society is having the arrogance to think we can't repeat history, so awareness helps.”

Beyond the exhibit, Ukrainian history and culture has been growing at the library lately. Kapeluck's ensemble premiered its newest show, “Generations,” on Oct. 27 at the music hall, and the building also is beginning a Ukrainian collection.

In a town with strong ties to its past, Kapeluck is proud to carry on her ancestors' history.

“Many people would be surprised just how many people have a tie to the Ukrainian heritage here in Pittsburgh,” she said. “I don't think people realize how far-reaching the bloodlines are.”

Dan Stefano is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-388-5816.

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