For Ukrainian-American folk group Scythian, Harrisburg concert is part of ‘struggle for our identity’


When Danylo Fedoryka and his brother Alexander founded the band Scythian, they started playing all kinds of roots music, from Celtic jigs and reels to American folk songs.

But unlike most of their peers in the roots music scene, Scythian also regularly play Ukrainian-language folk songs from the ancestral Fedoryka culture. And with their parents’ homeland under attack from Russian forces, their mission to perform and celebrate the culture and music of Ukraine has never seemed more vital.

The Washington, DC-based band will perform at XL Live in Harrisburg on March 11. And the spectacle comes just as the nation of Ukraine is now suddenly at the forefront of the global conversation.

“Growing up, everyone laughed at us,” Fedoryka said. “[Ukrainian] was our secret language. We lived in Virginia, where no one had ever met a Ukrainian. They all joked that it was Klingon.

Fedoryka only had the chance to visit her parents’ homeland after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. But Ukrainian was the family’s first language, and the culture has always been part of the family. daily life of the family.

Even the Scythian group was an extension of this legacy – Scythia was the name of an ancient region which stretched from modern-day Iran to much of Eurasia, including Ukraine.

“Our band was really the first point of contact for a lot of people, because we’d be at this Irish festival singing in Ukrainian, and everyone was like, ‘what the hell?'” Fedoryka said. “We’ve been doing this for 18 years, just trying to get this out.”

Like most performers, the members of Scythian have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, unable to perform live for much of the past two years. Instead, they went online and were supported by fans donating.

One such performance was “a tribute to our Ukrainian heritage,” Fedoryka said, and a clip from that concert was reposted on their facebook page. The traditional song “Dearest Mother of Mine” tells the story of a Ukrainian man forced to leave his homeland, never to return – and it takes on a sadly powerful new meaning in the current crisis.

But now the donations that Scythian collects through its social channels are sent to a Knight of Columbus fundraiser for the people of Ukrainewho will receive dollar-for-dollar consideration under the program up to $500,000.

“My phone blew up, our Facebook blew up, with wishes from non-Ukrainians,” he said. “I was like telling my wife, all my life I grew up with people who didn’t even know what Ukraine was. Now all of a sudden everyone is giving this flag emoji You look at pictures, you see Ukrainian flags everywhere. It’s kind of surreal to me.

Fedoryka has grown accustomed to people not knowing anything about Ukraine, or simply confusing their origins – and the language his family spoke exclusively at home when he was young – with Russian.

The two nations have had a strained relationship for centuries, with Fedoryka likening it to the conflict between Ireland and England. Like Ireland, he said, Ukraine was often the target of aggressive imperial and colonial power, with Russian oppression attempting not just to conquer Ukraine, but to suppress and eliminate its entire identity and culture.

Indeed, before the start of the recent invasion, the Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that Ukraine was not a “real” country and simply an extension of Russia.

And beyond a few pop cultural gags — a memorable joke in “Seinfeld” or an episode of the recent Irish sitcom “Derry Girls” — a Ukraine independent of Russia has rarely been part of a greater American cultural consciousness.

It’s no coincidence, he said, that he and Alexander would also be drawn to Irish music in addition to Ukrainian folk music.

“A lot of our songs were the same,” Fedoryka said. “The Irish are known as poets, you know, and they have a knack for chatting. They are actors. And really, I have to say, that’s pretty much the spirit of Ukrainians. It is a nation essentially composed of poets and artists. And then we have a fierce history, but we’re really just farmers who like to sing and drink. It’s pretty much the spirit when I think of Ukrainians, this joyful and poetic spirit.

And it is not the first time in living memory that this spirit has been threatened by Russian aggression. Fedoryka’s parents fled Ukraine as children, he said, “just before the Iron Curtain came down” and countries like Ukraine and Poland were completely under Soviet control. For years, Fedoryka’s grandparents sent care packages to family and friends still in Ukraine, never knowing if they would ever arrive.

“My parents thought that we had to maintain the culture [here in America,]” he said. “Because he was not maintained at home [under Soviet rule].”

Fedoryka said it’s hard to imagine Scythian going from relative obscurity as Ukrainian-American root artists, to not performing at all during the pandemic, to suddenly being drawn into the spotlight due to a geopolitical tragedy.

“My heart aches for all these people,” he said. “It’s not just Ukraine at stake. And that’s another thing that’s very disconcerting right now.

Although understandably concerned about his own estranged relatives and the millions of other Ukrainians at risk, Fedoryka said his sympathy was also extended to Russian soldiers. Although he was raised “very Ukrainian, to fight for our identity” against Soviet or Russian oppression, he knows that these Russians are risking their lives on the orders of a government that has misled them.

“If you talk to a Russian in a bar, if we sit down and drink vodka together, I’m sure we’ll get along,” he said. “I don’t want to start labeling people.”

Sometimes, Fedoryka said, making music and performing for people during a crisis can feel like “minstrels and revelers as March approaches, as Rome burns, so to speak. . And what is the relevance of that?

But at the end of the day, he said, “it’s actually more important than ever.”

“We go back to our mission statement, which is to help people, for a few hours, forget the ugliness of the world and remember that other people are good,” Fedoryka said. “There is a reason to be joyful. This is the power of song.

IF YOU ARE GOING TO: Scythian will perform with guests of the Wilson Springs Hotel at 8 p.m. (doors open 7 p.m.) March 11 at XL Live, 801 S. 10th Street, Harrisburg. The show is open to all ages, but those under 21 must be accompanied by an adult over 25. Tickets are $25 and can be found here.


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