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Baltimore City

Baltimore-Odesa Sister City Committee holds festival to support Ukraine

Ukrainian culture was on display Saturday afternoon at the first annual BMore for Ukraine festival in Patterson Park.

Baltimore-Odesa Sister City Committee organized the event in support of war-torn Ukraine and to celebrate the vibrancy of the Ukrainian community during these difficult times, said Karina Mandell, committee chairwoman.

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More than 100 people had signed up for the festival and dozens of attendees, some sporting the colors of the Ukrainian flag, which are yellow and blue, had gathered in the early afternoon despite the sweltering heatwave in Baltimore.

“It’s almost too easy to get comfortable here,” Mandell said. “We’re getting war fatigue, and we’ve forgotten that what happens (there) directly effects us.”

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The festival opened with Funklore, a Maryland-based folk band who sang folklore in Ukrainian. The group was dressed in colorful, traditional Ukrainian outfits, which members showcased to the crowd in between performances.

Some people sat on the grass in the shade and watched the show. Over a dozen vendors were set up nearby with some selling original paintings made in Ukraine.

The committee reported receiving $4,000 in ticket sales and donations, and all proceeds will benefit World Central Kitchen and United Help Ukraine, which are nonprofits working to aid Ukraine.

For Mandell and others on the committee, the event was personal — some members r immigrated to the U.S. or still have family in Ukraine who are affected by the war.

“The Ukrainian community has had a long history in Baltimore, from residents working in the Bethlehem Steel plants to the Pride of Baltimore sailing into our sister city port in Odesa,” Mandell said. “Residents today are business owners, civil leaders, and proprietors of the arts.”

Ukrainians began settling in Baltimore during the 1880s, especially in Highlandtown, Fells Point and Patterson Park, according to Mayor Brandon Scott. During the early 1900s, many worked for the city’s steel- and glassmakers. Others followed shortly in part to escape World Wars I and II.

The Baltimore-Odesa Sister City Committee has existed since 1974 to promote mutual economic development and educational, cultural and other cooperation and exchanges between Baltimore and its sister city of Odesa, Ukraine, said Slava Kuperstein, the committee’s secretary.

The Baltimore Sister Cities Program was established in 1974 by then Mayor William Donald Schaefer with Odesa as the second oldest relationship managed by Baltimore Sister Cities, Inc, a nonprofit.

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Kuperstein told the crowd Saturday that this festival is not only a celebration of communities coming together to support Ukrainians but also serves as “Baltimore’s love letter to Ukraine” considering the city’s history.

Earlier this year, Gov. Larry Hogan ended Maryland’s “Sister State” partnership with St. Petersburg due to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and rekindled relationships with its sister city of Odesa. The Black Sea port is located 50 miles by water from Russian-occupied Crimea.

Maryna Lvovska, who performed for Funklore, believes that gatherings like Saturday’s festival are essential to remind people that the war still ravages Ukraine.

Lvovska said the festival is a perfect event help to unite Americans and Ukrainians because it brings people together to talk about Ukraine culture. She believes the more dialogue gets created through such gatherings, then the more welcoming people around the world will be to Ukraine.

Lvovska, who immigrated to America 15 years ago and now lives in Rockville, Maryland, was drenched in sweat after performing in the heat. Lvovska wore a traditional Ukrainian outfit, which consists of a shirt called a “sorochka,” a skirt, an apron and a headwear scarf called “khustka.”

She said she has many college friends who are still living in Ukraine, and her cousin was forced to flee to Germany in March because of the war. This is the reason why she continues to promote Ukrainian culture.

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Until the war in Ukraine is over, “we should not stop talking about” it, she said.


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