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І у моїх жилах присутня...

12 March, 2017

Seeing Okean Elzy in New York last weekend was a life-changing experience in more ways than one.

Last weekend, I was fortunate to continue my education in what it means to be Ukrainian at an Okean Elzy concert.

No. Really.

When we got to The Theatre at Madison Square Garden, I was shocked to see Ukrainian flags hanging near the doors. A bunch of fans were already there, listening to OE and chatting excitedly in Ukrainian. As is my norm, I eavesdropped to see what I could pick up. Not much (of course) but it was easy to hear the general excitement in their words.

We got there early enough so that we could get a good spot. I never like to stand near the stage - it gets crowded, and the sound isn’t normally that good. It’s much better to hang out near the sound guy. That’s where the speaker mix originates from, and it’s the best-balanced sound. If you’re into the music, more than the showmanship, it’s better to be farther away.

I chose to throw almost 30 years of concert know how away in order to crowd the stage. I was one person back from the barricade, and it was there that I received my education. I was behind a group of four kids, three who had heavy Ukrainian accents and one who had tried so hard to get rid of hers. One of the guys turned to me and asked me if I was excited to be there and how I learned about the band. I explained that I’ve seen the band’s name in a lot of places and that my Ukrainian tutor really likes the group.

From there, it became a conversation about why I had a Ukrainian tutor. I gave him the Cliff Notes version: my mother was Ukrainian but I didn’t grow up Ukrainian. He thought that was the coolest thing ever; that I would embrace my heritage at my age. (Not that he knew how old I was.) I can’t even describe the look on his face when he was telling me that. It was pure joy at the idea that someone would willingly learn Ukrainian.

I get the chills when I’m surrounded by Ukrainians acting Ukrainian. That sounds weird, but I don’t have the words to describe it any better. From the celebration in Lviv to being surrounded by Ukrainian-Americans at a sold out OE concert, it touches me to be surrounded by my people, my tribe.

Musically, it was an awesome show. The best one I’ve ever seen, and I didn’t think I’d ever see something better than the Ed Sheeran concert I went to a few years ago.

Performance wise, it was an awesome show. Slava Vakarchuk (lead singer) was amazing. I’ve never seen someone with so much energy. He never stopped once. He even climbed up onto the speakers during Зеленi oчi…

During the break between the show and the first encore, the crowd sang the Ukrainian National Anthem. I may or may not have teared up at that. The crowd was a mix of young and old, and once again I was struck by the fact that, for some people, independence in Ukraine was a new thing and that for others, it was all they’ve ever known. My grandmother, and mother, both died after Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, but I never got to know what it meant to them. It probably didn’t mean much to my mother, but I’m sad I never got to talk to my grandmother about it.

I’m currently studying for a big accounting exam, so my Ukrainian studies are taking a back seat. I’m meeting with Svetlana once a week and in the meantime, I’m working on translating some fan fiction and working on vocabulary with Duolingo and Memrise. I’m doing better going from Ukrainian to English than I am going from English to Ukrainian. As always, reading and writing are making the strongest impact on my progress. I’ll take what I can get for now.

I’m proud to be Ukrainian. I’m happy I’m learning more about who I am. I’m happy that complete strangers think it’s awesome that I’m an Ukrainian-American who is proud of my heritage and willing to embrace it, even if it’s something as simplistic as going to a concert.

On a sort of related note, we’ve decided we’re going back to Lviv. My husband has finally expressed an interest in learning Ukrainian, so the other day, he asked me what Я знаю meant. I told him it meant “I know” so he says, “Я знаю добре.” I laughed so hard at that. In all honesty, though, it means a lot to me that he’s started picking out words and phrases from Okean Elzy lyrics (SERIOUSLY! He loves them almost as much as I do.) and asking me about them.

Teaching him might just be what I need to keep up my studies…


In case you want to see just how amazing the show was for yourself, someone recorded the entire concert:


Filed under: Culture, Language, My Experiences, Education

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