More than 10,000 pay last respects to nationalist leader Slava Stetsko

by Vasyl Pawlowsky
Special to The Ukrainian Weekly

March 23, 2003

KYIV – More than 10,000 Ukrainians paid their last respects on March 15-16 to Yaroslava (Slava) Stetsko, one of the nation’s staunchest and most-committed independence leaders, who was laid to rest following a short illness.

With her death on March 12, in a single stroke Ukraine lost the oldest member of its Verkhovna Rada, the chairperson of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (CUN) and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) as well as the president of the Anti-Bolshevik Block of Nations.

Mrs. Stetsko died of heart failure in Munich, Germany, where she had traveled for medical treatment. A woman who had made a lifelong contribution to the long struggle for Ukraine’s independence, she was two months short of her 83rd birthday.

Thousands turned up at the tiny church of St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker on Askoldova Mohyla in Kyiv at a panakhyda (requiem service) held on the evening of March 15 for the first part of a two-day burial rite.

Yuri Shymko, former president of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians (today known as the Ukrainian World Congress), eulogized Mrs. Stetsko as a very principled woman and a hero of Ukraine. “Pani Slava lived a life without compromise from the time she joined the liberation struggle when she was 18,” said Mr. Shymko, who was to have left Kyiv earlier for his hometown of Toronto, but extended his stay after hearing of the death.

“She never gave up on her ideals, even after the two assassination attempts on her partner and husband, Yaroslav. She constantly struggled in the halls of many different governments where she tried to convince them of Ukraine’s place in a world of nations,” added Mr. Shymko.

The next day, prior to the funeral procession to Baikove Cemetery, Mrs. Stetsko’s body lay in state at the Teachers Building in Kyiv, which had served as the session hall for Ukraine’s Central Rada during Ukraine’s short-lived independence beginning in 1918.

Thousands of people came to pay their last respects, among them well-known politicians such as Viktor Yushchenko, leader of Our Ukraine. Tymoshenko Bloc parliamentary faction leader Yulia Tymoshenko and fellow National Deputy Lev Lukianenko also attended the viewing, as did Hennadii Udovenko, Borys Tarasyuk and Les Taniuk of the National Rukh of Ukraine Party and members of the Reform and Order Party, the National Party and the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists. Other leading political figures who attended included Leonid Kravchuk, Ivan Pliusch, Stepan Havrysh and Volodymyr Yavorivskyi.

Representatives of local OUN groupings from Volyn, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv and Ternopil attended in large numbers. Mykola Plawiuk, leader of the OUN-Melnyk faction paid his respects at the Teachers Building. Germany’s Ambassador to Ukraine Dietmar Studemann also was present, as Mrs. Stetsko had been a longtime resident of Germany, although she had never taken citizenship there.

Comments made by Mr. Shymko at St. Nicholas the previous evening referred to her conscious decision to take citizenship in no other country but her homeland.

“Slava Stetsko was adamant that she would remain a person without citizenship until Ukraine was independent, and she was true to her word,” he stated.

As Mrs. Stetsko’s casket was carried from the Teachers Building to a waiting bus that served as a hearse, those who had come to pay their last respects formed a human corridor through which the pallbearers passed.

Under a clear blue sky, approximately 12,000 mourners made their way by foot through the streets of Kyiv to Baikove Cemetery – approximately 4 miles away – led by an individual bearing a cross owned by the late independence movement leader and others carrying church standards, along with clerics and uniformed veterans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Directly following the hearse, walking arm-in-arm in the procession were National Deputy Andrii Shkil of the UNA-UNSO political group with Ms. Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine leader Mr. Yushchenko.

At the gates to the cemetery, pallbearers removed the late political leader’s casket from the hearse and carried it to her final resting place, located near the graves of other patriots who had committed their lives to a free Ukraine: Vasyl Stus, Valerii Marchenko, and Serhii Naboka. There, National Deputies Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, and Udovenko, and CUN Vice-Chairman Andrii Haidamakha eulogized Ms. Stetsko, remembering her deeds and accomplishments.

The thousands who attended the service at the cemetery responded to each speaker’s words with, “Slava Slavi Stetsko” (Glory to Slava Stetsko), followed by the Ukrainian nationalist cant “Slava Ukraini” (Glory to Ukraine), and the response to it: “Heroyam Slava” (Glory to Heroes).

After the last remembrances were uttered and the final prayers said, a military honor guard saluted one of the last Ukrainian nationalist heroes of the World War II era with three salvos from their rifles.

Source: The Ukrainian Weekly