Local Ukrainian Americans celebrated their vibrant ethnic culture on July 9 during an annual community picnic in Franklin, while holding in their hearts the many family and friends still living under brutal Russian occupation in Ukraine.
Hosted for the second year by the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Wisconsin Ukrainians Inc. (WUI), the event took place on the 500th day since Russia launched its full-scale invasion.
“We were feeling that the war was going to be over last year, and obviously it’s not. So in order for us to keep ourselves sane, we have to do something to get out of the negative news bubble of what Russia is doing to our homeland,” said Halyna Salapata, founder of Ukrainian Milwaukee and president of Wisconsin Ukrainians Inc. “I don’t know anyone who has not been affected by the war. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t lost a friend or family member – or is not connected to someone who has been wounded.”
From the performances of talented musicians and dancers, to the aroma of traditional Ukrainian dishes, the picnic was an immersive experience that allowed residents from all over Wisconsin to experience Ukraine’s unique culture.
“We would like to express our deepest gratitude for the overwhelming support and incredible turnout at our annual Ukrainian picnic. It was a joyous celebration of Ukrainian culture, traditions, and unity, made even more special by the presence of each and every one of you,” the organization said in a social media post.
The event was considered a resounding success, thanks to the efforts of dedicated volunteers and generous sponsors all working to preserve and share Ukrainian heritage. While the Ukrainian community came together to support their homeland with the fundraising event, they also came together to support themselves cope with prolonged stress and trauma from the war.
“We had so many refugees who fled Ukraine, who had absolutely different plans and different dreams, who were building their future in Ukraine, who did not plan on leaving their homeland behind,” added Salapata. “But here they are today, and they have to connect. They have to meet each other. They have to talk to each other. They have to support each other.”
County Supervisor Peter Burgelis, who has been a leading advocate for Milwaukee’s Ukrainian community, also was also in attendance. In April of 2022, he introduced a resolution that supported the people of Ukraine and condemned the unprovoked aggression and war crimes committed by Russian Federation soldiers.
“I’m a first-generation Latvian-American. My parents fled Russian aggression and came to the United States as children. I understand the meaningful impact of continuing and celebrating one’s cultural heritage,” said Supervisor Burgelis. “I also understand the challenges of immigration, the horrors and lasting impact of unprovoked evil.”
Supervisor Burgelis came to the Ukrainian picnic to show his support for Ukrainians in Milwaukee County. He said that seeing young students recite Ukrainian poems on stage brought back memories of himself doing the exact same thing in Latvian when he was growing up.
“It was a joy to celebrate Ukrainian culture with the community,” added Supervisor Burgelis. “I’ll continue to bring visibility and awareness so that the continued fight for an independent and sovereign Ukraine is not forgotten. Glory to Ukraine and glory to the heroes!“
In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy marked the 500th day of the war by hailing the country’s soldiers in a video from a Black Sea island that became the symbol of Ukraine’s resilience in the face of the Russian invasion.
The island took on legendary significance for Ukraine’s resistance, when Ukrainian troops there reportedly received a demand from a Russian warship to surrender or be bombed. The answer supposedly came back, “Go (expletive) yourself Russian warship.”
Speaking from Snake Island, Zelenskyy honored the Ukrainian soldiers who fought for the island and all other defenders of the country, saying that reclaiming control of the island was “proof that Ukraine will regain every bit of its territory.”
The annual picnic in Franklin saw an attendance of almost 800 people, and Wisconsin Ukrainians was able to collect more than $20,000. Salapata said that 100% of the proceeds would go to helping Ukraine meet its humanitarian needs.
Founded in March 2022, the grassroots nonprofit organization Wisconsin Ukrainians has raised more than $540,000, and around $250,000 in charitable donations of humanitarian aid and medical supplies.
Series: Return to Ukraine
- Return to Ukraine: A trauma loop of travel from Milwaukee to a country still at war a year later
- From Weddings to War: How Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov photograph Ukraine's daily horrors
- Being Friends of Angels: The Milwaukee nonprofit saving lives and offering hope in Ukraine
- Mayors of Milwaukee and Irpin expand Sister City cooperation after visit by nonprofit delegation
- Interview with Tom Barrett: U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg reflects on forging ties with Irpin
- Wisconsin Ukrainians host annual fundraising picnic to support homeland on 500th day of war
- Advanced Wireless to donate 840 access points to rebuild Irpin's citywide Wi-Fi network
- Children of Irpin begin planning mural for Mitchell Airport to showcase Sister City friendship
- Irpin is not forgotten: Residents thank Milwaukee Independent for reporting on their "Hero City"
- Milwaukee photojournalist on assignment in Kyiv during July 2 Russian drone strike targeting civilians
- Russian cruise missile attack kills residents far from front lines in Western Ukraine city of Lviv
- Ukraine arrests man accused of directing Russian ballistic missile strike on Kramatorsk pizza parlor
- Milwaukee offers Ukrainian refugee family life-saving treatment for son's genetic condition
- Nikita Pirnach: Irpin student hopes to help his country after finishing education in Milwaukee
- Sick children wait for overseas medical treatments as a new generation is born in Ukraine during war
- Iryna Suslova: The superwoman saving Ukrainian children abducted by Russia
- How a group of Ukrainian mothers, wives, and daughters are distributing vital humanitarian aid
- Freeing Freddie: Educational program aims to reduce PTSD for Ukraine's war-weary children
- The trauma of living: When being killed is the preferred choice to being disfigured from battle
- President Zelenskyy offers gratitude and awards to wounded soldiers while visiting Lviv Hospital
- Former Vice President Mike Pence visits Irpin during unannounced campaign trip to Kyiv
- Military Hospitals provide vital care for Ukrainian soldiers in need of hope and healing
- Combat surgeons pioneer advances in maxillofacial reconstruction of Ukraine's injured heroes
- Milwaukee donors cover cost of reconstructive surgery for American volunteer wounded in battle
- In their own words: Listening to the Voices of Children talk about their experiences from war
- Traumatized by War: Children of Ukraine carry on after losing parents, homes, and innocence
- Widespread Torture: U.N. report documents Russia's systematic executions of Ukrainian civilians
- Wisconsin volunteers sort and pack donated medical supplies for use in Ukraine's hospitals
- Lviv warehouse serves as vital link in medical supply chain from Milwaukee to frontlines
- Aid from Milwaukee is providing internally displaced people in Ukraine with food and clothing
- Iryna Pletnyova: How the city of Uman transformed into a hub for refugees fleeing war
- Bombs in the night: Why children in Uman are still traumatized by Russia's missile attack
- School Bunkers: When a national flag becomes a memorial to dead Ukrainian students
- Hasidic life in Uman: A journey across Ukraine to the Tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
- Tetiana Storozhko: Being a witness to the history of Roma culture in Ukraine
- Remembering Oskar Schindler: A photojournalist’s diary from the streets of Jewish Kraków
Milwaukee Independent has reported on Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine since it began on February 24, 2022. In May of 2022, Milwaukee Independent was the first news organization from Wisconsin to report from Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin after its liberation. That work has since been recognized with several awards for journalistic excellence. Between late June and early July of 2023, Milwaukee Independent staff returned to Ukraine for a second assignment to report on war after almost a year. The editorial team was embedded with a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, on a humanitarian aid mission across Ukraine. For several weeks, Milwaukee Independent documented the delivery of medical supplies to military and civilian hospitals, and was a witness to historic events of the war as they unfolded.