Full version of interview with Svetlana Kratofil, Chairman of the Matice Volyňská Czech Society
— How many Czechs are currently living in Volyn? How many of them are members of your society?
This year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of our founding, as are several other Czech societies in Ukraine. Of course, during these years there have been bursts of activity and periods of “calm”. Thus, the size of our membership is also constantly changing. As of today, our society has about 100 members.
But perhaps you imagine that our members are all descendants of the Volyn Czechs. That is not exactly the case. Our members are people who are interested in Czech culture and history. I can give an example. Our society’s adult singing group A Czech Song from Volyn consists of Czechs and Slovaks as well as Ukrainians and Poles.
Concerning the question of how many Czechs live in Volyn. That is a fairly difficult one. Since the moment the “nationality” column was removed, determining the approximate population size has been quite problematic. And as far as I know, not a single social organisation has set for itself the goal of coming up with these numbers; the main purpose of social national minorities is cultural and educational activity.
— What does your society do? What are its main areas of activity?
For the over one hundred years that Czechs have been living on Ukrainian territory, their goals have been the preservation of language, culture and traditions. And today this defines our main areas of activity. At the society, courses of instruction for the Czech language are held – for adults and children. While studying, society members of Czech ancestry, along with anyone else who is interested, have the chance to not only get acquainted with the fundamentals of the Czech language but also to just socialise.
Another important sphere of activity for our society has to do with cultural expression, in particular our singing group. We have three singing groups in our society right now: one for adults; one for teenagers; and one for children. It should be mentioned that all of the participants enjoy attending rehearsals and singing Czech songs. Last year, our society performed in the Ninth Czech National Minorities’ Folklore Festival, which was held in Prague; and our society’s groups took first place.
Research on the history of the Czech community in Volyn and study of the traditions of Volyn Czechs are another important area of work for us, and I would like to personally thank Professor Svetlana Anatolevna Shulga of the Lesya Ukrainka East European National University for this. These are the “three whales” that define the life of our society.
— What has occurred of significance in the social-economic, cultural and political life of the Czech community after the change of power in Ukraine in 2014?
2014 was significant for our society, but not in any way related to the change of power in the country. Coincidentally, we also had a change of power – of the society’s management board. That is why I cannot say anything about what changes have taken place, insofar as I have been the society’s chairman since November 2013.
— In the autumn of 2014, 40 Czech families appealed to Czech President Miloš Zeman with a request for repatriation. What were the reasons behind this action?
Yes, this was heavily reported in the press, and it was much later that the members of our Matice Volyňská Czech Society and I found out about it. The Volyn Governorate, into which Czechs were also settled, included not only the modern Volyn but also the Rovno, Zhytomyr and part of the Ternopil Oblasts. And it is strange to me that whenever some question arises concerning the Volyn Czechs, people immediately come and ask us about it even though it was a Zhytomyr initiative.
— The Czech mass media claims that one of the reasons causing Czech families in Volyn to appeal for repatriation is the fear of being mobilised for participation in the war in Donbas. Are there currently Czech draftees in the militarised zone? What problems do they face?
I do not know what these families’ motivation is. As far as mobilisation: we are Ukrainian citizens and so we feel bad about the situation our motherland has ended up in. All the more so that the sons and sons-in-law of our members are in the militarised zone. Last spring, the nephew of one of our families was killed. That is why, probably, we have encountered the same vital problems as the whole of Ukraine.
— Last year, funds earmarked for the Christmas Carol Festival were rerouted to cover the needs of ATO participants. What was the motivation behind this action? Does the Volyňská Czech Society continue providing such support even now?
The Christmas Carol Festival was organised by the Polish society. But all participants supported their proposal. We are a non-profit organisation, so, unfortunately, we cannot provide assistance in the form of money, but our girls tried their best to help – they wove camouflage nets and packed field rations.
How are relations right now between the Matice Volyňská Society and the bodies of local self-government and state authorities? What are the main areas for cooperation and the main problems?
I’ll start from the end. Based on the type of work that we do, we cooperate with local authorities in the cultural sphere. When necessary, we can help with translation. In turn, they provide us with rehearsal space free of charge. There are representatives on the public council, so various issues of livelihood are solved rather expeditiously and substantively.