The Ukrainian American Youth Civics Club (UAYCC) at The Ukrainian Heritage School invited Ms. Ayla Bakkalli as a guest speaker on the occasion of their Spring symposium.  This is annual event as part of the school year end ceremonies which was moderated by Ms. Iryna Galaj and Mykola Hrychowian.

Accompanied by other panelists were Micheal Sawkiw, Jr, Director, Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS) and, Christina Pushaw, Graduate of Johns Hopkins University/European and Eurasian Studies.

Micheal Sawkiw, “Advocating for Ukraine”, discussed civic engagement as Ukrainian Americans and Ms. Pushaw, “How to Talk to Americans about Ukraine”, spoke of shared values between Ukrainians and Americans.    

Mr. Sawkiw through simulated role-playing asked questions on current events and the topics as it relates to Ukraine and to the universal democratic values.   What is evident that in America you can be both Ukrainian and American, thus, be Ukrainian American?  This is a testament to the fact that America is truly a democratic nation.

Ms. Puchaw outlined the many shared values between Ukrainians and Americans, to name a few, Maidan revolution for freedom and democracy similar with Americas historical fight for freedom and the right to choose the type of government people desire and, of course, freedom of speech, freedom of association and, diversity that exist in Ukraine also exists in USA.

Eugene Luciw, a Ukrainian American attorney by profession coordinated Ms. Bakkalli's participation withinthe Philadelphia American Ukrainian communities.

Ms. Bakkalli, “Who are the indigenous Crimean Tatars of Crimea Ukraine -What it means to be a Crimean Tatar in occupied Crimea”, spoke as Representative of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars;  USA Representative of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and, Adviser on Indigenous Matters to the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations. Ms. Bakkalli underlined the strong collaboration between indigenous Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in advocating for the territorial integrity of Ukraine since the occupation of Crimea.

She presented a geographical perspective on the strategic value of the Crimean Peninsula as navigational waterways via the Sea of Azov, Black Sea through the Bosporus, and the Sea of Marmara thru the Dardanelles Straits out onto to the Mediterranean Sea.  Thus, outlining to young Ukrainian Americans the navigation visualization with its crucially important waterway as a reason for Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

Ms. Bakkalli spoke of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues providing as an additional platform for indigenous Crimean Tatars to voice the continual human rights violations against Crimean Tatars and the young men who have been imprisoned, either disappeared or have died by the hands of the Russian occupiers.

Ms. Bakkalli also presented the film, "Cry of the Indigenous Crimean Tatars in Occupied Crimea", Produced by Gayana Yuksel, QHA (Qirim Haber Ajansi) and, co-Produced by Ayla Bakkalli, launched at the 16th Session of the UNPFII hosted by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations in which H.E. Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko made the opening remarks.

Film has gained tremendous popularity in successfully presenting events, demonstrations supported by resolutions at the United Nations which directly "debunks" the image/propaganda presented to the media by the Russian Federation that it was responding to an "overwhelming local demand for unification."

Ms. Bakkalli also explained why Ukraine supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and why the declaration is important for Indigenous Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians.

Ms. Bakkalli was highly impressed on the great achievements of the Ukrainian American community within the Philadelphia area especially with their educational and cultural program that foster the continuum of Ukrainian heritage. Ukraine American Heritage School has added to its existing curriculum Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution of Dignity that covers the events that are taking place in Eastern Ukraine and occupied Crimea.

Needless to state, given the cultural environment young Ukrainian Americans are able to be advocates of multitude of causes such as democratic civic engagement, participation in youth groups, take on leadership roles in various clubs such as the UAYCC whose young members frequent trips to Washington DC to meet and speak with their Congressional Representatives and Senators.

As an indigenous Crimean Tatar, Ms. Bakkalli stated, “I saw through the extension of the Ukrainian American community here, that Ukraine and its diversity of citizens will be free of the Russian occupiers in Crimea and on its Eastern borders.   And, that democracy triumphs over repression, racism, hate, xenophobia and dictators. After all, we have a precedence case, the fall of soviet union”.

The Ukrainian Heritage School is a program of the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center. The Center conducts the Ukrainian American Sport Center which its boys’ and girls’ soccer team.  As well as archery, golf and runs its cultural, fraternal, artistic, charitable and community activities.  Crimean Tatar dance ensemble from the American Association of Crimean Turks performed through this Center in 2016 ( 

PHOTO: Ayla Bakkalli