Downtown festival becomes a movement Unifying a culture

Staff report


Simply Slavic, the downtown festival created specifically to celebrate greater Youngstown’s Slavic community, will take place Saturday from noon to midnight on East Federal Street.

The annual event was started in 2011 with a goal of educating both the region’s Slavic descendants and the community at large about Slavic heritage.

“Six years ago, a small group of passionate members from some of the local Slavic communities gathered to plan a one-day party where all could gather in peace and learn about each others’ cultures,” said Ken Shirilla, event chairman, noting that it took a year to plan the initial festival.

“We never imagined that this event would become such an integral part of the summer festival season in downtown Youngstown, and are grateful and proud of all our supporters and contributors who have helped to make the event such a success over the years.”

Shirilla said that Simply Slavic has become more than a one-day event; it’s more like a movement. By getting to know each other while working on the festival, Slavic community leaders have discovered various ways in which they can collaborate to educate about Slavic cultures. This has led to collaboration in supporting special projects such as the Slavic immigrant-themed play “Out of the Furnace” this spring at Youngstown State University.

The group also provides at least one scholarship each year to deserving Youngstown State University students.

This year’s festival will include several new elements, including an expanded ecumenical blessing. The unity and diversity manifested in the development of the Slavic languages will be celebrated through song and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer by costumed volunteers.

Also new this year:

Expanded national flags display and parade: The festival committee has purchased flags for each of the Slavic nations and will open the event with a costumed parade. The 13 national flags – and one regional flag – will create a colorful and educational display.

Expanded children’s area: A Build Your Own Village and Slavic Scavenger Hunt will take young festival- goers on a adventure to get answers, and stamps, to a variety of history, culture and trivia questions.

Ethnic heritage tent: Live folk art demonstrations will highlight this display, which also will feature exhibitions of materials, such as maps, flags, photos, language lessons and a list of famous immigrants. Folklorist Larry Kozlowski will create wax decorations on Easter eggs in the style of each Slavic nation.

Tell your Slavic story: Festival participants can share a story or memory that references their experience with the Slavic culture at this booth. The goal is to give the festival a new level of cultural experience. Story tellers will be recorded for historical purposes. Slavs and non-Slavs can stop by and share a story or just listen.

As it does every year, Simply Slavic will showcase the traditions of the Mahoning Valley’s Slavic community by celebrating its food, music, dance and customs.

A Slavic Kitchen, featuring booths offering homemade foods from more than a half-dozen area churches, businesses and ethnic groups, will be on the site.

There also will be a marketplace of vendors selling imported dolls, eggs, linens and apparel.

At the annual baking contest, amateurs can submit their favorite traditional Slavic baked goods to be judged by area Slavic celebrities.

On the Wasko Entertainment Stage, a full slate of music and entertainment will continue throughout the day, including four of the region’s most colorful folk dance troupes, polka music and the renowned Harmonia Folk Band in the evening.

A ceremonial Vatra – a traditional Slavic bonfire after dark with live music – will draw the young and the young-at-heart well into the evening.

“We plan to have roving musicians at different times to give our guests an authentic Slavic atmosphere,” said Shirilla. “Last year, our bonfire was such a hit. People danced around the fire. It was magical.”

The modern-day European nations representing the origins of Slavic ancestry are Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. Many Slavic descendants of Carpatho-Rusyn heritage also reside in the Youngstown area.

Local parishes and organizations supporting Simply Slavic include the city of Youngstown, Sts. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Sts. Peter & Paul Croatian Church, Polish-Youngstown, the American Slovak Cultural Association of Mahoning Valley and the Carpatho-Rusyn Heritage Society.