Visionary Collaborations: The Life and Work of Dr. Roman Petryshyn

The short documentary Visionary Collaborations: The Life and Work of Dr. Roman Petryshyn was produced by the Ukrainian Resource and Development Centre (URDC) and filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk of Brandy Y Productions. This documentary celebrates URDC founding director Dr. Petryshyn’s outstanding work advancing multiculturalism and ethnocultural inclusion in Canada, community development initiatives in Canada and Ukraine, and appointment as a Member of the Order of Canada. Learn about Dr. Petryshyn’s achievements and experiences through reflections from Dr. Petryshyn’s colleagues, friends, and family.  We hope this documentary will inspire future generations to continue working to make this world a better place as set by Dr. Petryshyn’s example.

Dr. Petryshyn was born in a displaced person’s camp in Germany after World War II. Shortly thereafter, his parents immigrated to Canada and settled in the community of Fort William, Ontario (currently Thunder Bay). Fort William had a robust Ukrainian population and Dr. Petryshyn’s parents were actively involved in many aspects of community life. Both within the community and at the dinner table, Dr. Petryshyn began to learn about the history of Ukraine and the hardships his parents and their relatives in Ukraine endured under Polish rule and Soviet occupation. During this time, Dr. Petryshyn also befriended peers whose parents had immigrated from various other countries in Europe. Together, these experiences were formative to how Dr. Petryshyn would articulate multiculturalism and apply it with a community development approach to various projects throughout his career.

In the interview below, Dr. Petryshyn recounts his experiences growing up in Fort William while recalling the stories his parents shared with him about their childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood in Ukraine and their experiences during World War II. This interview is especially pertinent in 2022 to help contextualize the Russia-Ukraine war and explain why Ukrainians are fighting so valiantly to defend their sovereignty.

The Petryshyn Family, 1963

While still in high school, Dr. Petryshyn’s father, Alexander Petryshyn, regularly took him to Ukrainian Canadian Congress triannual conventions held in Winnipeg. At these conventions, Dr. Petryshyn learned about the organization SUSK (Ukrainian Students’ Union in Canada). A few years later in 1963, he began post-secondary at Lakehead University where he would pursue bachelor and master’s degrees in clinical psychology and began the Lakehead University Ukrainian Club (LUUC). The LUUC had two principal aims which Dr. Petryshyn revisited throughout his career: the struggle for Ukrainian independence and the struggle for Ukrainians to be recognized by the Government of Canada under a policy of multiculturalism. Dr. Petryshyn continued his advocacy for a policy of multiculturalism and support of the Ukrainian dissident movement when he encouraged LUUC to join SUSK in 1966. 

SUSK National Convention, 1969

Dr. Petryshyn was incredibly active in SUSK and both joined the executive and launched the first issue of Student/Студент in 1968. He was part of a generation who recognized the need for progressive political activism by Ukrainians in Canada to advocate for the rights of the Ukrainian community both in Canada and abroad. While pursuing his activist work with SUSK, Dr. Petryshyn would meet several collaborators including his wife, Marusia Petryshyn (nee Kucharyshyn) and friend Dr. Bohdan Krawchenko. Dr. Krawchenko provides a personal account of this period in the interview found on the following page of this website.

After working for immigrant services within the Ontario Citizenship Branch, Dr. Petryshyn moved to Manchester, UK where he and his wife Marusia would pursue graduate studies from 1972-1976. Dr. Petryshyn completed a PhD in the Department of Race and Ethnic Relations at Bristol University in 1976, after which, the family and their newborn son moved to Edmonton, Alberta. In Edmonton, Dr. Petryshyn became involved in several Ukrainian Canadian organizations including working as a researcher for the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta. During this period, Dr. Petryshyn made the acquaintance of local author and journalist Myrna Kostash. Kostash describes her excitement in meeting fellow Ukrainian Canadians with progressive ideals, such as Dr. Petryshyn, in the interview found on the following page of this website.

In 1982, Dr. Petryshyn was employed as Northern Director of the Cultural Heritage Branch of Alberta Culture. In this position, Dr. Petryshyn delivered programming to over 60 ethnocultural communities and began to recognize the factors that motivated people to maintain their ethnocultural identities within Canada. It was during this time that Dr. Petryshyn began to envision a model for how ethnocultural communities could be represented and integrated into post-secondary institutions in ways other than academic research. He believed that empowering diverse ethnocultural communities would lead to greater ethnic and racial equality in society.

Dr. Petryshyn’s vision would become realized with the launch of the Ukrainian Resource and Development Centre (URDC) at what was then Grant MacEwan Community College (now MacEwan University). URDC was originally launched in July 1987 as a pilot project through the Office of Multiculturalism and Native Programming and became an official centre at the college in 1988. Many of URDC’s first projects supported the Ukrainian arts in Alberta, such as music and dance, through the co-creation of organizations, events, and conferences. For example, URDC helped launch the Alberta Council for the Ukrainian Arts, sponsored Altanets ‘87 alongside the Alberta Ukrainian Dance Association–a ten day workshop for Ukrainian dance instructors across Canada, and a master choir concert to close the annual conductors’ seminar.

Dr. Roman Petryshyn with Ivan Dziuba, Zoloti Vorota, Kyiv, 1990

Over time, URDC evolved into an endowed, project-based centre at MacEwan University directed by Dr. Petryshyn for 28 years. He started URDC to connect his life-long passions of community university engagement and the recognition of ethnic and diasporan identities, and in the process allowed the Ukrainian community to become an integral part of MacEwan and its programs. In turn, Ukrainian community organizations and initiatives have gain legitimacy through the rigor, ethics, prestige, and recognition offered by the post-secondary institution and MacEwan students have developed a sense of global citizenship.

As director of URDC, Dr. Petryshyn facilitated several community-development projects both in Canada and abroad. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 presented new opportunities for collaboration with emerging Ukrainian universities and organizations, while the needs of the newly independent country also became evident. Dr. Petryshyn travelled to Ukraine regularly, both as the Soviet Union was opening up and after the declaration of Ukrainian independence, to build long-term relationships with his colleagues and determine how URDC could assist them to achieve their goals.

Demonstration in Ukraine, 1990

Demonstration outside KGB Headquarters, Ukraine, 1990

Grande opening of the computer lab at the L'viv School for the Deaf, 1999

Grande opening of the computer lab at the L'viv School for the Deaf, 1999 

During this period, Dr. Petryshyn facilitated professional exchanges in areas even outside the specialization of MacEwan. For example, he organized an agricultural exchange program for farmers to learn how to integrate the trade under a capitalist economic system. He also organized or worked as an advisor for many projects such as a business exchange program, and a nursing program led by former Dean of Health and Community Studies, Dr. Geraldine Nakonechny, that included the translation of MacEwan’s nursing instruction materials into Ukrainian and faculty exchanges. In the 2000s, Dr. Petryshyn established the Alberta Ukraine Alliance for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons to advocate for the rights of the deaf in Ukraine and provide them with educational supports. During this time, Dr. Petryshyn also facilitated the launch of the challenging and successful Inclusive Education in Ukraine project. Learn more about Dr. Petryshyn’s work with the deaf community and inclusive education in the interview on the following page with Dr. Ihor Kobel, Chair of Services for Students with Disabilities, Associate Professor Department of Social Work, Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv, Ukraine.

Dr. Roman Petryshyn giving a presentation.

Dr. Petryshyn’s work has always responded to the ever-emerging needs of the Ukrainian community. This has become clearly evident as Ukraine has undergone significant political upheaval throughout the twenty first century including the Orange Revolution, which Dr. Petryshyn attended as an elections observer, and the Revolution of Dignity (or Euromaidan) which Dr. Petryshyn responded to with the creation of the Contemporary Ukraine Research Forum in collaboration with the University of Alberta and Concordia College. On the following page, you can hear an interview with Dr. Oleksandr Pankieiev about Dr. Petryshyn’s work following Euromaidan. Most recently, Dr. Petryshyn has been working with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alberta Provincial Council and the Canada Ukraine Foundation to organize coordinated support for Ukraine during the 2022 Russia-Ukraine war.