Stories from the Women of The Hromada Housing Co-op

"Let's start a Ukrainian, feminist, socialist, housing co-op!"

Left to Right: Marusia Petryshyn, Olenka Melnyk, Halyna Freeland, Anna Radyo, and Myrna Kostash

The women interviewed for this project were either members of the Hromada Women’s Group who went on to conceptualize and organize the Hromada Housing Co-op or are long-time residents of the Hromada Housing Co-op. These women joined forces and developed friendships over their shared longing to explore their Ukrainian Canadian identity while also maintaining their progressive and New Left ideals. They have fostered community and friendship since the 1970s as they pursued their careers, organized within the Ukrainian Canadian community, raised families, and followed their passions in life.

Below you can listen to interviews conducted by Kalyna Somchynsky with these women as they reflect on their upbringing in the Ukrainian Canadian community, how they were introduced and became involved in the struggle for women’s liberation, and their recollections building feminist and Ukrainian feminist communities in Edmonton. The escalation of Russia’s war in Ukraine on February 24, 2022 interrupted some of the interviews planned for this project. As a result, interviews were not completed with Marusia Petryshyn or Sonia Maryn, although it is important to acknowledge their participation within the feminist and Ukrainian community in Edmonton. A brief summary of their activities is summarized below.

Halyna Freeland 

Halyna Freeland was a leader of the feminist movement in Edmonton and Peace River who sought to combine her feminist principles with her Ukrainian identity through various initiatives. Freeland was trained as a lawyer and actively advocated for the rights of marginalized women. For example, she frequently advocated for lesbian women to retain custody of their children in divorce cases and lobbied for recognition of the Matrimonial Property Act which recognized that land should be shared equally between spouses in divorce cases because wives worked the land even if their name wasn’t on the title. When taking a break from her law practise, Freeland opened the first women’s bookstore in Edmonton, Common Woman Books, and started The Newsmagazine for Alberta Women, while also participating as an active member within the Ukrainian community through the Hromada Cultural Group and Hromada Women’s Group. She was the leading force driving the creation of the Hromada Housing Co-op and the initiated the organization of the Second Wreath Conference.

Freeland was always busy working within progressive and feminist circles in Edmonton while keeping her pulse on political activity in Ukraine around the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1988, she ran as Member of Parliament for the New Democratic Party representing the electoral district of Old Strathcona, and although she did not win her seat, she attracted one of the largest number of volunteers in her campaign, only surpassed in the future by her daughter The Honorable Chrystia Freeland. Following the declaration of Ukrainian Independence in 1991, Freeland was compelled to help build contemporary and democratic institutions in Ukraine. In 1992 she moved to Ukraine to work on a legal reform initiative to build an independent judiciary and sat on a committee that drafted Ukraine’s Constitution. Sadly, Freeland passed away in 2007.

Chrystia Chomiak 

Chrystia Chomiak has been an active community organizer since her days as a student at the University of Alberta. She joined the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union (SUSK) in 1968 and sat as president the following term. She was the editor of SUSK’s publication Student/Студент while studying at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto and engaged in activism advocating for Canada to adopt a policy of multiculturalism, equal rights for women, and in defence of Ukrainian political prisoners in the Soviet Union. Upon returning to Edmonton, Chomiak actively participated in the Hromada Cultural Group and was a founding member of both the Hromada Women’s Group and the Hromada Housing Co-op. She was heavily involved in the planning and organization of the Second Wreath Conference in Edmonton.

In the interview below, Chomiak simultaneously recalls her memories growing up in the Ukrainian community and engagement with the counterculture of the time. She provides examples of specific demonstrations she organized such as an action to protest a beauty pageant in the Ukrainian community. Chomiak vividly recalls both the successes and challenges of organizing the Second Wreath Conference and the lessons she learned from this extensive undertaking. She ends the interview with her hopes for the future of the Ukrainian community in Canada.

Click the photograph of Olenka Melnyk to access a recording of her interview

Olenka Melnyk

Olenka Melnyk is a retired journalist, writer, and editor based in Edmonton, Alberta who has worked for a variety of publications including The Edmonton Journal and Branching Out: Canadian Magazine for Women. She is author of No Bankers in Heaven: Remembering the CCF, a grassroots history of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation as a social movement and a political party. Her family moved across Canada frequently during her youth, allowing her to experience diverse Ukrainian communities. Melnyk studied at the University of Victoria where she became involved in the student newspaper and women’s rights activism. She later moved to Edmonton, Alberta where she interviewed author Myrna Kostash about her book All of Baba’s Children. Kostash then invited Melnyk to a Hromada Cultural Group meeting where she became a founding member of both the Hromada Women’s Group and the Hromada Housing Co-op.

In the interview below, Melnyk shares her memories of daily life within the Hromada Housing Co-op. She recalls attending the Second Wreath Conference with her mother and notes the success of the conference in bringing together multiple generations of Ukrainian women. Melnyk ends the interview by describing how this community of women held one another up whether it was through Freeland supporting local authors at Common Woman Books or uniting to mark International Women’s Day with demonstrations at the legislative grounds.

Click on the photograph of Myrna Kostash to access a recording of her interview. Photo courtesy of Con Boland

Myrna Kostash

Myrna Kostash is an esteemed creative non fiction writer and the author of over ten books and several essays and articles. She was raised in Edmonton but began her journalism career in Toronto where she wrote for publications such as Chatelaine and Saturday Night. In the mid 1970s, Kostash moved back to Alberta to begin research for her book All of Baba’s Children that explored Ukrainian Canadian history and identity from a critical progressive perspective. Her book caused excitement among members of the Hromada Cultural Group who invited Kostash to speak at one of their meetings. From then on, Kostash developed life-long friendships with these individuals and helped establish the Hromada Housing Co-op.

In the interview below, Kostash emphasizes the internationalism of her feminist perspective due to the lessons she learned from the women activists she met on her travels in former Eastern Bloc countries. She describes her experiences meeting the Ukrainian feminist Solomea Pavlychko and giving presentations in Ukraine once just prior to Ukrainian Independence and once just after. Kostash concludes the interview with her recollections of the Second Wreath Conference and the challenges the organizers encountered bringing women from various generations, waves of immigration, and diverse ethnocultural communities together.

Click on the photograph of Lida Somchynsky to access a recording of her interview 

Lida Somchynsky

Lida Somchynsky moved from Toronto to Edmonton in the 1980s where she formed life-long friendships with members of the Hromada Cultural Group and Hromada Women’s Group. She is a founding member of the Hromada Housing Co-op where she has lived since its inception. Somchynsky has worked in the Ukrainian community in a variety of capacities including as a writer and filmmaker. She produced the film Eclectic and Fine Tuning about two Ukrainian Canadian women, and then later co-produced the film A New Way of Living with Duane Burton about housing co-operatives in Canada.

In the interview below, Somchynsky recalls the diversity of Hromada Housing Co-op residents and their activities within the arts and academia. For example, she describes how a founding member of the Hromada Housing Co-op Dr. Roman Petryshyn went on to open the Ukrainian Resource and Development Centre where Somchynsky worked for several years. She concludes the interview with reflections on the Second Wreath Conference and contemporary developments in the Ukrainian Canadian community such as a flourishing arts scene.

Anna Radyo

Anna Radyo was the owner and manager of the consignment boutique Zoryana which was located on 104 Street off Whyte Avenue from 1980-2000 and was considered an institution in Old Strathcona. After Zoryana closed in 2000, Radyo began teaching yoga and has continued to do so to the present. Radyo was introduced to the Hromada Cultural Group through her friend Chrystia Chomiak and became a founding member of the Hromada Women’s Group and Hromada Housing Co-op.

In the interview with Kalyna Somchynsky, Radyo fondly recalls the years when she opened Zoryana and helped establish the Hromada Housing Co-op. The interview is full of warm memories of friendship, care, and community building. Radyo describes in detail the diverse ways the women of the Hromada celebrated significant milestones in each others lives, raised children, and celebrated holidays such as Malanka together. 

Marusia Petryshyn at a demonstration

Marusia Petryshyn

Marusia Petryshyn (nee Kucharyshyn) became politically active while she was a university student. She was an active member of the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union (SUSK) and was even president for a time. At this time, SUSK advocated for Canada to adopt a policy of multiculturalism, aimed to engage Ukrainian Canadian youth through political activism, and worked to bring attention to the growing dissident movement in Ukraine.

In the late 1970s, Marusia together with her husband Roman Petryshyn, were active members of the Hromada Cultural Society. She worked closely with the women of the Hromada Women’s Group to organize the Hromada Housing Co-op and was a resident for many years. Petryshyn was instrumental in organizing for Tetiana Mamonova—a founder of the Russian women’s movement exiled from the Soviet Union—to speak at the University of Alberta.

Petryshyn worked as director of the Ukrainian Language Education Centre (ULEC) within the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) at the University of Alberta for several years (1990-2013). In this role, she assembled digital and print materials for use in the kindergarten to grade twelve Ukrainian Bilingual Program curriculum and encouraged collaboration with education centres and teachers in Ukraine following the collapse of the Soviet Union. You can read more about Petryshyn’s work with ULEC here

Sonia Maryn

Sonia Maryn

Sonia Maryn was born to Ukrainian immigrants who were able to leave war-torn Europe after WWII. They immigrated to Canada and together with their peers established a vibrant Ukrainian community in Toronto. She is a graduate of the Humanities Faculty, University of Toronto, as well as the Journalism Program, Toronto’s Humber College, and Investor Relations, Schulich School of Business, York University. She has worked professionally in journalism, communications, and public affairs for more than 30 years. Maryn has written and edited news and feature articles on social inequalities for both Ukrainian and Canadian audiences. A notable example is “Ukrainian Women in Transition: From Church Basement to Boardroom,” Journal of Ukrainian Studies, University of Toronto. The latter is a 1985 feminist piece and focused on the marginalization of women within the Ukrainian community. She continues to engage Ukrainian subject matter through her work as an editor for Euromaidan Press.

Maryn has been active in the Ukrainian Canadian community all her life, including the Ukrainian Canadian Students Union and its journalistic (feminist) arm Student, the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Encyclopedia of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, as well as youth and cultural groups. Upon moving to Edmonton, she became acquainted with the members of the Hromada Cultural Group and Hromada Women’s Group. Although not a member of the Hromada Housing Co-op, she worked with these individuals to organize the Second Wreath Conference in 1985 and was integral to its success.

Maryn reflects on the work of her generation of Ukrainian Canadians in the quote:

“We called it ‘The Cause,’ meaning our lives were devoted to the freedom of Ukraine. We grew up with one foot in the mainstream and the other in Ukraine – the Beatles and the Bandurysty. Our parents had survived the Holodomor and the war, and we were their fortunate descendants – but for the “Grace of God.”

The world is now learning about Ukraine and its fight for freedom and democracy, against the backdrop of the Russo-Ukrainian war. From the Tsarist Empire, to the USSR, to the Putin regime, Ukraine has fought and survived the tyranny of Russian hegemony.”