01 May 2018

Ukrainian Scouting

Vodnyj Tabir c1971 Stillwater Reservoir (I'm on the bottom right.)

In reading an interview with Sylvia Acevedo, the new CEO of Girl Scouts in America, I was reminded of the conundrum of growing up Ukrainian in America. We did not sell cookies. We had wilderness training.

Trying to explain to friends that yes I was a girl scout, just not the kind they were used to, was always interesting. You see, I was in Ukrainian Scouting in America. I spoke Ukrainian, went to Ukrainian camps, learned Morse Code in Ukrainian (yes really) and got all my badges based on skills that were going to be important when the time came to free Ukraine. That was the end goal. It was very different from American scouting, although the basic principles were the same.

Plast membership is divided into five age groups:
  • Ptasheniata (Little Birds) 4-6 years of age.
  • Novaky (Cub Scouts) 6-12 years of age.
  • Yunaky (Scouts) 12-18 years of age.
  • Starshi Plastuny (Rover Scouts) 18-35 years of age.
  • Seniory (Senior Scouts) age over 35.
I was never a Novachka but joined as a Yunachka. Our uniforms were a little different from regular American girl scouts. Shortly after joining, I was recruited to serve as a Sestrichka - big sister to a group of Novachky and also at a summer camp in Upstate NY called Vovcha Tropa. The group I joined in Philadelphia were the Nezabudky (Forget-me-nots) and we formed a singing group in which I played guitar. We traveled all over the US East Coast singing Ukrainian songs. We even appeared on radio and television. Then there was a shortage of male leaders and so I was recruited to lead a boys Cub Scouts group. I loved it, and they loved me. We had a great time as I was a tomboy and had a different approach than male leaders might. I didn't yell. I didn't make them feel stupid. I explained things so they understood. We had fun and learned a lot.

The universal Scout greeting is "Be Prepared" which in Ukrainian is said, "Hotooys." This greeting is used today by the Ukrainian Cub Scouts or "Novaky".  Ukrainian Scouts have another greeting "SKOB", which is used by "Yunaky" and elder Plast members. The word "SKOB" is the name of an eagle species, "Osprey", which inhabits the steppes of Ukraine.

The word "SKOB" is also an acronym of four Ukrainian words:

  • Sylno (Strongly).
  • Krasno (Beautifully).
  • Oberezhno (Carefully).
  • Bystro (Speedily).

The three main duties of a Ukrainian Scout (“Plastun”) embody the ideals of the Ukrainian Scouting Organization:
  • To be faithful to God and Ukraine. (America didn't really come into play although we always raised both flags at camp and I learned how to properly fold and display both flags with great respect.)
  • To help others.
  • To be disciplined and obey the Scout Laws.
Ukrainian Scouts - Plastuny - greet each other with the word "SKOB" and put their right hand up with three middle fingers straightened signifying the three main duties of a Plastun. In their everyday life as a scout, Plast members greet each other by shaking their left hand, a symbol of being a member of the Scout movement all over the world.

We lived in army tents on wooden cots, used latrines, washed in the rivers and lakes, and built massive wooden gates and watch towers. We went on long hikes and played war games. We had olympiady where we ran track, swam, did high and long jumping, and threw discuss and shot put. We had wonderful vatry, or bonfires, during which we sang sad songs (most Ukrainian songs sound sad, even the happy ones) and put on skits for entertainment. And of course, we had to get our badges. I always went for the tomboy ones. No phones or TVs all summer long. Lots of opportunity for puppy love and romance if the boys and girls camps were held at the same time, which they weren't always. 

When I graduated to Starshe Plastunstvo, I joined the Chornomorski Chvyli (Black Sea Waves). They had the coolest of the outfits and we got to go to water-borne camps on islands - canoing, kayaking, diving and sailing. We were twinned with the men's group Chornomortsi, and they were by far the coolest of the older plastuny. I then also worked at summer camps in Connecticut (Bobriwka) and New York (East Chatham, Vovcha Tropa), and was assistant camp manager at the last one. 

It was a great experience. It was a way for city kids to get out in the country and experience nature in the extreme. It was a way to meet other Ukes from other towns and countries, and a safe experience away from home. It was my salvation and I will always be grateful to Plast for a formative experience. 

I had intended to post this on my Ukrainian blog, so I've copied it there. If you are interested in a blog about growing up Ukrainian in America, then please visit https://beingukrainian.blogspot.ie/.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting look into your scouting days. I love the pictures :-) Cheers - Ellen