Ukrainian Songs in the Third Wave Diaspora Community

In the diaspora I grew up singing certain Ukrainian folk songs, which I thought every Ukrainian in Ukraine knew, so I was surprised to find out that it wasn’t true. I grew up in a community made mostly of descendants of Galician immigrants and was a member of the scouting organization Plast — two facts which largely influenced the musical culture I was exposed to. Many of the popular songs in this diaspora community are Galician, Hutsul, and especially Lemko, as well as kozak, Sichovi Striltsi, UPA, and Plast songs, and of course songs composed by Volodymyr Ivasiuk (which are just as popular in Ukraine as in the diaspora). Some of the songs we sing seem to have been somewhat forgotten in Ukraine for one reason or another — maybe partly because we were more free to sing our folk and patriotic songs in the diaspora than Ukrainians were under the Soviet Union.

Many of these songs were popularized by the Ukrainian-American singer Kvitka Cisyk, herself a member of Plast. Her music are also gaining popularity in Ukraine and recently there have been concerts held in her honor in Lviv.

image from

Some of these songs use “outdated” words, words which we still use in the diaspora but which have fallen largely out of use in Ukraine, such as “рожа,” “мужа,” “краска” (color), “важна,” the reflexive pronoun form such as “ся сховаєш,” etc. Though it’s not strange for folk songs to use archaisms — this is true in all cultures, for as folk songs are passed down from generation to generation, the lyrics are not always changed to reflect the contemporary language.

Some of the lesser known songs, especially Lemko songs, are becoming popular again as famous musicians in Ukraine are starting performing them and as folk music is becoming more popular and trendy.


Thus I thought of sharing a selection of songs that originated in Ukraine and remained well-known in the North American Ukrainian third wave diaspora community, but which did not in western Ukraine. I include some Plast songs which of course are quite specific to the scouting organization, but some nice songs so I wanted to share them anyway.

Червона калина

гімн Українських січових стрільців, співали теж у підрозділах УПА
A contemporary version by the band Zapaska, from Kamyanets-Podilskyj.

Ой там на горі січ іде
I learned the Ukrainian alphabet to the melody of this song
This one is from the soundtrack of the film Срібна Земля

A song called “Mamo” about the Majdanek concentration camp, which I posted about here.

Ой видно село

Бий Барабан 
(this one is actually to the melody of “When the Saints Go Marching In”)


Козак від’їжджає


Нині, нині

Мені ворожка ворожила

Тихо падає цвіт (Біла хата в саду)

Чотири рожі

Мала я мужа


Ой місяцю, місяченьку


There are hundreds of different variations of the kolomyjka, a Hutsul music genre that originated in Kolomyia. Kolomyjka also refers to a performance dance developed by the Ukrainian diaspora in North America (more information on Wikipedia).

An example of the Kolomyika dances in the diaspora:

Every community composed their own versions/lyrics for the kolomyjka – in addition to the Hutsuls, the Lemkos, Boykos, Jews, Poles, etc. have their own versions.

Here are two variations of a (Lemko) kolomyjka verse we sing in the diaspora:

Я Микола, ти – Микола, ми оба Миколи
Тебе били коло церкви, мене коло школи.
Тебе били коло церкви, бо ти не молився
Мене били коло школи, бо я не учився.

Ти Микола, я Микола – Оба ми Миколи.
Тебе били біля церкви, Мене біля школи.
Тебе били біля церкви, Що ти пив горілку.
Мене били біля школи, За файную дівку.

A Lemko kolomyjka

We also always sing the following between each verse, something I haven’t heard in kolomyjkas in Ukraine:

Ой та й Дунай, Дунай Дунай,
Ой та й Дунай, дана,
Ой та й Дунай,
Ой тай Дунай дана.

An English verse sang in the diaspora:

We’re not Polish, we’re not Russian, we’re not Lithuanian,
We’re the ones, the only ones, so kiss us we’re Ukrainian!

Here’s an American version with political lyrics (against GMOs/Monsanto)

При ватрі
A favorite of mine. A Plast song, which was written in 1947. (I once met the grandson of the author of the song). This is the last song sung at the end of every bonfire at Plast camp.
On a side note, I’d like to share a couple of Ukrainian songs that were composed in North America to the melody of famous American songs.

Там де лани (Юначе, ти знай)
My favorite of these is our Ukrainian version of the song “Blowing in the Wind,” which is called “Там де лани.”

Там, де лани і розлогі степи,
Там, де обрій сіножать,
Там, де поля і безліч курганів,
Там, де румовища хат.

Юначе, ти знай, там є твій рідний край,
Юначе, там є твій рідний край.
Юначе, ти знай, там є твій рідний край,
Юначе, ти знай і пам’ятай.

Там, де багріє кров’ю земля
Славних Вкраїни синів,
Там, де вогнем палають села
І стогін іде із степів.

Юначе, ти знай, там є твій рідний край,
Юначе, там є твій рідний край.
Юначе, ти знай, там є твій рідний край,
Юначе, ти знай і пам’ятай.

Там, де князі зустрічали орду,
Там, де козацтво лягло,
Там, де в Карпатах боролись стрільці,
Коли розбивали ярмо.

Квітка мого життя 
(Там на пляжі на Маямі)
I thought this was a song only known in the diaspora, so I was very surprised when I heard іt performed by the Dakh Daughters at a concert in November 2013. After that I realized that the melody comes the song “Miami Beach Rhumba” composed in the 1940s by Irving Fields. The Ukrainian version originated in the diaspora, but some contemporary Ukrainian musicians have covered it, including Oleh Skrypka and Dakh Daughters.

The version we sang at Plast camp:

Квітка мого життя,
Я люблю лиш тебе.
Квітка мого життя
Найдорожча на усе.

Як побачив я тебе,
Закипіла мені кров.
Як побачив я тебе,
Запізнав, що це любов.


Там на пляжі на Маямі,
Перший раз пізнав її,
Там на пляжі на Маямі,
Серце віддала мені.

Думав їхати на Кубу,
У Маямі зупинивсь,
А виною була румба!
Перший раз залюбивсь.

We also have a Ukrainian version of the song “The Lions Sleeps Tonight” (“Лев спить”) which we also sang at Plast camp.
One of the points from a recent Buzzfeed article on “The Perks of Being a Ukrainian” (by that they mean an American/Canadian Ukrainian) was about how the songs we sing are depressing. It was interesting to see the selection of songs – I can tell that the author was in Plast. A few are songs I mentioned above, plus another Plast song sung and a contemporary Ukrainian song “Vona” by Plach Yeremiji.

35. There aren’t any happy Ukrainian songs, just depressing songs that are sung in a joyous tune (if you’re lucky)

*pulls out her guitar*
“Kozak leaves, girl is crying, where are you going Kozak? Kozak, take me with you, to this far country.”
“Train departed on a long journey, I have already looked the last time, at all of this, that I so passionately loved.”
“I saw a bird that fell from his nest, poor thing lying there, crying in his sleep.”
“And she, and she will sit sad, will drink – will not get drunk on cheap wine. I sing for her, until she sparkles like a crystal, and perhaps be able to overcome this sadness.”
And perhaps the saddest of all: “Above the bonfire stood young soldiers, heard the golden words that poured, about the glory of the past, about passionate dreams, and of freedom that will come eventually.”
But it’s okay. I’m not crying, the water from my eyes are just hydrating my cheeks.

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