Piece of Ukraine on Otterbein’s Campus 

Posted Aug 24, 2023

Ukrainian Independence Day is Aug. 24, and as citizens in their homeland continue to fight for independence, Ukrainians and Ukrainian Americans in central Ohio are finding community, sharing their culture, and spreading awareness of the ongoing fight for freedom.  

This year, the Ukrainian Cultural Association of Ohio (UCAO) cultivated a plot at the Otterbein Community Garden. UCAO Garden Leader Michael Litvinovich and UCAO member, Otterbein Associate Professor Megan Chawansky, share their reflections on communing at the garden.

Michael Litvinovich 
UCAO Garden Leader

Can you tell us about your Ukrainian background? 
I am proud to have a rich Ukrainian heritage that spans across the cities of Lviv, Kyiv, and Kharkiv, where I spent the first 44 years of my life. My educational journey led me to become an electrical engineer, a path that began with obtaining my master’s degree in electrical engineering from Lviv Polytechnic University and culminated in a remarkable achievement — a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Kharkiv Polytechnic University.

Leaving behind the familiar landscapes of Ukraine, my family and I embarked on a new chapter in our lives, seeking new opportunities and horizons. Our journey took us across continents, leading us to Canada and eventually settling in the United States. Here, I have transitioned into a fulfilling phase of life as a full-time retired citizen, cherishing the memories and experiences that have shaped my identity.

Though my physical presence now resides in the United States, the spirit of Ukraine remains an integral part of who I am. The echoes of Lviv, Kyiv, and Kharkiv resonate within me, a testament to the cultural tapestry that has woven itself into my being. The legacy of my Ukrainian background continues to influence my perspective, enriching my interactions and connections in this diverse and dynamic world.

How did you learn about Otterbein and why did you become interested in joining the Community Garden?
I discovered the Otterbein University Community Garden through an online search using Google Maps while exploring community gardens in my local area. What drew my interest to the Otterbein University Community Garden was its distinct approach. Unlike other gardens that require a seasonal relocation, this unique community garden offers a more permanent gardening space. This innovative concept allows gardeners like me to cultivate perennial plants, various vegetables, and even nurture fruit trees without the need to uproot each season. This long-term perspective aligns perfectly with my gardening aspirations, making the Otterbein University Community Garden an appealing and promising choice for me to join. I look forward to contributing my passion for gardening within this nurturing and sustainable environment. 

What was it like working with the Otterbein community at the garden? 
Reflecting on my time at the garden, I am truly grateful for the enriching experience of working alongside a remarkable group of individuals, particularly the students. The garden environment exceeded my expectations, offering a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose that has been both inspiring and fulfilling.

One of the most striking aspects of the garden community is its diversity and inclusivity. Interacting with students, university faculty, and members of various organizations, such as Girl Scouts and AmeriCorps, has been an eye-opening journey. The connections I’ve forged with fellow gardeners have been invaluable, fostering a culture of knowledge exchange and collaboration. 

How has your time at the garden created community with others who have Ukrainian roots? 

Being part of the garden community has provided a unique and heartwarming opportunity to connect with fellow individuals who share Ukrainian roots. The garden has acted as a beautiful tapestry that brings together a diverse group of Americans, each with their own Ukrainian heritage story to tell. This shared background has created a strong sense of community and belonging among us.

What strikes me the most is the richness and variety of experiences within this group. Some, like myself, are relatively recent immigrants, while others have been part of the American fabric for generations. Our interactions have led to captivating conversations where we exchange stories of our ancestral journey and how it intersects with our lives in America. 

The garden has become a space where these different generations and backgrounds converge, and where our shared Ukrainian heritage becomes a bridge that connects us. Together, we remember and honor our cultural roots, sharing traditions, recipes, and memories that have been passed down through the years. It’s a testament to the enduring power of heritage and how it can bind us together in meaningful ways.

In this nurturing environment, our Ukrainian heritage becomes a living thread that weaves through our gardening experiences and enriches the connections we’ve formed. It’s a beautiful reminder that regardless of the paths we’ve taken, our shared background unites us and reinforces the sense of community that the garden has cultivated. As we tend to our plants, we also nurture the bonds of our shared history, creating a tapestry that reflects the vibrant mosaic of our Ukrainian-American identities.

Megan Chawansky
Associate Professor, Health and Sport Sciences 

How does the garden promote and educate others about Ukrainian culture? 

The presence of our plot and our UCAO-affiliated gardeners can help inspire reflection and conversation on the current war in Ukraine. It offers a chance for us to educate others in an informal setting. We hope to share knowledge about Ukrainian culture, traditions, and the future of Ukraine.  

What kinds of events have you already OR are you planning to host at the garden to build community? 

Ideally, we would like to contribute some of our yield to the culinary workshop that our members deliver for fundraising purposes. We are not quite there, yet! We hope to participate in the fall harvest festival and be on site to discuss our garden and perhaps to offer a lesson in a Ukrainian craft tradition.  

Why is it important for you to share Ukrainian culture with others? 
At a moment when the traditions and existence of Ukraine is under attack, our presence and our ability to share Ukrainian culture with others is vital. We need everyone’s help in understanding the implications of this attack and to find ways to help support Ukraine and our Ukrainian friends and relatives, whether they are resettled in the U.S. or still in Ukraine.