Jan 222014
 

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The Unification Act (Ukrainian: Акт Злуки, Act Zluky) was an agreement signed on January 22, 1919 by the Ukrainian People’s Republic and the West Ukrainian People’s Republic in St. Sophia Square in Kiev. Since 1999 the Day of Unity of Ukraine, celebrated every year on 22 January to mark the signing of the treaty, is a state holiday. The agreement was aimed at creating a unified Ukrainian state, a movement long awaited by the intelligentsia on both sides. However, the Act Zluky was regarded as purely symbolic in that both governments still retained their own separate armies, administrations and government structure.

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The text of the treaty included the following:

The territory of Ukraine, divided over the centuries, including Galicia, Bukovyna, Carpathian Ruthenia, and Dnieper Ukraine will now become a great united Ukraine. Dreams, for which the best sons of Ukraine fought and died for, have come true.

However the territory of Ukraine was unable to retain independence and in December 1920 the Ukrainian SSR of the Soviet Union was established consisting mostly of the territory of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. The territories of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic became part of Poland. In 1939 the territories of both became part of the Ukrainian SSR, and remained so until the fall of the Soviet Union.

To mark the 71st anniversary of the signing of the Act Zluky in 1990, over 300,000 Ukrainians created a human chain (approx. 482 km (300 mi)) from the capital Kiev to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on January 21, 1990. The chain, the largest public demonstration in Ukraine since the beginning of Glasnost, was funded by the People’s Movement of Ukraine (Rukh).  Also, for the first time since the period of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, the blue and yellow national flag was raised.

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On January 21, 1999, the President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma decreed the “Day of Reunion of Ukraine” (Ukrainian: День Соборностi України, Den’ Sobornosti Ukrayiny), a government holiday, celebrated every year on January 22 to mark the political and historical significance of the 1919 agreement. In December 2011, President Viktor Yanukovych caused public controversy when he merged the “Day of Freedom” into this day, naming it officially “Day of Unity and Liberty of Ukraine” (Ukrainian:День Соборності та Свободи України, Den’ Sobornosti ta Svobody Ukrayiny).

The public outcry underlines an important issue: unity and independence are not to be confused.  A nation may be unified but under the control of another power; or it might be independent but not united.  The latter was the case with Ukraine in 1919.  In the aftermath of World War I its constituent regions were newly independent but separate political entities.  Act Zluky is celebrated on this day because it represented a step towards a longstanding desire for Ukrainian unity – even though it was only a token, and Ukraine was soon divided up between neighboring powers (and then subsequently united but under Soviet control).   The day continues to be an important celebration of the nationalist aspirations of nineteenth and twentieth century Ukrainian intellectuals which has now become a reality.

I doubt I have spent a single day in Ukraine without eating varenyky of some sort – quite often for breakfast as well as lunch. Varenyky are square- or crescent-shaped dumplings of unleavened dough, stuffed with mashed potato, sauerkraut, cheese, cabbage, meat, or a combination of these, or with a fruit filling. Under various names, such as pierogi and pelmeni, these dumplings are ubiquitous in eastern Europe, but each with their own little twist.  Commonly they are boiled to cook the dough, then sautéed with melted butter and served tossed with sour cream, or topped with fried salo bits (cured pork fat) and onions. Dill is also a common garnish. Sweet, fruit-filled varenyky are served with sour cream and sugar.

The dough varies widely even within Ukraine, from plain flour and water to rich combinations of flour, sour cream and egg.  I prefer a richer dough to contrast with plainer fillings such as mashed potato.  Here is one of version of varenyky that works for me. If you can get kefir (fermented milk) it is good in place of the sour cream.

Potato and onion is an extremely common filling, but for variety in this recipe you can exchange some of the potato for sauerkraut or farmer’s cheese.

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Varenyky

Ingredients:

Dough

3 cups all purpose flour
5 ozs sour cream (or kefir)
4 tbsps butter, melted
1 egg

Filling

4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tbsps vegetable oil

For serving

butter
sour cream
chopped fresh dill (optional)

Instructions:

Make the filling first.  Boil and mash the potatoes.

Sauté the onion very gently until it is a rich golden color.

Reserve a small amount of the onion for a garnish and combine the rest with the potato and mix thoroughly. Add salt to taste.

To make the dough, combine the flour, sour cream, and butter and mix well.

Beat the egg in a measuring cup and add enough water to the beaten egg to make ¾ cup.

Add the egg to the flour mixture and combine to make a smooth dough.  You may have to adjust the amount of flour or liquid to make sure the dough is silky but not sticky.  Do not knead the dough too much because excess gluten will make the resultant product tough.  Let rest for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.

Roll the dough out to about ?” thick and cut out circles about 3” in diameter (I use a drinking glass for this).  As needed re-roll the remainder and continue cutting until all the dough is used.

Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle and fold it over to form a half moon.  Crimp the edges well.

Working in batches, boil the varenyky for about 5 minutes per batch.  They will readily float when they are cooked.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on wire racks.

Heat butter in a heavy skillet.  Again, working in batches add the cooked varenyky and sauté until they are golden on both sides.  Toss with sour cream and onions and serve warm garnished with a little chopped dill if you like.

Yield: about 30

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