Few Scouters around the World have experienced a more difficult history than Ukranian Scouts. Labeled a subversive
group by Soviet, Polish, and NAZI officials the group was
supressed for most of the years since its founding in 1911. The
Uktanian Scouts in a newly independent Ukraine are now building
a strong national Scouting Movement.
The Ukrainian Scouting movement, called "Plast" (which means "scouting" in the Ukrainian language), was founded in 1911, when what is now known ascthe Ukraine was still part of Czarist Russia (eastern Ukraine) or the Austrian-Hungarian Empire
(western Ukraine). It was
founded by a group of progressive, Western-oriented
Ukrainian youth-leaders and educators. This was shortly after the formation of the Scouting movement in Great Britain by Lord Baden-Powell. The main founder of the scouting movement in Ukraine was a teacher, Dr. Olexander Tysovs'ky known affectionately among the boy-scouts as "DROT."
The movement started originally in Western Ukraine, which was then part of Austria-Hungary, but it soon spread to Central Ukraine. For example, in Kyiv (Kiev) Scout groups were founded in 1911 and operated utill 1923.
After World War I (1914-18), Ukrainian Scouting continued to grow. During that period, Ukraine was partitioned among USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Rumania. The Plast found a home in all four parts of the country. The fastest growth occurred in the western part of the country, under Polish occupation, as the
Polish Scouting Movement was particularly strong. There was,
however, also vigorous growth in Transcarpathia (then a part of Czechoslovakia) and in Kyiv, in the Ukrainian SSR (Soviet
Union) through 1923.
During that period, Plast acquired a number of permanent campsites (particularly in the Carpathian Mountains), and started its own publishing house, which published numerous scouting handbooks, scouting journals and magazines.
The development of the movement was somewhat impeded by the World War I, but Plast continuously gained new members and supporters, particularly during the brief period of Ukrainian independence, 1918-1920.
Unfortunately, during the late 1920s and the 1930s, the growth of the Plast organization was severely curtailed. In 1923 it was totally eradicated in the part of Ukraine which was incorporated into Soviet Union. The Soviets saw an independent youth organization, especially one with nationalist origins, as a
threat. Instead Ukranians boys had to join the
Young Pioneers. In 1929 the Plast
was also outlawed by Polish authorities in the Polish-occupied portion of Ukraine, where it went temporarily underground. Only in Czechoslovakia (i.e. in Trans-Carpathian Ukraine) Plast continued to develop.
Despite the banning of Ukrainian Scouting in most of Ukraine, Plast was far from dead. The numerous Ukrainian émigrés, in various countries of the world continued to carry on the scout tradition. They formed a Union of Ukrainian Scouts-Émigrés (Spilka Ukrainskykh Plastuniv-Emigrantiv, SUPE), which, despite the very difficult circumstances, continued scouting
activities. In particular, SUPE was active in Prague, where the
Czechoslovak government was friendly towards Ukrainian scouting. The Plast along with Czech Scout groups, however, were supressed
by the NAZIs after their 1939 seizure of Czecheslovakia.
Even during the darkest days of World War II (1939-45), Plast did not give up, but tried to carry on scouting activities in Ukrainian lands under NAZI occupation-—in spite of strict prohibitions by the NAZIs, as well as by the
Soviet Communist regime. But, meanwhile, some former Ukrainian scouts used their knowledge of wood-lore at the service of their country, as partisans against the NAZI occupation.
As a result of World War II, millions of Ukrainians found themselves in exile, first as displaced persons, and later dispersed in many countries of the world. In the "Diaspora," they renewed their work with children, forming scouting units among the exiles. In 1947 they participated in the 6th World
Scout Jamboree, in Moisson, France.
All of the separate émigré Plast units were loosely united into one large Plast family, the Congress of Ukrainian Plast Organizations. They "kept carrying the torch", of Ukrainian scouting traditions.
The opportunity to renew scouting traditions in Ukraine arrived in 1989, during the period of rapid disintegration of the Soviet Union, known as perestroika. Even before the collapse of USSR, scouting units started to appear in Ukrainian SSR —at first in Western Ukraine, where the Plast traditions were strongest, and very soon thereafter in Volyn, Kyiv, indeed throughout the whole Ukraine. These units were initiated by young people in Ukraine, with the help from Ukrainian Scouts from the diaspora.
The first attempt to hold a Plast-Scout camp in Ukraine was made in 1989, but ended in a Secret Police (KGB) raid on the camp and in brutal beatings and suppression of scouting for a while by the Communist authorities. Scouting enthusiasts, however, did
not get discouraged and already in the fall of 1990 an
all-Ukrainian congress of Plast was held in Morshyn, in the Lviv oblast (province), where the foundations for a renewed Plast organization of Ukraine were laid.
With some help and encouragement by scouts from abroad, Plast in Ukraine started to grow rapidly after the declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1991. Interest in scouting in the country was enormous, so that the growth sometimes had to be actually held back intentionally, in order to have time to train highly qualified Scoutmasters, to make sure that the Plast members get the best leadership possible.
Plast in the Ukraine has become a large organization, spreading rapidly from West Ukraine to the East and South. It is the only scouting organization, registered on countrywide level in Ukraine, which meets all the necessary qualifications to be an official scout organization of Ukraine. As of 1996 it
counted over 3,500 members, hundreds of scoutmasters and over 80 units all over the Ukraine. It has its own campsites, meeting-halls, press, books, and even its own publishing house ("Lileya'' meaning fleur-de-lis, the world-wide scouting emblem).
Plast has a very bright future in Ukraine today, spreading the scouting idea to thousands of receptive youths and children. The goal of a 100,000 members by the year 2000 seems to be quite attainable.
Since the rebirth of Plast-Scouting in Ukraine membership in this Ukrainian Scout organization was always open to all boys and girls, who are citizens or residents of Ukraine without regard to their ethnic background, race, or religion—provided that they take the usual Scout Oath.
Plast is presently encouraging all other scouting organizations, that exist in Ukraine today (local, regional or ethnic/religious minority), to join with Plast into one Plast-Scout Organization of Ukraine, offering each under
autonomy within the unified scouting organization of Ukraine.
The uniforms worn by Ukrainian Scouts-Plastuny generally resemble the uniforms worn by other Boy and Girl Scouts around the world.
Boys: For boys the uniform consists of a khaki-colored shirt, with various badges and insignia, a kerchief around the neck, and long khaki pants for winter, with short pants and khaki knee-high socks for summer. The kerchief around the neck can be of many colors—the color signifying the unit to which the Scout belongs.
Girls: Girls wear a very similar uniform to that of the boys, with skirts, instead of pants. The color of the uniform is generally tan, rather than khaki. A unique feature of the Ukrainian girl-Scout uniform is a "kyptar"—a long-sleeved, beautifully Ukrainian national costume from the "hutsul" region of the Carpathian Mountains.
Both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts wear the usual wide brimmed felt Scout hats, or sometimes berets. A somewhat more "nautical" uniform, with a sailor type hat, is worn by the Ukrainian Sea-Scouts.
Like all other Scouts around the world, Ukrainian Scouts-Plastuny wear various badges, patches and other insignia on their uniforms. They also like to collect them and to exchange them with Scouts from other countries. The main insignia of Plast is the "lileika" (lee-lay-lea) — the fleur-de-lis,
intertwined with the Ukrainian national emblem—the Trident. It is usually worn on the Scout shirt, on the left breast, and also on the Scout hat.
There are many other insignia: those signifying the rank (e.g.: an Eagle-Scout), office (e.g.: a troop-leader), the council and troop to which the Scout belongs, the camps and jamborees in which he participated, the merit-badges earned, etc.
Most popular badges are those which are given to successful participants at various camps, jamborees, Scout get-togethers, major hikes, etc. These are eagerly sought and collected. These badges and insignia are, in general, the same or very similar, for both Boy and Girl Scouts. The Cub Scouts, Rover Scouts, and Scoutmasters have different sets of badges, etc.—appropriate to their age group. The older Scouts, i.e. the Rover Scouts and Scouters usually belong to one of the many Ukrainian Scout-lodges ("kureni rend"— koo-re-nee) and wear a patch showing the membership in the lodge.
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