Band of Brothers
Ukrainian American Knights perform songs of solidarity in concert with the Order’s relief efforts
By Zoey Maraist
Editor’s Note: Until March 1, 2023, 50% of the proceeds from all sales of Scythian music on this platform will go to the Order’s Ukraine Solidarity Fund in support of ongoing relief efforts.
More than a century ago, a little girl lived in a Ukrainian farming village. Every few months, a man arrived in town with a fiddle strapped to his back. When the children saw him, they ran into the fields to announce the news. The people stopped their work and quickly gathered at the biggest barn in the village. They listened to the fiddler all night, dancing their cares away.
Alexander and Danylo Fedoryka grew up hearing their grandmother tell the story of the fiddler. And through their band, Scythian, the brothers try to do what that Ukrainian musician did decades ago: give revelers an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of music and the pleasure of each other’s company.
“It’s about the way that music draws people together,” Alexander said. “That’s why I love folk music, whether it’s Irish, Ukrainian or the old Appalachian tunes.” Scythian’s sound, sometimes described as folk rock, takes cues from all three.
While their heritage has always been a part of their music, these days the Fedorykas are also using their platform as Ukrainian American performers to support their besieged motherland. Since the Russian invasion in February, Alexander and Danylo, both members of John Carrell Jenkins Council 7771 in Front Royal, Virginia, have encouraged their many fans to pray for peace in Ukraine and to assist refugees by donating to the Knights of Columbus Ukraine Solidarity Fund.
“All our fans were emailing us, saying, ‘What can we do? What can we do?’ And we immediately said, ‘Let’s turn all our fans to this fund,’” Alexander said. “There’s been an overwhelming response. Some people just came up and actually put money in our hands over the course of the summer, saying, ‘Please, give this to the Knights.’”
UKRAINIAN AT HEART
The Fedoryka brothers grew up in Virginia but have deep roots in Ukraine. All four of their grandparents survived many tumultuous years in the country before being granted asylum in the United States.
Once the families arrived in the U.S., they had to start from scratch. “My grandfather was a veterinarian, but he was forced to be a bellhop because that’s the only job that he could get,” said Danylo.
The Fedorykas’ parents settled in Front Royal and raised their 10 children there, imbuing them with Ukrainian culture
“My parents were super grateful to be American, but their hearts were always Ukrainian,” said Danylo. “Ukrainian was my first language. I remember my sisters speaking English to keep secrets from me.”
The siblings grew up surrounded by Ukrainian art, embroidery, folk music and dancing.
“At that point, it was still during the era of communism,” Alexander explained. “It was really important to carry on a tradition and culture that were being actively stamped out.”
Their Catholic faith was part of that culture, too. “My parents escaped communism, where the faith was snuffed out,” said Danylo. “We saw the sacrifices that were made for us to even be able to go to church. So we realized that we had something so special in our faith. It informed who we were.”
Both men were seminarians for a time with the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia before discerning out. Alexander married his wife, Catie, in 2016; Danylo and his wife, Therese, married in 2020 and have a 1-year-old daughter named Phoebe. The families attend the local Roman Catholic church, St. John the Baptist Church, and Ss. Joachim and Anna Ukrainian Catholic Mission Church, both in Front Royal.
About four years ago, the traveling musicians decided it was time to put down deeper roots in their faith community: “My brother and I were like, ‘We have to commit to something,’” Danylo said. “And we chose to become Knights.”
Their father, Damien, had been a member for decades, and they admired the Knights in their community, particularly their support for pregnancy resource centers.
“Helping pregnancy centers give resources to women who decide to keep their baby is a super important part of the pro-life movement,” Danylo noted. “Alex and I were really touched by that aspect of the Knights, that they were so focused on caring for women.”
THE GIFT OF MUSIC
The Fedorykas’ mother, Irene, was a classically trained musician, and she taught her children everything she knew. Alexander trained on the violin, while Danylo learned piano. Before they could go outside and play with their friends, they had to practice their instruments for two hours. They played music together as a family too, performing at nursing homes, Knights of Columbus events and local festivals. “She always taught us that music was an expression of God’s gift to each one of us,” said Alexander.
When he was older, Alexander spent four months in Ireland, learning Irish tunes in the pubs at night. Upon his return, he and Danylo put on street performances playing fiddle and guitar, respectively. They made it official in 2002 and named their new group Scythian after an ancient nomadic tribe that lived in the Black Sea region, around modern-day Ukraine. While its lineup has changed over the years, Scythian has been playing ever since. In addition to the Fedorykas, the band now includes Ethan Dean on bass and Johnny Rees on drums.
Forming a band together felt natural for the brothers, who had been roommates growing up and allies amid many sisters. “It’s just a continuation of that same feeling of playing with your brother in a tree house,” said Alexander.
And though their mother had hoped they would be classical musicians, she was very proud of them.
“Eventually, my mom really warmed up to it,” said Alexander. “And then she was up in front, doing conga lines.”
Some of their most memorable moments in the band include playing for the president of the United States and the prime minister of Ireland in 2008, and performing in front of hundreds of thousands of people at World Youth Day in Sydney later that year. In addition to touring, the band created the Appaloosa roots music festival in 2015, drawing thousands to Front Royal each year.
On all of these occasions, the Fedorykas remain ever grateful for their mother’s dedication. Though she died of cancer 12 years ago, music keeps them close to her. “It’s very special for us to know that we’re making our living, we’re supporting our families, by something that our mother directly gave us,” said Danylo.
PLAYING AND PRAYING FOR UKRAINE
Watching violence return to Ukraine has been devastating for the Fedorykas. “Ukrainians have suffered so much already,” said Alexander. “My heart just breaks for Ukrainians, because they’re some of the most beautiful people — artists and poets and lovers of the land.”
“This is a war on the Ukrainian people, but it’s also a war on Ukrainian families,” Danylo said. “We’re being told a generation of fathers is gone.”
One day after the Feb. 24 invasion, while they were still absorbing the tragic news, the Fedorykas received an email from the Knights of Columbus about the Ukraine Solidarity Fund.
“It’s providential — the email came in just as we were being inundated with questions from fans,” said Alexander. “We immediately put together a video and our fans rallied.” Posting performances of Ukrainian songs on social media and releasing a new single, “The Motherland,” from their album Roots & Stones, they urged their tens of thousands of followers to donate to the Knights’ relief efforts.
Though it’s impossible to know how much Scythian fans contributed to the cause, the Order has raised nearly $20 million for direct humanitarian assistance, including temporary shelter, food, clothing and medical supplies, for Ukrainians displaced or otherwise affected by the war.
“It’s good to know that there’s something that we can do in a human, concrete sense, and the Knights have provided that,” Alexander said. “The Knights in Poland and Ukraine are working heroically. The fact that we can plug into that and be a part of that is really powerful.”
The Fedorykas have continued to raise funds for Ukraine relief in the months since, encouraging donations and playing a benefit concert in June. At the same time, they believe the most important weapon in the fight for Ukraine is prayer.
“I’ve been saying from stage, money is great — whatever you can give — but remember we need to be praying. Money is going to aid people, but what’s going to stop this is prayer,” said Danylo.
All their lives, the Fedorykas have been told about God’s providence in the lives of their parents and grandparents, how he brought them through harrowing experiences into a new life. Knowing the way God provided for their family, the brothers trust that he will be with the Ukrainian people.
“We hope in the Lord,” said Alexander, “and I have to think that the Lord will carry the day once again.”
ZOEY MARAIST is a staff writer for the Arlington Catholic Herald.