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Pro-Ukrainian supporters are seen through a Ukrainian flag during a 2014 rally.David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

As the Ukrainian-Canadian community approaches its 125th anniversary, a charity named for "the Robbie Burns of Ukraine" is kicking off a major fundraising campaign in support of the arts.

Supporters of the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko gathered in Toronto on Friday evening to start the $20-million campaign formally.

"The vision of the foundation is to allow Ukrainian-Canadian culture to flourish here in Canada, for the benefit of all Canadians," said Andrew Hladyshevsky, president of the foundation and chairman of what is dubbed the Our Legacy, Our Tomorrow campaign.

"It's to take a lead in the arts, take a lead in the area of community development and in heritage. If you will, hallow the memory of the people who came before us, but celebrate, through human creativity and expression of ideas and words and art, what this country means to us."

Mr. Hladyshevsky said early expressions of support have helped the campaign reach half its goal, even before the launch. Raising the full $20-million would allow the foundation to accelerate its support of the arts – to set up funding for artist master classes, the development of future leaders, expanded literary programs, dance syllabuses and support for visual artists.

The many honorary co-chairs of the campaign include Senator Raynell Andreychuk, University of Alberta chancellor emeritus Peter Savaryn and Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley.

The Ukrainian-Canadian community dates to the end of the 19th century. The first wave of arrivals is often cited as a key to settling the Prairies in an era when one minister of the interior called the ideal immigrant "a stalwart peasant in a sheep-skin coat, born on the soil."

According to the 2011 census, more than 1.2 million Canadian people cited some connection to Ukraine.

Among the better-known Ukrainian Canadians have been Victoria Cross winner Filip Konowal, photographer Edward Burtynsky, musician Randy Bachman, a number of politicians, including former governor-general Ray Hnatyshyn and former Ontario premier Ernie Eves, and astronaut Roberta Bondar. The community also boasts many hockey players, among them Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy and Dale Hawerchuk.

Although now woven into the country's life, Ukrainian Canadians once faced ostracism and internment. But the place they gradually took as a key community in a multicultural country will help others do the same, Mr. Hladyshevky said.

"Ukrainians stepped forward and helped lay, I would say, the carpet for a lot of people to walk into a friendly country that was prepared to accept them," he said. "And I would say that Europe sorely needs the Canadian model like that to withstand what they are going through, a … right-wing reactionary sort of thing."

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