YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Since 2011 Youngstown has been home to the Simply Slavic Festival. It’s meant to celebrate the impact Slavic people and the descendants have had on the Valley. This is the first year back in person after taking two years off for COVID.

The event includes lighting the Vatra, a bonfire to signify the summer solstice.

“This weekend there are fires being lit throughout all of the Slavic nations,” said festival vice president Aundrea Cika Heschmeyer.

Festival organizers say they chose this weekend closest to the solstice when they started the festival in 2011.

“We were searching for things that bring the Slavs together, not the things that make us each different. All the Slavs celebrate this one holiday,” Heschmeyer said.

She said there are about one million people in Ohio who are of Eastern European descent.

“Our ancestors who helped found the Mahoning Valley came here to work in the mills — brought with them all their colorful culture and great food,” Heschmeyer said.

Not everyone at the festival is local. Aneta Toporowska-Lennartson is Polish and flew in from Minnesota. She’s starting a collaborative Slavic festival in Minneapolis.

“There were no big celebrations, it was mostly small communities or churches so I decided to change,” she said. “To unite our beautiful cultures that have so much in common.”

Those cultures and the things that make them unique were on full display.. with elaborate costumes, food, music, and traditional dance.

“This is the only kind of costume like this in North America,” said mistress of ceremonies Laurel Tombazzi. “I am Carpatho-Rusyn. Carpatho-Rusyns don’t have a nation of their own, we are a group of people who live in eastern Slovakia, western Ukraine, southern Poland, parts of Romania and Hungary and parts of Serbia and Croatia as well.”

Some of the funds raised will be donated to help people in Ukraine.