Slava Ukraini! Glory to Ukraine!
These words are the symbol of Ukrainian sovereignty and resistance. In addition, they are the official salute of the Armed Forces of Ukraine usually followed by the words: Heroiam Slava! Glory to the Heroes! In the past few weeks these words have been heard around the world as we watch from afar the horrific devastation of human and cultural life in Ukraine.
Family Connections to Ukraine
For my Traveling Partner and I, Ukraine holds a special place in our hearts and minds. Her father’s family emigrated from Ukraine through Canada to the United States around 1900 and settled with other Ukrainian families on the prairies of western North Dakota. There, they created familiar institutions such as Ukrainian language churches, schools, businesses, and farms. In fact, when we married nearly 50 years ago, the ceremony was at St. Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church.
My mother’s family, the paternal side of my father’s family, and the maternal side of my Traveling Partner’s family emigrated from Germany in the 1760-90s to what was then South Russia. Today these settlements would be located in the Crimea peninsula, along the Black Sea near Odessa, and the area along the border of Moldova and Romania. They came at the behest of Catherine the Great who was born into Prussian (now Germany) royalty and married Peter III, the son of the Tsar of Russia. Catherine assumed the throne as ruler of Russia after Peter was overthrown and died. Catherine was a student of the French Enlightenment and had a vision of a larger and more prosperous Russia. That vision included improved food production, hence the call to German farmers to settle free land.
Upon arriving in South Russia, our German ancestors quickly built communities around farms and supporting businesses. They planted orchards, vineyards, and vast fields of wheat on the Steppes. They prospered until the Russian government began to renege on their promises of leaving the Germans alone and began a campaign of Russification. Beginning in the 1870s until the 1920s, the emigration of the German-Russians to United States, Canada, and South America took place. Unfortunately, some that stayed behind were banished to the harsh climate of Siberia.
Personal Connections to Ukraine
In addition to strong family ties to Ukraine, we have hosted two Ukrainian Open World delegates, the first in 2013 and the second in 2017. The Open World program is administered by the Congress of the United States. Open World brings young, up and coming delegates from the former Soviet bloc countries to the United States to learn more about topic of need and interest to their countries. The local host group, in our case the Friendship Force of Wisconsin-Madison, provides a week of learning experiences related to their topic. Cultural learning is also part of the program through participation in local events and home hosting.
We created a strong bond with the two delegates that spent those weeks with us. In 2019, we decided to visit Ukraine with the goals of seeing the country, visiting our delegates, and pursuing information on the origins of my Traveling Partner’s family. The Eldest and the Son-in-law accompanied us on this adventure.
In this, the first of two articles, I’ll share stories and photos from our stay in Lviv. Previously, in June-August 2019, I wrote eleven blog posts about Ukraine. I’ll provide links to five of those articles at the end of this post.
Our itinerary took us from Madison through Chicago to Munich and finally to our first stop in Ukraine, Lviv. This city in western Ukraine of over 700,000 people is considered one of the main cultural centers in the country and the largest business center in western Ukraine. I should mention that since the Russian invasion, Lviv has become a destination for those fleeing Kyiv and areas to the east that are under bombardment by the Russians. As of this writing, there are an estimated 200,000 refugees in the city and growing every day. Here is a view of Lviv from a park overlooking the city. To me, it looks like a modern European city.
Lviv is an old city, founded in 1256 and once was the capitol of Glacia and the Kingdom of Ruthenia. Over the centuries, it’s been under the control of Poland, Lithuania, Austria, Russia, Germany, and the Soviet Union. These countries all had some influence on the culture and architecture of the city.
We were lodged in an AirBnb in the city center across from Rynok Square. We could easily walk to the many nearby historical sites, shops, and restaurants. The photography was great, below are a few photos to give you a taste of the city.
Near the church above was this sign on a local historical site. A sign of the times.
This display of local casualties of the Donbas conflict in Ukraine was in one of the churches we toured in our walk around historic Lviv. Beside the photos of the men were artifacts from the war zone. But what was really sad were the photos of the children of those soldiers killed in action. A stark reminder of the cost of war, now more than ever.
Varenyky, commonly known in the US and Canada as pierogis, a filled dumpling, are served in nearly every restaurant in Ukraine. They are commonly found through out central and eastern Europe. My Traveling Partner grew up eating and making pierogis filled with potato or sauerkraut, my favorite. We have these a few times a year, especially at Easter and Christmas Eve.
Down the street from our AirBnb in Lviv was a strudel bakery. We stopped there for dessert everyday during our stay. Customers paid by weight so I had to make sure my wallet was as big as my appetite! Makes me hungry just looking at this photo. It was so good!
One morning we woke to loud noises coming from the main square. We emerged to find out there was a demonstration going on at City Hall. As far as I could determine, it was about some regulations being implemented on merchants. The crowds were chanting and beating on drums to get the attention of local officials. It was quite a scene and a great example of democracy in action, petitioning their government for redress.
On the corner near our AirBnb, two elderly ladies were selling flowers. They were there everyday. Apparently, the old age pension system in Ukraine isn’t enough to live on so seniors have a side hustle to earn extra money. The photo below is one of my favorites that I took in Ukraine. The past and the present watching the protest in Rynok Square. Then there is the woman walking away on the far left.
This flower seller hid her face every time she saw me. Remember these people were under Soviet Union rule from the 1920s until 1991.
As the protest raged, the woman on the right engaged in a one-way conversation in Ukrainian with my Traveling Partner on the left. We have no idea what she was saying, maybe it was something like: “You look just like one of my long lost relatives!”
The Ukrainians, especially their men, like to drink, mostly vodka and cognac. They don’t have the highest rate of alcoholism in the world, their neighbor Belarus holds that honor, but Ukraine isn’t far behind. In Lviv, the drink of choice is Drunken Cherry, a liqueur made from, well, um, cherries! Just down the street from our Airbnb, there was a small shop that sold Drunken Cherry. There was always a crowd of people standing around sipping the delicious drink while socializing with friends. For less than $1.00 USD per glass, we joined the citizens and visitors to Lviv in a toast to everyone’s health.
A Search for Family Roots
One of the days we were in Lviv, The Eldest engaged the services of a genealogist, Valeria, and a driver, Alex, to find more about my Traveling Partner’s Ukrainian ancestors. Armed with the basic information The Eldest sent her, we set off for a long drive through the Ukrainian countryside to the village of Borshchiv, about 230 miles southeast of Lviv. Borshchiv is the area once known as Glacia where my Traveling Partner’s family originated. Note the embroidery pattern on the Cyrillic R. Every region in Ukraine has different patterns and colors in their embroidery. It’s interesting to note, this is the pattern and color most often seen in North Dakota.
We first went to the city hall to determine if there were any records back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. We were told that between the Soviets and Nazis, the records were either destroyed or divided up and hidden away to prevent destruction. It’s just in the recent years those records are being rediscovered and recovered.
We were waiting outside the city clerk’s office when this woman sat down beside my Traveling Partner and began a dialog in Ukrainian. Again, I wondered if this woman too had found a long lost acquaintance!
While we were disappointed that we didn’t find any records at the city hall, they suggested we walk down the main street to the local church to check if they had any records. The priest was standing in the churchyard like he was waiting for us to come. We spent an hour talking with him. His story was interesting: to study for the priesthood, he had to illegally sneak back and forth across the Polish border. He had heard of the parish where my Traveling Partners Great-Grandparents were married. After we returned home, we learned that in fact was true, it was about 45 minutes south of Borshchiv. We were that close and had plans to return in the future. Hard to say if we will.
The priest also told us of the Nazi occupation of this town. He said that before the war there were Jewish businesses up and down the wide main street boulevard. When the Nazi’s came they rounded them out and shot them. They are buried in a mass grave on the outskirts of Borshchiv. Another stark reminder of the atrocities of war.
We asked the Priest about the maintenance of the old cemeteries, he didn’t give us much hope of finding headstones of family members. After the Soviet takeover, many of the cemeteries were abandoned and returned to nature or destroyed in the attempt to erase Ukrainian history.
On our long journey to and from Borshchiv, we stopped along the road so Alex, our driver, could take a phone call. I jumped out of the van and shot this photo of the canola field in full bloom. What a beautiful sight! Ukraine has some of the richest and deepest top soil in the world.
Join me next week for Part 2. Let us hope there is better news from Ukraine. As promised, below are links to five of the eleven articles I posted in 2019. I’ll share the reminder with you next week.
Until then, Glory to Ukraine!
PS: Since the beginning of the invasion, I’ve been asked by family and friends that know we have a strong connection to Ukraine, where they can donate money to help. There’s a lot of organizations doing very good work in Ukraine and working with refugees. Here are a few I’ve vetted and recommend: