As a volunteer at the Ukrainian Museum-Archives in Cleveland, I often come across some curious items. Consider, for example, a 1950s membership application to join the “Organization of Elderly Ukrainians” in Detroit, Mich.; “eligibility beginning at age 40…”
I had never before heard of Yulian Dorosh (1909-1982). Who, you might ask? Well, Dorosh was a distinguished Ukrainian cultural figure, I recently learned, a pioneering filmmaker and photographer starting in 1920s, 1930s and active his entire life.
Time flies and memory fails, but I remember precisely where I was 50 years ago on July 20 at 10:56 p.m. – in the sweltering attic above the kitchen and dining hall at the “Pysany Kamin” (Painted Rock) Ukrainian Plast Scout camp sitting in front of a TV, along with more than 200 campers – all of us on edge, waiting for live images from the moon, not knowing from minute to minute, second to second, whether the landing would end in success, failure or tragedy. And then, Neil Armstrong stepped out from the Eagle to proclaim a small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind, his grainy image sent back to Earth for us at PK and for billions around the world.
My wife, Chrystia, and I watched live television as the Notre Dame Cathedral burned. I couldn’t help but cry. For me and millions of others, the cathedral is special. I was a college sophomore in 1966 when I disembarked with 39 classmates from a trans-Atlantic voyage on the SS United States, arriving in Paris soon after for lunch, awaiting another train to Innsbruck for a year abroad at the university there.
Our family moved to Cleveland on Labor Day in 1954, my seventh birthday. A week later I was enrolled in a Ridna Shkola Saturday heritage class in a dismal upstairs room lighted by bare bulbs in a fading commercial building in the old Ukrainian neighborhood. It was all the immigrant community could afford, having come off the boat from DP camps four-five years before.
After more than a decade of weekend liturgies at a transit garage in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood, Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Parish opened its doors to an actual church in 1910 to serve immigrants who had come for jobs in the industrial valley just down the street and in businesses which sprouted within walking distance: stores, restaurants, bakeries, saloons, agencies sending money to relatives in the village back home.
In 1920, Lviv-based poet Stepan Charnetsky published a collection, “Сумні Ідем” (Sorrowfully We Go). Sorrow? Of course. The world had just emerged from “The Great War,” which claimed millions of lives. Everyone lost family and friends. Beginning almost by accident, the war engaged half a dozen European empires, four of which were gone by the Armistice on the Western Front in November 1918.
November was the ninth month in the ancient Roman calendar, taking its name from the Latin, “novem,” the number nine. Ukrainians have a much more descriptive name: “Lystopad” – falling leaves, a month that has political/historical significance stemming from age-old aspirations for national self-determination. A thousand-plus years ago, Kyiv was the capital of a vast empire called Rus’. Three separate peoples – Ukrainians, Belarusians and Russians – trace their origin to that era. Over the centuries, Rus’ glory faded in the wake of invasions, changing political rule and borders being moved.
How do I write about Brazil without it sounding like a grade school essay about my summer vacation? Well, I can’t because that’s where my wife and I traveled to visit our daughter in Apucarana in Parana State.
Brazil always loomed large for me. Just a boy in the 1950s, I saw photos of our Uncle Genyo (Evhen) clad only in a loin cloth, surrounded by dark-skinned, naked people adorned by feathers and carrying spears.
I’ve since learned more about Genyo. He was one of five brothers from Lviv who were scattered across four continents in the wake of World War II. My father, Alexander, and older brother, Yuriy, ended up in North America.
I was 20 years old in 1968 and a junior in college. The big concern for guys my age was the Vietnam War. Protected by a draft deferment, we debated the conflict, even as others who had graduated from high school with us were dying in jungles and rice paddies half a world away, their names now inscribed on the monument at the Mall in Washington.
I was opposed to the war even as a freshman in 1965, writing an essay for an obligatory writing class how, with nearly 200,000 troops already committed, I thought it was a bad idea.
My sophomore year I was at the University of Innsbruck for a study-abroad program. One of my adventures was hitchhiking to Vienna and the Austrian consul to Yugoslavia giving me a ride. He took an almost fatherly interest – tell me about yourself, he said, and do stay with my family when we get to Vienna.