On Sunday, March 28, I was waiting for the dreaded phone call and it came. My friend Bohdan Medwidsky had passed at 4:30 p.m. from the coronavirus. This severed a virtually 30-year friendship. Bohdan will be remembered for his outstanding achievements: pursuing with vigor and determination his academic career, the building of the Ukrainian folklore program, community activism, fundraising and philanthropy. His life has made an enormous difference in all of these endeavors.
For me Bohdan will also be remembered as a dear friend. For virtually three decades Bohdan and I were engaged in what I referred to as the Medwidsky political discussion club. Barring other obligations or illness, my wife, Zirka, and I went to lunch at a restaurant with Prof. Medwidsky after the 9:30 a.m. liturgy at Saint George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church. On occasion, we had been joined by Andrew Beniuk and by Jaroslav Fedoruk, but Zirka and I formed the core. What did we discuss at the restaurant? Well, we did discuss our personal lives, illnesses, all kinds of other such things, but these topics were really a rarity. In essence there were five topics. One was of course Ukraine – politics, religion, society, corruption, Russian-Ukrainian relations, Russification, reforms or lack of them, Euro-Maidan, the Russian attack on Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Another topic was Canada. And Bohdan loved this – politics, federal, provincial and local, and the use of political influence in order to promote Ukrainian issues. And a third topic – Ukrainian diaspora, particularly in Canada, and what it should be doing in promoting Ukraine, Ukrainian language and culture, and preserving its identity. The fourth topic was the academic scene: university politics and programs, Ukrainian courses, how can you obtain students, what is the latest outrage that the university has done. The fifth topic was fundraising, particularly for Ukrainian courses, the University of Alberta, folklore, and the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies.
For me these meetings were dramatically interrupted in 2017 by my own health issues.
However, in 2018 I was sufficiently on the mend to be able to rejoin the discussion club. At that time, in addition to Bohdan Medwidsky, the club consisted of Dr. Andrij Hornjatkevyc, Dr. Bohdan Krushelnycky, my wife, Zirka, and me. These lunches continued until November 2018 when Bohdan broke his hip. Bohdan’s recovery from the hip replacement was slow and difficult. His loss of strength and mobility necessitated Bohdan to move into an assisted living home only four blocks from our condominium.
This enabled us to keep in close contact with Bohdan and assist him in his needs. We also resumed attending the weekly liturgy followed by lunch. This was much more difficult than in the past. Neither Bohdan nor Zirka and I had the physical stamina to be able to be ready for the 9:30 liturgy. There was also the difficult task for elderly people of transporting Bohdan’s wheelchair and walker. However, we persevered and were able to get everything together for the 12 p.m. liturgy and lunch. The tradition continued but with the passing of Bohdan Krushelnycky and Andrij Hornjatkevyc’s other commitments the club was reduced to Bohdan, Zirka, and me with the occasional participation of Lilea Wolanska.
Our world was shattered by the outbreak of the coronavirus in March 2020. Bohdan’s residence enforced a lockdown and Bohdan became a virtual prisoner in his apartment with no visitors or outside meals delivered to him. To keep tabs on Bohdan’s welfare and to mitigate his isolation we initiated the daily phone call. Every day, seven days a week, I would call at 7 p.m. While we would discuss his increasing health issues, his primary focus remained on his favorite topics: Ukraine, politics, the university, and Ukrainian studies. In fact, I would scour the internet and make notes on these issues in preparation for the 7 p.m. call. The calls continued even during his last hospitalization, when four days before his death Bohdan was still asking me about Ukraine and the university.
For virtually three decades Bohdan Medwidsky provided a forum for assessing, rejoicing, lamenting, reacting, planning, and acting in response to events in Ukraine, to the Ukrainian diaspora, to the university and fundraising. He fostered a close and long-lasting friendship. I am personally very grateful that I was able to tap into Bohdan’s knowledge and wisdom and to observe his enthusiasm and his perseverance, some may even say stubbornness, in pursuing his goals and causes. We all will greatly miss his impish smile and sardonic sense of humor. Vichnaya Yomu Pamiat!
Zenon E. Kohut is Professor Emeritus at the University of Alberta and the former director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (1994-2012).