Monday, September 1, 2014

UNDERGROUND SOLDIER by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch -- a review

UNDERGROUND SOLDIER by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

“The corpses around me provided an odd sort of comfort…”   The first sentence of this young people’s novel sets the scene.  This will not be a light easy story.

Caught in the middle of World War II, Luka is a young teenager in Kyiv. He is captured and shipped to Germany as an Ostarbeiter [eastern worker], a forced labourer in a munitions factory.  Luka escapes, under those corpses, and attempts to make his way back home to Kyiv to find his family.
The reader learns very much about survival, persistence, and a child’s determination to reach family and home.  Luka’s experiences are so detailed that one stops breathing along with him when he is again and again in danger of being discovered by this guard or that soldier.  He must make decisions that an adult would have difficulty with.  Luka grows up the hard way.  He is on a mission to find his parents and a friend, Lida, in the maelstrom of war, and risks everything to do so.

The reader learns so much through Luka’s experiences about history, warfare, medicine, pharmacology, and human relations.  Skrypuch is a meticulous researcher, and the reader learns about everything from dressing your wounds with fresh cow’s milk to knowing how to walk in the woods in another’s footprints to avoid detection.  The horrific history of Ukraine during the war and the battles against both the Nazis and the Soviets – and the unbelievable inhuman cruelty of both – are shown on a personal level.  The friendships are also there – of Luka and David, his Jewish friend in Kyiv, and of Luka and his escaped Czech trek-mate Martina.  Luka’s life in the UPA – the Ukrainian Insurgent Army is related in detail, and demonstrates the international make-up of this underground army fighting on two fronts with no external support other than the local population. 

A map of Central and Eastern Europe would have helped the reader envision the regions and distances Luka travels.   Even though this is a work of fiction, it is based on and inspired by the real experiences of Dr. Peter J. Potichnyj, a retired professor of political science.  History is not just what is in a textbook.  History is the accumulation of the lives of individual  people living through a particular time.

There is an Author's Note at the back which provides short information on several key historical events such as the Bykivnia massacre (an event, of so many in Ukraine, about which even most Ukrainians do not know).  

I found it difficult to read this book, and the other two in this series, but not because of the writing, which is excellent.  I wanted to keep reading each of the books, but could only do so in short segments.  The writer recreates the atmosphere and the situations of war so realistically that my heart and nerves could not take much at once.  All I could envision was the experience of my parents, young adults at the time, as forced labourers in Germany during the war.  Possibly someone with no connection to the war would find it less stressful to read.

Most of the children’s and young people’s books about World War II in Europe published so far have been about experiences of The Holocaust.   The Diary of Anne Frank is well-known, and is on most reading lists and in curricula.   The three companion books on World War II by Marsha Skrypuch should be required reading in schools along with Frank’s Diary.

Even though this is classified as "juvenile fiction", I recommend that adults read all three companion books.  Underground Soldier is the final book in the author's trilogy on young Ukrainians in World War II.  The first two are Stolen Child and Making Bombs for Hitler.  These do not necessarily have to be read in the order published, but the lives of the characters in the three books are intertwined.  Skrypuch has written 19 books, many award-winning, on topics that other authors have not approached.  Not only is she a fine writer, Skrypuch is a determined and dogged champion for the underdog and the topics avoided by the mainstream.

Regrettably, while the author’s other books are available in the USA, this and the companion books are not.  

Skrypuch’s deeply moving books in this series take us into the horrible world of war and its effect on ordinary people.  Regrettably, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine right now, there is no end to the eternal Ukrainian struggle for independence and peace -- and how this affects the nation and individuals.

UNDERGROUND SOLDIER by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.  Toronto:  Scholastic Canada, 2014.   ISBN 978-1-4431-2437-9  (pbk.)    ISBN 978-1-4431-2898-8 (html)

For more about Marsha Skrypuch:

Dr. Peter J. Potichnyj’s life is covered in  My Journey, parts 1 – 2, published in book 4 of Litopys UPA [Chronicle of the UPA].  Series “Events and People”, 2008.


That's yours truly.   Have been away from blogging for a while.....   life interferes.   But will try to keep up from now on.  Thanks for your support, dear readers.

Almost done with the Rusalka 50th Anniversary book.   So many wonderful stories!

Something that dropped into my lap most unexpectedly was the Taras Shevchenko 200th Anniversary of his birth project of a traveling exhibition across Manitoba on the poet and artist.  Write it!   And include as much information about him as possible, but keep it short and concise because people don't read any more!  [that's what happens when you miss a meeting - upon return, you find out you're the one doing it!]  After a few months of research, stress, and much editing (thank you, Ostap and Myrosya), the exhibition was completed.  Launched at the Manitoba Legislature, then traveled to Canada's National Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin, Manitoba, was exhibited at the Kyiv Pavilion at Folklorama in Winnipeg, and will be going around Manitoba until March 2015.  Thanks also to Alice Bass of Graphics Girl, for her talent in graphic arts.

Then there's my major project that is on its way.  I finally decided that I will compile my many articles on Ukrainian Christmas traditions into a book.  Over the last four decades I have written quite a few.  The first ones were in the New Leisure Magazine of the WInnipeg Free Press four decades ago, and since then the two or three a year in The Ukrainian Weekly.  No matter where in North America -- and Australia -- I have gone to speak, people have been asking "when are you going to compile your articles?  I'm tired of taping your columns back together -- I've used them so often."

After meeting with my graphic designer, we agreed that a launch this fall is unrealistic, to put it kindly.   The text will be ready, but not everything else. So it's the fall of 2015!    Grants are still being applied for, others received, editor awaiting the texts, and on and on.    If there are any philanthropists out there interested in supporting a worthwhile cultural project, please contact me!

That's my update.  Now back to the writing.......      So much for retirement, eh?



Sunday, June 22, 2014


With the Summer Solstice arrived, this is my article on Kupalo
This is the original:

Kupalo: fire, water, flowers, nature, and love

by Orysia Paszczak Tracz

There is something about the feast of
Ivan Kupalo that fascinates young people.
Most probably, it has to do with the
unfamiliar, the unattainable, the mythical,
because somewhere, somehow, they
have heard that this particular Ukrainian
celebration has to do with love, passion,
even something about naked orgies!
Since, for most of us, such events are
far-removed from our everyday life, this
makes the feast of Kupalo that much
more fascinating. While we experience
the special rituals of Christmas, Easter
and Ukrainian weddings, this particular
holiday has eluded us.

Ukrainian traditions and customs are
with us throughout the year and on special
family occasions. We are blessed with the
most extraordinary, fascinating and meaningful
customs - ones that have their origins
in human prehistory (we're talking
about the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, the
Upper and Lower Stone Ages).
For most of us, our Christmas, Easter
and wedding traditions are so much a
part of our life that we could not be
without them. However, there are two
other major feast days of the calendar
year - the more non-family oriented
Kupalo and Obzhynky (the harvest
thanksgiving feast), which could not be
that easily adapted to an urban setting,
and for this reason are not as common
here in North America.

Some of us have fond memories of
summer camp, with young men leaping
over a bonfire, young women casting
fresh flower wreaths with lit candles
upon a river or lake. But the symbolism
probably wasn't explained to us in
depth, and we were too young at the
time to understand anyway.
Midsummer's Night, celebrated all
over Europe, is the longest day, and the
shortest night of the year. It is the height
of summer, the turning point, the day
when the sun is at its longest, highest
power. Nature also has reached its peak,
with plants at the pinnacle of their
growth. From here, no more farm work
is needed, and all growth just continues
until harvest. In fact, Kupalo heralds the
harvest to come.

Wild plants, especially herbs and medicinal
plants are at the height of their curative
powers, and are gathered that day for
use throughout the year. The basic elements
of each Ukrainian feast, and their
symbolism, are present here also: fire,
water, holy Mother Earth and nature,
ancestors, and love/fertility/procreation.
Fire symbolizes and reinforces the
power of the sun, and is present in the enormous
bonfires (often a few per village) and
in the burning big wheels of straw careening
down hillsides towards the water.
Water symbolizes life and purification,
and the companion to fire. Fire evaporates
water, water puts out fire. Water
from heaven - the dew - is very powerful
in the early morning of the feast, and people
wash and roll in the dew in order to
be healthy for the rest of the year.
All villagers are expected to attend
the Kupalo festivities, and there are
even songs mocking and shaming those
who do not.

Kupalski pisni, the Kupalo ritual
songs, are about love, nature, and
Marena and Kupalo, symbolic of this
feast. Marena is the goddess of spring,
and Kupalo is one personification of
the god of winter. From evidence in the
songs and rituals, some scholars believe
that Kupalo (a "he") was originally
Kupala or Kupaila (a "she").
Two scarecrow-type figures made
from tree branches or saplings are
dressed as a male and a female, then carried
around by the young people singing
ritual songs. At the height of the night's
festivities, Marena and Kupalo are either
burned in the bonfire, drowned in the
river, torn apart, or buried - symbolizing
the end of winter and spring, and the
Illustration of a Kupalo tradition from a Ukrainian-language brochure by
Lidia Orel, titled "Ivana Kupala" (Kyyiv: Pamiatky Ukrainy, 1992).
decline of the earth's fertility, leading
towards autumn and harvest. Often a
separate young tree is decorated with ribbons,
flowers and other ornaments by the
young women, and is carried as Marena.
Because there are variations from region
to region, and even between villages,
there is no one set pattern of rituals,
although the basic elements are there.
The power of plant life on this night
is reinforced by the fragrant herbs braided
into the vinky, the garlands or
wreaths of wildflowers worn by the
young women. These wreaths, with candles
in them, foretell the maiden's
romantic future as they are gently cast
into the flowing water. Depending if the
vinok floats, sinks, gets caught in an
undertow or tangles on the bank - this
symbolizes if, when, and whom she will
marry, or even if she and/or he will die.
It is believed that all plant life in the
forest comes alive during this night, and
trees walk and talk. The elusive "tsvit
paporoti" - the fern flower that is considered
the flower of good fortune - blooms
at midnight. Whoever finds it, picks it
and manages to bring it home, will be the
richest, wisest, most loved and most
blissful person on earth. But this is a lesson
in the folly of greed and foolishness,
an example of elusivity - because we
know that the fern does not procreate this
way. It never blooms, there is no flower
at midnight and, sadly, maybe there is no
ultimate bliss after all.

Love plays an integral part in these rituals.
Couples who are in love and want
to marry jump over the bonfire holding
hands to seal their fate. Couples frolic in
the water together (one of the ancient
symbols of marriage). In some regions,
the ideal was to jump over the bonfire
directly into the water. In early times
(and maybe not that early), this was done
after disrobing, because certain rituals
were more powerful if carried out in the
"natural state." There is much erotic
symbolism in the songs and rituals, and
much wandering off into the woods. If
anyone ever thought that Ukrainians are
straight-laced and prudish, this is one
feast that would blow that theory out of
the water.

Why is this holiday sometimes called
the feast of Ivan Kupala? As with all our
traditions, it is an example of dualism, of
the combination of pre-Christian and
Christian religions. For centuries, the
Church tried to forbid the pre-Christian
rituals, but the population would not give
up what had been part of its life and
belief for millennia. In time, beginning in
the 16th and 17th centuries, Church
authorities conceded, and began combining
the pre-Christian feasts with Christian
ones. The celebration of Kupalo fell
around the time of the Feast of St. John
the Baptist, Ivan Khrestytel, so the name
of the feast became that of Ivan Kupalo,
and the feast was moved from the June
summer solstice to July. The earliest ritual
songs do not mention any Ivan.

Ukrainian tradition, with its abundance
of ritual and symbolism, is a testament to
the richness, antiquity and power of our
culture. We are fortunate that our ancestors
lived in such a naturally beautiful and
bountiful place, that they valued their
way of life and beliefs, and passed them
down so many generations. It is remarkable
that they did so in spite of the invasions,
persecution, dangers and lack of
freedom over the centuries.

On this night, we can go back in
time to the enchanted world of magic,
nature, and love. And if some of you do
wander off into the woods, the organizers
of the festivities and the vatra take
no responsibility for the consequences!

Sunday, May 25, 2014


So Ukrainians are voting today.  Except in the terrorist-occupied regions (it's amazing how a few terrorists can threaten so many people), the voting turnout is great.  More power to them!  The line-ups in European cities where Ukrainians are working are also long.  Nice to see the members of the present government lining up with everyone else.

One thing that stands out -- so many Ukrainians have turned out to vote wearing their vyshyvanka, the traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt.   This is something you wear for special occasions, for feasts, weddings, for Sviata.   I have written a few articles on the vyshyvanka and its symbolism.   The following is one of them.  It appeared in my column in The Ukrainian Weekly in September 2008.
 photo from Telekanal Ukraina


Orysia Paszczak Tracz

Oleh Skrypka sure got it right.  His Vyshyvanka [traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt] Parade in Kyiv in May was a huge success, as is his established festival Krayina Mriy [Land of Dreams]. In each, Ukrainians are encouraged to wear their embroidered/woven folk finery, creating an event of all-encompassing beauty.

To someone other than a Ukrainian, the embroidered sorochka [traditional folk shirt] is something pretty. To a Ukrainian, putting on that sorochka is special, emotional, and spiritual.  It means so much more than a piece of clothing.  It means everything – everything good.  It symbolizes love, well-being, health, family, decency, festivity, beauty, tradition – and patriotism.  And it is this last attribute that Skrypka and others want Ukrainians in Ukraine to regain.

The sorochka in its simplest form was the earliest piece of fabric clothing worn by our ancestors.  As linen and hempen cloth weaving developed among the agriculturalists (the Trypillians, in the case of Ukraine, approx. 7-6,000 to 3-2,000 B.C.), a long folded over piece of fabric with a cut-out for the head was the thing to wear.  Echoes of this tunic-style knee-length sorochka are seen in the hip- and knee-length men's shirts of certain regions of western Ukraine.  The tucked-in sorochka for men became common in central and eastern Ukraine.

In time, ornamentation with darkened and then dyed threads developed into the weaving and embroidery designs which make the sorochka such an amazing thing.  These designs and their placement were not random, but were there to protect the wearer from all the unclean and evil spirits and powers out there.  They also symbolized specific motifs of the earth, fertility, nature, the celestial bodies, and ancestors.  As with the motifs in pysanky, woodcarving, weaving, metalwork, and all the folk arts, the symbols are rarely realistic, but are quite stylized and even abstract.  This makes these designs so much more fascinating.  And, of course, the regional differences of cut, placement of ornament, color, and the designs of the ornaments vary so greatly, creating a wealth of beauty and meaning.

The  Scythians (at least the horsemen) were not our direct ancestors. Most probably some of the agricultural Scythians mentioned by Herodotus were.  That small gold figure of the dancing Scythian in a squatting position wearing his geometrically-ornamented shirt sure tells us he's one of us.

There is very much information out there on Ukrainian folk costume, and the embroidery and ornamentation of the sorochka. It helps if you read Ukrainian, but there is more and more material appearing in English.  The Ukrainian Museum Gift Shop inNew York [   ] carries books on Ukrainian folk costume, as well as their own fine exhibition catalogues.  Ukrains'kyi Narodnyi Odiah – Ukrainian Folk Costume   (Toronto-Philadelphia:  World Federation of Ukrainian Women's Organizations, 1992), available at this shop, is a bi-lingual Ukrainian-English volume on the costume in all regions of Ukraine.

There are more and more fine books on folk costume being published in Ukraine.  Zinaida Vasina is the author of the two-volume Ukrains'kyi Litopys Vbrannia (Kyiv:  Mystetsvo, 2003-2007).  These are very large volumes extensively and beautifully illustrated.  There has been some controversy about the author's depiction of the clothing of the prehistoric peoples on theterritory of Ukraine.  How could she be so sure this is what they wore, some reviewers wrote.  Vasina discusses the sorochka and its ornamentation in detail.

Another very richly illustrated book on folk costume is Ukrains'kyi Striy by Maia Bilan and Halyna Stel'mashchuk (Lviv:  Feniks, 2000).  It covers the history of the costume from the earliest times, as well as detailed information about each piece of clothing and accessory, as well as regional costumes.  The book is practically overflowing with photographs and illustrations. One very interesting photograph shows a man's sorochka from the Borshchiv region from the turn of the last century.  The trident, the present symbol and seal of Ukraine which originated with the kings (kniazi) of Ukraine in the 10th century, is embroidered in gold thread within the traditional multicolored floral design both on the front panels (three times) and on the cuffs.  This is certainly a most patriotic gesture of the embroiderer, and of the wearer of the sorochka.  That the sorochka survived Soviet times is also remarkable. 

Reverend Oleksander Harkavy of Winnipeg first arrived in the city in early August 1991 to perform at the Folklorama Festival. At the time, he was a Narodnyi Artyst Ukrainy, an honored nationally-awarded artist-performer, and only years later moved toWinnipeg to study theology.  We met on the Saturday before the putsch of August 19, 1991.  At one point, conversation turned to the sorochka, and O. Harkavy remembered how in Ukraine in the 1970s a student could be expelled, or persecuted for wearing a vyshyvanka publicly.  It was a dangerous piece of clothing. 

An image that remains in my mind from childhood is something I saw in a history book, The Black Deeds of the Kremlin:  a white book, I think.  The chapter on the Soviet massacre of Ukrainians in Vinnytsia in 1937-38 includes many photographs. The one I remember shows a victim wearing his vyshyvanka.  The pamphlet Crime of Moscow in Vynnytsia (Edinburgh: Scottish League for European Freedom, 1952) states:  "Naturally, being buried for years [uncovered in 1943], the features of victims had very much changed, but they were recognized by the clothes, y the Ukrainian shirts embroidered with love by the mothers and wives of the victims, and by the documents found in their pockets."

"Sorochku maty vyshyla meni….. "   My mother embroidered me a sorochka….  I wonder if someone other than a Ukrainian would, first of all, compose a song about the sorochka, and then have that song known and sung around the world decades later. 

The vyshyvanka is worn for the most important personal and national occasions, whether a private event, or one of Skrypka's festivals.  The late Bill Hanischuk, a descendant of pioneers of the Vita/Gardenton area of south-eastern Manitoba, told me how he wore his sorochka for his party upon retiring from the University of Manitoba.  The sorochka had been embroidered by his mother and wife, and this was the best and most important thing he could wear.

There was a human interest article by Gordon Sinclair in the Winnipeg Free Press about the late George Dmytriw ofWinnipeg (Nov. 15, 2007).  His wife Debbie wrote in to thank the policemen who assisted Dmytriw when he died at work.  The accompanying photo shows Mr. and Mrs. Dmytriw at some special event, and he is wearing his vyshyvanka. 

When a woman from one of my tours finally met a distant relative in Staryi Kosiv, he and his family later traveled to Kolomyia to spend more time with her.  The whole family dressed up for this event, and the elderly gentleman came in his vyshyvanka – he was honoring his Canadian distant cousin.

A poignant symbol of how important the vyshyvanka is happened at the funeral of Dr. Alexandra (Lesia) Pawlowsky inWinnipeg earlier this year.  In planning her funeral, one of her requests was for the pall bearers and honorary pall bearers to wear their sorochky.  Lesia, who passed away much too early at 55, knew and believed in the symbolism of the vyshyvanka.

Ukrainian Weekly.    Sept. 2008.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Wishing all a blessed and happy and sunny Easter!

Among Ukrainians, the greeting long ago, under Russian Soviet domination was Khrystos Voskres - Voskresne Ukraina!    Christ is Risen -- Ukraine Will Rise [in freedom]!     Who would have thought that this greeting is still needed today, in 2014?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


 from Facebook:  
This person has said so eloquently what Ukrainians have been trying to get the world to understand. Although I would not call it an "outburst."

Vasyl Pawlowsky shared Kora Smirnova's photo.

An emotional but sincere outburst of pro-Ukrainian fervor by Kora Smirnova:

“I’m a Smirnov and I never forget that my grandfather and his family came to Ukraine from Russia after the war partitioned the land. I'm grateful that Ukraine accepted us foreigners, gave us a home, work, security—and never offended us. No one in my entire life has ever complained that I spoke my native language and that I sing my country’s folk songs. No one has ever called me a ‘moskal'ka.’

“I was born in Poltava. Ukraine fed me and raised me as one of her own. When I moved to Kyiv, I never once heard the word ‘limit.’ I’m 100% Ukrainian, although I have not one drop of Ukrainian blood! Why is it that I never think of shouting, ‘I’m Russian. There are lots of us Russians here, so this land belongs to Russia!’?

“The rest of the Russians in Ukraine, what? Has your memory entirely failed you? What do you mean ‘this is our land’? Thankless wretches! You are all guests here, whom the country has given you shelter and received you like its own. What kind of bastard do you have to be to now chase out and kill the owners, screaming that this is ‘our home’?! ‘Crimea is Russian’? Bastards with short memories! Have you forgotten what your forefathers did with the Tatars? Have you forgotten how much blood of Tatar men was shed and how many tears and grief we brought to the original population there? How entire Tatar families were packed and moved to Siberia?

“Yes, you all will have to spend another millennium on your knees now, begging for their forgiveness! I’m a Russian Ukrainian! And I’m prepared to chase out Moskali from my dear Ukraine with a sword to their necks, together with my dear Ukrainians!

“PS: Stepan Bandera was a hero of Ukraine who spent all his life fighting, with everything that he had, for Ukraine’s freedom! So, yep, I’m a ‘banderivka’!”
Я Смирнова, и я очень хорошо помню, что мой дедушка с семьей приехал из России в Украину, после войны распределили. Я благодарна, что Украина приняла нас чужаков, дала дом, работу, защиту, никогда не обижала. Меня за всю жизнь ни разу не упрекнули за то что я говорю на родном для себя языке и пою свои песни, меня ни разу не назвали москалькой. Я родилась в Полтаве. Украина меня воспитала и вырастила как родную. когда я переехала в Киев, я ни разу в этом городе не услышала слова лимита. Я 100% украинка! хоть нет ни капли украинской крови. Почему мне в голову не приходит кричать - Я русская, нас тут русских много и значит эта земля принадлежит России!? У остальных русских в Украине, что совсем память отшибло, какая это ваша земля? Уроды не благодарные! Вы все тут гости, которым дали кров и приняли как родных. Какой же надо быть скотиной, что бы теперь выгонять и убивать хозяев, крича, что это наш дом?! Крым русский? Сволочи с короткой памятью! Вы забыли, что ваши отцы сделали с татарами? Вы забыли сколько пролили крови татарских мужчин и сколько слез и горя принесли коренному населению? Как грузили в составы татарские семьи и увозили в Сибирь? Да вам все оставшиеся тысячелетия нужно вымаливать теперь у них прощение на коленях! Я русская украинка! И москалей поганых буду в шею гнать с моей родной Украины вместе с родными Украинцами!
P.S. Степан Бандера - Герой Украины, который всю жизнь боролся, всем средствами, за свободу Украины! И да, я бандеровка!

Thursday, March 6, 2014


will not happenMy travel agency informed my travel agent and me back in late November that they could not approve travel to Ukraine, for safety.  This was when the protest situation in Kyiv were still peaceful.  A wise decision, and the folks who signed up were relieved.   Hoping and praying that all will be ok for next summer.   See you then.


I submitted this OpEd to a few publications.....   no luck.   So, I hope this gets out.  You may share.  I am appalled at the pundits and "experts" spouting the Russian and Soviet lines.  For them, Ukrainians are not worth the attention, and the nation doesn't count.  Disgusting.  And the media still invite them on to comment.   Check out  and other reputable Ukrainian sites.



Orysia Tracz

He waited until after the Olympics, as was expected.  Then he struck.  Putin proved what Ukrainians have been trying to tell the world for years, but no one would listen.  Finally now, with such disastrous results, Ukrainians are saying “we told you so.”

One thing the world finally realized after the Maidan revolution is that Ukraine really is not Russia, and Russia is not Ukraine.  These are two separate nations.  But throughout Ukraine’s history, it has been a poor rich nation -- rich in geographical location, natural resources, and people, and poor because of greedy neighbours on all sides who wanted those riches, human and natural.   Ukraine’s history has been one of invasion, occupation, persecution, and subjugation.  The few bright lights were wars of independence, some successful for short periods of time until the invasions began anew.  There were no wars of invasion by Ukraine towards any other nation, just defensive ones.  

The occupiers, from the north, west, or southwest, treated the native Ukrainian population as inferior, banning the language (“it never was and never will be”), and yet appropriating the best of Ukrainian culture and science under their own umbrellas.  Whether in tsarist or Soviet times, the people were not free, and were not free to be themselves, to be Ukrainian.  With all the international political agreements and treaties, and with the Soviets/Russians being Allies at the time, Ukraine lost ethnographic territory after World War II.  Ukrainians, living on their ancestral lands for ages and, not moving a step, now became Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Rumanian, and Slovak citizens.  The political powers never bothered to ask them.  As for the Crimea, it was not Khrushchev’s to “give” to Ukraine.  When you steal something, is it yours to give?  Tsarina Catherine II invaded Ukraine, including the Crimea.  The majority of the population was Crimean Tatars whom, after World War II, Stalin deported to Central Asia.  They have been returning to their ancestral home, and support Ukraine.  The Russians began arriving there under Soviet times, to a place warmer than Russia.  

Why is there a Russian-speaking part of Ukraine?  It was not always so – Ukraine was Ukrainian.  But Russians moved into eastern and southern Ukraine with Soviet industrialization, Stalin’s great project in the 1920s-1930s.  Then most Russians moved into Ukraine for the prime real estate when empty Ukrainian villages conveniently became available.  This was after millions upon millions of Ukrainians were forcibly starved to death during the Holodomor of 1932-33 as grain was being exported by the USSR from the breadbasket of Europe.  

The pretext for the Russian invasion of the Crimea is a crock.  It is the Sudeten issue all over again.  Russians and Russian-speakers in Ukraine have not been persecuted, and do not need “protection.”  Their language was never in danger.  But they did not respect the foreign country in which they were and are living to learn Ukrainian.  Whether during Soviet times or in independent Ukraine, Russian was a common and even dominant language in many areas.  Russians strongly “implied” over the years that Russian is a “prestigious” language, and Ukrainian is “just a peasant language”.  

The Soviet/Russian thing was and is such a misnomer.  In theory, Russia was one of the fifteen equal Soviet Socialist Republics. But, as Orwell wrote, one was so much more equal than others.  In fact, Orwell’s Animal Farm was based on collectivization and the Holodomor.  When it benefited the Russians, Soviet equaled Russian.  For them, the two terms were synonymous.  But they should not have been.  For example, it was not 20 million Russians who perished in World War II.  It was approximately 20 million Soviets.   Of those, about 10 million were Ukrainians, who perished between 1939-1945, killed by both the Nazis and the Soviets.  Twenty percent of those who perished during the war were Ukrainian, the largest number of all the dead lost by a nation in the war.

In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the referendum on Ukraine had 90.3% of Ukrainians (in the whole country, incl. Crimea) voting for independence.

Pro-Russian propaganda has worked wonders in the world, especially in the media.  For many “experts” and commentators, Ukraine still does not exist and has no right to exist.  In the social media, the trolls are doing their job.  Ukrainians still have to fight to get the truth out.  It seems that in this doublespeak world, other peoples can fight wars of independence, but not when it comes to the Ukrainians.  Maybe with this latest hellish action by Putin, the truth has come out and the world will understand.  But it will not do much.

As a daughter of parents who survived World War II, and who lost a baby daughter to the Nazis and many family members to the Russians, I cannot be silent.

Orysia Tracz is a Winnipeg writer, translator, speaker, and interpreter. 
The following two articles are germane: