Sunday, July 3, 2016


Dear Friends,

Have not been posting too much on this blog -- and I should. Must make it part of my routine.  Busy with the Christmas book and other projects and -- packing!   Off to Ukraine tomorrow!  So excited.  I love being there. Am leading a tour with Canadian and Australian folks.

I wrote this article for The Ukrainian Weekly back in May 2007 -- it still applies.

See youse later in the summer!  Have a good one.

The things we do...

Being There – So at Home in Ukraine

by Orysia Paszczak Tracz

Have you ever come to a place you’ve never been before and felt right at home? That’s how I felt when I first arrived in Ukraine in 1993; over the years, that feeling hasn’t changed.
Other cities, other countries have beauty, interesting architecture and historic places. But being in Ukraine, whether in Kyiv, Lviv or any small town or village, is so much more fascinating to me. Even though I am far removed from the place – my parents left as young adults – I am so drawn to it. After all, it is my ancestral homeland, where my roots are found. I suppose if I did not know much about the place, maybe it would be like any other tourist spot – old and interesting, and so what?

But, because it is the source of my roots, it is so very special. I am so at home in Ukraine! Yes, I know, to the people there I am a foreigner, a curiosity; I might even be regarded as one of those (expletive at times deleted) diasporans. And yet, often I am taken as being from another city or the next province. They think I am a native, but just not from right there. Thanks to my parents, I mastered the language, and only rarely does someone notice that it is not quite what is spoken there now. But that’s whole other story.

I love walking around, whether in the city, town or village – or the open countryside. I feel such comfort and a deep soul-nourishing satisfaction. It is home in a very deep sense, something that cannot be explained in any logical way. 

The streets of Lviv, Kyiv, Kolomyia, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk have become so familiar to me that I rarely need to refer to the city maps. I just head off in the direction I “know” I’m supposed to go. It’s spooky, but I’m rarely wrong. Of course, there have been times where I have been completely, terribly, most embarrassingly wrong, with my poor feet paying the price. On the other hand, quite a few times I have been asked for directions, and have known what to say.

Once at the Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gates) in Kyiv on a Sunday morning, a man with a young son asked me how to get to a particular street. I thought it was down this way but, just in case, took out my guidebook to check, explaining that I was from Canada. Well, he was from Zaporizhia. We enjoyed a laugh, talked for a bit, and then they went on their way – in the direction I had originally indicated.

To be in Ukraine’s shrines or on the actual sites of ancient history is quite moving.
The first time I entered St. Sophia Sobor in Kyiv, I sensed this strange physical and spiritual emotion, and was moved to tears. I did not expect this. Suddenly I felt all that antiquity and history and the souls from those times surrounding me. Seeing the reconstructed St. Michael the Golden-domed Sobor is an emotion of another kind. The beauty and majesty of the magnificent cathedral is one thing, but knowing how ancient it is and what had been done to it, and how it rose as a phoenix makes it so much more glorious.
Walking along Virmenska (Armenian) Street and the other oldest streets of Lviv is also fascinating. From the external buttresses on the buildings, you just know how very old they are. I find photographing courtyards, gates, doors, and windows and windowsills in Lviv to be especially satisfying.

One special spot for me is the old Kyiv Hill, where Volodymyrska Street begins, at the top of Andriyivskyi Uzviz, and where the remains of the Desiatynna Tserkva (Church of the Tithes, built between 989 and 1015) are visible. This is Kniaz Volodymyr’s town, from which Kyiv expanded into Kniaz Yaroslav’s town (the areas of St. Sophia and Zoloti Vorota). Kniahynia Olha’s residence, a palace inthe-round, was located on this hill. The earthen rampart (val) that surrounded that first town is still there. The various historical locations are clearly labeled.

Past the National Historical Museum on this hill is one of the ravines leading down to the Podil, the old lower town along the banks of the Dnipro River. This was the commercial port part of the medieval city. It still has two very closely parallel streets named Nyzhnii Val and Verkhnii Val (the low and the high ramparts). Khoryv and Shchekavytska streets are there, too, and, in another area, Lybidska Street is near the stream that still manages to flow within the city. Talk about Ridna Shkola coming alive, as one of my sons exclaimed.
In a few places, the original pink-hued stonework of medieval Kyiv is purposely exposed, for example in the pavement on Volodymyrska Street near Velyka Zhytomyrska. The same stones and bricks made from this local material are visible in the walls of St. Sophia in Pecherska Lavra, the rebuilt Uspenskyi Sobor, and other ancient buildings.

The names of the streets, city districts, hills and parks are testimony to the antiquity of Ukrainian cities, towns and villages. For example, below the ravine of old Kyiv Hill, the areas are called Honchari (potters), Kozhumiaky (tanners – remember the story of Kyrylo Kozhumiaka?) and Dihtiari (tarburners and sellers). Yaroslaviv Val (Yaroslav’s Ramparts) is the street where the actual ramparts were raised around his expanding city. Volodymyrsky Uzviz is the street along which – according to the chronicles – people walked from the upper town to the Dnipro River to be baptized in 988. Virmenska Street is where the Armenians settled and lived in Lviv from its earliest times. The village of Pechenizhyn definitely has something to do with the Pechenihy tribe of Volodymyr’s times. The stories behind the toponyms are endless and, if you know even a shred of Ukrainian history, so much more interesting.

One place I must visit this summer is the site of the excavations by Vikentiy Khvoika – the Paleolithic site on Frunze Street in the Podil. That’s about as far back as our human history goes. Talk about Ukrainian antiquity, eh?

I am at home in Ukrainian churches, no matter which denomination. The atmosphere, the reverence, the iconography, the people, the singing – it is mine, it is familiar, it is what I grew up with. (The only church that was foreign to me, I later learned, belonged to the Moscow Patriarchate. Back in 1993 we came to a church in Chernivtsi during a service. What was very strange and uncomfortable to me was the way the women were scurrying around, hunched over, heads down, kerchiefs over their foreheads. It was as if they were afraid to stand up straight, and face the priest, the altar and the icons directly.)

And so, I will be back this August. Since 1993, I have been fortunate to lead a folk art and culture tour to Ukraine each year, during my vacation (oh, that day job interferes). I enjoy showing off my other “home” to those who join me. In the last few years I have stayed for a bit after the group leaves to wander the streets of Lviv and Kyiv. And, as usual, I will be luxuriating in the sheer pleasure of being there.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


And they called it puppy love..."

by Orysia Paszczak Tracz

The summer camp season has ended. As I sent my older children off to camp, I reminisced about my teenage summers. I belonged to SUM (Ukrainian Youth Association), and the beautiful camp in Ellenville, N.Y. was my summer home. At first I was a just a camper, but later, at a still early age, became a counselor. The summer I graduated from eighth grade was also the summer my mother finally cut off my long braids. Sure, it was convenient to have braids, but at 13 I wanted a change. After all, I was a teenager now and even a counselor at camp! With my new straight-as-a-board shoulder length hair, I turned over a new leaf. It was hard work being a counselor. And I was responsible for a roomful of lovable but mischievous 7- and 8-year-old boys. But there was also time for fun. The counselors and older staff got together in the evenings for stories and songs. Many of the people had beautiful voices, and the Ukrainian harmonies of the folk songs were out of this world. One of the counselors was a handsome "older" man around 18. For a 13-year-old. that's pretty old. He was tall, tan, had a gorgeous smile, and was a marvelous dancer. I, and the rest of the younger female counselors, had a crush on him. Every Saturday evening there was a dance for the older campers and counselors. While the Ukrainian tangoes and waltzes played over the PA system, we either danced with the other girls, or waited for the young men to ask us to dance. There were usually fewer boys, so it was a big deal if you did dance with a boy.

For one of these Saturday dances. I planned to do something about my crush on Slavko, the"older man.” He was going yo notice me, because I was going to make myself especially pretty. From home, I had brought my mother's home permanent curlers. On a Thursday I asked my good friend Marusia to set my hair with these small plastic curlers. I remember instructing her to be sure to set the hair tight, because my hair was long and thick. I forgot that it was also fine. To ensure that it set well, I wore those curlers from late Thursday until early Saturday evening, a scarf tied back on my head. Do you want to guess what happened next? The curl was so tight we could barely get the curlers out of the hair! I say we, because every girl available was helping to free me from my beauty trap. After the curlers were finally removed, I had the first Afro on a Caucasian person, around five or six years before Afros became "in." Not only could we not get a comb or brush through it, my fingers couldn't get through it. Heartbreak! It's already getting dark, the dance is about to begin, and I'm in a panic about the frizzy mound atop my head. I'm supposed to dance with Slavko tonight!

I did go, with another scarf tied around my puffy head. I was so embarrassed I could die! My friends didn't help much, because to them this whole thing was a riot. Barely holding back tears of laughter, Marusia even reminded me how I had instructed her to make the curls, real tight, "so that it would hold." Slavko did dance with me once, if I remember correctly. He didn't even ask why there was a scarf on my head in the middle of summer, at a dance yet. If he knew I had a crush on him, he never let on. Thirty some years later. I can smile now as I recall this one-sided puppy-love affair, and my Ukrainian Afro. But at the time, it was no laughing matter.

The Ukrainian Weekly.  No. 39, Sunday, September 27, 1987

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


There is so much interest in genealogy today -- you want to find your roots even though you've been so far removed from your Ukrainian relatives for so long.  Here are two articles about starting the search.  (originals published in The Ukrainian Weekly)

I'll be leading my 16th (or so) tour to Ukraine in July (please see    --- still a bit of time to register!  Go for it!


YOU WILL FIND THEM IF YOU GO – Finding Relatives in Ukraine

Getting the Place Name Right

Orysia Paszczak Tracz

Five minutes sometimes…. ok, a half-hour at most…. that is the time needed once you arrive in your ancestral village to find someone from your family.   If there are no living relatives, someone in the selo (village) will know where the family lived, and show you where their house is or was.  Of course, you need to know the name of your village and the povit (county or district).   Knowing the oblast' (province) would help.  Why is the selo name not enough?   Just like in any other country in the world, there are a few settlements with the exact same name – just how many Plainfields, Middletowns, and Baysides are there in the U.S.A.?

So before we get down to finding the people, let me first tell you where to go…

If you or your family have been in contact with the family in Ukraine, or in the Ukrainian lands now within Poland, or Slovakia, you are fortunate, because you have at least one letter from them, with the family name, the village, the povit, and the oblast'.   You're ready to go!

If your ancestors came to one of the Canadian prairie provinces, or to Pennsylvania, New York or North Dakota a century ago, and your family lost contact, don't pack your bags just yet.  On the other hand, don't lose hope.   Usually, there is some family memory, some stories from the family or from friends, photos, documents such as baptismal certificates, the ship card, or some other identification.  

But often there isn't.  From the photos, maybe you can tell what part of Ukraine they lived in – the clothing will help, sort of.  Depending on the formality of the occasion, they may have worn their own traditional regional costume, and then it is easier to at least narrow down the region. Or, they could have gotten all gussied up for the portrait and wore the almost non-descript urban clothing of that time, leaving no hint as to place of origin.

The various Ukrainian genealogical societies in Canada and the US are most informative and helpful, especially to the seekers who have very little, if any, information on their family, and no knowledge of Ukrainian.      ( Toronto)           (Ottawa)      (East European Genealogical Society, based in Winnipeg , but with members around the world)

You need to be observant and careful, because some websites are strictly commercial and may or may not have reputable people running them.   Some may be like the ones in the mail or online ready to sell you the family crest for "Smith".   A trusted friend or community member may sift through some of this advice that should be taken with a bushel of salt.   Then there is one Ukrainian genealogy discussion group which, while informative, seems to have been taken over by a person who tries to convince everyone from any part of Ukraine that their ancestors were "rusyn," even if they were from Lviv or Volyn. 

But let's get back to the selo, the one you need to visit.  You remember your baba talking about Kuty, her village of so long ago.   She may have been a Hutsulka, from the Carpathian Mountains, and her Kuty may have been the famous village everyone thinks of when they hear that place name.   But, a big but – rather than that selo, maybe she was from one of the three Kuty in Lviv Oblast, or the two Kuty in the Ternopil province?   Oh, she was from Volytsia?   One of the eleven in the Lviv region, or the three in Ternopil?   Dibrova (grove)?  How about five each in Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivske provinces. The common place names are as prolific throughout Ukraine as forest mushrooms after a rain, but even the more esoteric ones can give you trouble.   There are four Khatky ["little houses"] in the Lviv province, and only one in Ternopil, and two Tulyholovy ["heads cuddling together"] in the Lviv oblast.  

Two Kapustyntsi ("cabbage things"), six Zalissia (beyond the woods or forest) , two Shepit (whisper), a whole stack of Sloboda (large village) and Slobidka (hamlet), four Dobriany and two Dobrovliany, and Boyany, Boyanets', Boyanychi, Boyanivka and Boyanchuk…

Oy, gotta stop, I'm having too much fun!  Next time, we'll start looking for family once we get to the right selo.


YOU WILL FIND THEM IF YOU GO – Finding Relatives in Ukraine

It Helps If They Look Just Like You!

Orysia Paszczak Tracz

We've established which selo, povit, and oblast' is "your" ancestral
place.  Now we arrive in the village.

In the last article, I should have mentioned that one way of finding
family is writing to the sil'rada in the village – the Sil's'ka Rada
(village council), addressing to village, povit, oblast', Ukraine.
Try to have the letter written in Ukrainian, a neighbor or friend can
help but, if not, write in English – someone there will know the
language.  Ask very general questions about the family – give names,
years, but not much more.  Let them reply to you with information.
This avoids "finding" relatives you never knew (or actually had).  You
don't want relatives coming out of every stodola.

Before you set out to the selo, you need to arrange for a driver – and
interpreter, if you need.  The driver should be someone who knows his
way – not only around roads, but around people.  This is important,
because the way you ask questions is crucial to finding out anything
and anyone.  Prepare ahead of time – ask people who have traveled, who
have family there, and who know people they can trust.  And agree upon
the fee for the trip in advance (don't forget a nice tip, if

During my tours, in helping people find and communicate with
relatives, I have had to run interference.  Some folks had pushy,
intrusive very distant relatives that would not go away, others had
people they weren't even sure of.  As the "glorious leader" of the
group, I was the stranger who could say "no."   I often go to the selo
with people from my group.  It is a truly satisfying, blessed

Now to find your folks.  We arrive in the selo, the right one – we
hope.  Our driver either goes straight to the sil'rada, or stops the
car as an elderly person walks towards the car.  "Slava Isusu
Khrystu….. dobryi ranok, Vam, babusiu…"   [Praise be to Jesus… good
morning to you, grandmother]   You must know the correct ritual
respectful greeting.  Then you ask about this and that family.
Usually it turns out there are a few families in the village with the
same surname.  Then you go into specifics.  If you know the first
names of the ones who emigrated, and when, that helps.  If not, you
ask if anyone had left for Canada or America so many years ago.   "Oh,
those Romaniuky, of course!  Go down this way…. Wait, I'll go with
you…."  And off you go to the house at that end of the selo.

Last August, Nadia [names have been changed] from Vancouver wanted to
meet her father's family in a village near Radekhiv.  He had supported
his brother's family for many years, helping put the children through
medical school.  We arrived in the selo on a Sunday, mid-day, during a
village council election.  The officials were all there.  We asked for
the "Ivakhiv" family.  The head of the council thinks a bit, says that
there are three Ivakhiv families in the selo – but – you should go to
the one on this-and-this road, because, turning to Nadia, "you look
just like them."  Sure enough, she did!

Another time, in Stari Kuty, in the Carpathian Mountains, Olia wanted
to find her grandmother's family.  At the sil'rada, no one recognized
the old names.  Then Olia took out the old photographs from her baba,
and – of course – everyone there recognized the "Stakhiv" family.
Someone from the rada goes on the bus with us, and we all drive
through the selo to the Stakhiv house.  Olia's distant cousin is quite
shaken, because a few days ago he had dreamt about something like

Joe from Edmonton was looking for his uncle's family near Brody.
Approaching an old man on the village road, the guide asks about "Osyp
Senkiw."  No, don't know anyone like that.  "He's blind in one eye and
has one leg."  "Oh, that Osyp!  Of course!"

When we went to the village of Uvysla, Halia found her great uncle's
face looking up at her from a book on the sil'rada display table – he
was a hero of UPA in this very patriotic village.  The elderly lady
who wrote the history of the village was called, and told us all about
Halia's family.  She showed us where the church bells had been buried
to prevent their melting down by the Germans.  She also showed us the
burials mounds of the many village resistance fighters executed by the

One time, a person in my group just wanted to see her grandparents'
village.  No one would be left, since the whole extended family had
left for Canada a century ago.  We stopped at a light in Rohatyn, and
our guide opened the door to ask directions to Soroky.  A young man
thought he was getting a ride and entered.  After a confused
conversation, it turned out he was trying to get to Soroky!  Well, we
had our guide, which was good, since this village was quite remote.
Donna did not find any actual relatives, but half the village had the
same surname as her relatives – few related to each other.  The selo
was so old, with so many extended clans, that these were separate
families.  The cemetery was full of "Saranchuks."  We all had a good
time anyway.

Near Terebovlia, in Zubiv on a rainy day (of course), we approach the
old man walking down the now muddy road.  No, he can't tell us about
the Yurkiw family, because he's "new" in the selo, one of the many
exiled by the Poles in the Akcija Wiszla deportation in the late
1940s.  He takes us to one house, where the people know others from
that particular extended family.  This gentleman does ask if we know
the Potichny family, because he was taught by a Potichny in Pavlokoma,
the village where the Ukrainian population was murdered by the Poles
after the war.  As we were walking down the road, I looked back, and
there was a kerchiefed head looking out from every gate as far back as
I could see.

Some people going to Ukraine don't have any relatives left there.
They are happy just to see the selo, to go to the church and cemetery,
and walk around the streets.  "I just wanted to see the place, to be
there."  Even though these are people of a few generations in North
America, they instinctively take a small clump of soil from their
village to treasure.  In the twelve years I have led the tour, I had
only one person who went all the way to Ukraine who was not interested
in seeing her ancestor's village.  And we were only about a half-hour
away.  I still cannot figure that out.

Once you find your family, if you had not been in contact before, you
may wish to revisit them.  Be prepared for a celebration, a hostyna
that will last for a long time.  And don't think that the first entrée
served is the only one of the meal.  The food keeps coming and coming.
 Be sure you bring your own gifts of drink, flowers, family photos,
and envelopes with dollars (or – Euros?).  You will certainly be
loaded down with gifts for you and the family back home.

So, if you are motivated, do the genealogical searches but, at the
same time, if you know the place, just go and find them.  The family
will be waiting.  They remember and will be waiting for you.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


The beginning of the end of the USSR was the cover-up of the Chornobyl explosion. The officials' families and children were being put on trains to get out of Kyiv. The Ukr. population was told to continue celebrating the Sunday with parades. Normal. But then, when the earthquake in Armenia happened a few months later, Gorbachev issued pleas for help. There were no pleas after Chornobyl.

I spoke with a Ukr. artist who came to Winnipeg with an exhibition a few years later. He spoke openly about Chornobyl and the system. "I am no longer afraid. When they put my elderly mother and my wife and young children in such danger, when they themselves were escaping the air itself, I cannot remain silent." There were many like him. The final straw.

During the "Spirit of Ukraine" art exhibit at the Wpg Art Gallery (from Ukraine) in the summer of 1991, one of the curators smiled bitterly at my comment -- I had said something about the summer rain -- "Yes, but at least you know what is coming down in that rain."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Update on Ukrainian Christmas traditions blog

Please see the book blog for updates on my  


Ukrainian ChristmasTraditions Book