My Family’s Ukrainian Story — Hopes for the Future

Dr. Peter Martynowych

My Tato (Father in Ukrainian), Mother (and I in utero) came to the United States in 1952. We landed in a Ukrainian community in Philadelphia with little resource, but we had each other.

My Tato was Ukrainian from L’Viv. He was an accomplished athlete, aspiring surgeon which he wan’t able to realize due to WWII, a survivor of Nazi and Stalinist persecution. My Mother was from a town her family founded, then Jaegerndorf, in Moravia, Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was born into a town just named Krnov, in a country that had just been named Czechoslovakia at the end of World War I, in what came to be called “The Sudetenland” — the area that was ceded to Germany as the attempt to appease Hitler in 1938.

Tato was the son of a Roman Catholic Priest by the Eastern Right, in L’Viv. While I never got to meet him, I am the grandson of this Roman Catholic Priest.

As a son of an Ukrainian immigrant, I was always proud of Ukraine. I grew up with Tato reading Ukrainian folk tales and listening to him talk about Ukraine.

Once in a while, my Father would talk about his brother Roman. He was very close to Roman and missed him very much. Roman fought and died on horseback against the Nazis when they attacked Poland.

He was an accomplished athlete who ran track for a Polish university. He was arrested for walking down the street because people yelled to the police that he was Ukrainian. He also talked about how, after the war, any Ukrainian who even spoke of a free Ukraine, or who exercised any leadership there, was murdered by the KGB.

My Tato also told of the Holodomor, Stalin’s atrocities, of the Purge of 1948. I learned of the history of the long struggles Ukrainians had with Russia and other countries who throughout time tried to take over Ukraine.

My Tato spent many years working to free his Mother and bring her to live with us in Philadelphia. It took so many years that when she finally was able to come, she was much older and wasn’t with us for very long.

My Tato and I would argue about the possibility that Ukraine and Ukrainians would someday be free. I had a sense that Russia could not hold onto the former satellite countries held by the USSR, because of the variations in their history, culture, and their longing for freedom.

My Tato and his living brother were very involved in helping Ukrainians. I was raised among all of them in the Ukrainian community in Philadelphia, spoke Ukrainian, and went to Plast (Ukrainian camp). When the iron curtain fell, they were ecstatic and had great hope for the future of Ukraine.

Soon after, as a young adult, my Tato took me and my brother to Ukraine. I felt the hope and pride of the Ukrainians as they worked toward becoming a free people and nation, even though there were still many in the political elite who still held an allegiance to Russia.

Over time, I worried about the constant fighting in the Donbas Oblast, where many Russians were planted. There was an ongoing struggle as not only were Ukrainian soldiers dying, Ukraine had to constantly deal with Russian misinformation.

But I had hope, and thought they would prevail. It looked as though they were going in that direction, choosing a multi-cultural democracy, looking to join the west.

I never thought Ukraine would have to deal with a direct assault by Russia, first in Crimea, and then on Ukraine as a whole. This became even more evident when Russia began to amass troops on Ukraine’s borders. I was deeply concerned, and was not reassured by Russia, or others, that no attack was being planned.

Initially I was in shock at the Russian invasion. I am angry and constantly anxious. I sit in horror every day as I read about the daily bombardments and genocidal atrocities in Ukraine by the Russians. I have family in Yaroviv, L’Viv. They have decided to stay there for now.

I am humbled by this situation. I have to admit that although I hold my doctorate from Harvard in leadership and its development, having been a faculty member and consultant to many companies and organizations, this is a more immediate and dire challenge. We are in the midst of a full-scale invasion where there is little time for implementing processes and developing tools in the practice of leadership. The entire country is in the midst of being constantly attacked and fighting for its very survival.

I must assume that if I feel frustrated and at times powerless to do something about this in a tangible a way, others are also experiencing this. The constant questions are, What can I do? What can we do?

We need to get ourselves together and organized. I am inviting all Ukrainians who are tweeting here to meet virtually to create a team of Ukrainians to ask: how can we, from here, put our best together to be strategic in a way that assists Ukraine with more than just the aftermath of these horrific attacks? If you want to join me, please contact me here.


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