Senior Americans of Ukrainian descent who started
their public work in the Plast Youth Organization addressed each other
among themselves as “señors.” What is a popular image of a tourist? A
person who likes to travel, who is cheerful and carefree, and whose only
worry is to learn, see and hear as much as possible. But I have encountered
tourists visiting Ukraine who are a far cry from such an image. They are
people of Ukrainian descent who keep regularly coming, year in, year out.
They are like migratory birds: they come and go, neither staying in Ukraine
for good, nor giving up their regular visits to, and sometimes rather
extended stays, in Ukraine, the land of their forefathers. They come to
Ukraine as missionaries, as volunteers, they come not to have vacations
but to work helping us sort out and solve our problems without being paid
a kopeck for their efforts. Not only do they offer their help gratuitously,
they pay their own expenses by themselves or using loans from people like
themselves, those who love their distant native land. I personally know
several dozens of such people. It is about one of them, Volodymyr Volovodyuk
that I want to tell you. In fact, Mr Volovodyuk will tell his story himself.
In the past few years he came to Ukraine thirty one times and I have made
a condensation of my talks with him for Welcome to Ukraine Magazine.
thing is that there was a decree issued by Stalin which called for rounding
up and deporting to Siberia of all the kurkul (“wealthy peasant” in the
Soviet terminology; the term was used very loosely and anyone who was suspicious
to the Soviet authorities could be treated as kurkul, “an enemy of the people”)
families from all the territories “temporarily occupied by the Nazis” and
then “liberated by the Soviet Army.” Tens of thousands of western Ukrainian
families were seized, bundled into railroad carriages and sent “on the road
to hell.” The Volovodyuk family decided to flee rather than passively await
arrest. Overcoming many obstacles, they managed to make their way to Austria
where they settled down in a little town, Retz. They even found jobs but
in the first months after the war, the KGB (Soviet Secret Service), entering
Austria with the Soviet Army, launched an actual hunt for those who had
run away from Ukraine and settled in Austria. The Volovodyuks had to move
to Vienna but it was not safe there either, and they had to escape once
again. On their way to Salzburg, they were stopped and nearly arrested by
a Soviet Army patrol, but a couple of bottles of schnapps proved to be a
bribe overruling an order to arrest the likes of the Volovodyuks. After
many months of fleeing from place to place, of struggling for survival,
they found themselves across the ocean in 1947. Volodymyr Volovodyuk and
his family had left behind in the old world their house with an orchard,
their native village with a beautiful river flowing by, fields with the
green grass of home. The image of his native place was carved in the boy’s
heart for good and in far-away America he has cherished the memory of his
land ever since.
Volovodyuk: I finished American high school and went to study at the New Jersey University, Department of Machine Building. I studied well, was among the best students and for my academic achievements was exempted from having to pay for my education. After getting my bachelor’s degree, I found a job.
wrote my dissertation for the next degree in the hours after work and
then went to work for the Foster Wheeler Development Corporation, a big
machine-building company. I rose through the ranks and reached the vice-presidentship
of this corporation. Then I retired, and that’s all the basic autobiographical
data I can report. Nothing special. In America, to be successful you have
to work very hard.
I do hope Mr Volovodyuk will never feel tired, neither in his body nor in his spirit, and he and many other people of the Ukrainian Diaspora like him, will go on being healthy, and vigorous. Their help is appreciated in Ukraine, they give us a great moral and psychological boost, too. President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma has awarded Volodymyr Volovodyuk, a US citizen, a medal “For Meritorious Achievements.” The citation reads in part: “for active work in organizations of the Ukrainian Diaspora in the USA, for many years of charity work.” This year Mr Volovodyuk turns seventy. There is so much youthful vitality in him, in spite of his years.
By Olha Herhel