On May 18, 1979 I went through one of those rights of passage experienced when one is just about to complete high school - the prom or grad as we called in in my home town! Regardless of where on this planet one lives it is a significant event in nearly every young person's life. I was no different at that moment when it was happening; but after the event everything in my life changed very rapidly.
Now here begins my digression, or maybe it's just part of my story.
“Who of you doesn't like to sit in your grandmother or grandfather's lap on a cold winter night and listen to those long-extensively long stories, which ring out so nicely in the evening silence! Who of you doesn't like interesting tales about far off, lands beyond the sea, about incredible adventures about sailors on the vast expanse of the ocean, about strange plants and animals of a tropical climate!” This is how the foreword of one of the books I came upon through the generosity of a close family friend a few days ago. Her late husband was my brother's godfather, her son and I were the best of friends. Some of my friends thought that he and I were cousins. We did so much together and with our fathers. All we have left are a lot of fond memories. What I know that I have left is a love for both his adopted home, Canada, as well as his land of birth Ukraine - its culture and its language, which some say is only second, after Italian, in its musicality.
But that was but one of the many books which Mrs L, as I had called her in my childhood even though she had a surname, had passed on to me. Though for some reason my mother wanted to give them all to some community organization and had said, “What do you need those books for you are never going to read them all!” She didn't say this in Ukrainian but English! While some of my Ukrainian friends never knew this until their own parents pointed it out to them my mother isn't Ukrainian, but Canadian with Irish and Scottish roots, but I have never considered myself WASP. Sure non-English sounding names were even pretty common when I was growing up in Canada so in fact few of your classmates actually knew very little about one another and their roots.
The whole issue with the two boxes of books to me had nothing to do with whether I will read them or not but we have to value books. My mother simply has never understood and will never understand what books mean to me. She has an even lesser understanding that these are books that a greater part of the Ukrainian diaspora are not interested in and don't even take an interest in reading things in, for some, their mother tongue. It may sound odd, but it's a fact. Individuals, like electricity, take the path of least resistance, and few take the road less traveled, particularly those who are in fact loosing one of the most important vestiges of their heritage, their language.
This year marks the one hundred and twentieth year of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. The aforementioned forward however is not of a book from Ukrainian literature, but from a book which was first published in 1719, two hundred years earlier than the imprint of that which the citation originates. The author of that book was Daniel Defoe - and most readers simply call the novel Robinson Crusoe, though the original title is much longer. I am certain that many of you have either read it or seen the countless spin offs on television based on the same theme: Swiss Family Robinson, Lost in Space or even seen the movie Cast Away.
The copy of Robinson Crusoe which I have in my possession was published by the printing house of the Kanadyiskii Farmer, Canadian Farmer, in Winnipeg in 1919, as you can see from the image of the colophon I have included. But this is but one of the interesting books which I now have in my possession.
“Published in 1898 by the “Academic Community” student association the collection of my poems “Miy Izmarhad” [ed. In the old Rusyn language Izmarhadymy were a name given to collections of articles and parables of a moral character, from which the reader could garner answers to various questions in their day-to-day lives.] I has not been available for quite some time, and still back in 1909 the board of the Ukraino-Rusyn Publishing Association agreed upon the publishing of a new edition... The character of the collection itself, which is a succession in part of the collection of instructions and stories known under the title of “Ismarahd”, is to be expanded. I resolved that here we would print an whole series of my poems which were written during a thirty-two year period, which did not appear in my earlier collection, but particularly the second edition of “Z vershyn s nyzyn” [ed. From the tops and the bottoms]. This was the forward which Ivan Franko wrote to another of the books which came to me. “The old and the new. A Second and expanded edition of My “Izmarahd” - The Poems of Ivan Franko – published in Lviv, 1911. Somehow this book is closer to my heart and soul for a number of different reasons – but the most important of theses is that it is not a translation of foreign literature, but an original.
I had read a number of Franko's works but this was before the period that I set foot not only in Ukraine, but also in places which Franko had also been.
In the summer of 1990 – through my involvement in the Ukrainian Canadian Students' Union, I traveled to Ukraine for the first time. True, it was still known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic at that time, but there were changes afoot. Changes which fellow students in Ukraine, members of the Student Brotherhood Association of the Lviv, our hosts, were a large part of. It was an interesting period – students were reviving old traditions, there was a certain self confidence and pride among nationally conscious Ukrainians. I was one of six Ukrainian-Canadian students invited by our host organization. In fact, from what we were told we were the first student group to visit Ukraine that had not been invited by the Komsomol.
We arrived in Kyiv on July 1, Canada Day. The trip had a certain significance, for I traveled a very similar route that my father had emigrated to Canada by, well at least for the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The night before we departed from Toronto and landed in Gander to refuel followed by a second stop in Shannon, Ireland. Both my father and I were at about the same age during our respective trips to totally new lands for us. The first few days in Kyiv, are a story unto itself, and while a penned version of that is in the works, it probably won't appear here for some time.
On July 5 we finally got on a train to Lviv and arrived on early the following morning on the eve of Ivana Kupalo Day , the Feast of St. John the Baptist. After settling in with our host families, a few hours sleep and some food, we all gathered with our hosts and a group from our host organization to head off by bus to Kolomiya to not only celebrate this holiday on the banks of the River Prut, but to hold a number of impromptu concerts in that city as a way of stirring up national pride of the townsfolk and its visitors. As a result of one of these concerts a local woman invited the entire group of us, over forty people to her place for lunch. It was quite an incredible experience. One has to remember that at that time it Ukraine was still Soviet, and there were songs as well as poems recited by our Ukrainian student counterparts which under the laws of the time could still be considered anti-Soviet and seditious. At some point during the time we were the guest of this woman she was was sending family members out to the neighbours to get more horilka for her student guests.
Some time in the middle of July there were plans to take a day trip to Nahuyevychi, Franko's home village, but in order to understand one of the things that happened on that trip I have to take a little foray back a few years earlier – to the period during which I was working on my Masters in Ukrainian Literature at the University of Ottawa from 1986 through 1988.
During those years there were literary scholars and historians who specialized on the theme of Ivan Franko who visited Ottawa. One of my obligations within our department was the planning of excursions for these visitors from Ukraine. For the most part these would be to the old National Gallery on Elgin Street, to the National Archives and Library of Canada and to Parliament where they would meet Parliamentarians with Ukrainian roots. I did everything by the book and our guests always said that they enjoyed the opportunity to see a little bit more of Ottawa and at the same time Canada – in 1987 or 1988 who ever imagined that the USSR would collapse so soon?
Let's return now to Franko's native village. The plan was to visit his parents home and the museum named in his honour. Our group was standing about thirty metres from the museum, I know that my friend Roksolana was there as was Markian Ivashchyshyn, a man of big stature and head of the organization that was hosting us. He had walked over to the museum to see if it was open. In all honest I don't remember that we even went into the museum, but what happened next I will recall as long as I live.
We all saw that Markian was speaking to some woman. They he yelled to me, “Vasyl, what is your surname?” I replied and he waved with his hand for us to come to him. There stood a woman with a familiar face and from her lips I heard the following words, “Now it's my turn to be your tour guide?” At that moment and even to this day I don't remember what that woman's name was, be knew we were acquainted. The members of our group were truly surprised. And that was my experience visiting Ivan Franko's home village.
In the late spring of 2007, Ukraine was once again going through some difficult political times. On April third of that same year Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved Parliament and once again there were tents on Kyiv's main square Maydan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square, and it wasn't the first time that I met my kum [VP. Non-blood relationship, one who is a godparent of someone's child.] beside a tent on that square. He says to me, “Kum listen here! You know Vasyliu I've already been to the place where you grew up, but you have never been to my home village. This summer there's a wedding in the family – let's go to together?” That is how I end up in the village of Lolyn!
So there I was in the same village were Ivan Franko found his first love. That was the second time I found myself in a place that Franko had once tread. Clearly his intentions were a lot more serious than mine and her name was Olya Roshkevych the daughter of the local priest. She even became his betrothed, though after Franko's arrest in 1887 while in his second year at Lviv University his fate change. Her father forbade the two to see each other but they saw each other secretly but their future together was not written in the stars. At a ball in Kolomiya they danced their last waltz together. While the rest of his life story is not the reason for this scribbling, having by chance walked were he had once walked is one of the many reasons I have a greater affinity to the second of these two books.
Now I want to say something else — as readers you have stumled upon an Internet premiere. Unlike many other premieres, this one will probably go unnoticed. It is the first time that one Franko's poems printed more than one hundred years ago in Lviv in 1911 is to appear on the Internet. The poem which I have chosen is called "To the Rusyn Fatalists" which had seen the world for the first time in a publication called "Zerkalo" (Mirror) in its tenth number on May 15, 1883 — according to the collection I have in hand. The translation below is my own and to the best of my knowledge it may also be a premiere. Now I'm not sure what I'm getting myself into as it may take me a better part of the day to translate this and do it any justice!
To the Rusyn Fatalists
“Akhbar Allah! God is great!”
Says the Turk sipping his coffee.
“May Allah condemn you,
The sentence will be inevitable,
If you are to hang, you will hang,
Though you may drown in sea swells:
If they drown you, you will drown, though you wanted to hang,
So that you know, that Akbar Allah!”
“It's a bitter fate — says the Rusyn —
Glory to those plundering princes
And the Polovtsi and Lithuanians
And the insatiable evil poles;
The Turks and Tartars tore us,
And plucked did the moscovite people, —
Rus' is hard it went through everything,
And will still experience more.”
“But new days brought to us
Charitable institutions :
Execution by taxation,
Banks, usury, auctions,
Floods, famine, suffering everywhere...
But why should we be bothered with this?
Rus is hard and will remain.
“We have already endured a great deal in life,
And will still endure a great deal more :
Because we, as you can see, strong in patience ;
We endure, which means we live.
The wolf will eat the shepherds, will eat us all,
And Rus will go on without Rusyns.
It has endured so much,
That it will even endure itself.”
This was but one little moment I wanted to share with those that drop by. Maybe I will never write anything like this again — because the moment has to be right and I have to find my muse. That muse can take on many forms — in this case it didn't come to me by chance, it came to me with a certain date and thanks to a certain person who gifted me these books, this treasure. I also thank her for the memorial service which she is organizing on May 21, 2011 - its for all those from our small Ukrainian community in Lachine. They include: Teodor Powidajko, Marta Tsiopa, Anastasia and Bohdan Bilohan, Teodor Bilenkiy, Olena and Roman Kupchak, Mykhaylo Kots, Zina and Mykhaylo Hayduk, Elizaveta and Mykhaylo Kurash, Hanya Zavatska, Lukian Danylyk and my father Vasyl Pawlowsky.
All these people called Ukraine there homeland — some of them fought for its freedom against both the Nazis and Red Army for the idea of an Independent and Sovereign Ukraine and had the opportunity to visit only after the USSR crumbled. Others survived the Holodomor and Stalinist purges and maybe others like my father made through WWII and never saw an Independent Ukraine. Though I'm certain that they all were proud Ukrainians and raised their children and even grandchildren while at the same time they worked at building and contributing to the country which had adopted them, Canada.
On the day of that memorial service Georgy Gongadze would have been forty-two years young. But there are a lot of other friends who are no longer with us: Orest Vasyltsiv, Andriy Vynnychuk, Serhiy Naboka, Taras Protsyk, Oleksandr Kryvenko and Ilko Kucheriv.
All of these people who have passed somehow influenced my life, whether they were part of my upbringing in my youth and friends of my parents in Canada, or those of my generation who were born in Ukraine and who later became my friends in Ukraine, friends who were trying to build a new independent nation. Anyone who reads this and knew even one of these individuals who walked among us, remember them and thank the powers that be that they were a part of your life — had they been parent, friend, soldier, journalist or civic activist. One thing that is clear in my mind, they were all patriots of their countries.
Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Patriots!