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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ukraine day 6. We find dad's village...and a huge surprise.


OK, find somewhere comfortable to sit, and grab a drink. This could take a while.

Today is the big day. We piled in the van and made the 250 km trek to Lozovoy Yar, dad's old village. Lily and I were almost in a state of disbelief as we pulled off the highway and drove down the road toward the village. We never imagined we would be here.

The road to Lozovy Yar, dad's, and my grand parent's, village. Sorry about the ordinary, out of the van photo.

I could imagine dad making the walk down this road all those years ago. It was very moving. In Mykhailo's usual style he stopped a couple of people and asked for directions to make sure we were heading in the right direction, and they confirmed that this was indeed the road to Lozovy Yar. About fifteen minutes later we rounded a bend and drove into a little village. I can't begin to describe how it felt to actually be in dad's village.

It's easy to find your way around here.

 Village war memorial.

The Communists conscripted village people to fight in the Red Army. Not surprisingly the people weren't that keen to help the group who took everything they owned and starved their families in recent times.

A little house and barn in the village. Everyone had ducks, geese, goats, and chooks. The affluent ones had a cow.

Mykhailo saw a family sitting outside their house and immediately got out to ask them if they knew of Fedor Mykolajenko. Wouldn't you know it, there were about a dozen Mykolajenko families in the village, all unrelated. Arrgggggghhhh!

Mykhailo quizzes the locals to find out if they know of Fedor Mykolajenko's family.

Then out comes mumma.

Mykhailo continues to dig, and Mumma knows some village history, but not ours.

No luck. Mykhailo doesn't give up though. He went from house to house and asked more questions.

Next stop, some more locals.

It was about now that nervousness gave way to anticipation and I started to think that we might actually find dad's house. After about eight houses Mykhailo came back to the car and asked if our father used to sent packages of clothes and blankets to his family, to which Lily and I replied "Yes" in unison. Mykhailo then said "I think I've narrowed it down to three families, and I'm pretty sure I know which one".

We drove to the first option and there was a little old lady sitting out the front of the house next door.

 Genuine little old lady village peasant.
This lady confirmed we were on the right track.

Mykhailo questioned her and returned to us saying "This is the house where your father lived". We got out of the car and I couldn't believe we had found the bit of land where dad grew up. 

Lily and I standing in front of the block where dad's house was.

The old lady explained that the old house was destroyed and my uncle (uncle, what uncle?) helped my grandfather build the new house. Lily and I were blown away, and there were a few tears. Mykhailo then yelled to the house but got no reply. (Houses don't usually yell back). We were very disappointed that no one was home. We stood out the front of the house and within a few minutes the local inquisitive kids on push bikes rolled up to see the strangers in town. Mykhailo spoke with them and found out that the owner of the house was at the bus stop seeing her husband off back to Kiev, and she would be back very soon. Could this be a relative?

About ten tense minutes (of coping with giant butterflies) later a lady rode down the track on a pushbike. She must have felt very uncomfortable to see a shiny, new van with six people standing around outside her house. Mykhailo asked who she was and then explained who we were. Her name is Valya. She was my dad's brother's, daughter's, daughter, or my second cousin, I think. She was very guarded and looked at Lily and I with suspicion. Both of us have tears in our eyes.

Happy Family.
Me, Valya, and Lily.

Valya invited us inside whilst apologising about the mess and asked why we didn't let her know we were coming. Mykhailo explained that we didn't even know the name of the village until yesterday. Lily speaks a bit of Ukrainian and between her and Mykhailo we have a conversation about her line of the family and our connection. Dad used to write to Valya's mum a lot, and send care packages to the family. Slowly the pieces start to fall into place and we put fifty years together. The very short version was: Dad lost contact with his family after the war because his mail was diverted by the communists. After many years he made contact through the red cross. Dad could never return to Ukraine under threat of execution. The family stopped receiving letters from dad (after he died) and wondered what happened. We were standing there today.

Now I have a strong cynical streak and I've heard stories about people trying to find family in former Soviet bloc countries only to be led on wild goose chases and losing a lot of money to unscrupulous people. This had all been a little bit too easy for me to feel totally comfortable. Then...

Valya jumped up and left the room telling Mykhailo she has some paintings done by dad. Dad had a diploma in fine arts that he attained after years of study at night school in Australia. He was an artist and had the opportunity to study in the USSR, but he wouldn't tow the Communist line so he missed out. Valya returned with two paintings. The second she walked into the room I knew they were dad's. In fact I think I have one of the photos that these were painted from at home. It was obviously his work and his signature at the bottom of the paintings was confirmation. Now I knew all of this was real. I was sitting right where our dad grew up, and with a second cousin. Wow!

Valya's mum, our cousin, and her grand dad, our uncle.

So it was a long afternoon playing catch up (boy was there catching up) and filling in a whole lot of the family tree that we knew nothing about. One thing we found out was Valya has a cousin, Alla, but she hasn't been in contact for some time. Valya gave us a very old mobile phone number so we could try and get in contact with Alla. It may not work, but we have to try.

We asked about our grandparents graves and next thing we were off to the little village cemetery. Our grandparents graves have now been taken over by nature and couldn't be found, but Valya showed us her parents and grandparents graves. Things got a bit emotional again here, and Valya told us she wished we had visited a few years earlier while her mum was still alive. She would have loved to have met us. So more tears.

Mykola, Valya's grand dad, our uncle.

Mykola, dad's brother was wounded during the war and was returned home to the village. He helped our grand father build the house that stands there now, but then died soon after due to his wounds.

Tanya, Valya's grand mother, our auntie.

Olexy, Valya's dad.

Vavara, Valya's mum.

We stood around the cemetery for some time just finding out about each others lives. Valya's husband works in Kiev and comes home on the weekends. Just like fly in fly out, but without the big pay packet. They have a son Sasha who studies at University in Kiev. Unfortunately our time was running out and we had a long drive in front of us. With an invitation to come back and stay, and a promise we would, we climbed in the van for our drive back to Poltava. Our return visit on the bike might have to be in Springtime I think. It would be a little cold in winter. 

It was a quiet drive while we all digested what had happened in the last few days. Two days ago we knew virtually nothing about our family history on dad's side. Tonight we've been to dad's village, dad's house, met a living relative, filled in a heap of names on our family tree, and found out we have another second cousin here. We're exhausted.

Thank you so much Mykhailo, we would have been happy to just find the village. You showed us where our father was born, played, and grew up. You found our living relatives.

It's a very peaceful feeling.

So, it was time to eat again. n the way home Mykhailo took us to a Ukrainian restaurant where we had another amazing meal. Everyone was buzzing and we were a very noisy table. Mykhailo introduced us to honey vodka. Mmmmmm. 

Then the resident guitarist came over to serenade us and, at our insistence, Mykhailo joined in singing a Ukrainian song. We'd heard Mykhailo sing before and he has a great voice.

Mykhailo sings like an angel as well.
What a legend.

I spent some time trying to get our driver Alexi a waitress's phone number, and failed miserably. But it did provide a few laughs for the table. Oh well.

We loaded back into the van and made the trip back to Poltava. We were totally spent, but so wired we had to stay up and have a few vodkas, and talk through the day. Unfortunately I managed to break a glass by dropping it on the floor. It's OK, it was empty. It was then that the girls started giving Ron grief about breaking a glass on the cruise. I stood up for Ron and reminded everyone that it actually wasn't Ron, it was the wind and a curtain and Ron hadn't broken anything. Then, crash! Ron knocked a glass off the table and it shattered on the floor.

Me cleaning up my broken glass...

...and Ron cleaning up his.

We decided it was probably time to go to bed. The decision had nothing to do with the fact we had nothing left to drink out of.

Tomorrow we have scheduled a rest day. I think we need it, but I'm sure we'll find something to do.

1 comment:

  1. What a brilliant day. I am so excited for you and Lily. I have been reading your blog like a novel wondering where the story would go but this is the best result. It brought a tear to my eye.