Reflections On My Distant Ties to Ukraine

My family fled from Kyiv over 100 years ago, just prior to the revolution. That’s a long time ago and we have no ties or emotions from a personal standpoint on what is taking place there now, other than sympathy for those suffering. From what I know, my family longed for the freedom of America; the beacon of hope for so many who had arrived on these shores, prior and since. The reason they left was typical of the world at the time, raging antisemitism. Although my family never spoke of their lives in Ukraine, it was too painful I suppose, they truly wanted to be Americans. I always imagined their experience in Ukraine as not very different from what transpired in Fiddler on the Roof. That’s all I have and I choose to envision it that way. My dad would have made a great Tevye. My wonderful aunt Eva, who would bake cakes for every Jewish holiday, could only speak Ukrainian at the end of her life, suffering from Alzheimer’s. My grandfather scared me as a young child. There was something very distant about him and I picked up on it at the age of three.

My father’s parents were basically illiterate; neither of them graduated from high school. I believe they actually ended their education after grade six. But no one knew for sure. They did not read or write well. Certainly not in English. But as is the nature of this great country, my father joined the US Navy at seventeen, and in return, the Navy paid for his University education under the GI bill, making it possible for him to attend medical school. Only in America could an immigrant, non-English speaking family, transform from illiterate to medical school graduate, in one generation. That is not to say that my father did not face antisemitism here, he did, but it didn’t stop him from building a very successful life.

In the Navy, he was abused terribly by his commanding officer who would refer to him as a kike and give him the most horrific jobs. My father once told me of how his CO urinated on the floor in the latrine and forced him to clean it up. This abuse went on for as long as my father could stand it, until one day, he lashed out. It led to my father meeting a man, a giant of a man, who would help change the course of his life. I like to think that his Ukrainian roots made him tough and he was tough. Loving, but tough. I never saw my father cry, not even when my grandmother passed away. My grandfather was physically and mentally abusive, so no tears would be shed at his funeral. I’m sure my grandfather faced the same horrific treatment when he was young.

Life was so difficult back then I’m sure, in Ukraine, and that wasn’t going to change when they arrived on these shores. My father was indeed a tough man, but he never, ever laid a hand on any of his three children. There is much more to share about this story and I will do so at a later time. But as fighting rages in Ukraine, it just made me think about how lucky my family is to be living in the greatest country to ever exist on this planet.

What is taking place in Ukraine is horrific. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Russian or Ukrainian. It’s horrific because once again people are dying needlessly in the name of defending borders. Despite what Putin, a Soviet era, paranoid KGB agent might claim, NATO is not a threat to Russia in 2022. Putin believes that, because he is a dinosaur; a throwback to a different time. We are no longer living in that time. Like every dictator, he is unable to deal with his poor leadership at home, so he lashes out at others in order to shift the blame, in this case, to Ukraine, and NATO. Of course this will backfire as sanctions begin to take hold.

It never ceases to amaze me how one man is capable of causing such hardship and misery for so many. It includes his own people and of course, the Ukrainian people. They will all suffer from death, destruction, homelessness and sanctions. All caused by one, very flawed, and paranoid individual. The end result will hopefully be the end of his dictatorial rule.

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