Life truly is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get

The alarm went off at 9:00 a.m. and I dragged myself out of bed after only four hours of sleep. Tossing and turning all night, I could only picture in my mind what possibly awaited me in Kuty.

Hadn’t I been here before? Vancouver, British Columbia 1978. Villa Pigna, Italy 1997. Now Kuty, Ukraine 2015. Yup, it was all feeling familiar, with the same excitement and anticipation. Continue reading

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Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Tonight I finally got to meet Viktor’s family. I really couldn’t wait for tonight to come. I had wondered how long I might have to wait to meet everyone. They have their own lives and schedules. For me, I’m flexible so I had to be patient.

You know what it’s like to meet someone and feel like they’ve been in your life forever? That is the way I felt after tonight. Is it because I knew we were blood related? Is it because I talk constantly? Is it because I make friends easily? Or is it because we all desired family?

VIKTOR'S FAMILY

Selfie! Viktor’s family. In the back, Luba, Julia (daughter-in-law), Caterina (granddaughter) and Viktor. In the front, son Victor, twins Cristina and Yaryna, yours truly.

Perhaps it is a bit of everything. Viktor’s family welcomed me with open arms. They, also, were surprised that a stranger from North America was inquiring about “Bakuns” and interested to meet this man who was a distant family member. Yet, during dinner, I didn’t feel distant. There is always the initial awkwardness because you want to make a good impression. You don’t want to spill your wine or drop your fork.

But the conversation was easy. The laughter was genuine. It was comfortable like a favorite warm blanket. Viktor’s son, Victor along with his twin daughters Cristina and Yaryna speak excellent English and we were able to understand each other very well. His wife is an excellent cook and I ate until I was ready to explode. She and his daughter-in-law speak no English. However, I have learned that it is possible to communicate a sentiment through facial expressions and gestures. I’m sure Viktor’s wife, Luba, understood as I cooed over her borscht and pierogies.

It was obvious that I was an honored guest. The table had been meticulously set with crystal and china. Food continued to arrive from the kitchen. Wine flowed generously. Throughout the evening, Viktor made toast after toast.

I felt so comfortable. It’s the kind of feeling I had when I first went to Italy, and during subsequent trips to Italy. During our meal, Viktor’s father, my cousin Zenovyi, called. He told Victor he had found over ten letters from my grandfather, Teodor. I was so touched. I told Viktor that it sounded as though Zenovyi was anticipating my arrival. Viktor said it was true.

I cannot wait to meet Zenovyi. He sounds wonderful. I haven’t even met him yet I feel him in my heart. We are considering a trip to Kuty on Sunday so I can attend mass in my ancestral church. Won’t that be something?

It’s 1:15 a.m. The other night I couldn’t write. Now I can’t sleep!

Viktor

My cousin. My new cousin. Viktor.

We had a seven hour chat today. I called Viktor at 12:35 p.m. He answered his phone with an enthusiastic “Robert!” Turns out he lives in Lviv and said we could meet at my convenience. I suggested 1:00 p.m. and he told me to meet him at the Town Hall in front of the lion statues.

I didn’t realize that I was giving myself no time to prepare. I ran some water through my hair in an attempt to arrange it in a presentable manner, grabbed my MacBook Pro full of photos and ran out the door.

As I walked down the landscaped median of the boulevard my mind raced. What did he look like? What would he be like? He sounded very excited to meet me. Everything was, once again, happening so quickly, so easily. Continue reading

The phone call that rocked my world

I’m coming down with a flu bug. That’s the last thing I need. I leave Ukraine in just over two weeks and still have so much to do. This afternoon I went to a hotel and paid to use their spa–a Jacuzzi, sauna and massage were just what I needed. On the way back to my host’s home I stopped to eat.

Then I got the call.

Ed, my host said that a man named “Viktor” had phoned from Kuty, Ukraine, my maternal grandfather’s birthplace. Viktor had been told that the priest in the Greek Catholic church had announced during mass that a man from America was looking for distant relatives of Teodor Bakun, who had immigrated to Canada with his family in the early 1900’s.

Viktor told Ed’s wife, Natasha, that he was Teodor’s great-grandson. Teodor Bakun had been married to a woman named Maria Michalishyn who had died at an early age. They had a daughter together, Viktor’s grandmother. Viktor’s grandmother had a son, Viktor’s father.

Viktor’s father would be the grandson to my grandfather–the same generation I am in. He would be my first cousin. Viktor is my first cousin, once removed. They live in Kuty. Fortunately, both he and his parents apparently speak conversational English and want me to call tomorrow. Viktor knows this family information because it has been passed down through the generations–just as the priest told me has been done.

How did Grandpa’s first wife die? Why did he leave a daughter behind in Ukraine? Why didn’t he bring her into his new family when he married my grandmother? Who raised his daughter? Who did she marry? How much do they know about my great-grandparents, and the generations further back?

I’m in a state of shock. But I’m not worried. I will be going back to Kuty very soon. Maybe I’ll stay in Ukraine a bit longer.

Finding my fountainhead–genealogy in Ukraine

Finally.

I made it to the hometown of my forefathers. My biological mother’s family. It’s here in Ukraine. It’s been a long, labyrinthine road to travel from Salem, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia to Villa Pigna, Italy to Alba Adriatica, Italy to Krakow, Poland to Warsaw, Poland and now to these dots on the world map.

Today we finally arrived in the tiny communities of Olesko, Kuty and Rozwaz here in Ukraine. This entire area for tens of thousands of square miles is also known as Galicia. Continue reading

Meanwhile, back in Odessa…

Monday morning, Marina’s mother made a breakfast of (hold your breath) cabbage rolls, cheeses and salamis, hard-boiled eggs, meat-filled potato dumplings, a glass of homemade grape juice, a glass of homemade tomato juice, orange slices, bread with homemade raspberry jam made from raspberries in the garden, peppers and cucumbers, coffee AND tea and Ukrainian chocolates.

2015-04-12 18.22.35

After stuffing myself and a delightful two-hour conversation, Marina and her parents took me to a monastery near their home, a beautiful collection of old buildings dating back one-hundred and ninety years. The grounds are open to the public, requesting only a contribution. The onion domes are coated in real gold. Several of the onion domes were painted blue with gold eight-pointed stars. Continue reading

Odessa, what a city

Odessa.

What a city.

I researched Odessa a bit online. Wikipedia is great when you want quick info. The photos depicted a modern, beautiful port city with a vibrant tourism industry. They were right.

Marina and her father found me at the train station and we drove to their home in town. Her father is a very mild-mannered man. He speaks no English. Marina’s English is exceptional. The woman speaks four languages (Ukrainian, Russian, English and French) and has a degree in engineering. Communication is quite easy. Continue reading

Train to Odessa, Ukraine

I’m on the train bound for Odessa. The Ukrainian night is starkly black. I see no towns outside my window. In a way, I feel like I’m in Dr. Zhivago, traversing the lonely and foreboding Russian wilderness, yet I know that I’m passing through some of the richest farmland in all of Europe.

It’s a twelve-hour ride to my destination. At first, I was going to fly, even though the price tag was $299, an amount I was not thrilled to pay. My brother’s girlfriend, Marina, told me to take the train, so I acquiesced. It was only a nineteen-dollar ticket. Continue reading

Lviv, First Day

I’ve been in Lviv for one day and I’m already in love with it and with Ukraine.

My host, Ed and his wife, Natasha, took me on a two hour walking tour of Lviv today to get me acquainted with the area and the major sites. Edward is much like my Krakow host, Aleksander, knowledgeable about Ukraine, its history, its people, and its geopolitics.

As we walked, Ed pointed out churches, statues and parks. And I found myself swept away by the architecture and the fascinating history behind not only Lviv, but Ukraine. Somehow, actually being here makes this information resonate more within me. Continue reading

Ukraine–the Impossible Dream?

<This was actually written the day before I left Lviv>

Here I sit, once again in Pasticceria Vittoria the day before I leave for Lviv. Finally, they’ve made my favorite eclairs. I am now required to overdose on them since I’ll be in Ukraine for a month.

This one week break between all this vast genealogy research for my second book has been relaxing. It has allowed my brain to rejuvenate. It has felt nice to be back in my bed. My temporary Italian bed, anyway. Continue reading