“Well, the Ukraine girls really knock me out”–thank you, Beatles

Okay, so the title of this blog posting is a bit misleading. I’m not talking about Ukraine girls. But I am in Ukraine and I needed some sort of segue!

I arrived in Lviv Monday afternoon. The journey was arduous. I had taken the train from Ascoli Piceno, Italy to Bologna. The train was an hour and a half late arriving in Bologna–and I was standing the entire time. I had never been on an oversold train in Italy. I didn’t even know they existed. In Facebook postings to friends, I joked that I was developing Nixon disease–phlebitis.

By the time I reached my hotel in Bologna, it was after 11:00 p.m., the restaurant had closed and I was reduced to eating the peanuts and biscotti in my room’s minibar. I fell, exhausted, into bed around midnight and was jarred awake by my 5:00 a.m. alarm in order to catch the taxi for my flight to Lviv. Fortunately, upon checkout, the concierge had two large cartons of magnificent pastries. I grabbed two to snack on at the airport.

The flight to Lviv took me through Vienna which included a four-hour layover. Wandering around the airport, I was able to indulge in a wonderful Viennese breakfast of scrambled eggs, German sausage, fresh-squeezed orange juice and a beef broth–for $21. I didn’t care.

Finally, the time came for my departure to Lviv. The flight was only about two hours. I have to admit that I was tired from all the traveling through Italy and feeling a bit anxious to get back to Portland.

However, once the plane landed and the taxi took me through the streets of Lviv, I felt myself falling in love all over again with the city.

Again, I stayed with my former Airbnb host, Ed, who is now a friend. Walking through the streets of Lviv with him and his little family, I went back in time to 2015. The images of that first visit, when I was seeking my heritage were still remarkably fresh in my mind.

I remembered the sense of excitement I had that I was nearing the end of my genealogical journey. I had arrived armed with names/dates/locations. My biological brother was going to join me and we would, together, visit the hometowns of our maternal grandparents. Together we would catch a glimpse of the environment in which they lived in the small, ex-Soviet town of Kuty, Ukraine.

After his return to Astana, Kazahkstan, I remained in Ukraine for several more weeks to bring my search to its completion. I had no idea I would actually find living family members. I had no idea they would have knowledge of my background. I had NO idea they would have actual letters from my maternal grandfather or my late, beloved aunt.

Yet, all of the above would happen. I suppose it was providential that I would experience such alone. This was truly my search, one that I had begun in 1977 and that was rapidly coming to a close, although I did not know it.

After thirty-eight years, hundreds of thousands of dollars and a million tears, I would finally have my answers, answers I would not be able to articulate (and still can’t) and I would have a peace that I was not expecting (and wasn’t necessarily seeking).

Lviv feels comfortable. It feels like home, just like Italy does. I think that, spending nearly two months here back in ’15 helped to make it seem more familiar. My visits were not quick and furtive. They were extended and thoughtful.

I have been savoring the vibrant cafe culture and magnificent architecture. The city is more vibrant. I see more activity, more people, more wealth. Coffee is still $.90. Meals are still cheap.

Today I met with my cousin, Viktor for several hours and we talked. Later I had coffee with Viktor’s son, Victor. Each visit was satisfying. Unfortunately, Viktor’s father, Zenovyi, had died on Christmas Day, 2016, not even six months ago.

I will go to Kuty to visit his grave, leave flowers and pay my respects. Zenovyi was a wonderful man, full of mirth and whimsy, with a warm smile and infectious sense of humor, despite the language difference. My videos of him are even more precious now.

He has joined so many of my ancestors now. Yet I thank God so much that I had the opportunity to meet him. He provided a window into the lives of distant family members–life under collectivization, Stalinism, Communism and Soviet occupation. He gave me letters from my grandfather and connected the dots in a part of my ancestry that was incomplete.

And I was able to provide for him answers that had bedeviled him about a distant and fascinating family that he had heard about through his mother. I brought closure for him and his heart was at peace. When he asked me to be a brother to his beloved son, Viktor, my only answer could be “yes”.

It’s not the Ukraine girls who are knocking me out. It’s the Ukraine side of my adoption story.


1 thought on ““Well, the Ukraine girls really knock me out”–thank you, Beatles

  1. Hi Robert Came across your web page and would appreciate if you have any info about Kuty post WW2. My mother was dragged away in 1942 by the Germans and we never found out about the fate of her family left behind. Any general info on life under the Germans and then the Russians.

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