This week’s edition of ‘A world of inspiration‘ is brought to you by Andy Jarosz who lives in England. Andy shares with us a story about his journey with his mother to the Ukraine, her birth place to learn about her family history. It is a poignant story about the painful memories from Europe’s darkest period and a humble ode to the survivors.
Ghosts of the Past
My mother stood on the street in the tiny village of Podluze, where she had been born in 1932. It had been in Poland then, and is now part of western Ukraine. Her family was deported by Stalin’s troops in early 1940, and she would become a refugee for the next 7 years; a period where she travelled through three continents, lost her father, two little brothers and her sister, and where hunger and cold were a constant threat to her very survival.
This was her first return in 67 years. It had taken some persuasion for her to make the trip, but she had moved from apprehension to great excitement. As we stood and took in the scene, I was disappointed that my mother did not experience that Eureka moment. Nothing came back to her; it was as if she had no connection to this place.
We started to speak to passing villagers. Communication was not easy as our Ukrainian was not good, but a blend of Russian, Ukrainian and Polish ensured that we did understand one another with some effort.
Discovering our family history in Ukraine
We spoke to a number of people without much success, and then we passed two ladies in their late fifties, who were walking along the street. My mother asked them whether they remembered any talk of the Wilusz family, and after some confusion one of them told us to wait while she called “the baba” – we took this to mean her mother. After a moment the old lady came out – she must have been approaching 90, and despite having no teeth displayed a wide, almost cheeky, smile.
She said she did remember the Wilusz family, and that they were weavers. This was correct and was a great boost for us, and offered to show us around the village. She was very happy to have some company and be taken out for a morning stroll. I got the feeling that very little happened in Podluze.
As we led her along the street, she told us stories of the old village, and how things had changed so much. She talked about the foreign money that was now changing the village, with villagers making good money working in the west for a few years. City folk were coming into the village as urban property prices rose.
We quizzed her on what she remembered from the pre-war days, but it seemed from what she was saying that almost nothing (and no-one) remained from that time. She was one of the few remaining survivors, in a place where men rarely live past 60 and women run almost every aspect of the household and village life.
Although speaking about those times clearly evoked some painful memories for her, she spoke with a clarity and sense of resignation that suggested she had long accepted the ghosts of the past.
It struck me that although she had never left her immediate surroundings, she must have lived through a lot of changes in her long life. She was born when her homeland was under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and then lived her childhood under Polish rule. During the war the village was occupied by the Germans for a few years and witnessed some well-documented atrocities and massacres, before being taken in as part of the western edge of the Soviet Union for 46 years. Only in 1991 did she finally live in an independent Ukraine. She would have seen armies of every colour marching, advancing and retreating along the now deserted village street.
Her broad smile and cheery disposition in the final years of such an eventful existence were humbling to witness. She looked desperately frail, but she clearly harboured a spirit and a wisdom within her that had marked her out as one of life’s survivors. I’m sure she’s still smiling now, wherever she is.
To complement this post, Andy wrote a separate article about his journey through the Ukraine: “Ukrainian Odyssey: Reunited After 70 Years“.
About this week’s guest writer
Andy Jarosz is a passionate traveller and a professional writer whom only recently has started to link his work with his passion. Writing in corporate magazines and creating website content might pay the bills, but it is recounting the experiences of his 20+ years of semi-nomadic existence that really get the creative juices flowing. His travel blog 501 places is a selection of his experiences from his travels, and is updated daily.