“The man on the left is my dad” by Maria P, UK

The man on the left is my dad who was Ukrainian. You may note that the photo looks a little odd – the background behind dad is different to the background behind the group on the right. That’s because dad went to a photographer and had himself super imposed onto the photo.

The group on the right are members of dad’s family – 2 sisters, brother in law and niece. Being in that photo was his way of being with his family again.

Dad’s story – in short:

He was the youngest of 5 siblings. When he was 9 he was orphaned and his sister (the one next to him) and brother in law took him in and raised him. The bond with that sister was immensely strong – she became his mum.

You will note that his brother in law is sat down. That’s because he was sent to Siberia along with many others at Stalin’s command. He hadn’t committed a serious crime… it was political – council worker at the wrong time!! He was one of the lucky ones because he was allowed to return to his family once he had lost the use of his legs and could no longer work.

Anyway, despite being an orphan, dad had a fairly happy life. He grew up, had friends, had a social life and played in a band that did weddings and other events and he made a nice living from it.

Then the Second World War arrived in his village in Western Ukraine.

Things started to happen. He saw his Jewish friends rounded up and taken away. He remembers his sister packing food and supplies for a family they were friends with so they could go on the run. She was too afraid to hide them as the soldiers were leaving no stone unturned and finding them there would have meant death to her family.

Then, one day, the young Ukrainian men of the village with very little warning were rounded up and put into the back of a van. He was one of them. He managed to say goodbye to his family and promised he would return.

Before they knew it these young men were conscripted into the German army and found themselves at war. Some were enthusiastic…. dad wasn’t. He wasn’t a fighter, he was one of the kindest, gentlest men you could ever meet. He had one gift that served him and his unit well – he had a German surname (no idea why) so he was liked by the Germans. Because of this he was able to negotiate better conditions for his fellow soldiers and once even managed to stop one of his colleagues – who had had a breakdown and refused to do guard duty – being executed.

Dad was eventually taken prisoner by the British. Although they were used to find mines, they were treated well and were properly equipped.

Eventually he ended up being brought to England – still as a prisoner.

The war ended but he couldn’t return home as the Iron Curtain was down and he was now an enemy of Stalin and would have been shot upon return along with anyone else that fought against Russia.

The British were kind and granted him permission to remain. They even created a travel document as he had no country to be able to apply for a passport to. He was eternally grateful for all this.

He settled in England and one day visited his friends (Ukrainian man with Italian wife). The friends had got a new lodger – my Italian mum. Dad walked in and saw her sat by the fire. That was it …. he was in love. The rest is history and has been recounted in my previous posts.

Every time I see this photo…. it reminds me of the pain that leaving ones own country brings, the things you leave behind.

It also reminds me of how beautiful freedom can be. Dad never saw his sister again!! By the time the curtain had lifted they were too frail. They wrote letters which would sometimes be censored – big black lines running through them rendering them unreadable!!!

This might be why I still struggle so hard to understand why people would voluntarily vote their freedom away. A freedom to travel, work, live and love in 27 other countries!!! I wonder if I’ll ever understand….??

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