The Ukrainian Village Great Grandma Walked, Over 100 Years Ago


This summer Jan and I spent two and a half months in Europe.  We visited daughter Catherine in Germany,  made it to Turkey again,  a month in Italy, and 5 weeks in Lviv, Ukraine.  One of the highlights was exploring the village my Great Grandma Polly (born Paraska Chytyck) Mykytiuk.   Great Grandma left Ukraine in 1908 when she was ten.  As a kid I remember many things about her and her husband,  my great grandfather Stefan

Polly Mykytiuk's Handwriting, Babin etc

Aunt Kerry had Great Grandma write her village name (Babin) and her nearby main centre.

Mykytiuk.   But did I ever ask “Why did you come to Canada?  How?”  Of course not.  All we knew was from records that said they were from the “Bokuwina” region, now no longer in existence.  Many years ago my Aunt Kerry had Great Grandma write down a few words about her home town and her maiden name.  Using Google Map was a challenge.  Were Polly’s words in Ukrainian?  English?  Russian?  At times the land was part of Austria and Poland!  Did the village exist today?  We knew we had to look for (we think) Hredenko and Babin, not far from Chernivsti, Ukraine.  We thankfully hired a couple who would drive and interpret.  We drove for 3 hours of rough roads to Hredenko first.  Our interpreter suggested we visit a nearby church for some community info and it was a good move.  There we met a Catholic priest who knew everyone and everything about this town of 9000.  Yes he

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Notice the spelling – same as what Polly hand wrote top left in her handwriting above. Me and my Mom.

recognized the Mykytiuk name, and he offered to take us to a family with that name.  We ended up spending half a day with this fellow.  He drove with us to a local family business that shared the name, where we spent some time.  We had lunch,  he told us some history.  Fascinating.   Was there a certain link to the family?  It’s not certain, but – in a village of 9000 I suspect there was a relationship.  We heard of war times and current Crimean / Russian challenges, an amazing day with this fellow.    We spent the evening in Chernivsti and hoped to find a village – if it existed still – of Babin – the next day.

Next morning we continued to search on Google Maps for Babin. This was the village where Polly lived until she was 10.  It was difficult to find on the map due to changing borders, languages and the fact the village may not even exist any longer.  We almost gave it up, but the evening before at supper our interpretor came across the village on his map.   Babin was not far from Hredenko,  and we would drive the hour to this village.

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The bus stop at Babin with Jan, mom and me. We think the language is Russian.

Babin was about 30 minutes of pavement and 30 minutes of gravel away.  The plains were similar to Saskatchewan.  No wonder the Ukrainians were comfortable on the Canadian Prairies.   Babin was a village of maybe 800, and looked like it hasn’t changed much to this day.  Again we went to a church, where a lady I referred to as “The Town Mayor” took us to a local family who may knew more.    The Mayor ended up spending about 4 hours with us,  taking us from family to family to homes where “I think they may know the Chytyk family” or “They are related to the Mykytiuks”.    (We felt Polly and her future husband came from the same region)   Here local families told us of recent “Soviet times” pre-freedom 1996.  I asked one farmer where his farm land was.  In Ukrainian he told us “I don’t know.  They divided up all the farm land after Soviet times.  I rent it out.  I do not know where my land is”.  Many times we heard “We are poor,  but we are not hungry”.    These are people who to this day, in my estimation,  survive by filling their cellars with food all summer and get through the next winter till spring,  and that’s it.   We met about five families.    All had time for us.  All knew the

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Lower left, the village elder. Our interpreters and a few locals. Right, the “Town Mayor”. Upon hearing it was my Mom’s birthday in this back yard they broke into a Ukrainian version of a birthday song.

names we spoke of.  Again, too many years had passed to connect the family 100% for sure,  but a village of 800 with the Chytyk name everywhere –  I am certain they were related.   One highlight was in the village elder’s back yard.  When they heard it was my mom’s birthday,  they broke out into a birthday song traditional in Ukraine.  It was very difficult to keep the eyes dry.

We spent the entire day in Babin.  It was amazing to think “This is the village where my Great Grandma would have walked, over 100 years ago.  She would have taken the train to nearby Hredenko to shop with her family.   What was amazing was – to this day –  the locals are living month to month,  year to year.  A bit of food grown in their backyard or a plot of land.  Apparently a bit of income off farmland rented out.  Young people these days

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One of the local “Babas” gives mom a hug.   Left in the background – the “Mayor”. Soviet times. Freedom. “We are not rich, but we are not hungry”. It was amazing.

prefer to live in the big city.  The population stays much the same..

In nearby Chernivsti we went to a museum that specialized in the three waves of emigration of Ukrainians.  He answered a LOT of questions for us.   Many of the Ukrainians left because the habit of splitting farmland with the next generation meant smaller and smaller farms.  These Ukrainians were really peasants, with changing borders and difficult times politically.   Then the Canadians advertised free farmland – if you cleared it first and proved yourself for a few years.  An offer too hard to resist for the brave.  It is probable that Polly, then 10,  took the train from Chernivsti to Lviv,  then onward to Germany and onto a boat.   There was a fast boat (3-4 days) or the slow boat.  They probably took the slow boat of 21 days as it was far, far cheaper for these poor Ukrainians.  Often the deal was the boats were livestock ships returning to North America.  They were cheaper fares – if the passengers cleaned the ships during the trip.  Wow.

Jan, mom and I stayed a few nights in Chernivsti.  We thought we would take the train home, a 4 hour trip to Lviv.  The dollar is very low so it was easy to afford a sleep car, a private car for 4 people with beds.    We left around 4 PM and rumbled though the

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I like this picture because Mom is looking out the train window and pondering. The same window Polly would have also looked out. Except Polly knew in all likelihood she would never return to her village again.

villages and towns toward Lviv.  This was an experience in itself.   The scenery could have been Saskatchewan.

As our train rolled though the prairies and the sky turned to dark, we sipped on some vodka, made it to the diner car for a snack and a beer and enjoyed the scenery.   I said to mom “Hard to believe these are the same tracks your grandma would have been on in 1908, onward to a new land.”    Imagine what was going through this 10 year old’s mind?  She would have gazed out the same window.  She would have seen the same prairie sky as we watched.  Polly would be just as quiet as we were at times, I bet.  Quietly thinking about where her life would go.   Her train trip down these same tracks was similar to ours in some ways,  and yet her thoughts would be realizing she would probably never return to her home.   And she never did.    A friend said “How fortunate we are that these people left their homes for a better land. For a better life.”.  How true.  And how lucky were we to experience a taste of the journey over 100 years later with Polly’s granddaughter,  Nici, my mom, and Jan.

Map showing the route between Babyn and Horodenka (English spellings I believe).

 

 

 

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Ukrainian Village Great Grandma Walked, Over 100 Years Ago

  1. Loved reading your journey with Jan & Mom. One day George and I hope to return to the same area you travelled to retrace our grandparents journey from their villages. How very brave they were to come to a new land with no English, some tools and a piece of land covered in bush. No Government funding, just a piece of land. To them it was gold. A few years ago our family celebrated 100 years farming on the same land still in the family name.

    Wish you Mother (phonetically) Mnahalyaleeta!! It was probably the song they sang to her. Keep enjoying your travels.

  2. Hi Kevin,
    What an impressive visit it was. I read your blog with great interest and admiration of you following the trace back with Jan and Mom. Must have a been a once in a lifetime experience for you all. So happy to see all you learned during the trip.
    Cheers,
    Will

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