Today we visited the rolling hills of my maternal grandmother, Anna (Kutsa) Maryn’s, birth village of Velikiy Lazuchin.
I spent summers growing up at my Baba’s cottage, so I feel very close to my Baba. But she is a woman who is as hard as nails. Her region of Ukraine lived through Holodomor, Stalin’s man made famine that was designed to break the back bone of Ukrainians and quell the notion of an independent Ukraine, and consequently killed over 4 million people. She was abducted by Nazis from her village when she was 18, and survived the war as a forced labourer in Germany. She moved to Canada with only a single trunk of belongings, completely alone, and built a life for herself. My Baba is a God Damn superwoman — as they all seem to be!
Before I left for Ukraine, Baba told me that there was nothing left in the village. And that I shouldn’t go, that there is more to see in the cities. But I told her that for me, it is interesting. I want to see where she was born. And she said OK whatever you want. So here we are!
The drive to and from this tiny village in the Khmerlynsky Oblast is absolutely picturesque. It seemed as we drove closer and closer to her village the landscape became more and more beautiful. I know it sounds exaggerated and cheesy, but it really is true.
The dirt road leading to her village becomes nestled in within rolling hills and massive corn fields on both sides.
Your first glance of the village, however, makes it look like a ghost town. You drive into a valley and looking up to the village you see only broken down old buildings. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. But then, the first thing you see coming up the hill into the village is a beautiful, shiny (literally!) church. To the left of us, a field, one resting cow, and a woman working in the distance.
I went to ask her about the Kutsa family, and if she knew where the house once was. She didn’t know anything about it, but she called someone, said someone was here from Canada, and told me to go down to the end of the road, and the man would be waiting there for me.
So we went, and a man probably in his 40s came out of a municipal building. I explained my situation, and his colleague came out. I told them I wasn’t looking for family, as the family I met in Kyiv said no one was here. We went inside and she suggested to him that maybe it was in archives. But he said the archives only begin in 1946 — anything before then was destroyed by the war.
We stepped back outside and they racked their brains (they were pretty invested and excited that we had come from Canada to their village!) and I saw these two old Babas sitting by this memorial. I suggested they might know, since in my experience the old Baba’s seem to be the keepers of all knowledge in the village.
These two Baba’s are the quintessential village Babas. Like something you’d find in a fairy tale. I asked if they remembered the Kutsa family and amazingly, they did. By they I mean one Baba did, Olya, as the other Baba didn’t seem to remember very much at all. And she described where their house was and what it looked like, and who lived there and all of that. Pretty amazing since this was almost 80 years ago.
She also mentioned that there was a woman in the village who once had the Kutsa name. Lina went to go see if she was home, but I was skeptical there was a relation since my family that I met in Kyiv said no one lived there still.
But sure enough, around the corner we heard (before we saw) Tonya. This warm, portly woman came bellowing toward me exuberantly, exclaiming that we were third cousins, listing off everyone’s name in my family that she knew — Hanna, Luba, Sonia! She was so excited, she didn’t ask my name until part way through our meeting.
My Baba’s father, Pavlo, was her grandfather’s brother. Which makes her my third cousin. Despite this distant relation, we were warmly greeted! She brought us back to her house — this adorable cottage decoratively painted with flowers on the exterior. She came inside and wanted to show me the pictures she had of our Canadian family — the only one she was able to find was of my Baba, Aunt and mom from the 70s. Although I was mostly interested in the old black and white photos she had of our Ukrainian family. She still had a card sent from my Baba in Canada in 1988, as well as scarves that my Baba sent to her from Canada.
Tonya then took us to the place where Baba’s house once stood. Just as the two village Babas described, Tonya painted me a picture of the House. There were two houses, both long. She said how when Baba was there, there would have been two more roads running behind where her house once stood, and the village stretched beyond this white house in the distance.
The land is so beautiful. It sits quaintly on top of a small hill framed by a beautiful rolling hill on the horizon. Two cottages still remain beside, with the sounds of chickens and cows in the background.
Olya wanted to invite us for coffee but I have seen what coffee means for Ukrainian women in villages (aka a giant feast and horilka— vodka) so unfortunately I had to decline as we were on our way to the Carpathian Mountains today and had a long road ahead of us.
She and I walked back to my car. I asked her a little bit about why the family stayed in Ukraine, and she talked a bit about that. But she started talking about the war in the east. And got quite emotional about it — she feared that her sons (who are 28 and 25) would get wrapped up in it. She said it is terrible. And that no one wants to go fight in the war — no one. Even if they think they do, they don’t. She reiterated just how much she feared for her sons. And how you hear of so many boys from other villages that go, and get killed, and they’re mothers’ are heartbroken. And if anything happened to her sons, she wouldn’t know what to do.
When she spoke about this, she was no longer yelling. Her voice dropped, and she said it almost like a whisper. I could feel her fear. And I told her that I am here to bring the news so people understand what is happening in Ukraine in Canada. And that we are praying for her and Ukraine.
At this point we said one more goodbye, and we hit the road toward the Carpathians. I am writing this while on the pothole filled roads bumping around, trying not to get car sick. And so far so good! The drive has been stunning.
Although we can’t visit my maternal grandfather, Nicholas Maryn’s village as it is somewhere in Polish territory now, he is from the Carpathian region. So it is appropriate to round off our “family” part of our research in the Mountains. Plus, the last few days have been jam packed, so I can could really use some R&R in the mountain air.
Over and out!