Lukas reflects on his family's experience as Ukrainians over the course of four generations.
After his family lost their fortune and farmland to the State, and they fell victim to the desecration of the Holodomor. At fifteen he was sent to fight on the Eastern Front– regarded the deadliest battlefield in modern warfare– by the Soviets. His father came from Cossacks, the name for Ukrainian warriors who were expertly trained for extreme horseback combat and conquered all that stood in their path. The Bolsheviks, the same people that started the Soviet Union, killed his father in cold blood.
Destruction bloomed in his veins, but it was the intensity that exploded in freshly dead men’s stuttering eyelids that caused his heart to halt. In the grips of the damp sod his fatigues were spattered along the front by a congealed mass of curdled crimson and muck. He peered across the ditch. A man with a name and a lineage, now lost in decay, its dreary remnants lay before him in a man’s massacred former shell. Where his head should have been, only a bloody stump of bone and shredded muscle. A funnel of pulp painted the dead space. It wasn’t worth it, he thought. This wasn’t for Ukraine it was for suicide, it was for the oppressors that labeled him expendable and labeled his country as their own.
He swapped dog tags with the corpse and himself surrendered to the Nazis. His name was Ivan; this pivotal act of self-preservation is the reason that these words meet this page today.
A few years later, his son was born in a liberated concentration camp. When he was seven, they traveled to the states. Then the Americans stole his name, and Ivan became John. Their last name remained wrong until his mother died, because he feared the Soviets would have killed her if they knew he was still alive.
Now his grandson is on the verge of forty-seven, with two sons of his own, and a hefty sum of fears for his family’s country. Like a Cossack, he is bald, only without a tiny tuft of hair on the side of his head, his dome is completely clean. A bushy beard of bleached bramble, grows from his face. He wears newsie caps and thick-rimmed glasses. Decorated in a typhoon of tattoos on near every available surface.
Hundreds of years of persecution has escalated again and the agony of his ancestors has come rushing back; horrified and unsure.
“We’re an extremely proud people with a strong sense of national identity,” Christopher Pidustwa explains, “sometimes to a fault, but it’s understandable as to why.” He chronicles a legacy of constant oppression, specifically from Russia. He also talks about Ukrainian stereotypes, like how everyone carries guns and always smells like soup, of which he jokingly admits the truth of. “The issues that this war arose from are issues that go back centuries,” some of the harshest truths arise near the tail-end of the conversation, “goes all the way back to the foundation of the Kyivan-Rus’. It’s two national identities that are very entwined and ultimately what it comes down to is that Ukraine is a very valuable place,” he explains, “it’s always been coveted by the Russians.” In an attempt to lighten the mood Christopher describes what he’s most proud of about Ukraine, “I’m most proud of our rich culture… and borscht.”
Ivan was a “fox,” someone who snuck out of the camp and smuggled food back for others. Soft eyes and a faintly heard voice. Doctors told him he had five years to live without one of his lungs, but made it triumphantly through another eighteen. Short in stature but with a heart larger than Putin’s quivering insecurities, he adored his grandson. Always made it clear to him, you’re American, but you’re Ukrainian first. Ivan never saw his homeland again, but his legacy lives on in the spirits of everyone who dares to fight today.
PHOTO CRED: Chronicle Live