It is interesting how in life you make plans to have an effect on an event and in the end the event has an effect on you. Well that is exactly what happened to me.
I have learned so much since having been invited to speak at the Ukrainian Festival here in Dickinson, ND that I can’t begin to tell you how impressed, pleasantly surprised and happy I am to have been a part of it.
I came with the intent to explain what I saw and experienced in our ancestral homeland Ukraine this past year, well actually since December 2013. I toiled over how much to say and how much not to say so as to leave a clear picture in the peoples’ minds of what is and has been really happening in Ukraine. There were other excellent speakers who spoke of Ukraine’s dilemma in relation to its big powerful neighbor on the east, Russia.
Growing up in New Haven, Ct. in a Ukrainian community I was sure I was well informed about all our “hromady” and emigre passions. Well I was wrong. I never knew about this community in North Dakota. Not only did I not know about it, I never even heard about it until I visited Ellis Island with my grand daughter and saw a big picture of Ukrainian Immigrants standing in front of their tiny church on a hill a few years ago. It was a picture from North Dakota. i said to my grand daughter someday we will go see that church and that hill.
Well a few years went by, life took me to Kyiv Maidan and the events in Ukraine that lead up to war with Russia now. Little did I know, that these events would lead me to Dickinson, ND in 2015 but they did. Those who attended my presentation know what I have experienced, but I would like to briefly share my experience with you that I have had over the past few days. I visited the UCI (Ukrainian Cultural Institute, Dickinson, ND), the University, the churches, the cemeteries, and Agnes Palanuk who is author of “Ukrainians in North Dakota In Their Voices”. Members of the community lent me a car to use and invited me to see the place they lived in which stretches for miles and miles. Col. Dolenko the military attache from the Ukrainian Embassy was here as well. On the last evening of the festival we were summing up our thoughts and experiences and we came to this conclusion;
This “hromada” this community this Parish of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Ukrainian Orthodox Church, are a unique “Hromada” unlike any other in the world. It may be similar to the communities in Parana Brazil, or Misiones Argentina, or Western Canada, but because this was in the United States it has it’s own character. After 1861 when slavery was abolished in Ukraine there were millions of peasants without land and work. The rulers were the Tsars in the East and Austrians in the west. The Austrians weren’t as domineering as the Tsars but they too were rulers over Ukrainians in Ukrainian lands. The Ukrainian peasants owned nothing, had little if any land, the countryside was populous and families weren’t able to feed their children or provide a home. Between 1870 and 1914 hundreds of thousands left Ukraine from the Dnister Bukovyna areas mainly, and nad Dniprianshchyna in Central Ukraine. These are the people who came to North Dakota to homestead in 1896 via Europe, Canada and Winnipeg, and some from Eastern USA. Agnes Palanuk’s family dates back to one of the first settlers from Ukraine in North Dakota from Halychyna where the Zbruch River meets Dnister. Her grandmother came with her husband and little daughter in 1897. That little daughter Paraska (Polly) is Agnes’ mother.
We were shown the land that these Ukrainian families own. They stretch as far as the eye can see. They are beautiful. They are farmed with sunflowers, wheat, canola, and more….. The hay is bailed now and looks beautiful on the plains. Since 1950 oil wells have been found. The land that was so difficult to plow and seed and reap, is now plentiful and has made our Ukrainians comfortable.
The first families lived in sod houses (a style of building they knew from Ukraine), and those houses still speck the landscape. They don’t speak of addresses here, they speak of the Palaniuk, the Havreluk, the Gregory etc homestead. This is how they settled and build North Dakota. They got 160 acres of land, and had to live on it. This broke the tradition of “selo” (village) in Ukraine since now they would be surrounded by the fields and not neighboring houses. In Ukraine the villages were surrounded by the fields. Often the first settlers experienced loneliness, especially the women. Within 5 years 40 acres had to be farmed so as not to lose the homestead. They pitched in and helped each other. To plow and seed 40 acres of grassland often without a horse was not an easy task. They had no money to start with so many didn’t have a horse. They did all the work by hand.
Today these families own Western North Dakota and rightfully so. They have mineral rights for their land, and they continue to hold onto it in their families and in their community. This is America. This was cultivated and cared for and cherished by immigrants from Ukraine. No other community in the United States has this quality. This is their bat’kiwshchyna (homeland). Ukraine is in their hearts.
July 21, 2015
featured image is my friend Agnes Palanyuk standing in front of her Aunt’s house saying Welcome “Zakhodit'” so I did. Agnes was the local teacher and would stop by her Aunt’s house here on her way to the school house. She was on horse at the time………