Michigan Friends of UCU Chair Gives Interview

Friday, September 7, 2018

Vera Andrushkiw, Chair of the Michigan Friends of the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), recently gave an interview about her life. (BELOW)

A reminder that the Michigan Friends are organizing a luncheon to benefit UCU on November 11. More information available HERE

Vera Andrushkiw of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America:

From Supporting the Dissidents of the 1960s to Helping ATO Soldiers

The first language of Ukrainian Vera Andrushkiw was German. She spoke it before she entered school, living with the family of a German farmer for whom her parents worked. Her parents were wealthy Ukrainian villagers from the Ternopil Region who refused to enter the collective farm and, in order to save their own lives, were forced to flee in the middle of the night from their home. So in 1944 the family reached a station in Pidhaets. The Germans took everything: wagons, horses, cows, and brought them in freight cars to Peremyshl, to a transitional camp. They conducted disinfection there and took them to Rosenheim at Arbeitsamt, the work office. And so the family ended up in Bavaria: first in the service of wealthy German Franz Guber and after the war to a displaced persons camp. In 1949 they immigrated to the USA.

Mrs. Andrushkiw is now 75 and head of the Detroit Branch of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America (UNWLA), which  today actively helps ATO soldiers. In particular, it helps with doctors and by paying for prostheses. Also, thanks to UNWLA financing, a psychological consultation center which provides psychological rehabilitation for soldiers has been created at UCU. She is also the Chair of the Michigan Friends of UCU.

The way home: A family history

“When I was a year and a half old, a hired hand came to Dad and said that he saw his name on a list for arrest and that it would be better if he didn’t spend the night at home. Dad decided that no one in the family would spend the night there… A pair of horses, a cart, and all of us (Dad, Mom, my brother who was five years older than me, and I) went west. That was 1944,” recalls Vera Andrushkiw.

And then it was like a movie: in a few days the Germans had taken the family and sent them by train to various camps in Germany, like hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians. They stopped in various cities, but eventually Vera’s family was taken to serve a wealthy German, a farmer named Franz Guber. “I was very small then and the man’s youngest daughter, Liza, looked after me,” says Mrs. Andrushkiw. “Of course, she spoke with me in German, and I also started to speak in German. Momma was then very worried that I wasn’t speaking Ukrainian.”

At the end of the war, the family was freed and, at the advice of the farmer, were sent to a displaced persons camp. They ended up in camp in the so-called “American zone” in Neubauer near Rosenheim, near a castle on a hill (where, literally, Mussolini stayed). There in one wing were 1 000 Ukrainians and in another 1 000 Lithuanians. When people started to leave and the camp was getting smaller, Vera’s family was taken to Pirten, near Meldorf.

“There we lived in military apartments. I soon went to kindergarten, and my brother to school,” Vera recounts. “Those camps were a beautiful example of Ukrainians’ organization outside the territory of their homeland: school, chorus, drama group, Plast, youth organizations… Life did not stop.”

Later, in order to go to America, Vera’s parents first found there an employer, a farmer from the state of Wisconsin. But they didn’t manage to send him their documents on time and he refused to wait. But this didn’t stop the family, and through the Red Cross they were able to find an aunt who had immigrated to America (Boston) between the wars. And thanks to her summons, Vera’s family was able to immigrate to New York.

“We arrived in September. Our aunt met us and helped find one room where we could live, and she herself returned to Boston,” Vera recounts. “My brother and I went to school, I to second grade, he to eighth. But eventually sadness came: after a year and a half of life on a new continent, Dad died of a heart attack and our upbringing totally lay on Momma’s shoulders.”

But, in general, things were fine with all the Ukrainians in New York, because the community was actively developing various organizations, like Plast, SUM, ODUM, and schools of Ukrainian studies. “From childhood they told us that our most important task was to preserve the language and culture and pass it on to the next generation. Not everyone did this and some assimilated,” she says. “The organization Plast had a great influence on me. I also took part in various camps where I was a counselor and eventually commander. I also belonged to the Dumka Choir and the students’ club. I attended various concerts in New York and patriotic events.”

When she finished school, Vera started at a bachelor’s program at Hunter College and then a master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania. She lived in Philadelphia for some time. Eventually she married Bohdan Andrushkiw, who was also the son of Ukrainian immigrants (his father a mathematician, his mother a psychologist). While studying at Hunter, she met him in the Catskill Mountains in New York state, a place where Ukrainians gather in the summer to spend time together.

After the wedding she and her husband moved to Michigan. There she taught the Ukrainian language at the University of Michigan. Eventually two daughters were born to them: Khrystyna and Oksana, and for some time Vera devoted herself to her children.

When her daughters started school, Vera started to teach Ukrainian language, literature, and history at Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Middle School in Detroit, where together with the other teachers she put on plays, to encourage the students to communicate in the Ukrainian language. Eventually she taugth at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan. And for three years in a row she was director of the Ukrainian summer courses at Harvard University and taught a course in the Ukrainian language for business. That was from 1997 to 1999. “Teaching at Harvard was exceptionally interesting,” says Vera. “Even workers of the US State Department came to us, and journalists from Europe who wanted to study the Ukrainian language for business and culture.”

… so that they know about Ukraine

Earlier, in the 1960s, Mrs. Andrushkiw together with other Ukrainians in the USA dsitributed information about dissidents who, because of their pro-Ukrainian position, had been arrested. Ukrainians in the diaspora created a special committee to provide Americans with information about the arrests and persecution of the intelligentsia in Ukraine. At that time there was no international press agency in Kyiv. All information that reached the USA came through Moscow.

“I went to the editors of American newspapers and asked them to write about what was happening in Ukraine, about the arrests of dissidents and the intelligentsia. They didn’t want to do this. I had the following conversation with the editor of the newspaper ‘Detroit Free Press’:

  • ‘We won’t write about Ukraine. Who’s interested?’ So the editor responded to my request.
  • ‘Your readers.’ I responded. ‘There are some 30-40 thousand Ukrainians in Michigan who also read your newspaper.’
  • ‘That’s not enough.’
  • ‘And if I tell a story: Ukrainian journalist Viacheslav Chornovil wrote a book, ‘Woe from wit,’ about the judgement on the dissidents. Among other things, it’s been translated into English… If something like this happened in the USA, wouldn’t you write about it? You are also a journalist and can’t you understand this?’
  • ‘I understand, but I don’t have time for this.’

“Then I decided to invite him to lunch and again try to persuade him. I thought that was a good idea. Everyone wants to eat, so they won’t refuse,” she smiles. “After thinking a minute, he jokingly replied:

– ‘Good… Where do revolutionaries eat?’

“I mentioned one of the most expensive restaurants. He agreed and we made a deal. I also invited Roman Tarnovskyi to the meeting, a lawyer and member of our committee. After the discussion and lunch the editor responded that he would write the article and also assign a journalist to this theme, who would write about the persecution of dissidents in Ukraine. And so the article appeared.

“Eventually, when teaching in high school, I gave the students an assignment to write letters to Ukrainian political prisoners and dissidents (we had the actual addresses of concentration camps). The students immediately asked:’When will they write back to us?’ I answered: ‘I don’t know if they’ll ever write back, but let the government know that WE KNOW that these people are in prison.’”

And one more story about the small steps through which Ukraine become more visible in the USA’s information horizon:

“Once on Easter I turned on the TV,” recounts Vera. “Daily a multilingual speaker gave the weather report for the capitals of various countries in the language of the country. Of course, he never mentioned Ukraine and the weather in Kyiv. And here I asked him to say the weather in Kyiv in Ukraine. He listened… I recall how pleased I was and how important it was for me.”

Vera visited Ukraine often and, with the announcement of state sovereignty in 1990, brought students, Americans of Ukrainian descent, to Ukraine on excursions. Once, planning her next trip, Vera had an extra task, requested by a mathematician – to bring a computer from America for a mathematician in Lviv.

“We agreed to meet at the border station in Chop. The one thing I knew about this man was his name,” recounts Vera. “Finally, arriving in Chop, I went to the station and looked around. No one looked me in the eye. Suddenly I saw a pair of eyes which were also looking for someone. I came closer, and then like in a spy film:

– ‘Roman?’ – I asked.

– ‘Vera?’ – said the man.

“We both went to the customs agent to get the computer. It was 2 a.m.

‘Congratulations! It’s such a happy occasion that Ukraine has proclaimed independence. Now we are more free to help you,’ I said to the customs agent. ‘Right here with me is a professor from Lviv University. I brought a computer for him. I have all the documents for the device and I want to pay the customs fee.’

“He looked carefully and answered (in Russian): ‘I won’t allow this,’ and sent it to his superior. There I told the same story and said that this device was for a young member of the intelligentsia. And he said: ‘Do you really think he is of the intelligentsia? My dear lady, there needs to be at least three generations to start an intelligentsia.’

“I then became very angry and replied: ‘Two have been destroyed. It needs to start somewhere.’ And at that he said: ‘Take your computer and go.’

“That’s the story…”

Aid for Ukraine

When Ukraine declared its independence, at the request of Viktor Pynzenyk and Ivan Vasyunyk Vera helped students organize the newly-created Lviv Institute of Management (LIM) at the Wayne State University Business School.

“I got the dean (Dr. William Volz) and the assistant dean (Dr. Ray Hannick) interested  in the dynamic events in Ukraine and the possibility of cooperation, and over an eight-year period I volunteered and organized three-week internships in Detroit,” said Vera. “Thanks to the hospitable Ukrainian community and Ukrainian professionals like Helen Petrauskas of blessed memory (the vice-president of Ford), Hryhoryi Malynovskyi, of blessed memory, and various Ukrainian engineers, student of the LIM had the opportunity to visit automobile companies and various businesses in Detroit and get acquainted with the American approach to starting a business. And eventually, when I visited LIM in Lviv they asked me: “What’s new in Detroit?” recounted Vera Andrushkiw.

Eventually Vera received a grant from the American government for the exchange of teachers of Ivan Franko University in Lviv, Lviv Polytechnic, and LIM, thanks to which the teachers had the opportunity to develop new courses and materials and translate textbooks in economics. “Those were exceptionally interesting and dynamic times!” she recalls.

After such varied experiences in Ukraine, in 1999 Nadia K. McConnell invited Vera Andrushkiw to become vice-president for external relations of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, director of the Partnership of Communities program. Thanks to this, Mrs. Andrushkiw had the opportunity to work with American and Ukrainian cities on reforms in local government, involving citizens, economic development, and improving utilities.

“There was a particularly interesting project of the United States Agency for International Development in Ukrainian self-government,” says Vera Andrushkiw. “American workers in local government with great dedication worked together with Ukrainian mayors and officials. Together they discussed questions of improving the water supply, economic development, utilities, and the involvement of citizens. I was glad to observe changes in the approach of Ukrainian officials after they returned from their internships at their American partner city.”

Today Vera Andrushkiw is head of the Detroit branch of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America. The organization now has 10 divisions and joins women of various ages and various immigration waves. At the start of the war in eastern Ukraine, when the army had still not been formed, the UNWLA began to actively help volunteers. In particular, it sent food and clothing both for soldiers and for refugees.

Eventually, the need arose to help the families of slain soldiers and to rehabilitate and treat soldiers who had lost limbs. These wounded soldiers traveled thanks to the mediation of Irena Vashchyk’s Revived Soldiers Ukraine. Now six young men have received prostheses from Binson’s in Detroit. Doctors have also greatly lowered their prices upon learning that this is for soldiers. And one of them was even inspired to travel to Ukraine to help Ukrainian specialists examine and treat wounded ATO participants.

 “The family of Roman and Zirka Zubra then helped very much. They provided a building for wounded soldiers – Oleksandr Pivnev, Oleksandr Darmaros, Dytro Kotov – who were there almost two years,” says Vera. “Oleksandr Darmoros was there the longest. In the war he lost a leg, his sight in both eyes, and his face was also seriously disfigured. In Ohio a  guide dog was specially trained for him. And Oleksandr himself learned to play the bandura thanks to Roma Dyhdalo of UNWLA.”

Also, thanks to the UNWLA, UCU has been able to open a psychological consultation center, Horizon of Hope, which provides psychological rehabilitation for soldiers of the ATO. Mrs. Andrushkiw is convinced that this is no less important than physical rehab.

‘I’m working on it,’ instead of “I don’t know how to”

“Traveling to Ukraine 10 years ago, I got tired of the phrase that I heard from almost everyone: ‘That’s our fate…’”

“Luckily, today a new generation of Ukrainians, especially those who were on the Maidan, are gradually changing this attitude. But still, the majority still don’t believe in changes and their ability to make them,” recounts Vera Andrushkiw.

“Ukrainians need to take the example of Americans, pioneers who, coming to a foreign continent, had to struggle to make a life for themselves. Today their creed is the ‘can do attitude.’ ‘I can overcome everything. I’ll do everything.” This is crystallized in the American understanding of the value of human individualism. The motto of Ukrainian immigrants was ‘You need to provide help to yourself.’ The credit unions are called ‘Selfreliance.’

“You also never hear from them: ‘I can’t, I don’t know how to.’ This will be their answer: ‘I will be able to do that, I’m working on it.’ It might seem just a formula, but it encourages motivation, confidence, and a positive attitude towards people. It’s worthwhile for Ukrainians to ‘catch’ this understanding of one’s self and one’s possibilities…”

Prepared by Oksana Levantovych

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