A strange country in London

Автор Byron Rogers

The free Ukraine is alive and well and lovingly preserved in a small room in Islington. Byron Rogers looks at the heart of a close-knit community in exile

They have kept everything. His suitcase, his curtains, the pens from his desk. There is nothing grand: mass- produced European furniture from the fifties, an ill-made grey suit, the sort of stuff which might turn up in a second-hand shop in the back streets of an industrial town. It is the ordinariness which tugs at the emotions, that and the glimpses of the private man: the hiking boots in his wardrobe, the photographs of him taken on a German hill, blinking in sunlight, and others of him with his small children laughing. You feel you would have liked him.

But photographs and flags are the currency of hero-worship. It is when you come upon a pair of grey nylon socks folded away that you stop dead. Nothing has been too trivial for them to keep.

Such things would have been out of place in a hall, with the guards of honour changing and the faithful filing past. But then this is different. This is the sacred inventory of de-feat: men store such things when the gale of the world blows everything else away. The shirt is there which he was wearing 25 years ago. For this is not history. This is now. On the collar are the few specks of blood which not even the expertise of the KGB could avoid when it murdered him.

One day there could be a hall or a national museum, but not yet. All this is stored now in a London street, in a small room in Islington.

(The KGB reads them with interest - Michael Powroznyk and (right) Ilko Dmytriv, who edit "Liberation Path", a Ukrainian-language journal).

He was just 50 when he died. Most of that time had been spent in exile or prison. But there were 12 days in it which changed everything for the men who assembled this room. On June 30 1941 his was the inspiration behind the setting up of the Ukrainian Underground State. On July 12 Stephen Bandera was arrested by the Germans.

He had been a leader of the Ukrainian Underground from his early 20s. There were Polish jails and then the postwar years of safe houses, always on the move in Germany and Austria. A surprisingly gentle man, his devotion to his family finally made him surface. The Soviet assassins were waiting, just as in 1926 they had waited for Petlura, head of the first Ukrainian State, and in 1938 for Konovalets, head of the military underground.

Open a door in an Islington street and you pass into another country. The map on the wall is not one you would recognise; the large, framed photographs on either side are of no one you know. And the gigantic shadow which hangs over everything here, you have encountered only in spy fiction. Open a door in Islington and you move 1,300 miles to the east. You are in the, Ukraine.

This article came to be written because of the way the street lights fall on the first storey of a large building, once an Edwardian pub, at the corner of Liverpool Road and Barnsbury Street. When the blinds are up the lights fall on the bust of a man. If you have ever noticed that, you will not have forgotten the hard, fine features.

It was known that the house was owned by Ukrainian exiles; that they had bought it over 20 years ago for less than £20,000; and that it was now worth over ten times that (“Good move,” said Mr Wood the butcher). It was known, too, that they had a printing press there, for at times you could hear it clattering.

You could also see them going to lunch at the pizza restaurant down the road: stocky men, most of them middle-aged, wavy-haired, not Enlglish. “They keeps themselves to themselves,” said Mr Wood. “Nice people.” Apart from that, nothing, what they printed and where it got distributed nobody knew. Nor who the man was on whose bust the street lights fell.

“He was a general,” said Ilko Dmytriw, looking up as, in large capitals, he wrote the name in my notebook: General Roman Shukhevytch. The bust stood on a cupboard in his office, beside a photograph of Bandera.

General Shukhevytch was the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Underground Army, once 200,000 strong; an army against which, by Khrushchev’s own admission, the Red Army had been obliged to deploy tanks, heavy artillery and ’planes. He was killed when Soviet troops attacked his headquarters in 1950. In 1950? A general fighting a full-scale campaign inside the Soviet Union?

Since Chernobyl we all know where the Ukraine is. It covers 365,000 square miles; population 51 million. It is a Soviet republic, with its own seat in the UN. That is odd for a start. So think of it in terms of an independent country: it would be the largest country in Europe, and the fourth largest nation.


"Enemies of the USSR" - at work in the Ukrainians` printing shop

The Ukraine, the bread-basket of Eastern Europe; producing over 40 per cent, of all Soviet steel, over one-third of all Soviet coal. The rest is all Soviet propaganda film: a happy laughing population at the harvest, brown arms in the wheat, and a landscape so flat there is no horizon. But think of those figures and then think of a Soviet Union without the Ukraine. If you were 70 years old and sat in one of those low rooms in the Kremlin you would think a lot about the Ukraine, and one year in particular: 1933. In 1933 one person in five died in the Ukraine as the result of a famine deliberately engineered by the Soviet state. In one year in the bread-basket of Europe seven million were starved to death.

The Russians have always been terrified of Ukrainian nationalism. Stalin even considered deporting the entire race. But then an idea presented itself to that bleak, bureaucratic mind: the easiest way to combat nationalism is to kill off the nation. Agriculture was in tatters because of forced collectivisation, but still the grain quotas mounted: the result was that in 1933 virtually the entire harvest was confiscated.

It was kept from the Western papers, and even now some people refuse to believe it for the scale of the thing. It has been said that the Russians would have to shoot down a jumbo jet every day for 70 years just to match what they did then in the Ukraine.

In Islington there are people who lived through this. They have got used to the fact that the Ukraine scarcely figures in English papers and they did not laugh at my questions. Did they feel the same way about the Russians as the Welsh felt about the English?

There was a long pause at that. “I think perhaps we feel more strongly,” said Wasyl Oleskiw gently.

Ilko Dmytriw, Secretary of the Ukrainian Information Service, stood beside a wall map of the Ukraine, his finger moving east from the Carpathian Mountains to the Dnieper, to the Black Sea - Hat country; tank country; cavalry country. “Our tragedy was that we were on other people’s crossroads.”

The Ukrainian principalities converted to Christianity in 988. “We were a Christian kingdom when they ...” — the finger had moved north and east - “When they were nothing.”

And then the empires came, the Mongol empire pushing west, the Polish empire pushing east. Then the Russians in the 18th century ... the Austro-Hungarians ... the Germans ... the Soviets. The finger on the map was moving as remorselessly as a pendulum.

It was only in the break-up of empires that the Ukrainian state emerged, first in the 16th century, then for three years after the First World War. In 1941, a week after the German invasion, the state rose again. Twelve days in July.

The result was that the Ukrainian Underground Army found itself in the bizarre and unique position of fighting both the German and Soviet armies. The gale of the world was blowing again through the Ukraine, as it had done for 700 years, and when it subsided most of the men in the house in Islington found themselves in Britain.

‘‘I didn’t speak a word of English, but after my travels that did not matter so much,” said Wasyl Oleskiw, aged 60, a farmer’s son who is Secretary of the Ukrainian Publishers. After slave labour in Poland and in France he escaped and joined the French Resistance and the Allied armies. He believes his father was deported to Siberia after the war.

Ilko Dmytriw, 67, also a farmer’s son, brought up on a 20-acre farm, served in the Waffen SS: “They rounded us up and offered us either that or slave labour. I joined as there was a possibility of fighting Russians.” He surrendered in Austria to the British Eighth Army. For some reason the Ukrainians, unlike the Don Cossacks, were not forcibly repatriated. After the war he made contact with his family who were in Siberia, his letter taking six months to get to them, via the U.S. and a family in the Ukraine. There was one letter, which was answered, and then silence. He heard of his father’s death 18 months after it happened and doesn’t know what became of his mother. Both had spent 15 years in Russian concentration camps.

Their stories are typical of those of the older generation of Ukrainians. There had been a tiny group in Britain before the war, the remains of Tsarist emigration. As a result of the Second World War there is now a community of 33,000. Canada has 700,000, the United States a million-and-a-half. “I think we have integrated very well. We have never asked for any privileges."


Blood on their hands - the carefully-preserved shirt Ukrainian hero Stephen Bandera was wearing at the time of his KGB assassination

It would be difficult, they say, to live in an entirely Ukrainian community, but not impossible. There is a Ukrainian cooperative society, the Nova Fortuna, with an annual turn-over of £1m with its headquarters in Oldham and a branch in London. There are 22 Ukrainian Saturday schools teaching the language.

This has produced a second generation, “speaking perfect English and Ukrainian with an English accent.” sighed Ilko Dmytriw sadly. Wolodymyr Humenuk, aged 36, has a Bradford accent. "Bit of a mouthful my name.” His children also speak Ukrainian, the language of a country he and they have never seen. He has no friends outside the Ukrainian community, and has married into it. He now works as a printer for Ukrainian Publishers.

The strange thing about the house in Islington is this gap in the generations. On the ground floor there is a modern press, manned by the young. Upstairs are the small administrative offices, cluttered with papers. Here the older generation sits with photographs of heroes of its youth. Downstairs they have pinned to the wall a photograph of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Two years after the end of the war they had a press in Britain. In Islington now they print a weekly newspaper (circulation 4,000), a monthly magazine (circulation 4,000), a quarterly (circulation 2,000) and two books a year. Most go by post to subscribers, four copies of each going to what is probably the KGB headquarters in Kiev, “mainly so they can quarrel with them.” Out of Kiev come, by return, copies of the Soviet newspaper, News from the Ukraine, burbling about coal production and power-station turbines.

“They accuse us in most issues of being enemies of the Soviet Union,” said Ilko Dmytriw. “Which, of course, we are.”

Sixteen Ukrainians are employed in Islington, 12 of them in the print works. They print for other exiled Eastern Europeans, sometimes for the British. They receive no subsidy from outside their community. (“It is a commercial enterprise. In most years we make a profit. ”)

The Underground, they claim, is still in being, both inside and outside Russia. Yes, occasionally they did carry news about it, but only when someone died. As for themselves... they shrugged. Sometimes they stood in the rain outside the Soviet Embassy with printed posters, “USSR - destroyer of nations. ’ ’

The Soviet monolith, they believe, is crumbling. The cracks were there now in things like the economy, but the West was frightened of the outcome and would not admit it. They have no doubts about this. In their lifetime? Perhaps. In the lifetime of their children, who spoke Ukrainian with an English accent? Perhaps. But it would happen.

Four years ago they built an ex-tension to the old pub. They keep it locked and scrupulously clean; there are no windows. There they have stored Bandera’s clothes and his furniture, as well as two small urns: one contains soil from his grave; the other soil from the Ukraine. Though anyone can visit this room on request, it is in the nature of a time- vault. Their lives turn around the certainty that one day this will be opened and moved.


Джерело: Sunday Telegraph Magazine. - probably after 1986.


The first page of original of article


Про нас

The Ukrainian Information Service (UIS London) is an information bureau established in London during the 1970s as the successor of the Ukrainian Publishers. Originally, the aim of UIS London was the dissemination of factual information about Ukraine, in particular, Ukrainian politics, history and current affairs.

Since its inception, UIS London has liaised with government officials, think tank organisations, the mass media and charities working to raise the profile of Ukraine in the UK and strengthening bilateral relations.

The collection of documents, related to this activity, formed the foundations of the archives, situated on this web-site.

Although the nature of work UIS London undertook altered after Ukrainian independence, the basic tenets of promoting, advocating and strengthening Ukraine has remained.

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