Lubomyr Luciuk, Kingston, ON.
He was a peasant, working on an estate near Kamianets-Podilskyj, in Podilia, part of the fertile black-earth (chornozem) region of Russian-occupied Ukraine. The year was 1912. One morning, listening to the estate’s mistress telling him what his daily chores were, he noticed she was sitting on a chamber pot, doing her business as she rattled off her orders. He couldn’t take that. So, at age 22, along with his friend, Sam Mehalosky, he escaped. The lads went through Romania to Germany, from where they took passage on a Hamburg-America Line steamship, the SS Pallanza, heading for this Dominion. Both settled in Kingston and found work in the Davis Tannery. Eventually, Ivan bought a farm off Sydenham Road.
Ivan returned to the “old country” only once, in May 1914, to get married. The plan was for his wife, Carolina, to soon follow him. When the Great War broke out, in August 1914, they were separated for over a decade. She did not get to Canada until 1925. Their son was born a year later. He was named Mitchell John but everyone called him Mitch.
I first met Mitch on 12 February 1978. I was doing an MA on the historical geography of Ukrainians in Kingston. I don’t remember who thought he would be a good source– most likely Nellie Hoba or Maria Charitoniuk, two interwar immigrants – so I drove out to the Andriesky farm. Mitch certainly had a lot to say. And, as a 1953 graduate of Queen’s University – the year I was born – he relished telling the son of post-Second World War refugees about what life had been like here before my parents arrived. Since his Dad was one of the very first Ukrainians in Kingston, Mitch was a fount of information.
One story he told was about Nikita Natalsky, another young man who came from Ukraine before 1914. In Barriefield, on 29 July 1915, Nikita enlisted with the 59th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Private Natalsky (No. 455041) ended up on the Western Front, suffering a bullet wound, a poison gas attack, and a venereal disease. Discharged after the war’s end as “medically unfit for further service,” 17 February 1919, Nikita returned to Kingston. He fell mortally ill on 12 June 1922 and died and was buried the very next day, the cause of death listed as “tuberculosis.” No record exists of who paid the $7 burial fee, but, with no family here, and no government department willing to make the arrangements, Mitch said it was all left for Ivan Andriesky to take care of. He did, even paying for Nikita’s gravestone. It still stands alongside those of Natalsky’s fellow soldiers in the Field of Honour at the Cataraqui Cemetery, a national historic site.
After hearing this, I made it a personal duty to visit Private Natalsky’s grave annually, saying a prayer and laying a poppy for him on Remembrance Day. But in 2018 I was out of the country. When I resumed my vigil, last year, I was alarmed to see how an orange-coloured lichen had almost obliterated the inscription on Natalksy’s gravestone. I contacted Veterans Affairs and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They weren’t willing to do anything.
So I phoned Mitch. Generously, he offered to contribute to the headstone’s restoration. I declined, saying we’d find the money elsewhere. We got a Ukrainian Canadian Veterans Fund grant from the Shevchenko Foundation and support from the Ukrainian Canadian Club of Kingston.
Alexander Gabov finished the conservation work just a few weeks ago. I remember waking up on 28 July and thinking I needed to call Mitch to share the good news. But the day got away from me. I didn’t phone. Then I got sad news. Mitch died on the morning of 30 July.
I thought about this when we buried Mitch the other day. I remembered how Ivan and Sam left Ukraine together, spent their lives in Kingston and died within a few weeks of each other, to be laid to rest, side by side, in St. Mary’s Cemetery. I always felt Mitch and I should visit their graves. I never got around to organizing that either, not until the other day. It was only when I went to see where Mitch’s ashes would be committed to the earth that I finally saw the gravestones of Ivan Andriesky and Sam Mehalosky.
My friend Mitch now rests there in peace, with his mother and father, covered with soil brought from the Andriesky farm. He would have appreciated the symbolism.
When my time comes I will be laid to rest not far away. Mitch knew that. So I expect the conversation we began many years ago to be continued.
Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada