On October 4, 2015 a newly elected President of the Ukrainian War Veterans Association of Canada, former officer in the RCAF and a member of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Toronto Branch, Remembrance Committee, Captain Andre Sochaniwsky CD, made a presentation at the UNF 38th National Convention in Winnipeg. The title of his presentation was “Ukrainian Canadian Military Contributions in World War II”. Capt Sochaniwsky asked the delegates six questions to begin his presentation, and then elaborated on each of them.
The first question touched upon the estimated number of Ukrainians that served in the Canadian military in World War II. According to Peter Melnycky, in his Tears in the Garden: Alberta’s Ukrainians during Second World War, “An estimated 11.4% of Ukrainians in Canada were in uniform, a figure above the national average.” It is estimated that 35,0000-50,000 Ukrainian Canadians served in Canada’s forces in WWII.
Capt Sochaniwsky also talked about the Dieppe Raid that took place on August 19, 1942 in France. History named the Dieppe Raid a pivotal moment in the Second World War, as it was one of the most devastating and bloody chapters in Canadian military history. Of the 4,963 Canadian soldiers who embarked from England for the operation, only 2,210 returned, and many of them never even landed on the shores of France.
After the Canadian government issued the official list of fatal casualties, the New Pathway counted 38 Ukrainian names, of which 17 were from Ontario or of unknown origin, a high proportion from Windsor, 12 from Manitoba, and nine from Saskatchewan. “The Saskatchewan MP Walter Tucker counted seven officers of Ukrainian origin, who lost their lives at Dieppe” (National congress of Ukrainian Canadians: preparation and aftermath, page 83). One of the participating regiments in the raid were the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders from Winnipeg. In 1941, an entire platoon of the regiment were members of the Ukrainian War Veterans Association of Canada in Winnipeg. The Dieppe Raid was a sad but important chapter in Canadian military history as it helped to shape the Allied approach to the successful Normandy landings on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
The third question in the presentation was “Who was Canada’s First General of Ukrainian descent?” The first Ukrainian-Canadian to be promoted to the rank of general in the Canadian Forces was Brigadier-General Joseph Romanow. He was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1921 and contributed to the Ukrainian community from an early age. In 1940, Joseph graduated from high school and enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). He completed basic flight training on the Tiger Moth and was transferred to England and, ultimately, to Burma. There, flying the C-47 Dakota transport aircraft re-supplying the British 14th Army, he dodged Japanese fighter aircraft. After the Second World War, Joseph returned to the Air Force as a senior Canadian technical officer and worked on the development of the infamous Avro Arrow. He graduated from the National Defence College and became the first Canadian of Ukrainian descent to be promoted to the General rank in the Canadian Forces. He was also made a Commander of the Order of Military Merit, the highest exemplary service award given by the Canadian Forces.
One of BGen Romanow’s most lasting contributions was as one of the founders of the Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau (CURB) at the end of the Second World War. The CURB defended Ukrainian Displaced Persons from forced repatriation to the Soviet Union from Displaced Persons camps and saved the lives of tens of thousands of Ukrainians, many of which ultimately settled in Canada. Brigadier-General Joseph Romanow passed away in March 2011.
The biography of another Ukrainian Canadian, “Pierre le Canadien”, became the fourth key point in Capt Sochaniwsky’s presentation. Pierre le Canadien’s real name was Peter Dmytruk. He was born in Radisson, Saskatchewan in 1920 to a Ukrainian family. In 1941, he joined the RCAF and became a bomber tail gunner. He served with 405 Eagle Squadron. In 1943, enroute to a bombing target, Flight Sergeant Dmytruk’s Lancaster bomber was shot down over France. He was rescued by the French Underground. The brutal treatment of the French people by the Nazis deeply moved him, and Peter Dmytruk requested and received permission to serve with the French Resistance. He was nicknamed him “Pierre le Canadien”. After the sabotage of a heavily loaded German troop and munitions train, the Germans captured Peter and then executed him. The Germans understood that Peter was the key member of the resistance movement in that area and decided not to pursue further reprisals against the local French town, which was the norm. Peter’s death spared the execution of some 1,400 French civilians. He was buried in France with full honours. In 1999, Peter was the recipient of the Nation Builder Award by the Saskatchewan Provincial Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
Capt Sochaniwsky briefly listed some of the major international NGOs that operated in Europe at the end of WWII, thus answering the fifth question of his presentation. The NGOs included: the Red Cross, YMCA, World Jewish Congress, Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau and Ukrainian Canadian Committee, the forerunner of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
Then he moved on to the sixth question and elaborated on the Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau (CURB). After the Normandy Landing D-Day, the members of Ukrainian Canadian Serviceman’s Association (UCSA) created CURB to help the Ukrainian refugees who ended up in countries of Central and Western Europe. CURB sent food, clothes and medicaments to the refugee camps; Canadian doctors and dentists also offered their service. When it became known that some of the refugees could be forcefully sent to Soviet Union, Ukrainian Canadian officers, such as Bohdan Panchuk and future BGen Joseph Romanow protected them from forced departure to the Soviet Union. They would visit the Displaced Persons camps and inform the camp staff to not allow Soviet repatriation teams from taking Ukrainians to the Soviet Union. Later on, CURB aided these displaced persons and sought to ease their immigration to Canada.
At the end of his presentation, Capt Andre Sochaniwsky discussed a Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre (UCRDC) documentary project. He stated that many Canadians are not aware of sacrifices of Canada’s military members. Many of Canada’s remaining World War II veterans are very senior in age and there are few people left that can share their first hand military experiences, particularly from a Ukrainian Canadian perspective.
Moreover, there is a need to publicly acknowledge those Ukrainian Canadians who served in the Canadian armed services, as the Ukrainian community is approaching the 125 anniversary of Ukrainian immigration to Canada. Ukrainian Canadian contributions were immense, proportionally significant and voluntary – and should be acknowledged, honored and never forgotten.
The UCRDC will be making a documentary film on Ukrainian Canadian contributions to Canada’s military in World War II. The film will have first-hand accounts of Ukrainian Canadian veterans. It is also a unique opportunity for UNF and UWVA to participate in this project. The Documentary Committee includes two members from the Ukrainian War Veterans Association – Andre Sochaniwsky and George Serhijczuk. Now, more than ever it is the responsibility and obligation of the Ukrainian Canadian community to give due recognition to these heroes.
UCRDC is a registered Canadian charity. Donations to support this project can be made:
On-line: www.canadahelps.org and search “ukrainian research” and specify “uciww2”; by mail: Make chq payable to UCRDC and specify “uciww2”.