With Ukraine, hoping that history does not repeat itself

By Ted Lucki

“Hello, Lorie. How are you?” (I told my wife.)

She said, “I feel good.”

Ted Lucki’s family arrived in America in 1948. Photo by Ted Lucki

I said, “You should be ready. “

“Ready for what?”

“My relatives will come from
Ukraine.

“When?”

“When the first tank crosses the Ukrainian border with Russia.”

Lori said, “You worry too much.”

I replied that the cycle repeats itself every 70 years or so.

An old Ukrainian folk tale: What is the difference between a Ukrainian and a Russian? The Ukrainian drinks two shots of vodka and falls asleep. The Russian has two glasses of vodka and wakes up to finish two bottles of vodka.

Let’s go back in time to 1944 and the stories of my grandfather Nicholi. His family was of Ukrainian origin but lived in eastern Poland. Borders were constantly shifting as armies advanced and retreated. Welcome to the Eastern Front.

My grandfather was in the Austrian army during World War I and knew the German commander in his town. The commander told him that his unit was leaving in the morning. He said the Red Army was marching and killing everyone in its path. If you were alive, you must have been a traitor. This was the logic of Joseph Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death in 1953.

So my grandfather, Nicholi, woke up his wife and five children, including my father and my 2-year-old sister. They loaded their wooden horse-drawn wagon and headed west trying to avoid the advancing Red Army. They arrived in Czechoslovakia. They sold the wagon and bought train tickets to Vienna, Austria.

Grandfather Nicholi was a student there after World War I and knew old friends. They then traveled to Salzburg, Austria, and were arrested. They had Polish passports and were not allowed to enter Austria legally. They were arrested and sent to a forced labor camp. They worked in the forced labor camp for two years building ammunition boxes.

At the end of the war, they were fortunately freed by the American army and placed in refugee camps. They waited a year to be sponsored by a Cincinnati doctor and finally ended up in Buffalo. They survived and they were together. They had hope for a new life. Thank goodness they made it to America. Many of my relatives were killed or sent to die in Siberia. It was a crazy time. I thought the world was more civilized now.

The Red Army is on the march again. Sounds like a very similar tune. It sounds like a similar strategy: domination of the Ukrainian people.

So, Lori, when the tanks roll, my extended family will be heading west. They’ll take a train to Poland, fly to JFK, and I’ll pick them up. I don’t really know them. We met them 20 years ago during our travels in Ukraine. But I’m sure they remember us. We were the lucky ones who made it out alive.

I hope history won’t repeat itself.

Please join me in “praying for peace” and hoping that America understands its leadership role in our crazy world.

Ted Lucki is the former mayor of Belle Terre and president of the Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen.