“Mommy, what was that silly word you and Daddy kept saying at dinner?” My 4-year-old daughter asked the other night.
“A silly word?” I asked, trying to think of what funny thing we could’ve said, since we were mostly talking about the news of the day. Russia had invaded Ukraine.
“That silly word!” She repeated. “You kept saying it ….. it’s … it’s someone’s name!”
I posited, “Vladimir Putin?”
“Bahahahahahahahaa” she giggled uncontrollably
“That’s funny?” I asked.
“Mommy that guy’s name is poooooooooootin. Bahahahahahahaha.”
I said it again: “Putin”
Every day since, anytime we mention that name, she giggles uncontrollably. Sometimes I say it, just to hear the laugh.
So, I’m wondering: have we tried having a group of small children just laugh at him? It would make anyone feel silly and small That’s gotta take his pride down a notch, right?
I only jest, of course. I do not mean to make light of war, tyranny, and oppression. Sometimes, though, we have to find ways to laugh in the midst of tragedy.
It’s hard living half a world away from an unjust war and watching it happen on TV. We can feel so helpless as we watch it play out, but have no resources to change anything from all the way over here. I saw a poem by Mari Andrew the other day posted on social media, which captures how many of us are feeling right now:
“I am washing my face before
Bed while a country is on fire.
It feels dumb to wash my face,
And dumb not to.
It has never been this way, and
iT has always been this way.
Someone has always clinked a
Cocktail glass in one hemisphere
As someone loses a home in
Another while someone falls in
Love in the same apartment building
Where someone grieves. The fact
That suffering, mundanity and beauty
coincide is unbearable and remarkable.”
That really sums up much of what I’m feeling as I consume news of the unjust invasion of Ukrainian. It feels so helpless to be over here safe, while families flee with small children. While men, age 18-60 stay behind to fight. While pastors and priests hold services in bombs shelters. While civilians become soldiers overnight … and I’m here eating breakfast, going to work, playing with my children out in the sun, safe.
The gulf feels wider as we – The Jaremko family – are of Ukrainian heritage. I am only a Jaremko by marriage, of course (my roots go back to England, Scotland & Germany). My husband’s family, though, came to the United States from Ukraine only a few generations ago.
I always knew my new-ish married name was Ukrainian. We gave our son a middle name with the Ukrainian spelling in honor of that heritage. AND our family colors are blue and yellow — though that’s pure coincidence. In fact, those who know us well know of our true love for the colors blue and yellow. It’s “our thing” – we even had a blue and yellow wedding. It’s all because my favorite color is blue and Kyle’s favorite color is yellow, and those are the colors we wear most often. In fact in nearly all of our earliest pictures as a couple have us wearing blue and yellow. … and because Kyle fully believes in “yellow Saturdays”. Yet honestly, we never connected our blue & yellow fervor to the Jaremko Ukrainian heritage. … until now.
As we’ve watched horrors unfold on the news, we realized that we actually know very little about Ukraine and our heritage. As we stand in solidarity with Ukraine against invasion, we thought one thing we could do was to learn more about the country and our family.
This past week, my husband and I have been delving into his Ukrainian roots. We’ve read histories and listened to podcasts. (I found this podcast episode to be particularly helpful: Today, Explained: The real and imagined history of Ukraine). Kyle called his Dad, Aunts, and other relatives to learn more. We don’t have the whole story. Unfortunately, members of the family closest to the heritage have passed away. Yet, we’ve learned some beautiful stories about our Ukrainian ancestors. (Jaremko family members, please forgive me if I misspeak and let us know what you know!)
My husband’s great-grandparents (and my children’s great-great grandparents) were born in Lviv, Ukraine, where the Jaremkos had been for generations. Around 1918 after the end of World War I and during the time of the Russian Revolution, the Jaremkos fled Ukraine for the United States. We aren’t sure why, but we can surmise that they were escaping a persecution of some sort. My father-in-law, their grandson, said he remembers a story about his grandfather being a minister or religious leader. This was the time of the Ukrainian war of Independence and the Russian Revolution, which would eventually lead to the formation of the Soviet Union in 1922.
By that time, however, the Jaremkos were in America. Kyle’s grandfather (Poppy) was born in Connecticut in 1919. When Poppy was 10, the stock market crashed, and the Jaremko family moved back to Lviv, Ukraine. Poppy spent his formative years there.
Which means, the Jaremko family escaped war by moving to America. Then they escaped bread lines and economic collapse to move back to Ukraine. THEN they would’ve lived through the “Holomodor” — the famine inflicted on Ukraine by Russia. You can read more here: https://www.history.com/news/ukrainian-famine-stalin. 3.9 million Ukrainians or 13% of the population died in the famine, engineered by Joseph Stalin to keep Ukraine in line in the new Soviet Republic. (According to my minimal research, Ukraine was the Soviet republic with the most independent spirit …. a spirit which lives in the people today).
Reading about this atrocity, I kept thinking: the Jaremko family was there then? They lived through that…. Kyle’s Poppy grew up in this devastating famine?
The story goes that when World War II began in Europe, Poppy, who was an American citizen, returned to the States. We do not know if he returned with family or if his parents stayed behind. We do know other members of the Jaremko family were also in the US, and that Poppy lived with his cousin Joe (Uncle Joe). Upon his return, he enlisted in the armed forces, serving as a cook and an MP for the USA in World War II.
After the war, Poppy settled in Queens, where he met and married Kyle’s Nana. (Uncle Joe married Nana’s sister… making their children both 1st and 2nd cousins… which is a story for another day). Nana and Poppy had 3 children and moved to Lancaster, PA in 1962. Their middle son, Nikolas, had a son named Kyle, who married me and now has a daughter named Susannah and a son named Simon Nikolas. Simon Nikolas Jaremko was born in 2019 in America, 100 years after Poppy.
100 years. I don’t know what Kyle’s Poppy lived thru, but it seems like his life encountered many of the historical atrocities of the early 20th century. He lived an extraordinary life between the USA, Ukraine, and back again. It’s no wonder that he didn’t talk about it much.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Kyle’s Nan and Poppy, but I know they live on through their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We – the Jaremko family, their ancestors – are safe now in America and shielded from the atrocities being brought upon our Ukrainian brothers and sisters.
As Americans several generations removed, it’s easy enough to feel apart from the heritages of our ancestors. We live different lives in another part of the globe. Yet, it’s in times like these that we are reminded of how interconnected we are – as a family, as a people, as humans, as children of God.
And so, we stand with the people of Ukraine. We learn more about their country and their heritage. We learn more about their history and their independent spirit. We marvel at their ability to stand and resist in the face of tyranny. We help in the ways that we can from all the way over here. We bring attention to the atrocities. We lobby our elected leaders. We send money to aid to refugees, hospitals, and soldiers. We boycott Russian goods. We wave our Blue and Yellow. We fervently pray, because I know and believe that God is there on the ground, working miracles even now. We fervently pray, because we know that Christ is there bringing hope to those who suffer.
Hope. Resistance. Support. Education.Prayer. This is how we live out our human heritage. This is how we topple tyrants. (And, whenever that man’s name is mentioned, let us pronoun it Pooooooooootin … maybe it’ll help afterall).
Suggestions for Donations and Support for the people of Ukraine:
- Check out your local Ukrainian Cultural Center In Philadelphia, the UECC offers many ways to help on their website: https://www.ueccphila.org/
- Church World Service Ukrainian Response Fund
- Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Ukraine Response
- NPR Article with many links: Here’s how you can help the people of Ukraine : NPR
*Photo Credit for Featured Image: Timothy Cox, photographer. “Blue and Yellow Bridal Bouquet, Cramer-Jaremko Wedding, 2015”