YOU can find them all over Manitoba in many different rural communities, built in different shapes and sizes. I'm talking about rural Ukrainian churches. These churches have been landmarks of Ukrainian settlement in Manitoba for more than a century, and with their extensive history, they have come to mean a lot to many people.
The first Ukrainian settlers were enticed to Canada with offers of free land to those who could clear and farm it. They took a huge risk, sold whatever possessions they had in Ukraine and moved to Canada in search of a better life for themselves and their families.
Others arrived later, displaced from their homes by the brutal warfare that ravaged their homes during the Second World War. Some even survived through the horrors of the Holodomor, the man-made faminegenocide of 1932-33 imposed by Joseph Stalin and his Soviet regime.
Ukrainian culture is almost entirely intertwined with religion. Without having a place to practise their faith, Ukrainian settlers would have found it difficult to carry on the Ukrainian culture at all here in Canada. In building these churches, Ukrainian settlers created the foundation of Ukrainian culture in Canada today.
I, for one, am thankful for that.
My grandmother is one of the few remaining Holodomor survivors in Canada. She was only five years old during the Holodomor, but she remembers how people strived to keep their faith while the Soviets tried their hardest to suppress it.
The Soviets were trying to break the patriotic spirit of the Ukrainian people. They starved them to break them physically. They confiscated all of the food from the people and exported all the grain from collectivized farms. This grain could have been used to feed the people, but instead they were left to starve while the grain was exported to the West to pay for industrialization. To break them spiritually, they destroyed their churches.
After all of the hardships that they, and so many other Ukrainians, suffered through, my grandparents immigrated together to Canada.
When they settled in Winnipeg, my grandparents were more than happy to join the local parish. Members of the Ukrainian community helped them however they could to make their new lives in Canada easier. The whole Ukrainian community was based around the church. The church was a place to meet, a place to hold functions and meetings and a place to worship.
It brought, and still brings, the whole Ukrainian community together. Without the church and its community, life in Canada would be very different for me, my family, and for Ukrainians all across the country.
So when we consider the strong Ukrainian culture and community we have here in Manitoba and throughout the entire country, we have to remember that we owe it all to the Ukrainians who felt it necessary to preserve it all and to pass it on to us. We can see their dedication to this cause in the rural churches they built. These churches not only stand as the beginnings of Ukrainian churches in Canada today, but also as monuments to everything Ukrainian settlers and immigrants lived through to bring the Ukrainian culture to Canada, and to the faith that helped them persevere though it all.
Tymon Melnyk is a 22-year-old University of Manitoba student in his final year of obtaining a bachelor of arts degree. He is considering studying to be a lawyer.