She remembers the stories Baba would tell of her life and those stories stayed with Leah long after her Baba passed away.
“My Baba told me about leaving Western Ukraine with my Mom in 1929 and taking a ship to Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada. My grandfather went 12 months ahead of her and they’d bought land at Lac Bellevue near St Paul, Alberta. After years of tough farming, they sold the farm and moved to Edmonton. When I was little, I’d help her prepare packages of clothes to send to her family members still living in Ukraine. She’d always wanted to go back but never did return to see her family.”
After retiring in 2017, Leah decided to learn more about where her Baba came from before the answers were lost forever.
Her first step was talking to her Mom, who shared a few family documents and the name of the village that she was born in (Vovchkivtsi). Leah couldn’t read the Ukrainian documents and knew she needed help. That’s when she found Andriy Dorosh, who translated the documents and researched her Baba’s village. What he discovered would change her life.
“Andriy emailed me saying that he’d visited my Baba’s village, enlisted the help of staff in the village council building, and posted photos of her in the local library to see if anyone recognized her. Within a couple hours, someone came forward and identified that my Baba had living relatives in the village. I couldn’t believe it.
A woman named Maria came to the council building and looked at other photos I’d given Andriy and recognized one of them as her wedding photo. We learned that she was my mom’s cousin and pieced together my family story from there. (Photo 1) Then Andriy toured the village and took photos of the housing plot where my mother was born and the church that my Baba and Grandfather used to go to. He also visited the archives and gave me an accurate date of birth for my Mom, Baba and Grandfather, which we didn’t have.
Learning all of this – that living relatives still existed – left me feeling like I had to go and meet them.”
Meeting my family
Leah was a little nervous to make the journey to Ukraine by herself, but the desire to walk where her Baba had lived outweighed that feeling.
He picked her up at the airport in Lviv with a big smile and they began a two-week tour of Western Ukraine fully organized by Andriy with stops at all the places Leah had on her list and a few Andriy recommended to truly experience traditional Ukraine culture.
“The highlight of the tour was visiting the village of Vovchkivtsi in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine so I could meet my family. (Photo 4) When we arrived, they were waiting by the side of the road and were all crying when I got out of the car. It was really amazing. And I recognized right away that my second cousin and I have the same eyes.” (Photo 2)
Leah and her relatives spent the day visiting, with Andriy seamlessly interpreting to help them connect and share family stories.
“I was sitting in my Mom’s first cousin’s living room (my Baba’s niece) and she brought out an old shoebox and handed me a photo. My jaw dropped to the floor. It was of me. She had photos of my family that my Baba had sent in those packages when I was little. My 80-year-old cousin explained that they relied on those packages for warm winter clothing and shoes. I can’t tell my Baba how much they appreciated it, but I imagine she knew.” (Photo 3)
Being in Ukraine felt like being home for Leah.
Many of the people she met, including those she wasn’t related to, were warm and welcoming. They shared delicious meals of locally grown, traditional food and gave her such a sense of pride in where she’s from.
“It was life changing. I can’t even put it into words how that trip impacted me. Because I’d heard so much about it when I was little from my Baba, I felt like I belonged there. I could put my hands in the dirt on the exact plot that they’d owned and farmed. It’s an amazing and emotional experience.” (Photo 6)
Leah went back to Ukraine in August of 2019, this time taking her husband, Len, with her. Andriy again helped organize their travels. Then he took them back to the village so Leah could have another visit with her family and introduce them to her husband.
“I’d love to go back and take my son with me because he’s interested in our Ukrainian heritage too. Maybe we’ll dive deeper into my Baba’s ancestry in the Carpathian Mountains and the Hutsuls. They have a lot of folklore so it could be really interesting. I bet there’s more to discover, and I can’t wait to find it.”