When things were first imploding, exploding, on fire in Ukraine, I thought of Portland musicians and creatives Darka and Miri, a first-generation couple with very deep and spirited ties to their homeland.
BATTLE LINES BEING DRAWN…
The lyrics from Buffalo Springfield’s’ classic “For What it’s Worth” sprang into my head as I was pulling together the pieces for Darka and Miri’s Ukrainian story. We sat down in their cozy SE Portland home for a conversation about their upbringing and their view of Ukraine. It reminds me so much of my own Latvian roots and how I was raised. Deeply rooted in homeland culture, knowing the language fluently and loving a country I have only visited twice in my life. Lots of first-generation people who are raised outside of their country of origin probably have had that experience. Learning songs, language, poets, artists, a culinary spirit. My maternal grandmother was from Ukraine. But that is all I know. So good to immerse with Darka and Miri.
Darka gave me a beautiful translation of the song she sings at the end of our conversation. And some additional rich details. Darka writes
I’ve asked my sister Natalia Burgess and my mother Halyna Cisaruk to attempt to (poetically) transliterate the song that I sang during our interview. It is below – they did a beautiful job. The act of doing that stimulated my mother’s memory and my sister relayed a very personal family story too – it is below. I’m sending it just as she wrote it, but for your reference I added translations of a few key words for you (in bolded italics) so that you know what or who she was referring to, since she wrote this to me originally… It’s sung at every Ukrainian funeral… and I guess the reason I wanted to sing that instead of some other Ukrainian folk song, is because all of us of Ukrainian descent currently have a very heavy heart. Ukraine is fighting so hard to have the free democratic nation it’s always wanted – but the Russian aggression is escalating and after hundreds of years of Russian domination, they are trying to do it again, Putin is trying to erase the dissolution of the Soviet Union, exerting power and sending military to a peaceful region that does not want to be divided … and 100 or more people have died for this ideal of a free democratic Ukraine. It didn’t have to happen. none of this did.Darka gave me a beautiful translation of the song she sings at the end of our conversation.
FROM DARKA’S SISTER, THIS NOTE
D, This is what Mama and I came up with, with some additions and editing from me:
Look up brother dear
Oh friend of mine,
Like an endless line of grey,
The Cranes are leaving
singing kru, kru, kru:
“In a distant place I’ll perish
while I cross over the sea.
and my wings will no more fly.”
And to reiterate the story of Bohdan (Mama can’t remember his last name). Bohdan was the son of Nastia, Babtsia’s sister (our grandmother’s sister.) He sang beautifully and sang Chuyesh Braty Miy (the song I sang for our interview, which is loosely translated as “Do you hear me my brother”) at the funeral of his brother Slavko. The whole town cried, Babtsia (our grandmother) said. This all occured in the (Ukrainian) town of Korsiv in the early “30’s before Mama was born. She heard this story growing up but Bohdan never wanted to talk about it. Slavko was killed by the Germans, Mama thinks. ( The Communists didnt invade (Ukraine) until the 40’s). He was trying to help villagers who had gone to hide in the woods from Germans, and wanted to let them know if the coast was clear so they could return to their homes. He and two other young men ( in their 20’s) were killed.
Mama remembers Bohdan as tall and thin, a jokester and very musical. He used to pick Mama way up, which she loved but also liked to sing, “Oy ty Haliu, Haliu Molodaya” (A Ukrainian traditional song that had my mother’s name in it – Halia) to her, which she hated. She adored him anyway.. Bohdan accompanied Dido (grandfather), Babtsia (grandmother), Mama and Vuyko (uncle) on their voyage out of Ukraine. They took an indirect route because they were not sure at that point if they would leave Ukraine, or stay. They wanted to hopefully wait out the upheaval and return. They went to the border of Hungary ( where Mama had watermelon for the first time, incidently), then turned into the Carpathian mountains, where they thought they would have a safer passage West. In the mountain town of Skolye, Bohdan met up with a girl he knew from Korsiv (their hometown) by the name of Darka (!) and they had a hot romance, she said. When Dido, Babtia, Mama and Vuyko (grandfather, grandmother, mother and uncle) were about to continue West, they found a note from Bohdan saying that he could not continue and had to go back to Korsiv to take care of his mother, Nastia (our grandmother’s sister)
(to be continued)/… I have to get going. Hope this is helpful for the blog post. If you talk with Mama tomorrow, she can tell you more. All of this is stimulating her memory banks and she is remembering fascinating details. Very good for her… cognitively speaking, despite it being emotional for her.
Have a meaningful time tonight.. Im sure it will be
Here’s more from Darka:
I also send along two photographs. One (above) is of me and my ex musical partner Slavko Halatyn at our historic concert in 1989 set against the backdrop of a vintage photo of a couple of Ukrainians (Ukrainian immigrants I believe) from approximately the late 1940s I believe – when the mass migration of Ukrainians to the west started. The concert was called “Chervona Ruta” which is the name of a flower / but also the name of a song written by Volodymyr Ivasiuk, Ukraine’s most celebrated pop music composer … this link says the circumstances of his death are still a mystery, but that is not true. It is a widely known fact that the Soviets wanted Ivasiuk to write pro-soviet songs, which he refused, and so they executed him. Thus, ten years after his death, the first non-soviet Ukrainian pop music festival in Ukraine occurred, and they called it Chervona Ruta. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volodymyr_Ivasyuk My duet was called “Darka & Slavko” and we performed at this festival in Chernivtsi Ukraine when we were quite young – brought our band from America there, and we won “Best International Band” It was a very historic event < this all goes with that portion of the interview where I was talking about when we played the Ukrainian anthem a la Jimi Hendrix / Woodstock… Here’s some more info on us
As the story out of Ukraine continues to unfold, Darka has kept me updated a bit more with some recent images sent to her by Mikhail Maslij . All taken on March 11th at the Maidan in Kiev. Amazing indeed.
The words in the above photo say “Remember Them” and right above that, the banner states “Polish people support a free Ukraine”. Darka is a writer and musician working in Portland and Miri, also a musician, is a gifted photographer as well. Together they are the creative team at Mirifoto.