By Ted Lucki
“Good morning, Lori. How are you?” (I said to my wife.)
She said, “I feel great.”
I said, “You should be ready. “
“Ready for what?”
“My relatives will be coming from
“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 has two shots of vodka and falls asleep. The Russian has two shots of vodka and wakes up to finish two bottles of vodka.
Let’s go back in time to 1944 and stories from my grandfather Nicholi. His family was ethnically Ukrainian but lived in Eastern Poland. The borders were constantly moving by advancing and retreating armies. 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 moving out in the morning. He said that the Red Army was marching, and they were killing everybody in their way. If you were alive, you must be a traitor. This was the logic of Joseph Stalin, who governed 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 2-year-old sister. They loaded up their horse-drawn wooden wagon and headed west trying to avoid the advancing Red Army. They made it to Czechoslovakia. They sold the wagon and bought train tickets to Vienna, Austria.
Grandpa Nicholi was a student there after World War I and knew some old friends. They then made it to Salzburg, Austria, and were arrested. They had Polish passports and were not allowed legal passage to Austria. They were arrested and sent into a forced labor camp. They worked in the slave labor camp for two years building boxes for ammunition.
When the war ended, they were fortunately liberated by the American Army and put into refugee camps. They waited for one year before they were sponsored by a medical doctor in Cincinnati, and ultimately ended up in Buffalo. They survived and they were together. They had hope for a new life. Thank God, they made it to America. Many of my relatives were killed or sent to their deaths in Siberia. Those were insane times. I thought the world was more civilized now.
The Red Army is on the march again. Sounds like a very similar tune. Sounds like a similar strategy: the domination of the Ukrainian people.
So, Lori, when the tanks roll, my extended family will head west. They’ll hop a train to Poland, fly to JFK, and I will go pick them up. I do not really know them. We met them 20 years ago on our trips to Ukraine. But I am sure they remember us. We were the lucky ones that got out alive.
I hope history doesn’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.