Thursday, May 5, 2011

An Interview with Mom & Dad

This is not much of a travel post, but more of a personal post while we are covering Ukraine.

Some people have asked why we moved to America from Ukraine. I figured no one could answer better than my parents, and I was interested in the answers myself. So I conducted a little interview with them over Skype video chat.

One of the things that really surprised me was that my mom didn't even mention during the interview that she was pregnant throughout the 3 month immigration process! My little brother was born 2 months after we arrived in America, which means she gave birth in a new country, in a foreign hospital, not knowing the language, far from any family, not having much of anything for the baby. She's a tough woman. I can't imagine leaving the States forever with Yuriy and a bunch of kids in tow to a totally new country where nobody speaks a lick of English, no money, and our family and friends half way across the globe. I think it would be much easier for young people to make such a life-changing move. But especially in middle age with a family, it seems easier to just stay put where you are and ride it out, even if living conditions suck. I admire and respect my parents so much for their bravery.

This was all said in Ukrainian and translated by me into English.

- Julia

[Our family in Ukraine in 1989, shortly before leaving the country. That's little me in my mom's lap.]

Julia: Why did you decide to move to America with your family?
Dad: For religious freedom and better life.
Mom: We weren’t allowed to study. I wanted to be a doctor, or engineer, or nurse. You couldn’t get a bachelor degree if you didn’t belong to the Youth Communist Party (an organization everyone belonged to until 27 years old, then after 27 everyone joined the Communist Party). Even if you somehow finished a degree, you couldn’t get a job if they knew you were Christian. I ended up working as an accountant in a hospital.
Dad: We didn’t know the Soviet Union would break up. We were persecuted as Christians. We weren’t supposed to attend church and didn’t have the freedom to build a church building. We gathered in homes. We couldn’t get good jobs. We had simple jobs, even though we studied well in school. My father was in prison for 3 years for being Christian [when I was a kid]. The opportunity came up that wasn’t there before, and we didn’t know how long it would last, so we decided to go.
Mom: It was scary. Especially with little kids. You, Julia, were just one year old. It was Dad’s idea to go.
Dad: We were beat up at school and kicked out for our faith. We didn’t wear the special stars on our uniform ties. The teachers taught the students to laugh at Christians.

Julia: Who first gave you the idea to leave Ukraine?
Dad: During the early 70s was the first movement of Christians who were trying to escape, but the Soviet Union didn’t allow them to leave the country. When Gorbochov came into office, he allowed those who were persecuted, for political or religious reasons, to leave the Soviet Union. My brother Ivan wanted to go first and gave me the idea, but his wife really didn’t want to move, so we beat him to it (they came a couple years later).

Julia: Were either you or dad against the move?
Mom: At first I didn’t want to move because I was pregnant with Julia. I said give me peace. After the baby is born, I’ll think about it. Then you (Julia) were born and I gave in.

Julia: What was the process to immigrate to America from the USSR?
Dad: The USSR only allowed persecuted residents to leave. First of all, you had to have an invitation from Israel. The USSR didn’t allow us to leave to America. On the way to Israel, we stopped in Vienna and Rome for a period of time and a refugee organization there helped us move to America. Some people moved to Canada, some to Australia, but mostly to America.

[our family in Rome in 1989, on the way to America]

Julia: What were you worried about or afraid of before the move?
Dad: Worried about the language.
Mom: That we would miss home. If we would be comfortable here with our kids.
Dad: We were worried if we would ever be able to enter the USSR again. We left all our family there. When we left, we had to pay 800 rubles and reject our USSR citizenship. This was a major crime at the time, but in order to leave it was required. So we were considered criminals, and we were worried they’d never let us into our home country again.

Julia: During your first months in America, what did you love most about the country?
Dad: Stores. That there was everything in the stores. In Ukraine, we stood in line for food every week. There wasn’t enough food in the stores. If you needed butter or sausage, you had to stand in line for 2 hours. Ordinary butter was in deficit.
Mom: No meat in stores. No sausage in stores. No butter in stores. And some people didn’t even have the money.  And remember we lived in the city.
Julia: Where was all the food?
Mom: They sent it away to Russia.
Dad: We don’t know why there was no food.

Julia: What did you dislike during your first few months in America?
Dad: The buildings. They seemed very uncomfortable and ugly in comparison to Europe.
Mom: Mostly the apartments. We were living in apartments at first and really didn’t like them.
Dad: Stores were ugly too.
Mom: We didn’t see anything pretty for a long time. We also missed home a lot.
Dad: When we had a baby, David, [2 months after arriving in America] people told us to hide him. We were warned that criminals and bad people were everywhere in America. Also, people mowed the lawns on Sundays and on Easter.
Mom: This was incredible to us! Everyone in Ukraine (even Communists/atheists) cleaned and prepared for Easter. Cooked food, cleaned up their yards… everything in preparation for Easter. You would never find someone mowing their lawn or working on Easter.

[our family fresh in America in 1990 with a new baby brother]

Julia: In hindsight, are you glad that you and Dad made the move to America 21 years ago?
Mom & Dad: Yes [without hesitation].
Mom: We are happy for our kids. They can study here. Even though you can study there nowadays, but its easier and better here.
Dad: When you weigh the pros and cons, we are glad we are here. When we moved, we had free churches in America. You just felt more free and easy. We could breathe easier. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the economy was terrible, in ’91, ’92, ’93, and we missed all of it.  
Mom: At that time there was nothing in stores.
Dad: Back in the USSR, Christians were constantly afraid that they would be put in jail or sent to Siberia. Here [in America] that fear no longer existed. Many people we knew were in jail for 5 years and then sent to Siberia for 10 years. We know people who are now in America who came from their exile in Siberia [for their Christian faith].

[with my Mom & Dad today... well, at our recent wedding]

Julia: If you knew the Soviet Union would crumble in a couple years, would you have moved?
Mom: Probably not.

Julia: Why did people move to America after the collapse of the USSR anyway? (Yuriy’s family moved in 1992)
Dad: The economy was in shambles. Everything was uncertain and bad for a long time. Crime was up. People didn’t have anything to live for. People stole each other’s stuff. There were people who required money or they would do harm to your home, business, or even kill you. People in Ukraine didn’t know if the Communists would gain control again. They expected the worst.