written by Mrs. Melanie Fedynyshyn.
We Americans of Ukrainian ancestry together with native born Ukrainians join with residents of Perth Amboy and the surrounding communities to acknowledge, commemorate, and celebrate the independence of Ukraine—the land of our heritage.
Ukraine has long known the cost that freedom demands. As a nation whose very name implies “borderland”, we have heard the sound of the boots of invading armies. We have known manipulation by empire builders, treachery from false allies, and loss due to war and artificial famine. As a result, our people have developed a fierce desire for self-determination, personal God-given liberties, and equal justice. This aspiration for independence has prevented us from falling away.
The fact remains that Ukraine has its own language, its own history, and its own culture—Ukraine is a nation. Many have tried to rewrite our history, even now, almost hoping to dissolve us or make us into a people whose history is written with invisible ink —and we can never let that happen.
The land of our fathers is the second largest country in Europe, and with a population of over 46- million, it lies roughly between Poland and Russia, yet many Americans could not find it on a map. Some would say that they love the colorful costumes, dancing, food, music, and the rich Ukrainian traditions, especially during the Christmas and Easter Holidays. When asked about what they know about the country of Ukraine, some might say that Ukraine is known as “Breadbasket of Europe,” but very few would know that in the early 1930’s, between 6-million and 9-million Ukrainian men, women, and children were deliberately starved to death by order of the Communist dictator, Joseph Stalin. He was determined to “teach a lesson through famine” and liquidate the backbone of Ukrainian nation. There on the rich black earth that could yield such agricultural abundance, Stalin’s soldiers were directed to sweep through villages and confiscate hidden grain and eventually any and all food in the homes of Ukrainian farmers. At the height of the famine in 1932, it is estimated that they died at the rate of 30,000 a day while Stalin continued to export millions of tons of Ukrainian grain to other nations, including the U.S. Those who perished in the Great Famine, or Holodomor as we call it, died the slow and demoralizing death by hunger inflicted by the Soviet government— a directive that has been all but ignored by history books.
A decade later, millions of Ukrainians suffered incredible hardships and death in the German slave labor camps of World War II. After the war, those who could find sponsors came to this country to start new lives, learn and speak the American language, and build churches and schools for their children and grandchildren. They all had stories, incredible stories of survival and hope, and a belief and love for these great United States. They knew the cost that freedom demands and they came to become Ukrainian Americans.
But history knows that Ukrainian Americans have long known the cost that freedom demands, for the archives show that they fought in the war for America’s independence. General George Washington’s register lists the names of Mykola Bizun, Ivan Lator, Petro Rolyn, and Stepan Zubley, among others. Likewise, Ukrainian immigrants served in the Union Army during the American Civil War, while their sons and daughters served in World War I. The Second World War saw thousands of Ukrainian Americans serve in the armed forces, and many from our own Perth Amboy served bravely, were injured, some captured, and some gave their lives. My late father in law, Army corporal John Fedynyshyn, took part in the invasion at Normandy. Although he survived the carnage of Omaha Beach, he was captured by the Germans and taken as a prisoner of war to one of their camps where he remained for the duration. He knew the cost that freedom demands. He went on to enjoy a full life and later became a lieutenant in the Perth Amboy Police Department.. My uncle, my father’s only brother, Navy Lt. Peter Slahetka, served on the mine sweeper USS Montegomery, where he was killed in the South Pacific. He knew the cost that freedom demands. Another Ukrainian American and son of Perth Amboy, my cousin, Army Lieutenant Stephan Kosmyna was a recipient of the Silver Star as well as having received a battlefield commission for bravery under fire. A plaque to commemorate his accomplishments hangs in the Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame together with others of Ukrainian ancestry. These are just three that have personal significance for me but there are many others whose stories can be told. And let us not forget that Perth Amboy’s Rudyk Park, on State Street, was named for the first Ukrainian American to give his life in World War II, Army PFC Stanley Rudyk. All these men, as well as the men and women who served In Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as well as those who served in peace time have known the cost that freedom demands.
Ukrainian Americans have long loved and served the city of Perth Amboy, in the fields of law enforcement, education, medicine, chemistry, pharmacy, history— the list goes on. There is now even a bank, the Ukrainian National Federal Credit Union, standing proudly at the intersection of Amboy and Hall Avenues. A short distance away, beginning with our church on Alta Vista Place, our people have built an entire block in this city, driven by our desire to worship God, to assemble our people, and to educate our children. Our Assumption Catholic Church, rectory, school, and convent— all lovingly maintained with a sense of love and civic pride— contribute to what is good, unique, and beautiful about this city.
From the first wave of Ukrainian immigration in the early 1900’s until today, we members of the Perth Amboy community with Ukrainian heritage have known how precious freedom is. As we stand today, near a replica of America’s own liberty bell, we raise the standard of blue and yellow to fly next to the red, white and blue. May they both fly as symbols of virtuous patriotism, God -given personal rights, and equal justice. May the memory of the blood that was shed for America’s freedom and the blood that continues to be shed for Ukraine’s independence keep us ever mindful of the cost that freedom demands.