In 2011, I was lucky enough to be able to make my own journey to the Ukraine to re-trace where my parents had lived.
Visiting my mother’s village was like stepping back in time: small wooden houses, some dilapidated, some supported with lean-to sheds, all surrounded by vegetable plots or small orchards. The surrounding countryside was breathtakingly beautiful and unspoilt by modern development: pebbly tracks crossing undulating fields with copses of willows or poplars reaching up to the vast sky.
I experienced a strong emotional tie with the times my mother lived here as a young girl, her eyes seeing every day what I was lucky to enjoy for a short time.
Our mini-bus stopped at the village cross-roads (two country lanes crossing). Close by was a bench where some women were resting, this being a Sunday. I joined them and they eagerly chatted to me. One pointed to the village school further down the lane, a long wooden building. I wondered if this had been the school of my mother’s stories, when in her childhood she had to share shoes with her sisters, so they each could attend school.
The women’s black dresses and headscarves were relics of some decades ago and I did not have the chance to check if modernity had improved their home interiors or had made their domestic chores easier. I could only hope that electricity had at least made cooking easier for them. I don’t recall seeing any television aerials. I asked the ladies about the village manor where my grandma and my two older aunts worked as domestics for some time. I was told that the manor was destroyed during the war and the owners taken away by the Russians.
Michalovka is a small village in the region that was Polish eastern land before the war and now belongs to Ukraine after Stalin’s rearrangement of Polish territories.