During World War II Ukraine was occupied by the Nazis, and following the war it was entirely consumed by the Soviets. For Sacharuk, who had been seized for forced labor by the Germans and taken to Austria, the communist takeover was an end to his dream of returning home.
“We wished we could go back, but if you go back you wind up in Siberia,” he said. Though a displaced person through no fault of his own, he would have suffered the fate of many who earned the distrust of Stalin simply by being in German hands for a while.
Instead, Sacharuk emigrated to the United States. Now 86, he said that over the years he was allowed to visit relatives in the Ukraine, especially after independence in 1991. He keeps a close watch on his native land through stories carried on the Internet. Both Sacharuk and Morris lay the blame for the country’s current problems on President Viktor Yanukovych, whom both describe as corrupt. Yanukovych’s recent moves in the direction of Russia rankled many Ukrainians.
“I don’t like to dwell on the negative,” said Morris, “but there is a deep-seated distrust of Russia.” The Holodomor is remembered each year. For the western Ukrainians the sound of the Russian language “hurts their ears. It’s the language of oppression.”
Attitudes in the Ukraine, however, are divided generally between those who speak Russian as a first language and worship in Orthodox churches, and those who speak Ukrainian and attend the Ukrainian Catholic Church (which is distinct from Roman Catholic Church). While the western side of the country is more rural, says Morris, it is in many ways more developed.
“Western Ukrainian people are far more interested in the model that Poland gives them,” he said. “They work hard and they have something to show for it.”