Othering Each Other

Maya’ Memories is a well-written memoir filled with vivid detail. Written by Maya’s son, Gene Kirichenko, from here in Winnipeg, it’s told in his mother’s voice. 

Maya was born in Slo’yansk in 1926, a city in the Donetsk Oblast of eastern Ukraine. The city of Slo’yansk has been brutalized over much of the last hundred years—from the Holodomor to the Nazi and Soviet conflict, to the 2014 Russian invasion.  When her son published the memoir, Maya was already 89 years old. 

Gene Kirichenko’s efforts to document his mother’s incredible life have been beautifully presented in this 300-page, coil-bound edition.  I’m grateful to my friend, Pat Trottier, who gifted me this book. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to two recent novels by Erin LittekenThe Lost Daughters of Ukraine and The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, that I’ve been reading this summer. 

Maya’s Memories is also a wonderful supplement to the weekly chats I have with recent Ukrainian newcomers because the assault on Ukrainians continues to this day. Whether it was Soviet destruction under Stalin, or Nazi destruction under Hitler, or modern Russian destruction under Putin, the Ukrainian people have been attacked again and again. And, sadly, they have had only limited access to their own memories. They’ve been locked up behind Russian and Soviet propaganda, behind silent fears, behind misplaced stoicism,  and sometimes behind the numbing of homemade vodka.

Earlier in the week, I had a visit with Anne, an 89 year old German woman, born into a Mennonite community in the southern area of Ukraine near Odesa. Her family retreated with the German Army in 1943 and she ended up in Canada in 1949 … the same year that Maya would have arrived here in Winnipeg. Two young women, enemies over there and starting over here in Canada … invisible to each other.

Their governments had turned on their own, forcing young men to become killers for love of country, dividing families and taking away their geographical homes. In Canada they adapted, even if it meant losing their language and what was left of their culture.  Survivors trickled over, to places like Winnipeg, where they became mere humans again … no longer identified by uniforms, badges or documents that labeled them as other. 

Can we hold onto this equality? Or are we again going to submit to fear and find strength in ‘othering’ each other?

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