War on the minds of Ukrainian descendants, Richard and Jean Smelski of Perth County

  • Feature   Thu, Apr 28th, 2022   Gary West
Pictured are Richard and Jean Smelski on the weekend at their farm east of Shakespeare in Perth county.

Pictured are Richard and Jean Smelski on the weekend at their farm east of Shakespeare in Perth county.

By Gary West
With the terrible war raging in Ukraine, and the country’s future uncertain, there are conversations taking place in every part of the world, including Canada. Topics include anger, empathy, disbelief, discrimination and hurt among others for the “Putin” war that didn’t have to happen.
We were able to catch up with long-time neighbours of the West family at RR#1 Shakespeare, Richard and Jean Smelski, whose families originated in Ukraine. Richard‘s mother was born in the Prussian-Austrian empire, and his father was born in Canada from parents that arrived as immigrants from the Lviv area of Western Ukraine.
Jean‘s grandmother arrived as a young girl and told a story of living in an earthen shelter the first winter they arrived in Manitoba from Ukraine. The couple said their primary language was Ukrainian until they started school. Tradition and culture was ingrained in them, like many nationalities have.
Richard tells about a Lord Sifton who located rambunctious, hard-working, Ukrainian immigrants in a rough forest part of the west. In this case, it was northern Manitoba - the Ukrainians survived and thrived and after several generations.
Several notable survivors include a long serving former Canadian Governor General, Ed Schreyer. He said Lord Sifton defended the stalwart peasants in sheepskin coats who were turning some of the most difficult areas of the west into productive farms. Jean added both she and Richard and their families are very proud to this day to be direct descendants of Ukrainian ancestry.
They both moved from the Dauphin Manitoba area in 1972 to Stratford, and they still maintain some of their Ukrainian cultures which include Christmas (January 7), Easter (Pysanka), and family ties (even though they lost close Ukrainian family ties in Ukraine through the Gulag, wars, and immigration).
After graduating with a Master's degree from the University of Manitoba, Richard and Jean moved to Stratford where Richard became the swine specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). He has been back to the Ukraine three times as the consultant lead in pig exports and helped to introduce Canadian swine genetics to Ukrainian hog farmers.
He said the Ukrainian people have been victims of four vicious attacks in the last hundred years, including the Bolshevik revolution, which is when most of their forefathers immigrated. Another is Holodomor, which will never be forgotten by Ukrainians - five to seven million residents were deliberately starved and to date, Russia has not accounted for it.
Smelski says, that in his opinion, the biggest irony over the past decades has been Perestroika the result of the dissolving of the USSR capital assets that were to be returned to original owners in Ukraine but instead it set up the Oligarchs.
At the end of this interview, Richard and Jean were asked, what can we as Canadians can do? He said we should be proud to be Canadian and fly our flag, as well as be grateful for our freedoms and opportunities. Richard stated "You only need to travel to parts of the world like the Ukraine to appreciate it."
The couple said we should be trying financially to support organizations through family sponsorships and carry the message of support for the Ukrainian people. The farm couple still wants to live with their tradition even though they are extremely proud to be Canadian. Richard’s final quote is that Russia “might” capture Ukraine but Russia will never capture the Ukrainians.