The fund of the Ukrainian publicist and public character Oleh Lashchenko at the Central State Archive of Public Associations of Ukraine contains seven letters and one postcard from Kateryna Biletska (Kandyba by first husband), Oleh Kandyba’s wife (literary pseudonym Oleh Olzhych), a poet and member of the Ukrainian nationalist underground movement, head of the cultural and educational department of the Provid of Ukrainian Nationalists (PUN) and the Revolutionary Tribunal of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) (1939-1941).

Lashchenko was not only a longtime friend of the Kandybas, but also the godfather of their only son. He was born in Kyiv in 1914, in 1920 he emigrated to Poland with his parents and elder sister Halyna, and in 1921 the family settled in Prague. Lashchenko earned his doctor’s degree at Charles University and joined the OUN in 1935. It was probably at this time that he met Olzhych and Kateryna. In the autumn of 1941, he arrived in Kyiv as part of an OUN march unit, a member of the Ukrainian nationalist underground; he returned to Prague at the end of the year. In 1941, his book Cultural Life in Ukraine was published. After the death of Oleh Olzhych, he headed the cultural and educational department of the Provid of Ukrainian Nationalists. At the end of the war, Oleh Lashchenko left for western Germany, and in 1951 he emigrated to the United States.

The first of the letters quoted here dates back to 1950, as it mentions Biletska’s future marriage to her second husband, the journalist Yevhen Lazor — who wrote feuilletons for the Lviv newspaper Dilo under the pseudonym Yevhen Cherevan, and who worked in the editorial office of the Ukrainian newspaper Volyn during the Second World War — on August 31, 1941, in Rivne, the then capital of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. Later, Lazor emigrated to Canada and wrote for the magazine Novyi Shliakh (New Way).

Several key topics can be identified in Biletska’s letters to Lashchenko: admitting depression; evaluations of the cultural environment of Canadian Ukrainians; references to common European experiences; reflections on her relationship with Olzhych; and discussions of the idea of writing a memoir. Biletska reflects on exemplary women. She writes in quotation marks about the “local Ukrainian ‘intelligentsia'”, which she initially assesses critically: “I want to cry or laugh… They wear make-up, their clothes are first-class, but their brains are like a chicken’s. They also speak English with each other. And in general, they hardly understand the Ukrainian language.” She complains about loneliness and lack of empathy: “How can I talk to them, how can I influence them? When they have no interests other than business and money.”

Lashchenko’s letters to Kateryna are more concise. His last letter quoted here was probably never sent.


Kateryna Biletska’s correspondence with Oleh Lashchenko, 1950-1990

Kateryna Biletska, Oleh Lashchenko
TsDAHOU, 448/1/27, 5r-5v, 15r-17v, Ibid., 448/1/17, 1.
Original language:

Winnipeg, September 21, 1950

Dear, dear Oleh!

I stayed in bed all night and couldn’t fall asleep, and at 5.30 in the morning I got up intending to write to You. I am very anxious, and so many thoughts are running through my mind, and I always wish something and do not want anything for myself. Life seems so trivial, so insignificant that I think it’s better to stand somewhere on a rock fragment as a run-down ruin, and measure the past with the future.

I looked at Oleh’s hands now while he was sleeping, looked at his lifeline (by the way, for the first time I had the courage to look at his palm), touched his fingers, which were so similar to Oleh’s, and felt that the only solution was to become a nun or not to live. Not because I am scared to live, or just fed up with everything. No, but simply because I don’t live the right way. I have no right to be Oleh’s mother and I had no right to be Oleh’s wife. I remember Donna Anna from Don Juan by Lesia Ukrainka. I don’t remember exactly, but she said something similar to this: “The eagle’s reward for her solitude and life among the rocks is her sublimity.” Oleh, I trod down that sublimity for the sake of routine “entertainment and happiness.” Instead of an eagle, I became nothing.

Oleh, did I ever love anyone? Tell me, did I love Oleh? (Because that love should have been the love of an eagle). Probably I understood him… probably not. Probably I only wanted “happiness” and that’s why… Why did I want to have a son? I had no right to bear my son’s name.

Oleh, if Gentsio[1] Lazor comes, I have to become his wife. The eagle wouldn’t do that, would she?

It’s so dirty when the body prevails over the spirit.

Oleh, what do You think about that?

Will You ever come here… Why do I look for excuses and advice so helplessly? You know, I’m scared to meet Oleh. I’m scared of the other world.

And, Oleh, I have a son. His head smells exactly like his father’s. Am I entitled to raise him? Sometimes I spank him when he is naughty, and he cries and stretches his hands out to me in tears: “Mommy, I love you so much, I love you very much…” and stretches out to me to kiss him. When he cries, something hardens in me, but I have never cried from great grief, rather from a movie.

Oleh, I miss the day when you came to work with a piece of news from Col. Melnyk. I didn’t cry then either. But I clenched my teeth so firmly that my jaws hurt. And I’m sure that if I had seen Oleh after he died, I probably would have never left him; that doesn’t mean that I would have died too, but I would have dedicated my whole life to him. Though, these are just words. I couldn’t believe it, and neither did I realize; I couldn’t realize the horror that he was gone.

Will you, Oleh, devote me half an hour, not a fake half an hour, and reveal a little bit of yourself to me? I don’t want formal expressions, requests, etc. I ask only for half an hour, a sincere one, from your heart and soul. I’ve been waiting for it since Your last letter, in which you promised me that when you stayed alone with me, you would write a second letter.

Oleh, don’t tarry!


[1] Affectionate form of the name Yevhen.

October 24 (no year, between 1950-1963)

Dear Oleh!

I’m writing back to you right away. I had to rewrite a paper urgently for a Ukrainian studies course, which I did mostly in the evenings, and I couldn’t focus on anything else. I finally submitted it (earning $15 – Ha ha!).

First, regarding Yalynka. I don’t know what kind of business you have with her, so I don’t know if she can figure it out. I know one thing: Mom is in an extremely critical condition and Yalynka does not leave her for a moment, nor does she invite anyone to visit her, so as not to cause extra stress for Mom. Mom is constantly vomiting and has such attacks of pain that she just rolls on the ground. In fact, it’s hard to describe it. I just don’t know how Yalynka can endure this self-denial for the second year. But if you want, try to write to her. Maybe she can resolve it over the phone. You can simply address her as “Mrs. Yalynka” and her address is as follows:

Mrs. Helen Kozoris
568 Windsor Ave,
Winnipeg 5. Man.

(In the letter, do not mention anything about her mother’s illness, lest Mom reads the letter.)

Thank you for the 100 dollars to Oleh. By the way, UNO denied the scholarship. So Oleh will be able to return the money only before spring, when he receives $500 from the state. Will you be able to hold out until then? Maybe you could try something with Mastykarzh [unidentified person – O.P.-Ts.]?

The second unpleasant piece of news is from Switzerland. In response to my letter, I received two official letters (one for Oleh) saying that we are allocated 550 dollars each, including the 400 dollars, and that we will receive the money as soon as it is our turn. So my dream is completely broken, because I thought I would get a few thousand and not work for a whole year, get rid of the shop for nothing, and start writing memoirs. And now I’m just going to make ends meet and I have to continue slogging through my “existentia”. Oleh thought that he would save the money for further studies of aeronautics in the US.

Hryts didn’t care about it at all, he said, “It’s good the way it is, you’ll have money to pay the mortgage.

I gave the letters to the lawyer, maybe he will dig something up.

I wish you could come. There is so much to talk about, but this sheet of paper is too small to hold it.

Oles wrote, as far as I remember, “Vodianyk” (Merman) (not printed – I have a photocopy of the manuscript) and then I think a couple of naive plays (“Babusia v hostiah u Lysychky,” (Grandma Visits Vixen), “Lysychka v hostiah u Babusi” (Vixen visits Grandma) and I think “Kacheniata i Lysychka” (Ducklings and Vixen) illustrated by either Mr. Antonovych or H. Mazepa) I don’t remember the titles at all. I don’t know about some poems.

As for my “memoirs,” I have a little more, but I won’t send them to you. When you come, you will read it. This is all impromptu, a draft. I didn’t even pay attention to the language, I just wrote down the phantoms of the past.

As soon as I think that if only I could throw everything away and start “dreaming” again, I feel faint and my heart starts aching, as if with sweet pain, and I walk around the house, as if inebriated, for a few hours. And that’s where it ends.

There you go. Another day is over. And there is tomorrow, but no one knows how many more of them. I only know that there will be no more “yesterday”.

I’m sorry, Oleh, for such an “unhealthy” paragraph. But I am depressed and anxious. And I don’t know why I don’t want anything.



Letter from Oleh Lashchenko to Kateryna Biletska, undated

Dear Katria,

First, I want to congratulate You on winning over your own ‘flesh’ — over that hunger! Earlier, I could not even imagine You would dare for such a large-scale “experiment” – 40 days of fasting, or even more! But as I saw you two years ago enduring your “small” fast, I wasn’t surprised to hear last Friday how many days You have fasted now. I still admire Your courage — either or!..

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Image for Kateryna Biletska’s memoir of life in Lviv in 1943
Kateryna Biletska’s memoir of life in Lviv in 1943
Kateryna Biletska (Kandyba by her first husband), the wife of Oleh Kandyba (known by the literary pseudonym Oleh Olzhych), a poet and member of the Ukrainian nationalist underground, head of the cultural and educational department of the Provid (Leadership) of Ukrainian Nationalists (PUN) and the Revolutionary Tribunal of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) (1939-1941), wrote her memoirs for decades. She first mentions the idea of writing a memoir in letters to a mutual friend of the Kandybas since the 1950s, Oleh Lashchenko. One of the last surviving memoirs is dated May 1994. She sent some of her memoirs to Lashchenko and wrote that she had more. These memoirs mainly cover the years...
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This module by literary scholar Olha Petrenko-Tseunova tells the story of Kateryna Biletska-Kandyba, the wife of Oleh Kandyba (known by the literary pseudonym Oleh Olzhych), a poet and member of the Ukrainian nationalist underground, head of the cultural and educational department of the Leadership of Ukrainian Nationalists (PUN) and the Revolutionary Tribunal of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) (1939-1941), and her WWII experience and post-war emigration.
Worked on the material:
Research, comment

Olha Petrenko-Tseunova

Translation into English

Yulia Kulish

Text transcript

Andriy Toporovych

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