Uliana Starosolska (Lviv 1912 – New York 2011), a Ukrainian journalist and writer deported by the Soviets from her home city of Lviv to Kazakhstan at the time of World War II together with her mother Dariia Shuhevych-Starosolska (a pianist, journalist and editor) and older brother Ihor Starosolsky (in future an architect and restorer). The family was sent there to follow her father Volodymyr Starosolskyi, a lawyer repressed in 1940. In 1946 Uliana and her brother came back from the exile. She settled down in Poland, graduated from Poznan University and got her degree in economics. Since 1967 Uliana resided in the USA. She was the editor of the Ukrainian emigrant journal “Nashe Zhyttia” (Our Life) issued by the Union of Ukrainian Women in America. Uliana Starosolska’s most known compilation was memoir essays titled “I will tell you about Kazakhstan. Essays from what I’ve been through”. The book was first published in 1969 in Canada, the author’s pen-name being Uliana Liubovych (the maiden name of Hermina Shuhevych, Uliana’s grandmother, a famous women’s movement leader in Galicia in the late 19th – the early 20th century). In the fragment presented here, Uliana Starosolska describes three-week-long trip to her exile that began “on the fatal Friday morning, April 13th, 1940” in overcrowded railroad truck designed to transport goods not people. On her way she saw Kyiv she adored; she saw people and heard fragments of their stories – all she managed to get a grip of she stored in her memory and recorded it in her book as an important evidence to the crime committed against her family as well against thousands of other families by totalitarian state.


Uliana Starosolska’s memories on her deportation from Lviv to Kazakhstan in 1940

Uliana Liubovych
Uliana Liubovych. I will tell you about Kazakhstan: memories of what I’ve been through. Winnipeg-Toronto: New Away (Novyi Shliakh) Publishers, 1969, 15-19.
Original language:

Welcome to Kyiv – Farewell to Kyiv!

The train, one of many of that sort, has made a detour of Lviv and is rushing eastwards. We are passing by villages and towns. First, we are passing by the adjacent ones whose everyday life is known to us from our personal experience or from what our acquaintance who lived or have once been there told us.  We all are looking for an opportunity to send a message to our loved ones, which seems to be an extremely difficult problem. Through the window, we are throwing letters to people passing by the train even when the train is running. Sometimes we can see someone picking up a letter and waving his/her hand to us. Maybe, a passer-by will send that letter to our homes though there is no more home. This way or another, a passer-by may happen to send a message to our loved ones, to our home city.

Now we are in Ternopil. Only two of us are allowed to step off the railroad truck onto the platform at a time, of course under guard only. There is a crowd by the water pump we are taking water from. We can see people looking at us with condolence but nobody is allowed to come close to us. Taking advantage of the guard’s neglect, a railroader runs up to me, poking a bundle into my hand. Already in the railroad car, I can see it’s his breakfast his wife might have made for him before he went to work. Two bread edges: there is so much touching condolence in that gesture.

So, we are on our way again: here is the border, our old border. We are on the territory of the Great Ukraine we know from stories. This is the territory we have been dreaming of. Only my mother (Shuhevych-Starosolska, a commentary) has been here. She once came here from Halychyna, carrying forbidden literature. That was when our parents were members of various communities fighting against the tsarist regime. Now she is traveling in a different mood, sitting in her corner, confined by the bend of her arm, her bright brown eyes full of calm resignation. Only when she looks at us, her eyes show heartbreaking care and worry about us, not about herself.

The border is not marked by names of localities only. The border is also marked by a change of sights.  What strikes your eye is inappropriately cultivated fields as well as grey and dilapidated houses. Also, the border is marked by poorly dressed people, they looking at us and we looking at them. All that is added by grey color typical of both the people and the houses.

In Zhmerynka we are stepping off the truck to take some water. Again there is a crowd looking at us. But here, they are looking at us, feeling rather curious than condolatory. So, I am trying to pass a letter home to a girl I am passing by. The girls is about my age. She is standing, gazing at us. I am giving her my letter and, taking advantage of the guard’s being busy, asking her:

— Buy some postmarks and post my letter.

Seeing me giving her kopecks together with the letter, the girl gives them back to me, saying:

— Don’t worry. I will post it! — Then she adds: — And you are looking at us as if we were wild animals.

Surprised, I want to ask what she means to say but the guard is outdistancing us. Then it takes me a while to think about her words. What did she mean to say? Why should we think that they are “wild animals”?  Maybe, because they are dressed like that or because their appearance is so miserable compared with ours. Or maybe, because like wild animals, they occupied our land with no war and are behaving like “wild animals”. The words the “free” girl said to me who is locked in the railroad truck have been on my mind for a long time.

Here is the Gold-Topped Kyiv! We are lucky to have reached the window that is surrounded by my fellow travelers all the time. They seem to have admitted my right to look through the window, too.  My brother and I (Ihor Starosolskyi, a Ukrainian architect and restorer, a commentary) are standing by the window. We are on the bridge and there is a broad river under us. The sun is going down and in the golden sunshine, we can see the steep banks of the Dnieper. The train is running on the bridge, very slowly and hardly moving. We have identified Volodymyrska Hill and it seems like we can see the monument to St. Volodymyr.  The sun gilds the domes of the churches. We are looking at the capital of Ukraine we’ve been dreaming of. We are looking at the capital we’ve been eager to see. The train stopped in the middle of the bridge. The truck is silent. We are sitting in silence, without saying a word, gazing at the capital and inspiring the unforgettable sight gilded by the sun going down.

Welcome to Kyiv! Farewell to Kyiv!

Then we are going eastwards. Where to? Neither the guard who bring us bread or let us step off the truck to take some water from time to time nor are the people passing by the trucks when we step off at the stations of small towns and villages to take some water answering our questions. There are many people there: old ones and young ones, with children and fardels.  They are looking at us and we are looking at them. Where are they going? Why are they all going somewhere? Only a while later we found out what are the reasons and the goal of peoples’ migration.  In the Soviet Union, everybody is looking for a better place to live at, because living is a hardship everywhere.

At a station where it takes us longer to stand idle, on the track next to our train there is a train and near our truck is its engine. We are asking the engine driver:

— “Do you know where we are being carried? What will happen to us next?”

He pretends not to hear but when it has already become dark, he comes up to our window and asks who we are and where we are from. We explain that we are Ukrainian and that we are being carried from Lviv in an unknown direction. He looks back, trying to find out if there nobody around and says:

— I don’t know where exactly you are being carried but all my family is there as well. Don’t worry: this cannot last forever.  This grief must come to an end. He promises to find out where this train is bound. But when he came for the second time, our train had started off and we didn’t see him anymore.

The names of small stations mean nothing to us, ‘cause we’ve never heard anything about them. Here are the Urals already: they look smaller that we’d imagined they were.  All we knew was that brown mountain chain on the map and that behind it is Asia. The Urals greeted us with a sandstorm. After that sandstorm, it took us a long time to find sand in all the corners of the truck, in our clothes and things despite we had firmly closed the window.

Day after day, it was becoming harder to breathe in the truck. A small hole that served as a toilet was convenient only if someone wanted to poop. We covered it with blankets and some bed sheets or with anything that some of us gave for that purpose.  But the hole couldn’t be kept clean. So, its fetor spread all over the truck and that fetor was becoming stronger each time someone went to the toilet. There was no water to wash the logs around the hole.

Each morning often started with the same girl’s voice coming from the neighboring truck. The girls cried with all her might:

— Water! Give me water, I am thirsty!…

Sooner or later, the guard, exhausted and bored weary of that cry, would unlock the truck one after one to let us step off, only two of us at a time, to take some water. The trouble was that there were no basins to store that water. Sometimes the guard would bring us some bread. Not everyone could appreciate it. Probably, some of us still had a stock of bread from home: therefore, this dark and heavy bread didn’t taste good to them.  Others had nothing to eat at all: we had to share bread with them somehow. Somewhere behind the Urals, children would run up to the windows, asking us to give them … some bread. This made everyone value bread. Given that all those free people asked us to give them bread, I wondered what was awaiting us?

Gradually, we were losing the sense of time, because as long as we were moving forward to the north, the sun was changing its course of sunrise and sunset. Looking at the sun, we understood that the train had changed the direction. Behind the window there were mountains again but we didn’t know what mountains these were.

We’ve been on our way already for three weeks. At night the train has stopped and is standing idle longer than ever. In the morning behind the window by which are sleeping on the logs we saw a steppe covered with snow. The steppe looked tragic in its sameness. Only if you look very fixedly, you can recognize huts. The window would blow, carrying sand and tiny stones and playing on lampposts. We heard the rattling of the door being unlocked in the other trucks, first the faraway trucks, then the nearer ones. In no time we heard the door of the neighboring truck being unlocked. Soon ours was unlocked at once.  We came to the point of destination.

Worked on the material:
Research, comment

Ivanna Cherchovych

Translation into English

Mykhailo Tarapatov

Text transcript

Andriy Toporovych

Comments and discussions