They were born on other continents, but came back… Why?


Dan, Myshko and Anton are foreigners according to their passports and Ukrainians according to their hearts. Although the young men were born and raised in the USA, Canada and Australia, their families come from Ukraine. There came a day in the life of each of our heroes, when they left behind their comfortable existence abroad and returned to their familiar–unfamiliar homeland in order to stay. Why?

Read in Ukrainian

Myshko, 23, Canada

mishko 1Myshko is a photographer and creative designer. During the last year he has been living and working in Kyiv. Myshko’s ancestors originally came from Poltava and had to tread a thorny path before they arrived in Canada.

«My grandparents were born in a small village in the Poltava region. They survived the Holodomor and then the World War II during which they spent four years in Dachau, a concentration camp in the south of Germany».

After the war, they went to South America and lived in Venezuela for 10 years. Neither my grandmother nor my grandfather knew Spanish. They suffered from the damp climate and decided to move to the North, to Canada.

Myshko’s grandmother was almost barred from entering the country at the Canadian-American border because of the state of her health. Fortunately, the doctor examining her was a Ukrainian and allowed her to cross the border. Since then, Myshko’s family has lived in Canada.

«I studied French and English, and then Russian at my university, and yet I’ve always considered Ukrainian to be my native language. It wasn’t difficult to keep it up, because Toronto has a huge Ukrainian diaspora: people often wear traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts, and there is a lot of Ukrainian symbolic. To tell the truth, growing up that’s exactly how I imagined Ukraine to be. Still Ukraine didn’t turn out to be quite like that in reality – the culture has been modernized. In Canada they don’t understand that Ukrainian means not only traditional, but also very innovative. Fashion has changed: modern Ukrainian brands and style are incredibly cool. Music is also very diverse: not only folk rock, but also experimental, indie, jazz, dip-house, hip-hop, etc».

Myshko arrived in Ukraine for the first time at the age of 12 in 2006.

mishko 2«I felt as though I had landed on another planet. And everything that I saw was strange for me».

Since then, Myshko has been to Ukraine 8 more times, always coming for at least a month. When he graduated from university, he tried to find work here.

«I really didn’t want to work in Canada, because everything is stable there, and in Ukraine there are many problems and people who are trying to change something. I got more opportunities here. True, I’m still surprised by the potholes in the roads and strange buildings – when you look at them, you have no clue why they stand there at all. And this eternal “technical break”! It makes it hard to submit documents, because once you arrive at the right institution, you usually find they’ve gone to lunch. These little things don’t make any sense and make it difficult to work».

From 2012 to 2015 Myshko attended summer courses at the Ukrainian Catholic University, and then during the Maidan time moved to Ukraine for good.

«I think that before the Maidan Ukrainians had a completely different mentality, people were saying “Well, it’s Ukraine” at everything. But after the revolution, they got a desire to change something, they became more active, despite procrastinating most of the time until then».

Myshko reminisces that during his first trips to Kyiv he could sit at home for days – there was just nowhere to go. He assures that now this is changing: the city has evolved and now increasingly resembles a European one.

«After the Maidan, many foreigners, who were looking for a place where they would be useful, began to come to Ukraine on a regular basis. They are motivated and have a correct vision for changes. I know Canadian journalists who came here to work and stayed for several years. Or foreign employees of large companies who’ve also stayed, because they can show how precisely how this country needs to change».

mishko 3During the conversation, Myshko constantly smiles and twists a ring with a trident stamp on his finger.

«I have a lot of friends in Ukraine. But I can’t say that Ukrainians are more or less friendly than Europeans or Americans – everything depends on the country. About one thing I’m certain though: Ukrainians are more frank. If a person likes you, you will be told this directly, if not – you will be told also. They won’t pretend. Usually it’s different abroad, people are bound to be friendly even if they hate it you».

For a moment, Myshko gets lost in thought.

«In fact, young Ukrainians are among the greatest optimists and innovators I’ve ever met. I’ve noticed that they are very motivated to create. This applies to everything: art magazines, events with live music, spaces for network, and particularly anything related to technology. I’ve also noticed that Ukrainian youth look for inspiration outside the country, but never copy. Instead they find a unique way to transform their own ideas».

Myshko assures: he is here, because he believes – Ukraine is the next Berlin.

«There is as much new appearing in Ukraine right now, as there was in Berlin 20 years ago. From fashion to technology. The opportunities appearing here are incredible if you can get through the bureaucracy and other difficulties. I really want to not only watch Ukraine change, but also to be a part of these changes, because I believe in Ukraine’s very bright future. People only need to continue this constant battle against old habits and ideas. This will enable them to correctly represent themselves in international arena».


Anton, 23, Australia

anton 3Anton is an analyst, now works as a consultant at the State Enterprise “Ukrainian State Center for International Education” of Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine and also cooperates with Myshko on a joint media project. His mother was born in Uman, grew up in Cherkasy, and his father’s family emigrated to Australia after the World War II, so he was born on the Southern Continent.

«In the 1970s and 1980s my father traveled to Ukraine, and in the 1990s he met my mother while working for an English language newspaper in Kyiv. My parents moved to Melbourne in 1993, and in another year I was born».

Ukrainian was the first language Anton learned – English came along after he went to kindergarten. He also came to visit his grandmother and grandfather in Cherkasy almost every year until he was 12 years old. At the time entire family has emigrated to Australia for good.

«Melbourne has a large Ukrainian diaspora, this is an important part of my life, so Ukraine wasn’t as big a surprise for me as it could have been. I went to a Ukrainian school, was a scout at “Plast”, I have a lot of Ukrainian friends and, of course, a Ukrainian family. We follow Ukrainian news, although they aren’t considered important, so the news on Ukraine are rarely broadcast».

Anton’s first visit to Ukraine as an adult made a particular impression on him.

anton 2«My aunt, cousins and their family are from Ukraine, but they live in the Polish city of Przemyśl. Since the beginning of the war in Donbas, the Ukrainian community in Przemyśl began to collect money and goods for those on the front line. On January 11-12, 2015, they organized a delivery of two ambulances to Kyiv in order to transfer them to the battalions. At the time I was actually on vacation in Lviv and these vehicles were passing through the city. I was offered to go with them».

Both ambulances were full to the brim with medicine. They traveled to Kyiv for 9 hours and arrived on Maidan around 1 a.m.

«We had to spend the night at Hotel “Kozatsky”, where the main base of the Azov battalion was stationed”. For Anton, this was his first visit to Kiev in 10-11 years and that day became one of the most emotional moments of his life».

«At the time I had been working for the Australian Government Department of Education and Training for a year. A year later, I decided to change something. So in January 2016 I contacted Ulana Suprun, acting Minister of Health of Ukraine – then she was the Director of the non-governmental organization Patriot Defence. The conversation with her and her husband lasted for an hour and inspired me to work and volunteer in Ukraine».

Then Anton took a risk, left his job and relocated in order to continue to work for the government, but this time the one that needed him more – the Ukrainian government. He doesn’t regret his move at all. He could be living in full comfort, but chose Kiev, chose Ukraine, because that’s where his soul is.

«Besides, over the past few months I have formed a personal raison d’être (“meaning of existence” – French.) It makes no sense to be a Ukrainian in the diaspora, to speak Ukrainian and to be part of Ukrainian culture, if I can’t return to a peaceful homeland, which one can be proud of».

anton 1I notice the cartridge hanging around Anton’s neck. Turns out he almost never takes it off – it’s is a gift from his uncle. The cartridge is painted in Petrykivka style and although the young man isn’t personally acquainted with the craftsmen, he plans to rectify this as soon as possible.

«Ukrainian youth are now in a unique position», continues Anton. «On the one hand, their outlook is no longer Soviet, if compared to previous generations. On the other hand, they have to fight Russian aggression: both online and in the Crimea and Donbas. Yet over the past 60 years, Ukraine has never been so close to Europe, and this is bearing fruit. Western countries are offering study scholarships and young Ukrainians can gain valuable skills there to go back and improve their homeland. It is these processes that give birth to a young, engaged generation, whose representatives do not want to stand aside and abandon their country».

Anton has already met a lot of young Ukrainians who successfully make changes with significantly less resources than in Australia or the United States. That is why he clearly sees a bright future for Ukraine.

«Still everything depends on the number of non-corrupt politicians working in the Verkhovna Rada (unfortunately, at the moment the situation is disappointing), as well as on the government continuing to make reforms in the right direction. In other words, less corruption, more transparency and a quick transition to digital technology. I am also optimistic about the visa-free regime: if the reforms stop, so will the visa-free regime. So, it will not be fast and easy. But I notice positive changes every day!»

Dan, 31, USA

den 1Dan is a journalist. His mother’s family comes from the Lviv region, and his father’s – from the Ternopil region. His grandmother and grandfather left Ukraine during the World War II and met when already in America. Currently the family resides in New York area, except for the grandmother, the oldest in the family, who lives in New Jersey.

«I usually speak English with my parents, but with my grandmother and grandfather I speak only Ukrainian. My family helped me in every possible way so that I could learn Ukrainian in my early childhood and remember it thereafter. Still English remains my native language. Traditions are also an important part of our identity; we celebrate the main religious holidays – Christmas, Easter».

Dan’s desire to come to Eastern Europe and Ukraine in particular was the reason he became a journalist.

«I wanted to investigate deeper into this significant part of me. Tell others about what’s going on here and why».

Dan came to Ukraine for the first time in 2006 to work as an international observer during parliamentary elections and for the second time in 2008. This latter trip he considers to be one of the most formative experiences of his life.

«As a university student during my summer holidays I went to visit my father’s family, they live in the village of Perevoloka in the Ternopil region. That was unusual and nice at the same time as I met 15 people who knew almost everything about me, while I knew very little about them. They gave me a very warm welcome».

den 3Since then, Dan came to Ukraine nearly every year, before finally moving in 2015.

«What has been the most unusual experience? In Ukraine, every experience is unusual, even riding the marshrutkas (the local minibuses). Prior to my first trip I expected things to be different. In my fantasies I expected more traditional things like bread-and-salt, embroidered towels. I hoped that Kyiv would be completely Ukrainian-speaking, a traditional Ukrainian fairy tale of sorts».

Dan assures me 
– by no means he is disappointed by what he saw here and appreciates the experiences he gets here. He says he made an important choice to be in Ukraine for the most active part of his career.

«Life in Ukraine gave me valuable professional opportunities – I can talk about consequential historical events that are happening here and now. Also being constantly out of my comfort zone and dealing with complicated situations I grow as a person – and get to know myself. Staying here gives you a more global perspective on life: the more people from different social and economical layers I meet, the better I understand how the world works».

den 2According to Dan, there’s much more to each country than we imagine before arriving there. It is a complicated nexus.

«Take Kiev. I love the city and its architecture. The fact that ancient buildings, chrushovki and modern high-risers are all in one area – this makes history. All of this is really interesting».

In Ukraine he finds some comfort that he would call European. He says that after the Maidan people have generally became more conscious and European, though it feels strange saying this out loud because Ukraine has always been a part of Europe. However it’s difficult for Dan to talk about the war.

«In Kiev you don’t feel it. People walk on the streets, go about their business and feel absolutely safe. On the one hand, only the advertising of the National Guard on the subway and the soldiers remind about the military action. On the other hand – I was on the front line, I traveled there from Kyiv by the car with my colleagues … And I’m amazed at this war. It seems so close and so distant at the same time».

Dan makes a long pause as thoughts take over. Obviously, sad ones as his eyes give him away.

«Like anyone who lives in a foreign country that has temporarily become native, I wish Ukraine all the very best. But much depends on ordinary people who have to change the country no matter what, even if the steps are very small. The political class, it seems, needs a new generation in order to eventually transform into one that would really represent the interests of the society. But I’m impressed by the level of intelligence and maturity of young Ukrainians – they have always been distinguished by their faith. That’s why I believe that Ukrainian youth have great hopes for the future and aspire to remarkable achievements. Even if they are not getting expected results, they continue to fight».

Photo: Iryna Titenko.
Translation: Chrystyna Shabo, Inga Kolba.

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