Bunbury artist reflects on parents journey to Australia after World War II

Memories: Anna with one of her works based on Ukrainian dolls in her studio. Picture: David Bailey
Memories: Anna with one of her works based on Ukrainian dolls in her studio. Picture: David Bailey

The humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Ukraine following the Russian invasion has reminded Bunbury woman Anna Komarnyckyj of the suffering her parents faced as refugees in the aftermath of World War II.

The well-known local artist showed documents and shared memories with the Mail this week, telling the story of her parent's frantic efforts to leave Europe following the war.

More than five years of conflict left the continent in ruins, with tens of millions dead and equal numbers of civilians displaced.

As Anna gently unfolds dog-eared documents, carefully stored in a folder that's become sepia-toned with the passing of years, she stops, her attention transfixed with three pink cards.

'Oh, look at these," she says, shuffling two brightly coloured Australian Immigration cards next to each other, then, with concern in her voice, adds, "There should be another. Ah, there it is" she breathes a sigh of relief as she carefully lays out the three cards.

The family is together again.

Each card is a receipt for passports the family used to travel from war-ravaged Europe to their new home in Western Australia.

"We arrived in May 1949 and moved around the Wheatbelt for several years.

Those first years must have been hard for my parents, but they eventually found their way in their new country," she said

Parents: Anna's mother and father in the 1940s, Basil and Maria.

Parents: Anna's mother and father in the 1940s, Basil and Maria.

While the family prospered, memories of the horrors of their previous lives haunted Anna's parents.

"My mother was from Poland, first destroyed by the Nazis in the war and then occupied by the Russian army following Germany's defeat," she said.

But for my father, who was born near the modern-day city of Lviv in Ukraine, his memories of not only the war but the famine in the '30s haunted him all his life."

As a child, Anna's father, Basil, witnessed what became known as the "Holodomor" (meaning- death by starvation), also known as the Terror Famine of the Great Famine in the 1930s.

Some historians conclude the famine was planned and executed by Soviet (Russian) leader Joseph Stalin to crush a Ukrainian independence movement.

While debate still rages between historians and legal experts as to whether it was planned or a consequence of Russian industrialization policy, one thing is certain - millions perished.

Having survived the famine Basil as a teenager was then sent to work in Germany after the Nazis took control of Ukraine in 1942 following their invasion.

"Until his death, my father would often talk about his fear of the communists, the Russians, coming and taking him. I have never forgotten his anxiety and distress, and now we see tragedy playing out in Ukraine again," she said

History: Immigration cards from the familys arrival in Australia.

History: Immigration cards from the familys arrival in Australia.

Anna visited Ukraine in 2012 as part of a European journey resulting in her completing paintings showing her father's former country.

She said it was sad to witness what was happening and hoped that something could be done to help those suffering as the conflict moves into its second month with thousands dead and millions displaced.

A call out from a rotary club in Bunbury seeking a speaker may help raise urgently needed funds for victims of the conflict.

Bunbury academic John Sherwood was asked if he knew anyone interesting to speak on a topic at a meeting. Thinking about the tragedy in Europe, John immediately thought of Bohdan Mykytiuk, whose Ukrainian parents came to Australia as refugees in 1949.

"I met Bohdan in 1976; he is amazing. He taught me so much about the Ukraine culture. He was on board immediately," John said.

"Things happened pretty quickly.

"I told the club about Bohdan, and in no time, all three Rotary groups in the Bunbury area came together to organise an event."

The Bunbury, South Bunbury, and Bunbury Leschenault Rotary clubs will be holding a public lecture and fundraiser for Ukraine on April 8 at the Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre.

The Mail spoke to Bohdan Mykytiuk, one of two keynote speakers at the event.

The former teacher's parents suffered at the hands of the Russian military in an invasion more than 80 years ago.

"Mum and Dad were senior government workers and pro-Ukrainian activists in the Western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk (formerly Stanislaviv). They were imprisoned and interrogated by the KGB when the Russians invaded Western Ukraine in1939," Bohdan said.

"I have been back to Ukraine every year from 1999 to 2019; only Covid stopped me travelling.

"I want to share my experiences and that of my family and friends who are suffering every day."

Becoming emotional, Bohdan passes on a message he says he hears every day, which leaves him heartbroken as his contacts describe events in Ukraine.

"We will prevail. The only question is how many of us will survive this barbaric Russian invasion and bombing of cities and murder of innocent civilians."

Tickets for the Ukraine Public Lecture and Fundraiser can be purchased at hps://www.bunburyentertainment.com