Friday, March 1, 2024
Daily Featureessay

Strength and Independence

1911, my grandmother on the right in the darker dress, as a young teenager soon after arriving here.

I shared this photo and essay on my other blogs and social media last Thursday, the day Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. Even though it was clear it was coming it was, and still is, a shock. My mother’s side of the family emigrated from Ukraine around the turn of the last century, and I even though I never knew my grandparents I still feel a closeness with that country I never knew and its people. I’ve been paying close attention to what’s happening there. I thought I’d share this essay here too.


In 1910 my mother’s mother, Paraskewia Swentkowsky, emigrated to America from what was then called Ukraine. She came from a village near Lviv, in an area that in any given minute in that era between Czarist Russia and WWI could have been ruled by Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Austrians or Germans.

If not for the courage of that young teenager sent over here for a better life than what that turbulent country in that violent era could offer, I, or some version of me, might be in the midst of a Russian invasion right now. That is, if we had all survived being in the stomping ground in WWI, starved and slaughtered by Stalin before WWII, being stomped on again during WWII, and living imprisoned in the USSR until the early 90s when the country broke up and Ukraine finally became an independent country.

She had lost both parents and as an orphan been moved around from one relative to another on the small plots of land they farmed. As a young teenager someone packed her off to the land of opportunity, alone, to meet up with a few relatives who had already emigrated. I know nothing of her life before she emigrated aside from that legend, and nothing of her journey, except that she had had her long blonde hair shaved off at Ellis Island because of lice, and it grew back in strawberry blonde. That was apparently a more interesting detail to my mother than how a 13-year-old got from Ukraine to Carnegie, PA to join up with distant relatives and start a new life, not speaking English, with no education, and probably very few skills that matched with jobs in this land so very different from the one she’d left.

But she did, and lived as full a life as one could live in America in the aftermath of WWI, the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, WWII, and the Happy Days of the 1950s. She died when I was very young so I never got to know her or hear her stories.

But I know that Ukrainians, and Poles, the other side of my family, having lived through generational traumas of wars and famines for centuries, are strong and determined people, and have fought for their independence as individuals and as nations every time the invading force looked away for a moment. As they watched this act of war become a reality, they could have looked at the overwhelming monster coming to stomp on them and either run away or capitulated, but they did not. This act of war will not end well for anyone, but my bet is that the Ukrainians, especially with the support promised by the rest of the world, will have their freedom, and their country, at the end.

You can also find this essay here:

Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals

Also read a poem and essay…

I Don’t Want to be Colorblind

Stop over at my writing website to read the poem and essay I shared today.


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Weekly schedule of features:

Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life

Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters

Tuesday: Rescue Stories

Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork

Thursday: New Merchandise

Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy

Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats

And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!





From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

One thought on “Strength and Independence

  • B; I am happy your grandmother was able to “flee” and made her way to the states. My grandmother’s dad; Poppy; had a similar journey, fleeing Poland at the time. He made his way to the states, alone, by working as a cabin boy on the ship that sailed, and it was presumed he met up with relatives already
    here in the states as well. So much of one’s ancestry is unknown; and so much “lost in translation”. we know his name was changed for whatever reason; at least that’s how weezer recalled her dad
    telling his story. Prayers go out to all those in Ukraine ♥♥♥ I enjoyed reading about your grandmother; I’m sorry you never got to know her ♥♥♥


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