Blog 5 Peace for Ukraine ICON

Spiritual shrine


In my house in Walpole I have a small recess in the living room wall-space. In the recess which is something of a shrine are some spiritual objects. I have a figurine of a female Buddha. I have an embroidered ribbon which I bought in Istanbul and a largish bead symbolising the eye of a God. I also have two tiny wooden panels joined together by a hinge picturing Mary and Jesus. In the front of this shrine is a candle and an insence holder which I usually light when my grandchildren visit. But at the very back of this recess is the most meaningful and treasured object of this little shrine. It is a small wooden Icon.

Now, whenever I think of an Icon I always imagine a gilt-edged elaborate religious picture. I saw many like this in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church when I was a child. Later when I travelled to Ukraine and Russia I saw many that were not only valuable culturally and historically, but would have been priceless because they were sacred or were in Ancient places like in the Lavra in Kyiv and in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

My little treasured object; my Icon is nothing like the Gold ones. But for me it is also priceless because it has historical and humanitarian meaning. Let me share this story with you, if I may………

Yampil town Logo – image taken in 2010

In 1942, the humanitarian crisis of WW11 was all through Europe. My family, before I came into this world were experiencing a situation in Ukraine very similar to what is happening today. They were contemplating leaving their home and country as displaced persons. The only difference was that back then they were escaping a life under the dictatorship of Stalin, whereas now Ukraine is being murdered by Vladimir Putin!!

My Grandfather was the instigator of the family leaving Ukraine! He had tried to live a life in the small town of Yampil which is in the Sumy Region. Sumy is an evacuated Town in the current situation, the area near the Belarus and Russian borders.

Abandoned Collectivisation buildings in my grandfather’s village – image taken in 2010

My Grandfather had always been outspoken about his opposition to Communism and coercion by the Soviet system, but his final decision to take his family and leave Ukraine was not made in a hurry. He had been affected by the famine years during the 1930’s and later persecuted because he did not want to join the collectivisation of the wheat production plan of Stalin, which is now known as the Holodomor-a genocide due to orchestrated famine.

When the German army was retreating from Russia and Ukraine after their defeat in Stalingrad, many peasant farmers and people like my Grandparents left with them. This photograph of a horse and cart is similar to the one they used to travel across Ukraine, Poland to Germany.

Image from Yampil in 2010

When this monumental decision had been made by my Grandfather to leave Ukraine with his wife and their three daughters, my Father was already on the scene as my Mother’s partner-he was a blow-in to their family (but that is another story for another time-a story of survival).

They left Yampil from this street and from the house at no.10 Kirov Street. The house in the image is no. 12 , as their house was destroyed during war and later burnt down.

No 12 Kirov street, Yampil

As they were driving away in their very loaded cart pulled by a horse and a cow in tow, their neighbour Anastasia Gregorievna from across the road came running out. In her old hands she was holding a small wooden Icon. Where are you going she asked why are you leaving – who is going to look after your house and who will have it when you are gone?

My mother recalled this story many times and said my grandfather looked at the house and then said to Anastasia Gregorievna:

I am taking my family wherever the road takes me for a better life, with hope in my heart and a tear in my eye and I am leaving the house to the little Sparrows that chirp in my Garden!

With great sorrow she handed my Grandmother the little Wooden Icon and Blessed the family with the sign of the Cross.

The icon

I have 3 heirlooms from the family in Ukraine. The Icon is my most treasured Jewell. The other two…….well they are another story!