Canada’s World War I internment operations remembered with historical marker in Kyiv

By George W. Foty, Ukrainian Weekly

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Patriarch Sviatoslav blesses a plaque in Kyiv, at the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, that recalls Canada’s national internment operations of 1914-1920.

KYIV – The first-ever bilingual historical marker recalling Canada’s national internment operations of 1914-1920 was unveiled at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ on October 28 and blessed by Patriarch Sviatoslav.

On a previous visit to Canada, Patriarch Sviatoslav agreed it would be appropriate to display a commemorative plaque in Ukraine, and specifically in a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC), as most of those interned during Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920 were of that faith.

Thus, on October 28 – marked by the Ukrainian community in Canada as the official day of recognition of these internment events – the UGCC primate presided over a memorial service (panakhyda) and the consecration of such a plaque in the great cathedral. Also present were Bishop Joseph Milian of Kyiv, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine Roman Washchuk, and clergy and faithful of the UGCC from Ukraine and Canada.

The patriarch addressed the audience saying: “The Patriarchal Cathedral is the core of our Church and of the Ukrainian people. To this cathedral flow both the joy and the pain of the Ukrainians in Ukraine and throughout the world. Today we blessed a plaque that commemorates the thousands of Ukrainians interned in Canada at the beginning of the first world war. They were suddenly viewed as enemies of the state.”

Patriarch Sviatoslav continued by noting that a few years ago, while visiting Alberta, he had the opportunity to visit one of the concentration camps in which, to this day, some of the camp’s barbed wire remains in its original position. He said it was enlightening to see how the internees in these extreme conditions professed their faith: “A picture in this memorial complex captured the punishment of an internee refusing to work on Christmas day (January 7)… Today we aspire that this suffering of our Ukrainian community in Canada be known around the world … The installation of these memorial plaques on the centenary of this unfortunate event has taken place in all our cathedrals of Canada, in Europe and Ukraine. It is important that we as Ukrainians preserve our historical memory … “

The patriarch expressed gratitude to Ambassador Washchuk, as well as to the government of Canada for its sensitivity and support not only for Ukrainians in Canada, but for Ukraine itself. Patriarch Sviatoslav said that all countries should follow Canada’s example in respecting the dignity of individuals and be responsive to the will of their citizens.

Ambassador Washchuk stated: “I am very grateful that the Patriarchal Cathedral agreed to commemorate this painful but important moment in Canadian and Ukrainian history. We cannot forget those who suffered, nor the errors committed a hundred years ago… These mistakes can be learned from, and adapted to the events in present-day Ukraine. We need to ensure the rights of all Ukrainian citizens, even in times of armed conflict… We should unite, and not allow ourselves to be divided. …These lessons help pave a path to a better future.”

Present from Canada, along with the ambassador, were Dr. Lada Roslytsky, Bohdan Kupych and this writer.

These memorial plaques are sponsored by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation with assistance from the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.

From Canada, Prof. Lubomyr Luciuk added: “We attempted to have a second plaque installed by the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. As yet we are unable to confirm this arrangement… We still hope to have a plaque placed at St George Cathedral in Lviv and perhaps somewhere in Bukovyna, where internees of the Ukrainian Orthodox faith originated.”

After the consecration, all present prayed for the eternal rest of Ukrainians who died or suffered a hundred years ago behind Canadian barbed wire. The faithful departed, chanting “Vichnaya pamiat” (Memory eternal).

Translated from Ukrainian and edited from an original press release from the Kyiv Archeparchy of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.