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Fate of the “Russian Gang”

Michael Bahry, Thomas Konyk, Alexander Martiniuk, Filip Rotinsky and Sam Zalusky. All were Ukrainian by nationality.

On the night of 22 June 1919 the “Russian Gang” donned masks, and raided a bunkhouse near Havelock, Ontario. One robber, Konyk, was carrying a loaded pistol. It discharged and a Macedonian worker, Philip Yanoff, was hit and bled to death.

Tried and found guilty, Martiniuk, Rotinsky, and Zalusky got life in Kingston Penitentiary. Bahry and Konyk received death sentences.

Nine clergymen appealed to the Minister of Justice, 8 December 1919, Their plea was rejected, as was a last-minute attempt to save Bahry from execution, Konyk’s lawyer, Mr P T Ahern, affirmed his client was holding the gun when it went off and that Zalusky — not Bahry It was not to be.

A double execution was carried out in the Peterborough County Jail, 14 January 1920, Ukrainian New Year’s Eve on the Julian calendar. Arthur Ellis, one of Canada’s most notorious hangmen, presided. The Peterborough Daily Review reported how this “gruesome spectacle” had “attracted a number of the morbidly curious.” Following their judicial execution the felons were laid in coffins, heads to the west, conforming
to an old belief that when our Saviour returns it will happen in the east, the geography of their placement allowing the dead to walk toward Him at the Second Coming.

Until August 1994 Michael and Thomas were all but forgotten, disinterred during an archaeological survey conducted 80 years after the Great War began. Their skeletons were removed to the University of Western Ontario, examined carefully.

When we discovered what befell these “enemy aliens” we passed no judgement on how others, long before our time, decided their fate. Yet we were determined to give these two young men, convicted criminals if you will, shelter in hallowed ground, for that is a Christian duty.

Bahry and Konyk will now rest in peace until that final Day of Judgement that awaits us all.

Lubomyr Luciuk serves as Director of Research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (www.uccla.ca)