Only a memory away:  Yuriy Boychuk

Yuriy Boychuk, from childhood memories to dreams come true

Yuriy Boychuk, from childhood memories to dreams come true

Vicki Baker

Childhood, a time free from sorrows, troubles and worries. But for some, a time of tragedy, inhumanity and hardship. Kiwanis Club RR was honored by Ranch resident Yuriy Boychuk during its August meeting. Growing up in a different place at a different time, Yuriy shared his remarkable story and childhood memories. While some memories lie dormant never to be remembered again, others impact our life so greatly, never to be forgotten, even when everything else has faded with time. What are your most cherished childhood memories?

Remember swinging as high as the trees? Yuriy doesn’t.

Yuriy was born in western Ukraine in October 1939, the time of Hitler’s invasion of Poland leading up to World War II. His father was a lawyer in Ukraine, but as the Soviet Ukrainian government became increasingly hostile, the Boychuks got trapped in German-occupied Poland while searching for a more welcoming country.

Remember building a tree house in the backyard? Yuriy doesn’t.

In 1941 Hitler visited the town where the family was now living. Being blonde and blue-eyed, 2-year old Yuriy barely escaped abduction into the children’s program for the German Aryan race stock. Avoiding detection, he remained locked up and in hiding until Hitler’s henchmen found the search futile.

Remember birthday parties with brightly wrapped packages? Yuriy doesn’t.

SS officers attacked the family’s apartment in 1942. Yuriy, too young to appreciate imminent danger and feeling a bit mischievous, drenched the officers with water dumped out of a bucket from a balcony overhead. Quickly taking cover, the culprit of this prank was never discovered.

Remember riding your bicycle around the block? Yuriy doesn’t.

By 1942 Hitler’s domain was shrinking. USSR had entered the war and searched for “enlightened” Ukrainians to exile to Siberia. Loading a truck with a few possessions, the Boychuks escaped just before Soviet occupation. They headed toward Slovakia with Russian troops following closely behind.

Remember slumber parties and giggling all night long? Yuriy doesn’t.

They traveled westward by foot and empty train, cooking whatever was available along the roadside over open campfires. Ever fearful of discovery they journeyed into Czechoslovakia, finding themselves in the middle of daily Allied bombings. During one bombing the family took shelter near the home’s fireplace. Once quiet had descended they found themselves alive but the entire neighborhood destroyed.

Remember catching fireflies on warm summer nights? Yuriy doesn’t.

The Boychuks were nomads from 1944 to May 1945, constantly seeking safe havens. They jumped the border into Austria, also under Hitler’s control. Not long afterward they were arrested and placed in forced labor camps surrounded by barbed wire and under constant guard. The family worked in the fields alongside local farmers during the day, then marched back to camp at night under the scrutiny of the German army.

Remember watching the double feature at the drive-in movie? Yuriy doesn’t.

In May 1945 the family was interned in a German concentration camp with guards constantly patrolling the grounds. Suddenly one day guards were nowhere to be found. Another company of soldiers was at the gates, leaving the gates wide open. The Allied troops had arrived and liberated the camps. But where to go now?

Remember watching cartoons early Saturday mornings? Yuriy doesn’t.

For the next seven years the Boychuks lived in “displaced persons camps” as stateless refugees in Bavaria in southern Germany. Or surviving in the forests resisting the USSR’s plan to hunt down and return people to collective farms in Russia, a fate much worse than existing without a country.

Remember wishing fairy tales came true? Yuriy DOES.

In May 1952 the running had finally stopped. The Boychuks barely qualified for immigration to the U.S. but fortunately were sponsored by a Ukranian family. They arrived by plane (and not ship) due to the fast approaching visa expirations. Upon setting foot on American soil he released a sigh of relief. Yuriy never lost his perseverance, courage or hope. Now a naturalized citizen, he has a country of his own and memories of freedom and of dreams come true.