Closing pain for Ukraine

After decades of dedication to the Ukrainian community as a home away from home, both the Latrobe Valley Ukrainian Association and its hall are closing for business due to a lack of need and support.

As most of the first generation of Ukrainian migrants have diminished, Trafalgar resident and association president Peter Bodak said there was less of a need for a hall and not enough support or funds to keep the association running.

“Whether people like it or not due to the lack of support and the costs, it’s got to happen,” Mr Bodak said.

After arriving in Australia by boat in 1949 at the age of two, Mr Bodak was one of many Ukrainian immigrants who settled in the Latrobe Valley with their parents.

“My parents were forcibly taken by the German forces to Germany to work, then they were put in displaced persons camps and from there they had a choice of either going to America, Canada and Australia, but they were hard to get into,” Mr Bodak said. Mr Bodak said his parents would have been disheartened after arriving in Australia from Germany empty-handed, where they were moved between three camps, before finally settling in Sale.

He said his father would return to Sale on weekends after being posted to work on the railway line in Moe.

Mr Bodak said like many other immigrant children, living in the camps among other immigrants meant he was unable to learn English until he was in primary school.

He would then become the primary interpreter for his family.

“If the parent had to go to the doctors you’d go with them and tell the doctor what was wrong and fill out the forms until they got on their feet a bit and learnt the language,” Mr Bodak said.

“Then they had people taking advantage of them, the shopkeepers, doctors, because they couldn’t speak the language.”

Mr Bodak recalled a time when a doctor took advantage of his mother in a life or death situation.

“I got appendicitis. I remember going to the doctors and the doctors said to Mum, ‘how much are you going to pay me to operate?’,” he said

“Mum and Dad didn’t know any different.

“I was the only child at the time and they had carried me half way around the world so they paid up.”

While his parents missed their family, Mr Bodak said they were not prepared to go back home and settled in Moe.

In the community they built their own houses and dug their own trenches for piping while carting all materials on a bicycle.

“There’s some tragic stories in it all, they were glad to come out here, but they missed their families, but they weren’t prepared to take the suffering that was going to be dished out to them,” Mr Bodak said.

“We didn’t have uncles and aunties nor did we have grandparents so that was something we missed out on, the closest next door neighbour you got on well with you would call them aunty and uncle.

“It was a bit of struggle for us too, kids talking about their grandmothers, what’s a grandmother?”

In a bid to keep their culture and fight homesickness the Ukrainian community reconstructed a hall in Newborough which had been moved from Yallourn to house the Latrobe Valley Ukrainian Association.

“They still missed home, that’s why they set up the Ukrainian society to keep the culture going, they missed home, they missed their families, you couldn’t write freely in letters what you wanted to,” Mr Bodak said.

“This is our adopted country and we had to blend in and we are now Australians of Ukrainian descent, but you don’t forget your culture, your background or where you came from.

“It’s something we are proud of as an ethnic community, the success and the fact that we’ve assimilated, we don’t stand out.”

As part of an agreement with the Association of Ukrainians in Victoria, proceeds from the sale of the Newborough hall will go to building a monument at the Immigration Park in Morwell to recognise the Ukrainian community and their contributions to the Valley.