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excerpt from the Interview with BORISLAW BILASH

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Date and Place of Birth:  May 27, 1964, Winnipeg Manitoba
Date of Interview:   November 13, 2021
Place of Interview: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Length of Interview: 1 hour and 21 minutes
Interviewer: Ariadna Ochrymovych
Language: English


Interviewer: Tell me your mother’s full name and where was she born?

Borislaw: My mother’s name is Dorothy or Dorothea as everyone calls her and she was born in southern Manitoba.

Interviewer: Tell me about her parents

Borislaw: My mothers parents, her father immigrated to Canada just prior to World War I from Austria Friesland or East Frisia, which is presently a province in north western Germany. Her maiden name, Ukena is a well-known name in Friesland because it's one of the founding famiies of that kingdom. My mother's mother, her family came from Ukraina from a village called Molochna which is just south of Zaporizha. Her family was a family of Mennonites* who immigrated to Manitoba back in 1874 and her family name then was Fleming.

Interviewer: Tell me about your father, his hobbies, interests, profession.

Borislaw: What's unusual about my father was that he finished high school at age 15.

As a result my father started teaching school at age 15. This happened during World War II when there was a need for teachers.

My father continued his education, got his bachelors, go this masters and he wrote one of the first Ukrainian language textbooks in Canada called Ukrainian with Ease … that ended up being certified by the province of Manitoba and used in public schools in Manitoba. His specialty was Ukrainian Canadian education.

His masters thesis was actually about Ukrainian bilingual schools that existed back in the times of World War I. So there was a period of time in Manitoba that Ukrainian was the language of instruction in Manitoba public schools.

Interviewer: Did your mother speak Ukrainian?

Borislaw: So my parents met at a normal school which is a Teacher’s education school in Winnipeg and so she did not speak Ukrainian at that time and after their romance they got married [and] she learned Ukrainian from my father and she also learned Ukrainian from his father. My mother told me the story that she used to write letters to her father-in-law in Ukrainian.

Eventually my mother developed her Ukrainian language skills so well that she became a teacher of Ukrainian language at night school in the public schools in Winnipeg.

I asked my mother how does she identify her self and she said you know I identify myself as Ukrainian although she wasn't Ukrainian born, she said that when she was young they never in her family had a sense of cultural identification other than being Canadian, she explained to me that her father was viewed as a German even though he was east Friesian everybody considered him German because he was German speaking and to avoid discrimination he told everybody that he was Swiss. That was the time of World War I and there was a lot of racism and prejudice directed towards the Germans, including Mennonites.

Interviewer: You obviously believe that maintaining your Ukrainian identity is important for you and it's important for your children, why is it so important for you?

Borislaw: Because it’s who I am, it's who I've always been and I think that's what humans do, they are very protective of who they are and I like who I am so I raise my children in the same kind of tradition, in the same image probably like any parent would do.