Our family’s women of Ukraine


Near Darke

By Hank Nuwer

The lawless invasion of Ukraine has personal meaning for my wife and me.

For five years, a villager from Lviv named Olga cared for Gosia’s octogenarian parents while Gosia worked as a chief accountant in central Warsaw, Poland.

Olga dressed like a peasant woman except on holidays when she spruced up.

I worked in the flat on a book manuscript while Olga did her chores.

She went to the market every other day. Once back, she spread the purchases on a counter and taught me how to say each fruit and vegetable in Polish and Ukrainian.

I usually cooked my lunch, but one day Olga served me a dish made from raisins, barley and grains.

She set the dish in front of me. “Gorąco,” she said.

Gosia came back from her accounting job and asked what I had for lunch.

“Gorąco,” I said.

Olga had to hold her stomach because it hurt so much from laughing.

That’s when I learned “gorąco” in Polish means “Hot.” Olga wasn’t naming the dish. She warned me not to burn my tongue.

One day on a whim I told Olga I was going to teach her Spanish.

Gosia came from work to have Olga a greet her at the door. “Bienvenidos, Gosia. ¿Cómo estuvo su día?”

“You two are crazy,” Gosia said, laughing. But wouldn’t you know it, Gosia also began to study Spanish.

One day, Olga showed me a fat notebook. She created four columns containing vocabulary words in Spanish, English, Polish and Ukrainian.

“Muy bueno!” I said.

Olga beamed.

Another day a messenger came with a pension payment for Gosia’s mother. I answered the door.

Simultaneously, Olga gave a frightened cry.

Gosia’s mother had fallen between a couch and an end table. I left the visitor. She and I tried and failed to raise Mrs. Wroblewska.

Growing up summers on a farm in New York, I had learned enough Polish to be dangerous.

Russia ruled Poland back then. The Russian army conscripted my grandfather and his brother, both orphans.

The Russian army was as corrupt and brutal as it is now. Veteran soldiers called “Grandfathers” beat and extorted pay from younger soldiers.

My kinfolk deserted and caught a ship. They hid their money in a Bible cover. “There were bullets all around us,” Grandpa Josef told me.

My grandfather taught our cow-dog commands in Polish. I brought Rover in from the fields using that language.

Now, with Mrs. Wroblewska in trouble, I called out frantically.

The messenger raced into the room.

When Gosia arrived, Olga couldn’t wait to tell her the news.

A messenger helped us get Mrs. Wroblewska on her feet, Olga said. “Hank talked to him in Polish and asked him to come right now.”

“Hank spoke in Polish?” Gosia asked. “Really?”

“Yes, but the messenger was not too happy,” Olga said. “Hank talked to him like he was a dog.”

Whenever Olga went back to her village, her kid sister Nadia came from Ukraine to take her place.

Olga was garrulous, but Nadia was quiet. I worked on my book in silence all day.

Except one evening, Gosia’s daughter visited us from Cambridge University. All the relatives came over and Natalia suggested we play charades.

Feeling naughty, I wrote “passing gas” on a white slip.

Natalia, after giving me a reproving look, handed the slip to Gosia’s brother.

Jacek, usually dignified, covered his face with both hands.

But he was a good sport and pantomimed in fine form — complete with sound effects.

Dour Nadia lost her silence. She burst into an explosion of hee-hee-hees that could have been heard in distant Kyiv.

These two good women became our family until Gosia’s parents passed away.

The “girls” returned to Ukraine. Gosia moved to Indiana.

Gosia and I spoke to Olga in Lviv by phone this morning.

She giggled when I said, “Hola, Olga. Come estas?”

During the day, she and the women of her village make pierogi and bake bread.

Then they take the food in boxes to waiting trucks. Drivers take the meals to soldiers at the front to boost morale.

Some men of the village take shifts standing in a human chain on the border of Belarus. They stare with bitter defiance into the faces of the Belarus army soldiers.

If that accursed Putin puppet Alexander Lukashenko sends in his soldiers, he will have to contend with these brave souls.

We have sent money to a legitimate foundation to aid Ukraine. Otherwise, we feel powerless to help Olga except to offer solace by phone.

She and Nadia refuse to become refugees.

The criminal Putin has made the disapproving world aware his finger is on the nuclear arms button.

I hope the Russian people revolt like my grandfather did and send Putin straight to hell.

There he can learn for eternity what means “gorąco.”

Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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