I read with great interest the account of Halina Szulakowska's
recent trip to Ukraine.
In the summer of 1992, my wife and I undertook a similar trip by
private car from Holland.
In the Polish border town of Przemysl, where we stayed in a nice
hotel and attended an open-air festival, we loaded our jerrycans
with lead-free petrol.
What surprised us most was the ease with which we could enter
Ukraine. We were issued with visa at the border post by a welcoming
English speaking Ukrainian officer.
In Lviv/Lvov, we stayed in the former Intourist hotel. Large
neglected rooms but awful food and plenty of cheap beer and vodka.
Our Western car was very conspicuous and we were very glad that we
could park it in a permanently guarded place.
We were approached by many locals who wanted to offer all kinds of
services, always in return for a handful of dollars, of course.
We found a Polish speaking guide who took us on several tours of
Lvov and environs. It is quite a beautiful city, beneath all the
grime and decay.
Our guide then accompanied us to Brody from where my mother-in-law,
Maria Dajzak, was deported to the Arkhangelsk region on 10 February
1940. In Brody, the old synagogue was being restored.
We then drove on to Podkamen where we visited the old, imposing
Dominican monastery and the church. Incidentally, the church where
Halina's grandparents were married and her mother christined, is the
same one where my mother-in-law was baptised and received her first
The erstwhile beautiful church was in ruins; we even found a human
The monastery was used as a lunatic asylum where many women were
kept in the most degrading conditions.
The asylum's director proudly took us in his Lada to the nearby
village of Wierzbowczyk where my mother-in-law was born on 29 May
The old Polish farms had been turned into a sovkhoz and nothing
remained of the farm buildings.
But people who were working in the field remembered my mother-in-law
and her family well and they invited us into their modest homes.
At the time, just over ten years ago, the people seemed to eke out a
medieval existence, using horse carts and horse-drawn ploughs etc.
We even saw a gooseherd.
The only progress seemed to be electricity supply.
Contrary to the dire warnings that my mother-in-law gave beforehand,
the local Ukrainian population behaved very friendly towards us. But
I suppose that old prejudices do not die easily.
We drove back via Ternopol, Lvov, and then took the highway in a
southwesterly direction to the Hungarian border. The road was in a
reasonable condition and the drive through the forested Karpaty
Mountains was simply beautiful.
Like Halina, we found the trip back to the roots of my mother-in-law
a soul-searching experience.