Bohdan J. Kudryk, Ph.D., arrived in the United States as a refugee from Ukraine after World War 2, before returning to Europe later in life for work and family. He talks about his mother’s daring escape from war-torn Ukraine, adapting to life in America as a child, and how technology helps him as a transatlantic grandparent.
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I was born in Ukraine in 1940, but by the time I was 2 my family and I had to flee. My father was taken by the Russians, and we never heard from him again. With no clear destination, my mother took my grandfather and me to Austria, where we ended up in a Displaced Persons Camp.
It was in the middle of the Second World War, and we had to travel through the bombs that were falling in Europe. My mother would later tell me stories about the journey. One night, there were 5 or 6 alarms, but she was just too tired to move to safety and part of our building collapsed. She joked that it gave us free air conditioning. It was rough for her, but she was a remarkably strong person.
I was too little to realize what was going on. It sounds odd, but I have lots of great memories from my time at the camp and I had fun there. I remember my grandfather even got me some skis.
Five years after we arrived in Austria, we were sponsored to come to the United States.
One of my first memories of the US was being loaded onto a bus, and being given three beautiful pears, unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I must have left them on the bus because of all the excitement, and I never got to eat them.
Eventually we settled in Hudson, a short trip away from New York. There was a significant Ukrainian community there, but I still remember feeling strange. Everyone’s clothes were different, and I didn’t speak English, so I was teased by the other kids. The first word I remember learning was a swear word from someone at school. I was so proud that I knew English.
I like America, it has been great to me, and I feel American. But my roots are in Ukraine, and I still feel that identity in me.
After college, I became involved in blood research in New York. However, my work took me to the Karolinska Institute in Sweden in 1972, so my life became split between Europe and America.
The move to Stockholm was difficult at first. I went over in winter, and it was light from 9 to 3. But, after working there a while, I met a Swedish girl and we got married and had a son. The deal was that she would move to America. However, she changed her mind, which led to some conflict. I had to be here in the US for work, and she wanted to stay there. It didn’t work out, and we had to separate.
My son spent his high school years in Sweden then came to the US to live with me and his grandmother while he attended Rutgers University. After he graduated, he went back to Sweden where he got married and started a family. Now I have three terrific grandkids over there. I’m hoping they’ll come to live here one day, but the family has ties there.
We may be apart, but we stay in touch through FaceTime as often as we can. My grandkids manage to keep me running around even though we’re an ocean apart!
I send presents for the holidays, and I like to send my grandkids some money from time-to-time. That used to be a problem — my bank would charge me enormous fees and the money took so long to get there. I was actually pretty angry about it, once I realised how high the fees were. Now I use TransferWise and it’s much cheaper and faster, so they get a little extra, which is great. Once, when I was visiting them in Sweden, my credit card failed and I was able to send money to my son’s account through TransferWise instead, which was a lifesaver.
I miss out on some things. I wasn't able to be there for the birth of my three grandchildren, but I went over soon after so I could be there for their christenings. It can be hard, but it’s easier now than it used to be and the technology is great for staying in touch.
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As told to Chris Hockman, exclusively for TransferWise. Photography provided by Bo Kudryk.
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