A Journey Shaped By The Old Shadows Of The Soviet Union – OpEd


Growing up as a Ukrainian-American in Washington State, I was constantly reminded of the profound impact that the legacy of the Soviet Union had on my family and our shared history.

The stories shared by my father about the overwhelming influence of the USSR on various aspects of life, such as education, language, and religion, have left an indelible imprint on my consciousness. Through these experiences, I have gained a deeper perspective and understanding of the world, evoking a wide range of emotions, from anguish and anger to a profound yearning for justice and healing.

The Soviet Union’s grip on society extended to all aspects of life, with religious freedom suppressed by the Soviet Regime. My parents would recount the relentless efforts of the Soviet regime to discredit the existence of God, suppressing any form of worship that deviated from loyalty to the Communist Party. Those who dared to practice their faith openly faced severe consequences, including limited access to education, imprisonment, torture, and even death.

The pain etched on my parents’ faces as they shared their experiences fueled within me a deep longing to alleviate their suffering and challenge the trauma and injustice they endured. After enduring years of their voice being suppressed and resisting the Communist Party, they faced severe consequences that continue to persist to this day.

One of the darkest chapters in Ukrainian history is the Holodomor, a deliberate genocide orchestrated by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. This devastating famine claimed the lives of millions of Ukrainians as the Soviet regime systematically seized the last crumbs of food from starving families, condemning even small children to death. Peasants who resisted were met with gunfire, while acts of rape and robbery added to the horrors endured by the Ukrainian people.

These experiences deeply imprinted upon my father’s formative years, casting a long shadow over his childhood. The tales he heard from his elders painted a grim tableau where cannibalism and death lurked in the background, chilling reminders of the unspeakable horrors endured by an entire nation. 

The Soviet state was also in charge of getting rid of all the dead people and disposing of corpses became a challenging task. Peasants formed groups to collect and bury the dead, but due to limited resources, shallow graves were common, with hands and feet sometimes visible above the ground. Payment based on the number of bodies collected resulted in abuses, as weak individuals were buried alive, justifying it to them as an impending death anyway. In some cases, victims managed to escape the dug graves, while the gravediggers themselves succumbed to death, leaving their corpses to be consumed by feral dogs.

The stifling environment he encountered in the educational system discouraged creativity and intellectual growth. Religion was systematically excluded from moral education, as Soviet policy actively propagated Marxist-Leninist atheism and sought to control, suppress, and ultimately eliminate religious beliefs in the Soviet Union.

Mikhail Petrovich Kashin, deputy minister of education in the Russian Federal Republic, openly acknowledged the Soviet regime’s relentless struggle against religion. On October 10, 1963 broadcast, he stated, “Religious influence is a formidable enemy that we often underestimate. We must wage a persistent struggle against it, not passively hoping that the Church will fade away on its own.” This sentiment reflected the Soviet Union’s determined effort to eradicate religious beliefs and establish Marxist-Leninist atheism as the prevailing ideology.

The underground resistance of Protestant groups, particularly Evangelicals, against Soviet state laws on religion served as inspiration for people like my father. Despite facing severe repercussions, they stood firm, refusing to allow their children to join Communist youth groups or renounce their belief in God. The oppressive measures imposed by the government extended beyond religious practices, restricting access to worldly books, music, dance, and even movies.

These experiences have left lasting scars on my family and countless others, shaping our understanding of the profound impact of that era. They are a powerful reminder of the importance of cherishing the freedoms we enjoy today and advocating for justice and tolerance. We mustn’t forget the past atrocities, ensuring that such oppression never takes hold.

Instead of having his talents nurtured, my father endured isolation and ridicule from teachers and peers due to his unwavering belief in God. He only reinforced his beliefs that the world is against him and he should be against the world, locking in a hardened mentality.

The government’s oppressive nature made him deeply distrustful, making it hard for him to imagine a future with better education, finances, and well-being. Like many Evangelicals, he grew up in constant fear and suspicion. They were surrounded by lies and worried someone might listen or report on them. They were paranoid about everything, and most Ukrainian Evangelicals didn’t have higher education because they refused to join the Communist Party. They were prone to believe wild conspiracy theories because they couldn’t access diverse media sources to help them judge what was true.

In the face of such distressing circumstances, my father found comfort in his unwavering faith. The learnings of the Bible, instilled in him by his parents, taught him to endure persecution on Earth with the hope of eternal glory and a heavenly home. I observed the lasting impact of this childhood turmoil as I grew up in his household. 

Our conversations often centered around the notion that our true home lies beyond this world and that everything on Earth is fleeting. This perspective laid the foundation for my journey, marked by twists, turns, and a mix of uplifting and challenging moments.

I was a lively and curious child during my early years, always eager to learn and help others. Going to church was an essential part of my life, and I believed in its teachings with all my heart. I had big dreams of becoming an athlete because I loved sports and had so much energy. I found joy in laughter and being silly.

But as I grew older and became more devoted to my faith, I started questioning why some prayers for healing and blessings didn’t seem to come true. My family had a hard time financially and often struggled, taking care of ten children, making me confused and doubt my beliefs sometimes. My mother’s illness has profoundly shaped me, molding my values, enhancing my empathy, and inspiring me to impact others positively. Despite the darkness, I’ve learned resilience, growth, and the unwavering power of love and hope.  But, I was told to stop asking so many questions and focus on what was at hand. 

The atmosphere felt almost nihilistic, where an unusual belief in the insignificance of life prevailed due to the notion of an afterlife awaiting us. This experience often brings to mind Niccolò Machiavelli and his views on religion, where he argued that our religion tends to elevate humble and introspective rather than active and decisive ones. It promotes humility, self-denial, and indifference toward worldly matters, emphasizing the strength to endure suffering rather than the strength to undertake bold actions. 

Instead of using his strength to take action and change the world, my father used his strength to endure suffering like many people who lived under the Soviet regime. As a result, education was discouraged both within our family and community. The legacy of the Soviet Union hindered older members of our community from developing critical thinking skills to distinguish truth from falsehood. People in our community are trapped in a perpetual cycle of reinforcing negative mindsets. It’s startling to realize that even after 25 years in the United States, many of us still struggle to free ourselves from the lingering shadows of Soviet influence and choose to endure suffering as a mark of strength. 

Daniel Galiant

Daniel Galiant is a lifelong resident of Washington State who belongs to the fourth wave of the Ukrainian diaspora to the United States. Daniel is a writer who researches the history and development of Ukrainian Americans.

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