Obituary for Stephan Romaniuk
It is with grieving hearts that we share the news that our beloved husband and dear father and grandfather, Stephan Romaniuk, passed away suddenly on Friday morning, October 27, 2017.
Although he lived a remarkably active, full and productive life of 94 and a half years, much of it in service to his community as a leader, activist and volunteer in numerous organizations, he also endured much suffering and hardship in his early years.
Stephan was born on March 1, 1923 in the village of Petriv, Ivano-Frankivsk oblast (province) in western Ukraine. In 1939, pursuant to the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact by which Hitler and Stalin carved up eastern Europe, the lands of western Ukraine were absorbed into the USSR. Not long afterwards, Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD (later known as the KGB), began arresting, imprisoning and liquidating members of the intelligentsia and civil society including community leaders, educators, artists, writers, lawyers, students, members of the clergy and all opponents of the communist regime.
Stephan’s entire gymnasium (high school) class from the town of Horodenka was arrested and murdered, as was his 28-year old brother, Mykhailo (Michael), a talented vocalist, violinist, composer, and choir director. It was only in 2007, while researching Soviet archival records, that Stephan learned that Mykhailo was one of many hundreds of prisoners executed in the provincial capital of Ivano-Frankivsk (then Stanislaviv) on June 30, 1941 and then buried in a mass grave at the edge of the city in a ravine known as Demiany Laz. Tens of thousands of other political prisoners across the whole of western Ukraine were murdered on that same day, the last day the Soviet secret police and local administration remained in place before fleeing the Nazi invasion that began on June 22, 1941. The NKVD came for Stephan himself in early February 1941, but he managed to elude them and, hiding from place to place over the course of the next 5 months, aided by friends and neighbours, he managed to survive until German armies swept into Ukraine in late June 1941.
During the German occupation of Ukraine, Stephan -- who was fluent in Russian, German, Polish and Ukrainian – was active in the Ukrainian national liberation struggle against both the Nazis and the communists, serving as a document forger and courier of small arms between cells of partisan fighters. In 1944, with the tide of the war turning, and the eastern front moving back through western Ukraine, Stephan and hundreds of thousands of other Ukrainians fled westward towards central Europe ahead of the advancing Soviet armies.
Stephan only learned much later that for his crime of escaping to the west, his mother was arrested and sentenced to 10 years of hard labour in the Soviet Gulag. She survived this ordeal and returned to her village following an amnesty announced by Khrushchev shortly after he seized power in 1953.
In the last days of the war, Stephan found himself in Yugoslavia where he joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps as a translator. He remained with the U.S. Army, stationed in Rosenheim, Germany until 1946. He then entered university in Munich to study economics. However, prior to completing his studies, Stephan decided to leave Germany when presented in 1949 with the opportunity to immigrate to Canada – on an agricultural service contract -- with his immediate neighbours from Petriv, Ukraine (the Kozak family, then resident in a Displaced Persons camp in Dillingen, Germany).
Stephan came to Canada, with the Kozak family, as part of the post-WWII wave of Ukrainian immigrants who arrived as contract physical labourers drawn from Displaced Person camps throughout Germany and Austria. He served as the official interpreter on the S.S. Samaria (a converted ocean-liner and WWII troop ship for the Royal Navy) for the transatlantic voyage to Halifax from Bremen, Germany. The ship carried over 2000 destitute men, women and children from all parts of Eastern Europe anxious to rebuild their war-shattered lives.
After fulfilling his labour contract (working in forestry and lumber camps in the Crowsnest Pass), Stephan moved to Lethbridge, Alberta where he re-united with the Kozak family, including Maria Kozak, all of whom were then residing in a small farmhouse just outside of Coaldale, Alberta. Stephan and Maria were married in 1951, and had three children, Bohdan, Vera and Orest between 1955 and 1960.
Stephan was the heart and soul of the Ukrainian-Canadian community in Lethbridge for the next 40 years. He was a founding member of St. Volodymyr’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and held leadership positions in various local, provincial and national Ukrainian-Canadian community organizations. He was active in all manner of civic undertakings in the City of Lethbridge, including public education and municipal politics, and periodically wrote letters to the editor of the Lethbridge Herald on subjects relating to Ukraine. He was also the first and last point of contact between the media and the Ukrainian-Canadian community in Lethbridge.
Stephan and Maria moved to Edmonton in the early 1990s to be closer to their now adult children and growing numbers of grandchildren. However, one thing did not change. Stephan – who was incapable of saying no to any request for help or assistance from any individual or organization – immediately upon arriving in Edmonton began taking on responsibilities in various community organizations and volunteering for numerous tasks.
It was in his nature to serve, and he served his beloved Ukrainian and Canadian communities from his first day in Canada to the day he died.
Stephan and Maria had occasion to visit their homeland five times after the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991. While each of these visits held beautiful moments for Stephan and were deeply cherished by him, he realized immediately upon returning to Canada from the very first of these visits that, while he was Ukrainian by birth, he was Canadian by choice and would forever remain so.
Stephan loved Ukraine and Canada equally. For Ukraine, he wished freedom and independence, the dream of every generation of Ukrainians for hundreds of years. Canada, by comparison, represented everything that he loved and that he wanted for Ukraine. A country in which citizenship was open to all people of the world and in which all people of goodwill could live in peace, harmony and mutual respect.
Stephan is survived by Maria, his wife of 66 years, and children Bohdan, Vera and Orest and their respective spouses, Barbara, Craig and Susan, and five grandchildren Stephania, Matthew, Alana, Larysa, and Maksym.
Prayer Service (panakhyda) will be held at St. Josaphat’s Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, 10825-97 St NW, Edmonton, starting at 7:30 pm. on Friday, November 3, 2017. A Divine Liturgy will be held at the Cathedral on Saturday, November 4 commencing at 10:00 am., with interment to follow at St. Michael’s cemetery, 137 Ave and 82nd Street.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in memory of Stephan Romaniuk to either of the following two charities: (1) The Shevchenko Foundation www.shevchenkofoundation.com or (2) The Ukrainian Catholic University of Lviv, care of the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation at www.ucef.ca. People wishing to send a cheque instead of making a payment online should mail their cheque to either (1) the Shevchenko Foundation, 202-952 Main Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba R2W 3P4 or (2) the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation, Suite B-02, 770 Brown's Line, Toronto, ON M8W 3W2 but, in the latter case, with a note indicating that the funds are intended for the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. In both cases, please add the line “Donation in memory of Stephan Romaniuk” below the mailing address on the envelope. Tax receipts will be provided for all donations in excess of $20.00