USUF History

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It all started with the commitment of a devoted American-Ukrainian immigrate family.

It may seem like going back way too far, but to understand the complete history of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation you really must recognize the deep seeded love of Ukraine, her culture, her traditions and her very land, that in many ways defined a generation of Ukrainians who fled Soviet rule during World War II.

Irene and Omelan Komarnyckyj were two of those thousands of refugees who left Ukraine as the war was in its final years, but with every intention of returning to their beloved country at some point.

In their case they walked into Austria and found themselves with other refugees near Vienna. Then they learned that a couple at the farm Ernstof in the mountains along the Danube near Spitz would take in a couple and they walked there.

Here, just before the Red Army reached Ernstof while pursuing the Nazis and gathering up anyone who had lived in the Soviet Union to send them back to Soviet lands, the Komarnyckyj’s daughter Nadia was born.

Staying ahead of the Soviet troops they went on to Salzburg and eventually to Igls living as displaced persons and avoiding Operation Keelhaul until their opportunity came for them to immigrate to the United States.

They joined relatives in the Ukrainian ethnic ghetto in Chicago where they were comforted by fellow Ukrainians, their Ukrainian Church and people preserving the Ukrainian language and culture all the while becoming Americans. Nadia began her involvement in the American political system as a volunteer in the 1960 presidential campaign. Continuing to do so every election cycle until the establishing the Foundation.

All this is relevant because at home, in their family conversations, at Church, socializing with friends and family the Komarnyckyj’ were instilling in their daughter a love of all things Ukrainian as well as a commitment to be full citizens of the United States. The food, the traditions, the prayers, the bonds to far off Ukraine were ever present as they learned English and became involved in the greater community and dynamic and welcoming American culture.

How the Komarnyckyj lived was really a reflection on how so many American-Ukrainian immigrate families lived becoming strong Americans while preserving their proud Ukrainian heritage.

When due to her father’s illness Nadia and her family moved to Arizona after she finished high school. She enrolled at Arizona State University. In this new environment there were no students with Eastern European ethnic backgrounds. Indeed, like almost everywhere in the United States “the Soviet Union” and “Russia” were synonyms, and Nadia basically had the option to go along with everyone’s comfort zone of thinking her to be Russian, or taking on the challenge of explaining that Ukraine and Ukrainians were not Russia and Russians; that the distinction was important politically, culturally, and to understanding the entire concept of freedom and what the “Iron Curtain” really meant.

Nadia never flinched from accepting that challenge whether in the classroom with recalcitrant professors or around campus with her fellow students.

The truth of Ukraine and what it meant to be Ukrainians had been instilled in Nadia by her parents, as it was in so many of her generation by families dedicated to preserving Ukraine in the free world and for the time when the “curtain” would come down and Ukraine would return to its rightful place among the nations of the world.

That is why the story of the Foundation must begin with the Komarnyckyjs and their immigrant generation.

Click here to see a short timeline of the History of the USUF