Lubomyr Luciuk | Reflections on the interdisciplinary nature of Ukrainian studies in Canada

Lubomyr Luciuk

Royal Military College of Canada



LUBOMYR LUCIUK a professor of political geography in the Department of Political Science at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, as well as a fellow of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto. Dr. Luciuk has served as a Governor-in-Council appointee to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada. Active with the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Luciuk played a key role as spokesman and director of research for the Ukrainian community during the controversy over alleged Nazi war criminals in Canada and in spearheading the national campaign for recognition and symbolic redress for Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914–20.

I remember, thirty-two years ago this November, being in the building next door, the Jubilee Auditorium, where Chancellor Peter Savaryn handed me my PhD, and that sent me off on the course of an academic career—or a career as a public intellectual, if you prefer—that has been very different, I suspect, from the careers of many of you in this room.

I am not a Ukrainian-Canadian studies specialist, and I am not a Ukrainianist. I am somewhere in between, because for all my academic life, I have taught in mainstream departments: in the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto, the Department of Geography at Queen’s, the Department of History at the University of British Columbia, and finally, for the last twenty-five, thirty years, in the Department of Politics and Economics at the Royal Military College of Canada. So my career has been in the mainstream, but as I think most of you know, I have taken an active, vigorous, and sometimes controversial role in promoting the interests of Ukraine and Ukrainian-Canadian issues. I want to share with you the course of that career and speak a little bit to some of the themes that I have heard raised in the past day about the future of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-Canadian studies, and where we need to go and how we need to get there.

As many of you know, I was born in Kingston, Ontario, a small community in eastern Ontario—a very Anglo-Celtic, Protestant society when I was born there, and still pretty much the same. The very name Kingston, the “King’s town,” should suggest to you the nature of the community, as well as the university I went to—Queen’s, very British. By and large, most of the people I grew up among, my neighbours, my school chums, and the people I went to high school and university with, were people who were indifferent, or ignorant, or on occasion hostile to the very nature of someone identifying themselves as Ukrainian. I do not want to belabour the point (I am not going to play the victim card here), but there were incidents of discrimination and incidents throughout high school. For example, people told me that the stories I had heard at home from my parents, who had come after the Second World War as so-called displaced persons, were lies, were anti-Soviet propaganda, and that my godmother, who told me about surviving the Holodomor, was a liar or perhaps confused. As I grew up, I had some connection to the Canadian-Ukrainian experience through SUM[1] summer camps. The Ukrainian-Canadian community in Kingston was very small, so we lived quite co-operatively, quite quietly.

When I got to Queen’s, I went in as a biologist. I was going to be a herpetologist, studying reptiles and amphibians, a bio-geographer, perhaps. But as it turned out, for reasons I will not go into today, I eventually moved into human geography under the tutelage of Professor Peter Goheen, who has since become a lifelong friend. I was instructed, disciplined, and told that my ideas about what I would like to do for an MA thesis were wrong and I should instead do a historical geography of Ukrainians in Kingston. I hated the thought: perish the idea that I should study the community I came from! I thought that was a boring subject, but I had very little choice, so I began doing oral history. That was under the influence of Dr. Richard Pierce, who would establish the Limestone Press and actually publish several works of mine and of my colleague Bohdan Kordan, in due course.

Geography is about exploration, saying, “Look what I found, look at the patterns. Look at how I got here, where I come from, and how I get back to where I started.” And as I began exploring my community, I began finding out things that I had never realized about my own hometown. I discovered, for example, that despite the apparent tranquility of our community, the first Ukrainian hall in Kingston was actually established by the Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association on James Street, which I had never been told about. I found out by interviewing interwar immigrants that there were Ukrainians in Kingston before them. I remember it was the 14th of February, 1978, Valentine’s Day, because my girlfriend was very upset that I left her and went to Toronto to interview Nick Sakaliuk. It turned out that he was one of the people interned at Fort Henry during this country’s first national internment operations,[2] so I learned about that. I learned from Mrs. Charitoniuk, whose husband had fought in the Second World War in the Canadian Armed Forces, about the careers of Bohdan Panchuk and Stanley Frolick, the men and women who established the London-based Ukrainian Canadian Servicemen’s Association and went on to create the Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau (CURB), which brought so many of those DPs,[3] members of the Dyviziia,[4] UPA,[5] OUN, Holodomor survivors, and so on to Canada in the third wave. I learned about the emergent nature of ethnicity, how it was shaped by and responded to and recreated by the socio-economic and political environment that wave after wave of Ukrainians encountered when they came here. And as I was doing all this, I always wanted to remain, as it were, in the mainstream. So when I took up an offer of a doctoral studies position, my first choice was the University of Chicago, where I was accepted. But instead, as a result of a fateful encounter with Professor Leszek Kosinski of the University of Alberta, I chose the U of A.

Again, I came here to go into the mainstream Department of Geography. I was interested more in how Canada—or, more broadly, the Anglo-American world—had dealt with the displaced persons of my parents’ immigration, about the role played by Canadians of Ukrainian heritage who facilitated the third wave, about the consequences of their encounter, and so on. I was interested in those issues, newcomers versus old-timers. When I brought that as a dissertation topic to the University of Alberta in 1979, I encountered pushback in the department. I was supposed to be studying the Arctic, and the head of the department was concerned about my topic. In fact—as a result of the ensuing tensions between what the head of the department wanted me to do (the founder of the department, the late Bill Wonders) and my own supervisor—when my comps came I was failed by one person, Dr. Wonders. So there was prejudice at that time, and I remember very clearly—this would have been about 1980—that I drifted over to CIUS and met Manoly Lupul for the first time. Dr. Lupul offered me support and, in time, engaged me in the oral history project that the Institute was then promoting, giving me the opportunity to travel across western Canada and interview many of the people who played a definitive role in the creation of the Ukrainian-Canadian community.

Eventually, of course, as I mentioned, I completed my PhD thirty-two years ago, granted next door by Dr. Savaryn. I left to do a post-doc in the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto, where I would spend approximately the next three years. I was already associated with the Chair of Ukrainian Studies through Professor Magocsi, and I walked right into one of the biggest controversies our community faced in the last century. In April 1984, some of you may recall, the government of Canada established the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, headed by Mr. Justice Jules Deschênes. When I arrived in Toronto, I found myself “volunteered” to join the Civil Liberties Commission, an ad hoc group headed by the late John Gregorovich (who passed away only a week or so ago). This group was established by our community,[6] in conjunction with other East European communities, to address the bogus allegations that had been circulated about the alleged presence of thousands of Nazi war criminals in our midst.

This precipitated a choice: I had come from a good university, I had my PhD, I was in the Department of Geography, no one was questioning my interest in refugees. It would have been a perfect career just to stay in what I was doing. But I was faced with a choice: do I become engaged in advocating for our community, or do I step aside? There was a bit of a discussion yesterday between Professor Marples and Professor Magocsi about whether you can be a public intellectual and a scholar at the same time. I must say I smile to think about that, because both of them are both but like to pretend that they are not. I remember, as an undergraduate, reading someone who said that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is, however, to change it” (I think it was Karl somebody). So I remember thinking to myself that I have been trained to think and to act. So I took on the role of a public intellectual even as I continued in the role of a fellow of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto, eventually coming back to Queen’s on another post-doc until 1990, when I transferred to the Royal Military College, where I remain to this day.

I want to talk about two of those issues that came out of 1984. One was, as I suggested to you, the war-crimes issue, where I think I earned my spurs in the public domain. I remember, with the help of Myroslav Yurkevich, drafting an editorial that was published in the Globe and Mail in March 1985, called “Ukraine’s Wartime Unit Never Linked to War Crimes”; this was about the Ukrainian Dyviziia Halychyna. I remember the encounters—and this was a very contentious, frankly, and troubling and difficult period of several years—in the very public debate about Nazis in Canada. The miasma still continues, but now, from the viewpoint of several decades later, it is very clear that much of that controversy was stoked by the Soviets. We now know without a shadow of a doubt that there were NKVD veterans who were actually informers for the Deschênes Commission. That only came out many years later. The commission issued its final report in 1987, with the same position that the Ukrainian-Canadian community had taken—namely, that all war criminals found in Canada should be brought to justice under Canadian criminal law. This was adopted as the “made-in-Canada solution” by the government of Canada.

The issue still, as I say, lingers to this day, but we dealt with it as an effective, organized community, largely centred in Toronto but also with support from across the country. In that very period, the Civil Liberties Commission under Gregorovich (for reasons we need not go into today) was pushed away from the UCC and became the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA). We took it upon ourselves, in 1987 and 1988 and for several decades after that, to raise the issue of Canada’s first national internment operations. You may remember that around that time the Japanese-Canadian community, the Miki brothers and so on, had concluded a very successful campaign to get the government of Canada to acknowledge what had happened during the internment operations in the Second World War. So, with my colleague Bohdan Kordan, I wrote a piece, also published in the Globe and Mail, that called upon the government not to apologize but rather to recognize what had happened and provide historical markers, symbolic redress, and a trust fund. That indeed is what happened, some twenty-five years later, in 2008, when the government of Canada signed a settlement agreement, an accord that offered $10 million in symbolic restitution to the community (through the Shevchenko Foundation, in perpetuity) and an inclusive endowment council to commemorate the First World War internment operations—a rather historic and major achievement.

I have to say, in fairness, that CIUS, which had given me support when I was here, was not particularly engaged in the war-crimes issue and was not particularly helpful or engaged with the redress campaign, despite the fact that they had done some very good research (Frances Swyripa and John Herd Thompson, for example, in Loyalties in Conflict, their book on World War I). Why? Well, some of it was a preoccupation with pioneer settlement as an experience. Some of it was a certain left-wing bias against the DPs and whom they represented. But the point is, CIUS did not really act as well as it could have—although again, acknowledging Peter Savaryn here, I do recall his efforts on the Deschênes Commission.

As I came to Alberta, CIUS had just started. As I was leaving, we had other centres being established—the Chair of Ukrainian Studies in Toronto in 1980, the Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies in Manitoba in 1981, the University of Ottawa position in 1993, the Prairie Centre in 1998—a period of almost twenty-two years of institute-building. Roughly twenty more years have gone by since then, and I have to ask: what has been achieved? On one level, a great deal. We have talked about the books, the publications, the conferences; that is all true. But I wonder whether those who funded much of this, i.e., the hromada (community), are really happy with what they got. This raises another issue—are we here to please the hromada? Are we here for the community? Manoly Lupul provoked an interesting discussion yesterday on that. Or are we, as academics, possessed of academic freedom to study whatever we want? Thinking about this, I would like to propose a few remedies, and in fact this was already suggested to some degree by the previous speaker.

Certainly we need much greater interdisciplinary, collaborative efforts, both nationally and internationally. This is very clear to me as someone who has been on the margins of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-Canadian studies, as someone in the mainstream of academic life, teaching courses on the former Soviet Union—where I always include a lecture or two on Ukraine and Ukrainian issues—and teaching courses on political geography, where I also plug that in. I have been able to teach about Ukrainian and Ukrainian-Canadian themes, but in some forty years of watching these institutes and centres, I have noticed that in all that period there has never been one single annual or biennial conference that brings all these people together. There has been very little direct sharing of knowledge or results. Instead there has been a kind of competition, which you saw somewhat suddenly played out yesterday; I think some of you were noticing. Very little coordination or co-operation, and in fact, sometimes there has been a barely concealed hostility. I think that has disappointed our hromada. There is a little bit of donor burnout, of indifference. Of the 1.3 million Canadians of Ukrainian heritage, I suspect the vast, vast majority of them have never heard of CIUS or the [U of T] Chair of Ukrainian Studies, the Prairie Centre, the Ukrainian Canadian Studies Centre in Manitoba, and so on. They donate, that is true; the endowments are large, that is true, but the question is: so what? How do we move forward?

I think we obviously all agree that the desire should be to continue the study of Ukraine. We all came to this because of the Ukrainian cause, however you want to define it. But where are we with regard to the next generation? How are we funding them? Yes, we have these graduate-student posters: I had a chance to look at them and would encourage all of you to do so as well. There is some very interesting work being done by the next generation. But we have come together, and we have spent time looking back, by and large. Looking forward, how do we reinvigorate the donor base? How do we reach out to the people, wherever they may live in Canada? How do we combine the interest in homeland issues, that abiding interest in Ukraine, with where we are today?

Hopefully I have given you some things to consider. I want to end with the words of a man who was very formative in my life, a person who many years ago, as a teacher, volunteered to serve with the Canadian Forces overseas in the Second World War—Bohdan Panchuk. When he was asked to explain himself, why he did what he did as a teacher, as an RCAF officer, as a warrior, and as a community activist, he said simply this: “I have a gospel. What is my gospel? Roby shchos’—do something.” And that’s what I hope we will do, coming out of this conference. Thank you very much.

[1]    Ukrainian Youth Association (

[2]    Against “enemy aliens,” including civilian Ukrainians with Austrian citizenship, during the years 1914–20.

[3]    Displaced Persons (postwar refugees).

[4]    First Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army (initially the Division Galizien, one of several foreign formations in the German armed forces).

[5]    Ukrainian acronym for Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

[6]    The Ukrainian Canadian Committee (now Congress), or UCC (