As I was thinking about the situation in Ukraine recently, I thought: History really does repeat itself.

Russia Ukraine War

A drone carries a big national flag in front of Ukraine’s Motherland Monument in Kyiv on Wednesday, the country’s Independence Day, which also marked the six-month mark in the Russian invasion. Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

In 1915, my grandmother, my mother, her sister and her brother were driven from their dom (the Polish word for home or house) in Spieglica, Poland. Driven out with a warning that Germans and Russians would soon be infiltrating and ravaging their village, they were sent to Lithuania. They packed a few items and trekked off, living wherever they were welcomed.

In Lithuania, they were taken in, at one point, by a farmer living in his barn. They stayed in Lithuania for seven years before they could safely go back to Poland. My grandmother, mother and aunt eventually left Poland for America but had to leave their brother behind as he was obligated to serve in the Polish army. He died in Poland, years later, without seeing ever seeing them again. 

Does this sound familiar?

My jat (short for “dziadek,” which is Polish for grandfather) had come to the United States earlier and lived in Portland, where many Polish refugees lived. It was 16 years before he could send for his family: my grandmother, mother, and aunt. Another aunt was born later. They helped build a community and a church, the St. Louis Church, on the West End of Portland. They took whatever jobs they could – factory worker, longshoreman, railroad worker. When my mom worked as a waitress, she made $1 a day. They struggled but, eventually, they thrived. 

A little anecdote: For many years, one of my mom’s factory jobs was packing sardines down on Commercial Street where many immigrants found work. The smell of her clothes when she came home from work would really gross me out as a kid. One day, I asked her for a quarter. She said, “Go look in my work bag.” When I replied “P.U.!” my mother looked at me and said, “The bag may smell, but the money doesn’t.” I never said “P.U.” again.


My mother and aunts eventually married and had homes of their own in Portland. Between them, they raised successful children who went on to become doctors, nurses, teachers and a captain in the Navy, and had families of their own who thrived here. America gave them this opportunity to better themselves. 

The manner in which Ukrainians have had to flee their war-torn country echoes how my family was driven out of Poland 100 years ago. I decided to put up a display in the hallway of my apartment building featuring some of my traditional Polish figurines holding handmade Ukrainian flags in solidarnosc the Polish word for solidarity – with the Ukrainian struggle today. 

We should cherish what freedom we have, and never forget what is still happening today in many countries.

God bless America and Ukraine!

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