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Glendale couple reflects on leaving Ukraine during World War II as current war rages

 Sofron and Christina Nedilsky
Susan Bence
Sofron and Christina Nedilsky in their Glendale home. They proudly display the banner her daughter carried at a recent rally in Chicago.

The home of Christina and Sofron Nedilsky is filled with paintings and other works by Ukrainian artists. Fighting tore them away from their homeland during World War II, when both Germany and Russia invaded Ukraine.

Christina was four years old when her family fled in 1944. “My family went near the border, I believe, of Slovakia, Turka and they thought they would wait out the war," she explains.

To this day, Christina finds it hard to talk about those days. "I’m sorry," she whispers.

Sofron was five years old when he and his family left their native country. “I pretty much remember leaving and being in a little town in Austria, called Traun; from there we went further west to a farm in Bavaria," where he says a farming family took them in, until Sofron’s  family moved on to displaced persons camp in Regensburg.

“There were about 5,000 people in that camp, but with those 5,000 people, we had an entire theater group, an orchestra. We had phenomenal teachers in a matter of weeks, we had a grade school up to a gymnasium schools,” Sofron recalls.

A photo taken in the displaced persons camp in Germany at the close of World War II. Christina's (center) and Sofron's (to her left) families met there. It would be years before the two met as adults in Chicago.
Courtesy of Christina and Sofron Nedilsky
A photo taken in the displaced persons camp in Germany at the close of World War II. Christina's (center) and Sofron's (to her left) families met there. It would be years before the two met as adults in Chicago.

Christina and Sofron’s families met at the camp, but landed in different states when they settled in the United States.

“We came in 1949. And the historic aspect of our coming here was that the previous year in November ’48, Congress passed an act that allowed immigrants to come to [the] U.S.,” Sofron says.

It would be years before Sofron and Christina reconnected as adults in Chicago. Sofron was practicing law, and they started their family; eventually moving to Madison, Wisconsin and later Milwaukee, where he became the court administrator for the federal court.

“That’s been my career,” Sofron says simply.

Christina says over the past six weeks, they’ve watched the war in Ukraine in horror. “It’s on my mind almost constantly. These people are leaving just with children with a plastic bag, walking miles and miles. It just hurts me. Our older daughter wants to go with her son this summer to help in Poland or Slovakia, wherever she’s needed.” Christina adds, “I encourage that.”

The Nedilsky’s have spent most of their lives — more than 70 years — in this their adopted country.

Sofron says he wanted to be a good citizen and has been active in politics, but he doesn’t restrain his disappointment that the U.S. has not stepped up to prevent the slaughter of Ukrainian families.

“When one-half of the children of Ukraine are on the road, one-half, and we get no help from quote 'the big countries.' I just can’t believe when people get together and say, ‘This has to stop’ that they can’t stop it or are afraid to stop it. Sofron adds incredulously, "It just doesn’t make any sense."

“But I just want to add something about people helping,” Christina interjects, “I think many individuals Americans are helping everywhere — sending money, supporting. My friends are hugging and crying and being interested, but as Sofron said, the policy is different.”

Christina says she remains hopeful for her homeland’s future. “Yes, yes, with our President Zelensky and our fighters that are totally committed to keeping Ukraine free from oppression."

When asked if he shares his wife’s optimism, Sofron thinks back to the camp in Germany at the close and after World War II, where on Sundays displaced families were allowed to hold church services.

“Each liturgy ended with a hymn that asks God to save Ukraine and give her freedom and allow us to go back. God listened,” he recalls.

Sofron says Ukrainians are being forced to dig up that hymn again.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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