My father was born on the 27th March 1937 in Branytsya, Ukraine, into a family of Kulaks - landed peasants who were brutally persecuted under Stalin’s policy of collectivisation.
Like many Ukrainians of his generation, he was born in a time of terror and fear where around 10 million people had died across the Ukraine in the famine of 1932-33, and the subsequent reign of terror that brutalised a nation.
In September 1943, the family decided to leave Ukraine after years of intolerable persecution and starvation. The invading German army were seen as liberators, promising them their lands back once their victory was complete and assured them of their safe passage and evacuation to Germany into what they believed were refugee camps. Of course, history tells us now that they were in fact labour camps; part of the Nazi grand plan to supply the Reich with cheap expendable labour.
At the end of the war, with Germany defeated, the British Army arrived at the camp accompanied by Russian Officers, who insisted that all Ukrainians be sent back home to Ukraine.
Fearful of repatriation where reprisals more than likely meant death, the family, having no paperwork to prove where they were from, changed their place of birth from Branystya to Dubno and managed to convince the British officer that they were in fact Polish - Dubno had been under Polish control up until 1939, which meant they were free to choose not to return to Ukraine.
Believing that one day they would return home to Ukraine, they chose to come to England as it was the closest country to home. As only men were initially allowed to go, my father stayed behind in Kiel with his mother and siblings whilst his father travelled to England, before eventually the family were re-united in a displacement camp in the North of England before moving to Stockport in 1949.
This smart act of courageous deception in the camp gave my father and his family a new life. This is also the reason I am here now having been given the privileges and freedom to live a life full of opportunity and choice; opportunities that seemed impossible for my grandparents’ generation, opportunities for which I will be forever in their debt.