Interview

Interview

It’s a common knowledge, that the United States of America represents a country with enormously diverse population. Being originally created as a state for those who seek for freedom and human rights from various states throughout the world, it’s naturally actively inhabited by representatives of different nations. Through its history the USA experienced several waves of immigration, beginning with first settlers from England, France, Germany, Holland, Spain and Portugal and putting dots after refugees from the eastern countries, sinking in wars.
Those who choose to stay in the States and to work for the wellness of this country, go through a number of calamities and obstacles. Some of them stay “alien” forever, having never found new home, others reach success and never feel sorry for having left their motherland. Anyway, such people usually have very serious reasons to do such a serious step, such uneasy choice. Theodore Butejko, Ukrainian by origin, still sees his Motherland in the sweetest dreams, but to the proposal of coming back his answer is categorically negative.
- Mister Butejko, what made you escape from the land of your ancestors and how long ago did it happen?
- It’s very hard to recollect those times. Each time I try to imagine this is not my own story, but something deep inside stubbornly hurts and moves strangely. The pressure overwhelmed in early seventieth. At that time Ukraine was the part of the Soviet Union. The communists severely persecuted those, who didn’t want to obey their regime, and my family was among those “ideological enemies”. We were called decedents and those, who happened to be caught by the police, were sent to the rumor areas, left to suffer from unbearable labor, starvation and tortures. You could be imprisoned even for having at home some foreign or ideologically incorrect literature. And to be a politician criminal was considered to be much more awful than to be a thief or even a murderer.
My family, on the one hand, had noble roots and on the other hand, my mother was a Jew by origin. Both these facts did no good to us. I was a member of a very intelligent family, famous and respected in certain circles. I received an excellent education at home, and it goes without saying, we had a good deal of forbidden books. My father was a talented poet, but the state didn’t want to recognize him, still he went on spreading illegal papers and doing other anticommunist work. In the 70th I managed to enter medical university, but during all my study I faced resistance and severe oppression. I often couldn’t even get books from the library. Later I couldn’t get permission for research I needed to hold. I was refused work everywhere – I was “persona non grata”. I had to feed my family, but could barely earn anything to buy bread. Let alone other necessary things. Though they were hard to find even with enough money…
- In this way you felt a steadfast need to do something with such injustice, didn’t you? Was it difficult to leave for better living?
- Of course it was difficult; we had no right to go abroad at all! During several years my father wrote to the American government in search of support. Fortunately, he restored links with the Canadian Ukrainians and they helped him to publish his works. They became rather popular among our Diaspora, and finally it helped to get the invitation from the US President. In the late 70th the United States began to welcome refugees from the Soviet Union…
- Was it hard to overcome doubts, fears, to look forward bravely to the unknown future?
- The matter is, we had neither time nor force to hesitate. We were living at the edge, every day, every step was full of risk. The degree of our despair was so high, that we would agree to any conditions. Breaking these chains, going from this endless fear and hopelessness was already great luck, we didn’t know what was ahead, but it was the only way out.
- As we know, one of the most impressive movements of immigrants attacked the States between 1860 and 1920. Almost 30 million people from Central and Southeastern Europe in particular arrived here. How do you see it, did these people have the same reasons to run away?
- Oh, if you ask me to compare… At the end of the nineteenth century a great number of my former compatriots left their home in search of better living, in search of work which was impossible to find there. In the middle of the 19th century the serfdom was abolished, people became officially free, but had nothing to eat. As for the beginning of the 20th century, you know, it was especially hard time for the Europeans. Civil wars, the World War I… Common people were so exhausted, and America was taken up as a symbol of peace, calmness and certain guarantees. The revolutions made a lot of people alien in their own homeland.
- At that time generally Russian, Polish, Ukrainian and Hungarian immigrants managed to form their own culturally homogeneous neighborhoods. Meanwhile each new wave of immigrants faced certain confrontation. In the middle of the 19th century all the Irish immigrants were considered alcoholics. At the beginning of the 20th century some Slavic nationalities, the Jewish and the Italians were judged as being too different in comparison with the true Americans, their traditions and customs being strange for them, so they were believed not to have much chance to become a worthy part of the American society. Did this opinion change through years? How were you accepted by the unknown country?
- I should admit, we were welcomed rather warmly. Certainly, to begin new life was not an easy task, but with time we found place to work. In three years we managed to buy a small cottage. Firstly I worked as a hospital attendant, but at the same time I had access to all the documents and materials I needed. The ministry gave me a patent for my invention. I received great possibilities for research, so I had everything I could dream of. Soon I met Kate, my future wife, she happened to be from Latvia. I have to say, it was rather hard to get used to the local mentality, to the local customs, I didn’t have friends, but supported links with my compatriots in other states. My father opened his own publishing house. Naturally, we missed Ukraine enormously… Our native language – though, it was anyway persecuted in the Union, our music, our land… It was strong pain, but we had much in turn.
- Now Ukraine is a free democratic state. Do you think of coming back, of bringing wellness to forgotten motherland?
- It will never be forgotten. But to return… Too much time has passed. I’d love to answer with the words from one of my verses, which can be translated in this way: “The red stripe on my throat will never grow week, My pain is Ukraine, but my Heaven on earth are the States”.

References
Davidson, J. M., & Lytle, M. H. (1981). The United States. A History of the Republic. New
Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc. Englewood Cliffs.
Salladay, R. (2007, May 21). The right immigrants. Los Angeles Times, 216, 41-43.