By Mykhailo VASYLEVSKY, The Day
In the run-of-the-mill village of Kutkivtsi, Chemerivtsi district (Khmelnytsky
oblast) even those who had lost all hope regained it. An international
event, to have taken place here in Kutkivtsi at the end of last summer,
is still to take place in late summer. "Leonid Kuchma is coming here,"
chairman of the Chemerivtsi district administration Vitaly Tsyts imparted
the sacramental news. It is not ruled out that the President will seize
the opportunity to convince the Ukrainian Diaspora in Canada that, under
his leadership, the country honors the memory of its valiant sons. But
will the Diaspora believe Mr. Kuchma?
Kutkivtsi gave the world Filip Konoval, the only Ukrainian ever awarded
a Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom's highest decoration. He shook hands
with British Kings George V and George VI. Trilingual commemorative plaques
were unveiled in his honor: at the Ottawa's Courtier Riding School (Ottawa),
at the 260th division of Royal Canadian Legion, and in Westminster (British
This hero was born September 15, 1888, at Kutkivtsi. Ukrainian Canadians
have carefully studied his life story and gathered material for the book
Konoval. It is written that Filip worked in the Kutkivtsi quarry, then
was recruited into the Russian Tsarist army, where he soon became an instructor
in hand-to-hand combat.
After some time, Filip emigrated to Canada. He never left any explanations
of his motives, for the land of the maple leaf attracted many at that time.
But the rumbles of World War I reached even there: far-away Canada joined
the British Commonwealth forces against the Kaiser's Germany.
Chairman of Kutkivtsi village council Oleksandr Kordon, referring to
historical sources furnished to him by the Diaspora, says, "Corporal Konoval
was sent to France with an artillery battalion. It is there, near the city
of Lens, that our dear fellow countryman won his Victoria Cross."
Mr. Kordon and I are standing on the place where a monument should be.
After a pause, my interlocutor tells me in carefully chosen words about
the hero's exploit. "The day of August 21, 1917, began outside Lens with
shelling in the rain. Of course, from the enemy side. The battalion where
Konoval served had already lost all its commanders. But the enemy continued
shelling, making everybody lie low in the trenches. People were dying...
And what does our fellow countryman decide?"
The village chief looks at his interlocutor somewhat victoriously, as
if he were a witness or a participant in those distant events. Then he
continues: "Corporal Konoval ordered his soldiers to cover him with machine-gun
fire, and then fearlessly leaves his shelter and crawls to the enemy machine-gun
emplacement. He reaches the machine-gun crew and plunges, in a flash, into
the trench with three of the Kaiser's soldiers..." And how on earth could
that crew know that they were facing a hand-to-hand combat instructor?
They fell down like dominoes after his punches. Another six soldiers attacked
Konoval with bayonets drawn, but they met the same fate. Then the last
machine-gun emplacement, where Konoval finally routed the crews. He returned
to his position carrying a machine-gun and three captives under his arms.
History has preserved the words of George V, the King of Great Britain,
to Filip: "Your exploit is one of the dearest and most heroic in the history
of my army. Accept my gratitude for this." And he handed a Victoria Cross
to a Canadian citizen born in Kutkivtsi, a village forsaken by God and
"Do you think after that fate smiled at the earner of Great Britain's
highest award?" asks Mr. Kordon. After the war Konoval served in the Canadian
Parliament. As a floor-sweeper. Later, as the guard of special room No
16 at the office of the Canadian Prime Minister. Konoval died June 3, 1959.
Neither during Konoval's life nor after his death, did Kutkivtsi have
the faintest idea of its hero of the United Kingdom. But no sooner had
the borders opened than Filip's relatives were found in the village: his
grandson and granddaughter, already elderly Volodymyr Baryliuk and Hanna
Motsna. But even they had known nothing about their glorious granddad until
recently. They only heard once that he had lived here and then gone away
in search of a better destiny. That is all.
As to a monument to Filip Konoval in Kutkivtsi, the Association of Ukrainian-
Canadian Veterans has long been funding this noble project. It seemed to
have found full support of the then oblast and district administrations.
The monument draft was made by sculptor P. Kulyk and architect P. Bliusiuk
from Lviv. "They set the dates: the monument to our glorious compatriot
was to have been solemnly unveiled by this fall. Canadian guests planned
to come to Kutkivtsi but did not. Not because they could not or did not
want to. Because there is no monument to this day," the village council
head says in distress. He maintains ties with the Diaspora which insists
that the monument be unveiled at least in August 1999.
As soon as spring came, Mr. Kordon handed in all his archives to the
new chairman of the Chemirivtsi district administration Mr. Tsyts, who
took them to Khmelnytsky. The oblast state administration informed one
and all that it was all the President's doing. And it quickly found its
bearings: last year's summer is not the hot summer of 1999. "They began
to ask questions and explain that the President would attend the opening
ceremony," the village council chief says. He laments, "The road to the
future monument is as rough as can be - the guests won't get through."
The road is also likely to be repaired by then. But will the Canadian Ukrainians,
who financed the erection of the monument, not guess the true motives and
intentions of other participants in the ceremony? You can see so many things
in the light of success and glory.