Ukrainian News | Aug. 18, 2004 | Will Zuzak

Memories of Danylo Shumuk

Born: Dec. 30, 1914; Boremschyna, Ukraine
Died: May 21, 2004; Krasnoarmiisk, Ukraine
Canada: May 23, 1987 to Nov. ??, 2003

Although I met Danylo Shumuk on only three separate occasions, his life and that of his extended family in Canada, has had a significant impact on me and my wife, Lily. It all started when Lily met Lydia Shumuk while taking a physics course at Kalamalka College, Vernon, BC, where I was teaching during the academic year 1983/84. Lydia and her brother, Victor, are the children of Ivan (Danylo's nephew) and Nina Shumuk.

Ivan Shumuk was a WWII refugee, who married Nina in Germany before they emigrated to Canada in 1950. He was a philosopher and community activist in his own right. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1993 and died shortly thereafter, followed by Nina a couple of years later.

We were given a copy of Danylo's Ukrainian-language book "Perezhyte i Peredumane", which outlines his early communist sympathies in the 1930's, capture and escape from a German POW camp then joining the UPA during WWII, capture by the NKVD and sentence to Norilsk until 1956, followed by another stint in the Gulag until 1967. The relative easing of repression against Ukrainian cultural aspirations during the Petro Shelest era of the 1960's came to a screeching halt with his replacement by hard-liner Vladimir Scherbitsky and massive arrests of Ukrainian dissidents in 1972. Once again Danylo Shumuk was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in the Mordovian gulag plus 5 years of exile in Kazakhstan.

Particularly enlightening as to North American ignorance of Soviet realities was a letter Danylo addressed to Pierre Trudeau chastising him for referring to Norilsk as a "wonder of the world", while he and thousands of other enslaved zheks built that "wonder".

As we became better acquainted with the Shumuks, we learned that Ivan had mounted a campaign to have Danylo released and allowed to emigrate to Canada. Parliament passed a resolution in this regard and Joe Clark personally intervened on his behalf. More importantly, Amnesty International highlighted him as a prisoner of conscience and demanded that he be released. Although similar campaigns on behalf of Leonid Pliushch and Valentyn Moroz appear to have worked, the Soviet authorities insisted that he would not be allowed to leave until he had completed his full term in January 1987.

Later that year, I obtained employment in Canada's Fusion Program necessitating our move to the village of Ste. Julie on the south shore of Montreal. This was just in time to become involved in the Deschenes Commission Witch Hunt and for Lily to become head of the Charitable Committee in Aid of John Demjanjuk's Family, Montreal Branch.

When Ivan Shumuk informed us that Danylo would be arriving at Mirabel Airport on Saturday, May 23, 1987 and asked if they could both stay at our place, we were delighted to oblige. Lily arranged for all necessary transportation to and from the airport, informed the Ukrainian community and prepared (with her women friends) a buffet-style reception at our modest home. Fortunately, it was a beautiful afternoon and evening, such that there was no problem accommodating the overflow crowd in our front and back yards.

Less fortunate was that after the reception was over Danylo started to get stomach cramps. Ivan had warned Lily that Danylo had become accustomed to very simple food in the camps and that his diet was mainly potatoes. Although Lily had prepared a large bowl of creamed potatoes especially for Danylo, as the evening wore on he got careless and started sampling some of the more exotic hors-d'ouvres that the women had prepared. He became so ill that we took him to emergency, where he kept shivering and complaining that he was deathly cold. I suspect that very few people know that Danylo Shumuk spent his first night in Canada in the emergency ward of Montreal General Hospital!

By next morning Danylo had recovered. I do not recall if the Shumuks left that day or the next, but before they left Lily made a big issue of presenting Danylo with a "Zaichyk" (10" gray and white stuffed rabbit) to guard over him while he slept. Danylo seemed genuinely delighted with the gift.

The second occasion that we had to host Danylo was during an Amnesty International reception in his honour on Nov. 02, 1987 in Montreal. AI had dubbed Danylo Shumuk as the "eternal prisoner", who had spent 42 years of his life in jails, camps and exile. They made a video film of his case and had it distributed around the world. On his part, Danylo had a very high opinion of AI and was very grateful for their support. He noted that prisoners who were supported by AI were generally treated with less brutality by the prison guards.

Ironically, the reception was attended by David Matas as legal counsel for AI. Ironic because David Matas is also senior counsel for B'nai Brith Canada and earlier that day he had appeared on the Joe Cannon Show, CJAD 800 radio, where he was promoting his book Justice Delayed on Nazi war criminals. Lily and I had phoned in to point out numerous errors in the book. And it was doubly ironic when a few months later the Jewish members of the Montreal Chapter of Amnesty International threatened to withdraw their participation and financial support, if a resolution condemning Israeli atrocities against Palestinians during the first Intifada was passed. The resolution was withdrawn with apologies.

Before he went to bed that night, Danylo assured Lily that Zaichyk kept watch over his bed every night.

The third and last time that I saw Danylo Shumuk on Oct. 20, 1999 was facilitated by a trip to Montreal to finalize the sale of my house in Ste. Julie. On my way back West, I stopped in Toronto to discuss the Wasyl Odynsky case and visit with friends. My hosts, Victor and Stepha Shumuk, drove me out to Danylo's apartment for an evening visit. His daughter, Vera, who had arrived from Donetsk, Ukraine, a week earlier to look after him, served tea and sweets. As a result of an automobile accident a couple of years earlier, Danylo was quite weak, walked with a cane and complained that his memory was deserting him. To me, he still seemed reasonably sharp, his conversation clear and lucid, his humour always at the ready. Zaichyk was resting on the backrest of the couch.

Although three encounters are insufficient to get to know a person, I was struck at how relaxed and humourous he was when discussing mundane everyday issues. But he himself confessed that, when it came to political confrontation, a shot of adrenaline transformed him into a formidable opponent. His "uncompromising integrity" forbade him from diluting his principles - a lesson to all of us who so easily "sell our souls" for some perceived transient benefit. In this regard, I equate the life and times of Danylo Shumuk with that of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose books on the Gulag Archipelago exposed the Western world to the horrors of the Stalinist concentration camps, who came in exile to North America, but who in the end returned to his Russian homeland.

I am amazed how quietly Danylo Shumuk disappeared from the scene. There was no public or political outcry in the Canadian or Ukrainian news media, when Vera could not get a visa extension to allow her to stay in Canada, thus forcing them to return to Ukraine. And I only became aware of his death via an article in the July 04, 2004 issue of the Ukrainian Weekly. I wonder if Zaichyk made it to Ukraine to watch over his last days?

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Dr. William Zuzak is a retired physicist, who worked for many years in the fields of nuclear fission and controlled thermonuclear fusion and who has documented the evolution of the d&d issue at his website at /tp/ . His wife, Lily, passed away on Sep. 15, 1997. Further information on Danylo Shumuk can be found on the Internet via the Google search engine.