Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Iwan (John) Prokaziuk
Iwan (John) Prokaziuk

Lives Lived: Iwan (John) Prokaziuk, 86 Add to ...

Husband, father/Tato, grandfather/Dido, displaced person, Ukrainian nationalist. Born May 28, 1927, in Chernycia, Ukraine; died Nov. 1, 2013, in Montreal, of complications from stomach cancer, aged 86.

In 1942, at the age of 15, Iwan Prokaziuk was taken from his home and family in Ukraine and forced into a labour camp in Germany. He would often recount his experiences in war-torn Germany, such as taking cover from falling bombs, escaping bullet fire, and witnessing Europe’s liberation. When his children watched war movies with him, he would invariably say, “That’s not how it was.” This would lead to a retelling of his experiences for what seemed like the hundredth time, but we never tired of hearing his accounts.

More Related to this Story

At war’s end in 1945, when he was only 18, he decided not to return to his beloved homeland because he was certain that his relatives had either perished or been exiled. With no family, personal belongings or skills, and with the imposed “displaced person” designation, he left Bremerhaven, Germany, and sailed to Canada, arriving at Halifax’s Pier 21.

When he landed, he found that “lumbermen” were needed and made his way to Northern Ontario for his first work in his new country. It turned out that being a lumberman was not what Iwan was cut out for. He described the winters as being very cold with too much snow, and the summers as being very hot with too many mosquitoes. But mostly, there were too few Ukrainians.

He settled in Montreal where he met Marika Ororej, whom he would marry in 1949 and spend the next 64 years with. Knowing only Ukrainian, and without formal education, he was determined to teach himself to read and write English, and to learn the heating and ventilation trade. He ultimately earned certification as a first-class stationary engineer.

Reading marked his lifelong passion to know about everything – and anything. It was astonishing how many books he read, in both Ukrainian and English. He passed on his love of reading to his four sons, who are all avid readers.

Although Iwan had initially thought the worst about his relatives in Ukraine, in fact his family had all survived the war. In 1979, he travelled to his homeland and was reunited with his relatives after a separation of more than 37 years.

In 1992, after retiring from his job as chief stationary engineer at the Douglas Hospital in Verdun, Que., Iwan began a new chapter – a life of volunteerism that would culminate in one last duty that benefited many.

Iwan had been a long-time member of Montreal’s Prosvita, also known as the Ukrainian Reading Society. This social organization, founded in 1913, was where he met Marika and many of their friends through the years. But in 2012, due to its declining and aging membership, Iwan was tasked with winding down the Montreal group.

He negotiated the sale of its property and assets, and distributed the proceeds – no easy task for an 85-year-old, especially one who was heartbroken by the group’s demise. Many charitable Ukrainian organizations throughout Canada, and some in Ukraine, became the grateful benefactors of his efforts.

Just two months before he passed away, the last of the proceeds were finally distributed. He knew that his good work was done and he could leave us.

Daniel, Maurice, Roman and Michael are Iwan’s sons,

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories