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lives lived

Halyna DobrowolskyCourtesy of the family

Halyna Dobrowolsky: Ukrainian-Canadian. Mama. Prababusya. Friend. Born March 23, 1926 in Ukraine; died May 16, 2019, in Ottawa, of cancer and Alzheimer’s; aged 93.

“There are a lot of bad people in this world,” Halyna Dobrowolsky would often say, "but there are also a lot of good people.” Haylna was one of the best.

She was the only daughter in a well-to-do family with four children, and spent her formative years happy and carefree in Kowel, Western Ukraine. The Second World War and Soviet occupation changed everything. Halyna became involved in the underground resistance movement. As a result, she and one of her brothers were forced to flee, first to Poland and then to Austria. She travelled barefoot to preserve the soles of her shoes, as worn-out shoes were a dangerous giveaway for a refugee. She became separated from her brother, and later learned that he had been killed by the Red Army. The rest of her family were sent to Siberia, and they would never be reunited. Halyna never learned the fate of her eldest brother. For the rest of her life, she would search for him in the phone book of every town she visited.

Halyna met and married Justyn Dobrowolsky in a refugee settlement in Vienna, and then waited while he immigrated to Canada to work in the indentured logging camps in Quebec and Ontario to earn funds for her fare. She arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax in 1949. Once reunited, the couple eventually moved to Sudbury, where Justyn found work at the INCO nickel mines.

In Sudbury, they started a family, which was challenging without a support network. While still caring for her newborn and pregnant with her second child, Halyna was in a car accident, which knocked out her teeth and broke her arm and ankle. Although injured, she continued to work tirelessly while she healed, sometimes washing the floors by scooting on her behind, pregnant and holding her newborn.

Halyna was a selfless mother with limitless affection. Owning only a couple of books, she took her children to the public library each week, travelling by local bus and then walking a kilometre. This practice fostered a lifelong love of reading in all three of her daughters.

Never forgetting her hunger during the war, Halyna vowed to never let her children go without food and helped feed local families in need. She worked a massive vegetable garden and picked blueberries and mushrooms from the rocky Sudbury hills. A self-taught foodie, she spoiled family and friends with sorrel borscht, cheese nalesniki (crêpes), fabulous pierogis, smoked and barbecued meats and blueberry pie. Jars of preserves overflowed from the basement into the bedrooms.

Outside of the home, she held multiple jobs, including as a chef at Eaton’s in Sudbury. With whatever small savings they had, Halyna and Justyn would send packages to relatives in Ukraine.

Halyna’s faith was always a comfort, and she spent hours volunteering and preparing feasts at the Ukrainian churches in Sudbury and then Ottawa, where she moved as a widow in 2001. Through the church, she always befriended newcomers, supporting them in their transition to life in Canada.

Halyna was warm and humble and extremely grateful to live in Canada. Despite the heartache and trauma of war, which Halyna would always carry, her strongest characteristics remained her grace and positivity.

Kalina McCaul is Halyna’s granddaughter.

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