My Slavic Secret

We have all been bombarded with the horror that Putin’s War is promulgating in the Ukraine. Schools, hospitals, apartment buildings razed by bombs. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing for their lives. This atrocity effects each and everyone of us differently. Social media is overflowing with pleas for help and personal stories.

My friend James Martin posted this on Facebook:

My family (all 4 grandparents) left the Ukraine in the early 1900s to save themselves and their offspring from the terrors we see there now. They saw in their early teens that European Countries had been fighting for Centuries over this beautiful land with an abundance of natural resources and agricultural capacity. They anticipated that the wars would continue. They missed the starvation holocaust (they were farmers also), Hitler’s aggression (he was shipping out train loads of the Ukraine black soil), and now Putin. They left behind their families but never lost touch. My parents, my sister and I, owe them everything. Ukrainians never forget 💙💛🇺🇦.” James Martin

“Ukrainians never forget.” That phrase really got to me. His words brought up a well of emotions and maybe even smacked me on the side of the head. Because, I had forgotten. Forgotten that I am fifty-percent of Slavic Descent. Being raised in Flagtown on the Guerrera compound, my Italian family was there everyday and had such a huge impact on me that I have always just said I was an Italo-Americano. The passion I felt for my Italian side masked the other DNA that was floating around. Until I read Jimmy’s piece and saw what was happening to other Slavic people. Then wham – I remembered.

One of these women is my great grandmother, Beta Skok
My maternal grandparents
Valentine Forejtek and Kristina CzernĂ­

Borders changed so often in Eastern Europe that I am not really sure what country my grandparents came from. Was my grandfather born in Kromyerize, Bohemia or Austria-Hungary or Czechoslovakia or Slovakia? Different historic documents list different places. Family lore has it that Valentine was a multi-linguist and a great chef. Both skills served him well in WWI. He could be from wherever it was better to be from. My grandmother, who died when my mother was only nine or ten, was born in Sobotište, Slovakia or was it really Austria Hungary or Czechoslovakia. She was born in 1898 so it was probably Hungary. As Jimmy said, these European countries had been having turf wars for centuries. The resilient people, with incredible conviction maintained their heritage and homelands.

My mom and her mom.

My Slavic genes have probably provided me with my tenacity and as the Italians say, “testa dura,” hard head. I wish I had gotten to know more about that heritage. Time to fill in the other side of my family tree.

A little research and WOW.

Back to Italy. I reached out to Italian pals to see how Italians were feeling about the war and helping refugees. Gabriella Mancini, the best physical therapist in the world, lives in Milan and reports this.

ITALIAN AID TO UKRAINE IN ABSENCE OF HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS 

More than two weeks after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Italy’s response has been impressive. Not only in the big cities but also in the smaller ones, thousands of people took action to send humanitarian aid to the population that remained and, also, to welcome the first refugees who landed on Italian territory in the best possible way. Despite the problem of inflation, rising fuel prices and the absence of humanitarian corridors – as a consequence of this conflict incited by Russia, trucks with tons of food, medecines, clothes and basic necessities departed to reach the Ukrainian border. In particular in Milan, we assisted in the creation of numerous non-profit associations, also led by priests and public figures, who have worked (and still continue to do so) to complete the mission of humanitarian aid for Ukrainian citizens and soldiers. Several collection points are scattered throughout the city. This enables every citizen to easily contribute to help people who have remained separated from their families and their belongings. In order to be able to cope with the immediate emergency of the Ukrainian people, the call on social networks is to donate as much as possible to support refugee reception facilities, hospitals and orphanages. Many pharmacies are working to collect medicines for the first aid of war wounded. There are also many Italian families who are trying to host refugee people with the hope that sooner or later this relentless horror will end. Thinking of the fact that we did not even get out of the Covid-19 emergency and we already have to face another one; it sounds really absurd and in some ways this situation could be even more serious than the pandemic. Probably the truth is that man will never learn from the mistakes of the past.” Gabriella Mancini

Archbishop Avondios, Vicar of the Archdiocese of Milan
Social Media is full of appeals.

This message raced around WhatsApp:

Stasera alle 20 suoneranno le campane delle chiese. Spegnete le luci delle vostre case finché potete, per dimostrare a Putin che preferiamo stare al buio piuttosto di comprare il suo petrolio o gas. Questa azione si farà in tutta l’Europa allo stesso momento, a Londra(alle 19), Europa Centrale(noi) alle 20, Kyiv(alle 21) e Mosca (alle 22).
Per favore inoltrare questo messaggio.

Translated: Tonight at 8 pm the church bells will ring. Turn off the lights in your homes while you can, to show Putin that we would rather stay in the dark than buy his oil or gas.This action will be done throughout Europe at the same time, in London (at 7 pm), Central Europe (us) at 8 pm, Kyiv (at 9 pm) and Moscow (at 10 pm). Please forward this message.

I don’t know if turning out the lights made Putin think again about his criminal actions but, like singing from the balconies during Covid lockdowns it makes people think a bit about what is happening.

What am I doing? Donating to Doctors Without Borders and allowing my Slavic genes to start talking to the Italian genes. It is time for me to unleash the power of both sides of the Adriatic Sea.

Ci vediamo


“Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” takes to the Road! I will be reading excerpts from this, my new book on April 21st at Cafe Brio in Hillsborough, NJ and on April 27th at Rossi’s Bar and Grill in Hamilton, NJ. Reservations a must. E-mail me for details – info@nonnasmulberrytree.com

On May 7th from 2-4pm, the talented illustrator, Janet Cantore Watson, will be representing “Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” at the Commonplace Reader in Yardley, PA. I’ll be back in Pontelandolfo with Fernando Fiat plotting more tales.