The Australian-Ukrainian community will be celebrating the 100th birthday of one its matriarch’s – Klara Djachenko – tomorrow, a survivor of the Soviet-made famine in Ukraine in 1932-33 and Nazi forced transportation in WW2, and a symbol of the resilience, strength and humility of the Ukrainian people.
In a poignant reminder of the passing of time, greetings arrived two weeks ago, unbeknown to Klara, from the recently departed Queen Elizabeth II. Klara had prayed for a card from the Queen – she said the Queen felt ‘like a little sister to me’ – and her family will be with her when she opens it on Thursday, 15 September.
Klara was born on her parents’ 50 hectare farm in the Donetsk region, near Kramatorsk. In early childhood her family suffered through Stalin’s deliberate attempt to starve the Ukrainian peasantry in the 1930’s – the “Holodomor’” (death by hunger). Her family and entire community and regions were ravaged by hunger, as crops, livestock, seed and household foodstuffs were systematically taken by Soviet militia during an extremely bitter winter. Her father was imprisoned by the Soviet authorities and died in Siberia.
In 1943, she like many were forcibly transported as Oestarbaiten (slave labour) to Germany. Following the war, Klara fled westward seeking a new, free destiny. She married Ivan in a British controlled DP camp, before resettling with two young children (sadly one daughter died prior to resettlement) initially in Western Australia, then Redfern, near central Sydney. Another daughter was born in Marrickville, NSW.
In Australia, Klara immersed herself in family, church and community life, while continuing to work. Widowed in 1961, she excels as a cook, baker and embroiderer, contributing to innumerable feasts and celebrations. She met the former PM, Scott Morrison, on the steps of the Ukrainian church in Sydney only recently, when he attended a Mass following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He helped lead her into the church.
Stefan Romaniw and Kateryna Argyrou, Co-Chairs of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations (AFUO), said today “We congratulate Pani Klara on a life which has been a symbol of the stability and indestructibility of the Ukrainian spirit, and the importance of the preservation of Ukrainian culture, traditions, language and religion in a new, uninhabited land.”
“We also express our gratitude for the dedicated long-term, social and ecclesiastical activities undertaken by Pani Klara for the good of the Ukrainian community in Australia,” they added.
Pani Klara will also be receiving letters from the Governor General and his wife, the PM Anthony Albanese, the NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and other State & Federal MPs.
Click here for Pani Klara’s memoirs of the Holodomor.
Photo credit: Andriy Gavran