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Mother and son Travel to the Motherland

O'Dell, William D. "Mother and son Travel to the Motherland." Hazen Star, 26 April 2007, sec. 12A.


Lillian’s parents homestead north of Hebron soon after arriving in the United States in 1910.
When most people say they are Germans from Russia, they have probably never been to the area in Russia from which their ancestors emigrated. For one mother and her son, that will change in a few months when they tour Borodino, Ukraine.

Tyrone Hamby, 54, is no stranger to international travel as he has been working in Afghanistan for the last two years as a security consultant. After 22 years in the military intelligence in the U.S. Army and 11 years in retirement, Tyrone decided to get back into the fray by using his expertise to help bring the Afghanis military “out of the Dark Ages” as the United States helps rebuild the country.

Tyrone’s mother, Lillian, will soon see where her parents lived before emigrating from the motherland of the Soviet Union in the country now known as Ukraine.
Stationed in Kabul since July 2005, Tyrone made one trip to Ukraine about this time last year. At the time, Tyrone had been invited to Kiev by a friend who worked for the same contracting company but had been stationed in Kiev. While on the vacation he was smitten by the city and the area; however, he was even more smitten by Marina, a professor of English at the University of Kiev.

Since that time, Marina and Tyrone have become engaged. As they talked long distance throughout this last year, the subject came up about bringing Tyrone’s mother, Lillian, over to Ukraine to see the homeland of her parents.

Lillian, 72, is the youngest of 16 children of Johann and Elizabeth Menge who emigrated from the Ukraine town of Borodino. Her oldest brother Karl died in 2000 at the age 92 and was born in a town called Borodino in 1908. One of her other siblings was born in the Ukraine; however, the rest of her family was born in the United States.

“I thought it was a perfect opportunity,” he said about his mother going over since she is in good health. He added it would be relatively easy for him to meet her by flying up from Afghanistan.

Tyrone explained that he wanted his mother to be able to see where her parents had been born and lived before emigrating. He added that in western North Dakota of those people who claim German from Russia heritage, about 80-90 percent of those people’s parents or grandparents actually emigrated from Ukraine, which split from the Soviet Union in 1991.

This photo of Johann and Elizabeth Menge with their first child Carl was taken in Ukraine prior to the family’s immigration.
“A vast majority of the people who claim that heritage have no idea where their heritage comes from,” Tyrone said. He added that most Germans from Russia migrated from the Bessarabia region in Ukraine.

Tyrone, a history buff with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, explained that in the late 1700s and early 1800s when Catherine the Great was the Empress of Russia, the Russian monarchy started to develop a homesteading area. Catherine was trying to develop the large areas of Russia that were unpopulated and to increase the economic viability of Russia.

As part of the enticement to immigrate to the modern Ukraine region, the immigrants could keep their own language, communities and religion, which was predominately Lutheran. However, as with the homesteading that occurred in the Midwest in the last two centuries, the major enticement was the free land.

Additionally, Catherine promised that any immigrant would be exempt from military service for 100 years. But after that 100 years, the big thing that pushed the immigrants out of the Ukraine was the military service.

From the 1890s to right before World War I in about 1910, there was a mass migration out of the Bessarabia area with many Germans from Russia moving to the moving to the upper Midwest.

Part of the reason that most Germans from Russia immigrated to the upper Midwest was that the terrain and weather was almost identical to the area of Ukraine where the came from with prairies, high winds, cropland and extremes in temperatures.

Many of the people who migrated wanted to go to the United States; however, there were many who got on ships and wherever they landed, they landed. Some of those other countries where they landed included Brazil, Argentina and other parts of South America. And as with immigrating to Russia, the big draw at the turn of the century was the free land.

“Essentially the German heritage was erased from that part of the world,” Tyrone said about the effects of the mass migration out of the Bessarabia. He added that those who stayed had their lands expropriated by the Communist regime toward the end of World War I. “In order to survive you become part of the commune … anyone who resisted, they were simply eliminated.”

Tyrone explained that the German army was welcomed into the Ukraine during World War II. He said that newsreels showed the Ukrainians throwing flowers to the Germans, because they thought they were being liberated from the Communist and Stalin regime. When the German Armies left, anyone of German heritage that remained left with them.

“So it’s not an opportunity to visit any relatives. It’s just a chance to see where her parents were from,” Tyrone said about Lillian’s visit to Borodino. He explained that his family has always known what town they were from.

“Of the remaining family members, she’s probably the only one capable of going and accomplishing this,” he added. Tyrone explained that she will be the only one of the 16 Menge children who would be able to do most of the walking that will be involved.

“This comes at a time when she needs to be doing other things in her life,” Tyrone said about his mother. “I think the more activities and things she can be involved with that’s different than her normal routine is good for mental health.”

Tyrone, along with his fiancée, has been working on the planning since January. He added that this would be a trip of firsts from meeting Marina to traveling to Europe. While he is excited that his mother will be able to see Ukraine, he made sure that Lillian had a traveling companion, Lillian’s niece, to help her through the customs process going out of and coming back into the United States.

“I would find it difficult knowing you have to go through in custom,” he said. “It’s really a nightmare trying to get back into the United States ... it won’t be any easier but it will be less stressful for her.”

Additionally, Tyrone explained that it is very expensive to buy anything in Europe since the American dollar is down against the Euro. That will pose a problem since many things are now restricted or banned in international flights.

Tyrone said that he has learned over a number of trips back an forth from the United States that any kind of medication or toothpaste or any other type of toiletries should be checked in your luggage. He said that if it’s on your carry-on it’s liable to be confiscated and you will be embarrassed for trying to put them in your carry-on.

Lillian and her niece will fly out of Minneapolis in June to Kiev through Amsterdam. They will spend a few days touring Kiev and will then take the train south to Odessa for a day. At that point, they will rent a car and drive about two hours to Borodino where her parents came from. They will spend a day there and then take the train back.

Tyrone added that the other good thing about going to Borodino and Kiev will be that they have a built-in tour guide with his fiancée.

Reprinted with permission of the Hazen Star.

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