Our Trip to Ukraine
and Ann Riehl. "Our
Trip to Ukraine." Watrous Manitou,
16 August 1999.
"I invite all the Riehl family and others to return to Krasna
with me in 1999." Through a translator, Max Riehl encouraged everyone
at a family gathering in Mandan, ND. He had come to Bismarck from
Koblenz, Germany in August, 1998. First he attended the Germans
from Russia Heritage Society Convention and spent many hours studying
the photo binders and information collected by researchers Ted Becker
(Williston, ND) and Rosemary Mack (Bienfait, SK). Their research
centers around the former Bessarabian villages of Krasna and Emmental.
Max related how a bus trip was being planned and he had brought
with him several photos from previous trips there. He would hold
twenty seats on the bus for travelers from the US and Canada until
What an adventure this would be. Fly to Frankfurt, Germany then
take an eleven and a half day bus tour that would take us northeast
through former East Germany, Poland, the Ukraine, Moldova, Romania,
Hungary, Austria and back to Germany. And more special yet, we would
be visiting Krasna where Dad Riehl was born in 1898 and Emmental
where Mom Riehl was born in 1908. John's brother, David, their sister
Liz (husband, Maurice) and nephew, Greg, (fiance, Andrea) also planned
to take the trip.
So we mailed our deposit by Christmas. Early in 1999, it was time
to book our flight to Germany and get our papers in order, renew
our passports and obtain the necessary travel visas. Canadians were
required to have them for Poland, the Ukraine, Moldova and Romania.
Closer to travel time, it was necessary to consider what travel
items we should include. We were advised to include good walking
shoes (maybe extra shoes in case of wet weather), toilet supplies
(tissue and towelettes), comfortable travel-wear, and it was also
suggested not to take expensive jewelry.
Arriving in Koblenz on May 22nd, we visited with several members
of the Riehl families whom we had met in 1987 during a Riehl family
The Riehl family, as handed down verbally, came from Bavaria,
settled in Warsaw in 1809, moved on to Bessarabia in 1814 and stayed
there in Krasna until 1940 when everyone had to leave. Max's grandfather,
Lorenz, died in Krasna in 1929 and Max was a boy of thirteen years
in 1940. John's grandfather, Thomas, ( a half brother to Lorenz)
and family had immigrated to the US (to SD) in 1905 and in 1913
came to Allan, SK where he died in 1917. Lorenz's brother, Josef
and family also remained in Krasna, but their brother, Karl, and
family immigrated to the US (to ND) in 1910 and their sister, Helena
(Mrs Michael Volk) and family immigrated in 1905 (to ND), traveling
on the same ship as Thomas.
Tuesday, May 25, travelers gathered for a 4 am breakfast and we
were under way by 5:15 am!! We now totaled seventy persons travelling
on two air in air conditioned comfort. We were eight Canadians,
twenty - two from the US and the remainder from Germany. Of this
total, twenty six were Riehl relatives.
As daylight broke, everyone settled in and enjoyed the scenery
as the busses whizzed along the autobahn. Crossing into the former
East Germany, one observed the poorer conditions of buildings and
roads; however, there was also much activity with improvements being
Our noon meals consisted mostly of bread, cheese, packaged meat
and hard boiled eggs, all eaten picnic style near the bus. Beer,
coffee, pop and bottled water could be purchased on the bus. Each
evening meal and morning meal was provided by the hotels in which
we stayed. The meals were very good and the hotels were clean and
Several of our days were very long. As the days passed, and although
the roads were paved, they were not good enough to travel very fast.
Often times were horse-drawn wagons to maneuver around, sometimes
animals-at-large on the road. The highway was THE road, no side
roads unless a very narrow road off to a village, so we were constantly
meeting or passing all types of traffic. Throughout many of the
countries, however, and sometimes for miles at a stretch, trees
had been planted years before that lined each side of the highway.
Each tree was planted perhaps forty feet apart.
In all the countries we traveled, the terrain was similar to our
prairies - some flat, some rolling. Most of the land was farmed.
Crops we saw included wheat, (some winter wheat), fall rye, corn,
sunflowers, hayland, too, but hardly any summerfallow. From our
vantage point in the bus, we saw hardly any farming equipment but
we did see many people hoeing in the fields. Many were hand hoeing
the corn. A few were lucky enough to have a small plough pulled
by a horse. Wild poppies were in bloom everywhere. No fences needed.
Everyone lives either in the villages or in the cities. The villager's
cows are looked after during the day by a herdsman and at night,
the cow is in the barn in the villager's yard. Each yard is completely
fenced as villagers keep a few pigs, some chickens, geese, rabbits,
etc. We also saw goats being looked after by a herdsman. Peonies
and roses were the flowers in bloom in village yards.
Passing through the cities, we noticed many many apartment buildings,
all in a sad state of disrepair. There is just no money to fix them.
In other cities, we saw huge factories abandoned. We noticed the
gas line to each house was above ground, about eight feet high (enough
to run above the yard's entrance). In other cities we saw huge pipes
also running above ground alongside the highway. We were told these
large pipes were the system to provide steam heat to houses in the
Crossing from one country into another was an experience all of
its own. As we were leaving a country we had to go through that
border patrol, drive ahead a short distance to the entrance of the
next country and to another border patrol. Our bus drivers handled
all the passports. At one border one time, however, our passports
were returned to us so that an officer could board the bus and pick
them up! Still, at another, our passports were given to us and we
filed off the bus, into a large vacant-looking building where the
officer took our passports and we waited in a holding area. We observed
an officer walking through the bus and another checked under the
bas as it sat overtop a grated pit area. We had been reminded more
than once by our bus spokesman to put away our cameras, No photos
were to be taken of the border police or of any patrol officer.
More than once we observed packages of cigarettes, bottled water
and pop being offered by our bus drivers to the officers. In one
city, we were stopped by the city patrol and they 'required' US$6
funds per person! Apparently it was paid. Upon leaving the same
city, another patrol 'required' the same. Our bus drivers said we
had no more money and that there was no reason we could not continue;
the papers for the bus were allin order, as were the papers for
all the passengers. However, our drivers continued to make their
appeal. We were prepared to eat our supper beside the bus and we
would sleep on the bus, the German embassy would be phoned the next
morning and then the patrol officers could sort out the whole mess.
A short meeting by the officers and their decision to allow us to
pass was greeted with a sigh of relief. It had been another long
With border patrol, city and highway patrol that day alone, we
sat a total of five and a half hours! No wonder we were often at
the breakfast table by 6 am several days and did not get to our
evening destination until 8 pm. One night it was 11:30 pm.
We were greeted in Krasna (now Krasnoje, Ukraine) with the traditional
bread and salt ceremony,and then everyone was billeted with villagers.
It was sad that the language barrier kept everyone from enjoying
a good visit, but sign language worked well. Max Riehl led a walking
tour of the village. The house of the Riehl family no longer stands
but another house has been built in its place. The yard and fence
is still the same. The church is no longer standing. The headstones
in the cemetery were destroyed long ago but through the tireless
efforts of Max and his Bessarabian countrymen, a cairn was erected
in 1992 and most recently a small chapel stands on the site. The
Chapel is a replica of the one standing in the Koblenz, Germany
cemetery. For several of our German travelers, this was quite an
emotional stop. At a memorial ceremony, several readings and hymns
were presented. Many in our group left family and close friends
in Krasna in 1940.
A visit to Emmental (now Permovais, Moldova) was also very special
to us. When John's mother was born here the village was in Bassarabia
and when she left in 1926 it was a part of Romania. We had taken
a 1940 town map with us. Several years ago, Mom had described the
Moldenhauer yard and she had given us the names of all the neighbors
too. Traveling on our bus was a man who was born in Emmental and
who also had a map. He helped us locate the yard and the well, just
as Mom had described it. An elderly couple and their two sons live
in the one house now. At first they were cautious: "Why did you
come here?" "What do you want?" Our translator explained that we
only wanted to see the yard and the well as our Mom was born here.
We were immediately welcomed then. Some folks, mostly the older
ones, were still wary.(After WWII these people occupied the home
vacated by the German people living here.) We all drank water from
the well - "The best in Emmental," the elderly lady said. And we
all took several photos.
Also while in Emmental, we were greeted with the bread and salt
tradition and billeted with villagers. We toured the church. The
steeple had been knocked off after the war and it now is an Orthodox
church. In the cemetery, a few headstones still stood, although
time had erased names. Grandfather Jacob Moldenhauer is buried there.
(Grandmother, Christina, came to Canada following his death and
is buried at Colonsay, SK)
While visiting the villages, both not far from Odessa, we saw
hay lying to dry on the street in front of a villager's yard. We
saw geese and chickens with their little ones feeding off grasses
near the yards. Sometimes the adult bird had one leg secured to
a tethering string so it would not wander away. Very few vehicles
were in evidence. Many were inoperable. Some people drove old motor
bikes with side cars like the ones from the war years. Some drove
a rubber tired wooden wagon pulled by a horse. Most just walked.
Toilets were outdoors. There were no seats in them, just a small
hole to squat over.
The highway going through the villages was paved and in Krasna
we observed a few other streets that had large concrete slabs for
the road bed. Most of the streets, all very wide, had only a dirt,
clay type roadway. In wet weather, all would be impassable with
a vehicle. The pot holes were huge!
The villagers were very hard working people. In Krasna, our hostess,
through a translator, told us they work for a collective farm. For
all their work in 1998, they were not paid until March, 1999! In
Emmental we visited with a lovely young lady who taught English
in a neighboring village. She had received one month's pay last
September but nothing since then. We wondered how she managed. She
said she lived with her mother and her two older sisters gave her
clothes periodically. We were told that authorities in Emmental
consented to leave the electricity turned on for the two nights
we were there just for us visitors. Then it would be shut off again
With the main purpose of our trip being the visits to the villages
of Krasna and Emmental, very little time could be spent as sightseers.
We did, however, briefly visit the city of Dresden, Germany; the
port of Odessa; stopped at the water's edge of the Black Sea; spent
a short time in Budapest, Hungary and a few hours in Vienna, Austria.
Altogether, we traveled more than 5200 kilometers.
What a memorable journey! How sweet though it is to be home. We
should be thankful each day for our freedom in this country in which
we live. Many are not so fortunate.
Reprinted with permission of the Watrous Manitou.