Couple Thankful After Ukraine Trip

Pederson, Tim. "Couple Thankful After Ukraine Trip." Williston Daily Herald, 29 November 1998, sec. 1A.

LaVern Miller (left) and his wife, Lillian (right), met with Elvira Pleskaya at the Millers' hotel in Odessa, Ukraine. The couple brought Pleskaya research and money from a friend in America.

A trip to the Ukraine has one Williams County couple thankful for what they have and where they are this holiday season.

LaVern and Lillian Miller had the opportunity to travel back to Lavern's mother's birthplace this summer in the Ukraine, a former Communist state of the USSR. It was the couple's first trip overseas.

"A day before we landed, the central government of Kiev took over all the government of Odessa," LaVern stated. "They felt the mayor of Odessa was corrupt."

Suspicions in that country run high, LaVern stated. People figure to be successful, a person must be corrupt.

While in the Ukraine, the tour stayed in Odessa and wandered through small villages during the day. LaVern's mother was born in the Ukraine in 1907. Soon after, the family immigrated to the Hebron/Bull Butte area.

Corruption was visible. "They had taken control of the airport," LaVern commented. "To get in [through customs], the tour guide offered the guards wine and money ... as a bribe. They are used to that in that country."

"To get out it cost us $30 a head," he added. The guards refused to have their pictures taken, waving off the cameras. Bags were not opened when the tourists entered or exited the country.

The reality of the state run country hit them right away. The airport was "run down", Lavern said. Locals relayed it was being remodeled ... but had been that way for six or seven years.

But [except] for the faults, the Ukraine had its positives, LaVern commented. "It was a beautiful farm country ... It reminded me of the North Dakota prairies. They said black soil was a foot deep ... I didn't see any rock piles."

"We would see them using crawlers [rotating tracks]. They cultivated sugar beets with 4-row cultivators and 50 or 60 women with hand hoes fine tuning his cultivating," LaVern recalled.

Most of the farms were state run and had the same crops and weeds (except Russian thistle) that we have in the states, he stated. He saw two or three acres of machinery that was not usable due to the lack of parts, and money, to fix them. Most of the machinery was heavy-built and in the 1950's and 1960's models, he added.

"The need for the know-how to run farmland. It should be much more productive," he said.

The state had no natural resources, LaVern stated. Most of the crops were sold to purchase fuel.

The Millers enjoyed the trips to the villages. Small children and people [were] selling their wares on the streets.

One of the missions of the tour was to bring blankets and gifts for the kids at a private orphanage there.

LaVern packed old fair buttons, election buttons and buttons from tractor shows to bring as souvenirs. He was amused seeing one child proudly sport his `Vote for Schafer' button. "He was as proud as he could be!"

In the villages, open farmers' markets sold fresh cut chicken, fish, vegetables, and cherries in the parks. LaVern thought the people there must have immunities to salmonella.

They toured two different schools. The children were neatly dressed and school rooms simple and organized. LaVern and Lil gave a teacher a "Williston, the Western Star" button, which he pinned on himself at once.

The Millers also had a mission. An acquaintance here had given them an envelope with [geneological] research and $100 for a Ukrainian woman, Elvira Pleskaya, who worked in a [archive] library there with instructions of delivering it to her personally or bringing it back.

In other instances, the money sent in envelopes was removed before it reached her.

The Millers found her toward the end of the trip. Because of peoples' suspicious natures, no one would admit to knowing anyone. The last day, the Millers found a friend of the Pleskaya and delivered the package.

LaVern said the tour also attended a Lutheran church service there. "They had a very simple altar. They are very poor. It has only been the last nine years that they have been able to practice Christianity."

It was confirmation Sunday and 18 people were confirmed - ages 12 to 65, he said. The minister spoke German and had a Ukrainian translator.

"In the village of Worms, the first thing they restored was the church steeple. The doors and windows were not fixed but the steeple was restored."

During Stalin's reign, he had the steeples removed from the churches in the country.

LaVern added young people will have to bring about change in the Ukraine. "The older generation is set in their ways. They have been told what to do their whole lives. They don't know how to think for themselves."

The Millers kept a diary of their travels to the Ukraine and other European stops. In a final entry, LaVern wrote, "I for one am happy that my mother had the chance to immigrate to North Dakota prairies with her mother, dad, brothers and sisters in 1908, homesteading on that rocky, rocky quarter of land. Now I can see, and better understand why Grandma Horob never complained and seemed happy with all the hard work she did, knowing she owned the land her home was on ... "

Reprinted with permission of the Williston Daily Herald, Williston, North Dakota.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller