A Photographer's Journey to Rediscover Her Ukrainian Roots
Nearly twenty years after her family emigrated to New Jersey, photographer Katherine Turczan made her first trip to Ukraine to try and understand her family history. Having just suffered the loss of her grandfather and learned of her parents' dementia, Turczan set out with her 8x10 camera to find the place from which they came and the people they left behind. Her trip, in the summer of 1991, coincided with a coup in Moscow and Ukraine's new independence. For months at a time and year after year, rediscovered family gave Turczan places to stay, fed her, and assisted her while she built an ongoing collection of portraits now published in a new book, From Where They Came.
"It only took three ballerina-like leaps to cross the lawn and reach my grandfather’s screen door. He lived with my grandmother in a small house on property shared with my parents in New Jersey. Waiting at the door, he scooped me up like one of the squirming lambs he weighed in the barn. I was 8.
On most days, we sat at the kitchen table and spoke Ukrainian. My first request was always to see his famous scar, the one on the right side of his chest clinging to his ribs. After he lifted his shirt, he gently took my finger and traced the wound. The skin felt thick and stiff as we followed where the bullet had entered, along a ridge on his rib, and the indentation where it exited. Even though it was always the same 3 ½ inches, he liked when I measured it. And every time we took the measurement, he repeated the same story: I was a Sich Rifleman with my brother Teodor, fighting the Bolsheviks. Teodor got typhoid, and we buried him in the steppe. I had to leave Ukraine, my seven siblings, and my parents because I was a Ukrainian soldier." —Katherine Turczan
From Where They Came is published by Stanley/Barker.