Katherine Turczan – From Where They Came
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“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
Almost 20 years later, in the summer of 1991, the fragile bridge of memory between Turczan’s family and Ukraine was disintegrating. Her grandfather had died, and she had just learnt of her parents dementia. Scrambling to make sense of these losses, she set out with my 8x10 camera to find the place from where they came and the people they left behind. Her first trip to Ukraine coincided with the August coup in Moscow and Ukraine’s new independence. There, a rediscovered family welcomed Turczan: uncles, aunts, cousins, people she had only heard of. For months at a time, year after year, they gave Turczan places to stay, fed her, offered rides to locations, and often assisted her while she built my ongoing collection of portraits.