Russian President Vladimir Putin assumes that a crushing war in the Ukraine will destroy the hopes and aspirations of Ukrainian citizens. But will it? Will tragedy there lead inevitably to submission and resignation? 

Based on my Ukrainian grandfather’s rather short and difficult life, I wouldn’t bet on it. 

In 1892, John Fiszczuk, was born in a region called Bukosovno Mitkov near the Carpathian Mountains, bordering what is now Romania. In 1912, at the age of 20, Fiszczuk, who later anglicized his name to Fisher, arrived by ship at the Port of Baltimore. 

We don’t know too much about him, but records show that in 1913, John Fisher was in Omaha, Nebraska with a 15-year-old Polish immigrant named Anna Kuntz, my grandmother.

By 1914, they were living in South St. Paul, Minnesota, home to meat-packing plants along the Mississippi River, where they had a number of children.

When World War I started in 1918, John, like all Eastern European immigrants, had to declare his loyalty to the U.S., and disavow the Austro-Hungarian Empire of his birth. He signed his name with an X.

One of John’s brothers, Wasel, served in the U.S. Army, but John explained that he had a family to support. Sometimes he is listed as a laborer, later as a butcher at Armour Meat Packing. 

Then his life was cut short. 

In 1928, at 36 years old, John died of leukemia, leaving Anna a widow with five young children. 

My mother Gertrude, who was 8 when he died, talked about two memories. 

She liked to watch him shave each morning while singing the Tin Pan Alley song “I’m forever blowing bubbles.” 

Pretty bubbles in the air.

They fly so high,

Nearly reach the sky,

Then like my dreams,

They fade and die.

A second memory was of her father laid in a coffin held up by two chairs in the living room. She said she never walked downstairs into that room without seeing his casket.

While my grandmother Anna continued to work as a butcher in the meat-packing industry, she raised her family through the Depression, eating meals such as pickles and gravy. 

Because he died so young, John did not see his second oldest, George, go to work at 14 so he could help support the family. 

Around 1930, George went into a crowded room of men seeking work at Swift Meat Packing. When a hiring clerk asked for experienced butchers to raise their hands, the teenage George lifted his meat cleaver and was hired. 

His father also did not live to see George later open a small grocery story, called Fisher Foods, or see that store grow to become large and successful. 

He did not live to see his wife Anna start a catering business or become the leader of the Ladies Guild at church. 

He did not live to see my mother Gertrude strike out for Chicago at the age of 18, work as a secretary and then after WWII marry and bear six children, before becoming a widow like her mother before her and raising her large family alone. 

John did not live to see my aunt Mildred, around 1940, become a bank teller at Drovers State Bank in South Saint Paul. Mildred took the teller job that had been vacated by my mother when she left for Chicago. 

By the early 1960s, when this kind of thing was unheard of, Mildred became the first woman vice president of a bank in Minnesota. 

And John could not have known that nearly 100 years after his death, dozens of grandchildren and probably over 100 great-grandchildren would become teachers, social workers, nurses, lawyers, and every manner of good citizens. 

And that, my friends, is the lesson Vladimir Putin does not understand. Many of the innocents he kills today in Kyiv and Kharkov and Odessa will be vindicated by their surviving progeny, and those inspired by their martyrdom.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said during the midst of the civil rights struggle, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

And in the end, Putin, nearly 70 years old, will have little say about the just aspirations of Ukrainians who will long outlive him. 

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