VIDEO: How to find family you never knew existed | my Belarusian story so far

I'm from a Ukranian/Belarusian family, the granddaughter of 2 World War 2 refugees whose stories I'm beginning to uncover

I’ve deliberated over my family history all my life.

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Where did my unusual surname come from? Why do my grandparents have strong accents and broken English? How did they get here? And why is one of my first memories of sitting with my mum, watching girls dancing in red boots, vibrant costumes, spinning on their heels, Mum bending down in front of me asking “do you want to learn to dance like that?”


So many, many questions – mostly unanswerable, especially to a curious child immersed in a melting pot of Yorkshire, Belarusian and Ukrainian community, learning Ukrainian folk dance and with it, its odd alphabet and hefty dose of accordian music. For me, this was normal, and I was proud of it. Roots I’d never come to understand, yet was raised to appreciate.

So proud in fact (well, raised to be ‘different’) that I wore our national dress to the first non-uniform day at high school. Never did that again.

My dad’s mother was Belarusian and his father Ukrainian, delivered to the UK as prisoners of war post-World War Two, and that’s pretty much all I was told until adulthood, when I wanted to know more for myself. We never had contact with their families back home – they did though, for a bit. Then years later (I’m now 33), we discovered our Belarusian family (well, they discovered us).


Families are funny things. They come in all shapes and sizes, there is no template, no conformation besides loving one another. I grew up with Mum, Dad and my brother. My mum is an only child. I don’t have any cousins and I haven’t spoken to my Dad’s sister since the day he died. Our family was always a small unit, we had grandparents of course, but never any extended family.

We never any huge Christmas get-togethers with relatives or anything – but the Ukrainian community did a good job to replace that. My grandparents rocked up post-war and spent time (likely 2 years) in a Displaced Persons’ Camp. We don’t know about my grandma, but my grandad was based in Norfolk near where his deportation ship docked, from which he made his way to Yorkshire where he met my grandma, and settled into the community. The lifelong friends they made there replaced the families they’d all lost. The Ukrainian Social Club in Huddersfield was central to their life. My Dad, although British, couldn’t speak English until he was 4 years old, when he went to school.

I’m going to write a longer family history of everything I’ve found out so far about my family: I’m trying to trace my Grandad’s side (Ukraine), with a few historical hitches getting in the way.

In the meantime, here’s the video with a mix of (with permission) clips from Zhdi Menya, as well as some of video I took myself whilst meeting my Belarus family for the first time (and talking to myself in toilets to document the trip):

So that’s grandma’s side of the family puzzle fixed.

We just need the other half, my grandad’s, to be solved. More on that, and why it’s proving difficult, soon.

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