BRAMA, Oct 13, 2005, 1:00 am ET|
From War to Westminster by Stefan Terlezki CBE
Book review by Tony Leliw
From War to Westminster
By Stefan Terlezki CBE
Published by Pen & Sword, €19.99
When President Yushchenko’s memorial complex known as the Alley of Outstanding People of Ukraine is built, a name that must surely figure in the future list of contenders is Stefan Terlezki.
Having just read his autobiography “From War to Westminster” – he could quite easily fit the criteria of being “a remarkable person in Ukraine’s history” and able to “instil patriotism and national dignity in Ukrainians”.
The story of Stefan Terlezki is not just about one individual, it mirrors a generation of hundreds of thousands of refugees who suffered a similar fate, which makes this book an ideal starting point for those in the diaspora and beyond who lack answers from this painful period of history.
Take for instance the harsh realities of Polish-occupied Western Ukraine where his relatives were persecuted, then the brutal separation from his family by the Nazis to be sold into slave labour in Austria, and finally the ultimate indignity of being told by the Russians that he was returning home, when in fact he was being taken to fight for ‘Uncle Joe’ Stalin in the Soviet Far East.
But what distinguishes Mr Terlezki from his contemporaries is his compelling drive to overcome adversity and better himself considerably once he reached his new home of Wales.
He married a local well-to-do girl, eventually owned his own hotel, was chairman of Cardiff City Football Club, and then became the first Ukrainian to sit in the House of Commons, being elected Conservative Member of Parliament for Cardiff West in 1983.
He then used his newly-acquired status to turn on his enemies, but without risking World War Three. During his maiden speech he passionately told parliament: “I have experienced feudalism, Marxism, Communism, Fascism and, at the age of 14 a slave labour camp. I believe I can justifiably claim that I know how to appreciate freedom and democracy.”
And for those who doubted him, he rounded on his critics. “If people in this great country of ours believe that the grass is greener in the Soviet Union, let them go there and find out for themselves.”
One of Mr Terlezki’s biggest triumphs was being able to persuade the then British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe to speak to the Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, to allow his father Oleksa to visit him after 42 years.
This moving story was soon picked up by the media and the South Wales Echo ran a funny cartoon with Mr Terlezki pictured leaning over a sofa while his dad is drinking a cup of tea saying: “I really don’t like to bring this up Dad, but all those years… the pocket money.”
Later Mr Terlezki was to meet Mikhail Gorbachev, then a leading member of the Politburo, at a dinner at Claridges Hotel, to hear him recite Taras Shevchenko’s Testament.
“I was so grateful and appreciative of what he went on to say about Shevchenko – who was also a personal hero to me – that I felt like giving him a big hug,” says Mr Terlezki in the book.
“As I listened to Gorbachev’s private views on Russia, spoken in perfect Ukrainian, a frosty shiver ran down my back.
“I knew that if he were to repeat in the Kremlin what he said to me in London he would never, ever, become the president of the Soviet Empire. Instead it was more likely that he would spend the rest of his life as a manager in a brick factory in some godforsaken part of Siberia!”
When Gorbachev asked him to visit the place where he was born Mr Terlezki told him he was afraid of the KGB.
“You are now a member of the British Parliament and we will look after you,” he said. “And so he did, as I was to discover later,” writes Mr Terlezki, who was later awarded the honour of a CBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
There are many gripping episodes in this book including one when Mr Terlezki was given a spade by the Gestapo and asked to dig a hole.
“Make the hole about one metre in diameter and a metre deep. Do you understand?” he was told.. “His words were the sweetest, most reassuring I could possibly have heard,” says Mr Terlezki. “This was no grave I was digging. It was the hole for another tree…. God had protected me. I would gladly have dug my way to China!”
When Mr Terlezki met with the late Polish pope, like a true ambassador of Ukraine, he told him about his Ivano-Frankivsk background and the Pope’s eyes lit up.
“He raised his eyebrows and light-heartedly replied that the Ukrainians had definitely stolen a march on his own countrymen, since no Pole had so far been elected to the British Parliament.”
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Tony Leliw is a London-based journalist whose articles have appeared in respected publications such as the London Evening Standard and The Times, as well as news services in Ukraine and the U.S.
Feature stories by Mr. Leliw that have been published on Brama include :
Oct 13 05 - From War to Westminster by Stefan Terlezki CBE. Book review by Tony Leliw
Dec 1 04 - Ukrainians color London blue, yellow - and orange
Nov 24 04 - Villanous Viktor un-Vanted in UK
Nov 2 04 - Britain votes for Yushchenko
Oct 11 04 - Polling station coordinator works to simplify constitutional obstacles for voters abroad
Jul 16 04 - 'Madam Hooch' rides her broomstick in from Odesa: Actress Zoë Wanamaker offers a glimpse into her family history
Jun 7 04 - British 'heavyweight' weighs in on Ukraine elections
Mar 22 04 - If you were an oligarch ...
Mar 7 04 - Why you'll never find all the eggs in one basket
Dec 3 03 - On His Majesty's Secret Service
Oct 1 03 - Vilified, slandered and abused for telling the truth about Communism
Jul 30 03 - Malcolm Muggeridge Centenary: the journalist who reported that more than 7 million starved to death in Ukraine
Mar 24 03 - Christian fundamentalism and corruption: a member of the British House of Lords offers her views on the Iraq war and Ukraine
May 27 03 - Voting, for a song
Jan 1 03 - The road from Ukraine to Westminster and back
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