1715 Franz Josef Land to Tatla Lake

14 Months on Franz Joseph Land
by Mykhailo Ivanychuk, edited and translated by Gloria Atamanenko

Summerland: Danny Evanishen/ Ethnic Enterprises, 2002
$20.00 / 9780973242812

Reviewed by Sage Birchwater

Editor’s note: Contact Sage Birchwater by email at sagebirchwater@shaw.ca or on Facebook to buy a copy of 14 Months on Franz Joseph Land for $20.00 plus $5.00 postage, with proceeds to a fundraiser for the people of Ukraine. Over $1000 has been collected so far (February 2, 2023) from the sale of this book initially to residents of the Cariboo-Chilcotin. The first donation to Ukraine will be made on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2023 – Richard Mackie


Sage Birchwater: I was on a speaking tour in Quesnel this past November (2022), promoting my recent book Talking to the Story Keepers, when I got into a conversation with a woman about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The woman, a second generation Ukrainian-Canadian, confided her willingness and passion to go over and join the fight.

That’s when I told her about 14 Months on Franz Joseph Land, a book published in 2002 by my late dear friend Gloria Atamanenko. Gloria passed away in 2017, but I offered to reach out to her husband, George, to see if he had any more copies of the book available.

As it turns out George indeed had a few boxes of the book he was willing to part with, and, long story short, we decided to use the sale of the book as a fundraiser to support the people of Ukraine. A $20.00 donation plus $5.00 for postage will get you a copy mailed to anywhere in Canada.

Franz Josef Land, destination of Mykhailo Ivanychuk’s expedition. Courtesy Wikipedia

I never would have imagined 14 Months on Franz Joseph Land becoming so poignant and relevant some two decades after it was published. But Putin’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine changed all that.

On one level the book is Gloria Atamanenko’s translation of Mykhailo Ivanychuk’s remarkable account of his expedition to Russia’s most northern polar region, Franz Joseph Land, in the early 1930s. Against all odds the book survived war and oppression. The original manuscript was written in Russian and published by the Ukraine Worker Press in 1933. Copies were dispersed worldwide. A family copy of the book with arctic wildflowers pressed inside survived because the Evanychuk family hid it in the roof rafters of their house. Other books in their library not popular with the Russian Bolshevik regime were burned.

But it is Atamanenko’s addendum to the epic polar adventure that makes the book so relevant today. In the book’s foreword she offers an important history lesson of Ukraine and Eastern Europe during the first half of the 20th century. She describes the tumultuous time leading up to the First World War and the emergence of Ukrainians from an impoverished and illiterate society. Her research lays the groundwork following the lives of two brothers, Mykhailo and Ivan Ivanychuk, in the Kolomyia region of Western Ukraine, where the selfless dedication of teacher, Miss Schubert, inspired her students to pick up the tools to enter institutes of higher learning. Ivan became a school teacher to inspire coming generations, and his older brother, Mykhailo, born in 1894, became an esteemed scientist and scholar.

Back cover of 14 Months on Franz Joseph Land

Then in the afterword Atamanenko provides a well-researched account of Stalinist Soviet aggression toward Ukraine and the unfortunate death of Mykhailo and many of his colleagues.

For a brief time during the 1920s and early 1930s hopes were high that building a free Ukraine within the Soviet state was possible. Atamanenko describes the enormous, exhilarating surge of cultural growth that occurred then, but adds that this effort by the central Bolshevik administration in Moscow to allow cultural and linguistic freedom in Ukraine was short lived.

“Ukrainian intellectuals were attracted by the possibility of creating a vibrant, autonomous republic within the Soviet Union,” she writes. “But in a few years they realized that the promised dream had become an entrapment from which they could neither escape nor change.”

Mykhailo returned home a hero from his arctic explorations. “His return to Kharkiv was busy, productive and rewarding,” Atamanenko writes. “He had become famous and was in demand as a speaker and lecturer.” His technical report describing the land forms of Wilczek Land and Komsomol Islands won him a doctorate from the University of Kharkiv and an appointment as professor of geomorphology in the Department of Physical Geography. He met and married Nina Sokolova, a young woman of Latvian and German parentage, and described himself as the happiest man in the world.

But as the world was teetering on the brink of another world war, Ukrainian writers, scientists, politicians and intellectuals were getting arrested and disappearing. The Ukrainian Worker Press, which had published Mykhailo’s book, was shut down on orders from Moscow, as were three other major Ukrainian publishing houses.

Translator Gloria Atamanenko as a young woman

Mykhailo had been chosen for another polar expedition, this time to Antarctica, then suddenly without explanation his name was removed from the list of participants. At the end of April, 1937, Mykhailo was arrested and subjected to interrogation, torture and a forced confession. At the end of August he was executed. By 1940 all senior scientists of the Arctic Institute had been executed and their archives destroyed.

The details of Mykhailo’s demise were kept from his family. His wife, Nina, knew nothing of his whereabouts, and was only told he was given a sentence of ten years without the privilege of visitors or correspondence. It was years later that the truth was discovered.

Meanwhile, three months after Mykhailo’s death, Nina gave birth to their only son, Stanislav.

With the shroud of war darkening the land, and being the wife of an alleged enemy of the state, Nina adopted her mother’s maiden name, Krause, and escaped to Berlin with her son to avoid Soviet persecution.

After the war, Nina Krause Ivanychuk was living in Soviet-controlled East Berlin and dying from tuberculosis when she managed to convince a distant cousin, Irma Bergman, in West Berlin to take her son on a supposed short visit. Nina died shortly afterwards and Irma and her husband, Alfred Bergman, adopted the young ten-year-old, and gave him a new name, Erwin, and new identity. In 1956 the Bergmans emigrated from Germany to the United States.

Gloria Atamanenko (1932-2017) of Horn Lake, near Tatla Lake

Here the story takes on a distinctly Canadian and British Columbian twist.

In the remote Chilcotin country of central British Columbia west of Williams Lake, both Gloria Atamanenko and Erwin Bergman had summer cottages near Tatla Lake. Their friendship sparked with their common Ukrainian heritage, and took on new meaning when Erwin was able to track down copies of his father’s unpublished book from the archives of an American university and subsequently from his Ivanychuk family. When he received a copy of his father’s manuscript, he asked for Gloria’s help translating it from Russian into English. After extensive research with the Ivanychuk family in Ukraine, Gloria put together her insightful foreword and afterword which put Mykhailo’s scientific document into perspective.

Then in 2002 Gloria and George Atamanenko self-published 14 Months in Franz Joseph Land with Danny Evanishen Ethnic Enterprises publishing house in Summerland, BC.

“After nearly sixty years with family members in both the new and old world believing that they were the only survivors of the Bolshevik and Second World War holocausts, all the children and descendants of Mykhailo and Ivan Ivanychuk had a tearful reunion in Lviv in 2001,” writes Erwin Bergman. “They knew then that they were the more fortunate ones.”

Gloria Atamanenko with her son Peter

Atamanenko concludes triumphantly:

The planners and implementers of physical, racial and cultural genocide wrought horrible damage and pain, but they did not succeed in their ultimate goals. Their wicked deeds have served to heighten human awareness of the evil inherent in unlimited, unprincipled power and greed, and the importance to human life of consideration and respect. For those who were so brutally destroyed, we hold memorial services and sing “vichnaya pamiat” – “eternal memory.” May remembering them provide incentive to appreciate and preserve a rich cultural heritage, Ukraine’s gift to our human family.

A limited number of 14 Months in Franz Joseph Land are still available for this fundraiser to support the people of Ukraine. First come, first served. Please contact Sage Birchwater at sagebirchwater@shaw.ca or on Facebook if you’d like to receive a copy and make a donation. The Atamanenko Family will determine the most suitable destination for funds that are raised.


Sage Birchwater at the Belfry Theatre, Victoria. Photo by Caterina Geuer

Sage Birchwater, a long-time resident of the Cariboo-Chilcotin, has written several books about the area including Chiwid (New Star, 1995). Born in Victoria in 1948, Birchwater was involved with Cool Aid in Victoria, travelled throughout North America, and worked as a trapper, photographer, environmental educator, and oral history researcher. Sage served as the Chilcotin rural correspondent for two local papers for 24 years while raising his family south of Tatla Lake. He has also lived in Tatlayoko, where he was a freelance writer and editor, and Williams Lake, where he was a staff writer for the Williams Lake Tribune until his retirement in 2009. His other books include Williams Lake: Gateway to the Cariboo Chilcotin (2004, with Stan Navratil); Gumption & Grit: Extraordinary Women of the Cariboo Chilcotin, (2009); Double or Nothing: The Flying Fur Buyer of Anahim Lake (2010); The Legendary Betty Frank (2011); Flyover: British Columbia’s Cariboo Chilcotin Coast (2012, with Chris Harris); Corky Williams: Cowboy Poet of the Cariboo Chilcotin (2013); Chilcotin Chronicles (2017), reviewed here by Lorraine Weir; and Talking to the Story Keepers: Stories from the Chilcotin Plateau (Caitlin Press, 2022). Editor’s note: Sage Birchwater has recently reviewed books by Adrian Raeside, Matti HalminenErskine BurnettPaul McKendrickHiram Cody Tegart & Andrew Bruce Richards, and Chris Czajkowski & Fred Reid for The British Columbia Review.


The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster


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