Part One of Chicago Trip here: Chicago – Solo Travel for Introverts – I
Chicago boasts one of the largest Central/Eastern European immigration histories in the world. Thus, though most guidebooks skip them, I decided to visit the Ukrainian and Polish neighborhoods on my second day in the city.
Polish Museum of America
As soon as I entered this museum, I was greeted by a lady who was giving a tour to a few Polish nationals visiting the United States and asked me to join in. She was happy to know I had visited Poland before, and could recognize several cultural items on display.
Poland in Wars
My fascination with Polish history comes from medieval warriors called Hussars. These horse-riders had giant wings on their shoulders with thousands of features attached to them. When they charged into the battle field, the uncanny noise of billions of feathers ruffling in the wind made the enemy horses nervous, making them revolt and flee.
The Winged Hussars, in later years, became a national symbol of Poland. And even a modern war relief poster showed Polish pilots as modern-day hussars.
The guide also brought attention to the humanitarian works done by Poland throughout history including providing accommodation to refugees and food and medicine to people in war-torn countries. Some of the Polish nationals in our tour-group spoke about their grandparents finally receiving reparations for imprisonment by Nazis. And others spoke about more recent times and many Polish inviting Ukrainian refugees to live in their houses.
We also discussed how Poland and India (my home-country) shared an important historic connection. During WW-2, a Maharaja of India had adopted thousands of Polish orphans as his children, and there is a street in Warsaw in his his honor. And conversely, now, many Polish families helped Indian students from Ukraine get on to planes and flee the war-zone.
The Polish-American section threw light on many American heroes of Polish origin. One was General Casimir Pulaski, who, after a vibrant military career in Poland moved to America to serve in the Continental Army. He had said, “I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.” He is celebrated today as the father of the American cavalry unit and there is a Fort Pulaski named for him.
Another one was Tadeusz Kościuszko, who had a similar military career in Poland and after that, immigrated to the US. A close friend of Jefferson, he could not stand slavery and left behind his US estate to purchase the freedom of enslaved black Americans, and funding their education. He carried a sword which said, “Do not draw me without reason; do not sheathe me without honor“.
Ukrainian Village of Chicago
The Ukrainian Village in Chicago had several beautiful orthodox churches. Unfortunately their interiors were closed at the time as they were making preparations for easter, but I got a picture from online.
Ukrainian National Museum
Since all churches were closed, I chose to spend time in the Ukrainian National Museum instead. At the time, due to a special exhibit, photography was not allowed. However, the museum guide took us through several periods in Ukrainian history. We started off with Cossack (Kazakh) rulers of the steppes and the guide – noting I am Indian – said how Ukraine and India had shared a common enemy – the Mongol Empire.
We learned in length about the Holodomor – a second genocide caused by Soviet Union after the holocaust. The conversation moved to the current war (2022) in Ukraine and the various ways we could help.
I bought a Pysanka – a colorful easter-egg with folk-designs, with the proceeds going to humanitarian efforts. Like Easter, it represented a new hope and a future for many.
A Ukrainian Lunch
For lunch, I was very happy to try out Ukrainian food from Shokolad – a chocolate cafe in the neighborhood.
I started off with some Borscht soup which has its origins in Ukraine and popular in many East-Slavic countries. It gets its color from beets. I followed it up with Varenyky – Ukrainian dumplings (similar to Pierogi) – stuffed with potatoes, cheese and chives. For dessert, I tore into Medovik, a honey-cake made by stacking up honey-thins layered with cream.
I had an excellent time overall and the trip was highly educational. Prosperity, liberty and progress should never be taken for granted. While we all have ‘instinctual’ compassion in day-to-day life, we need to extend that towards ‘political compassion’ and help everyone in need around the world. The peoples of Poland and Ukraine have done this in the past and continue to do so today.