As Christians around the world focus on the gospel’s good news in anticipation of the joy of Easter, juxtaposed with the Russian assault against the good people of Ukraine, I am reminded of Bill, an early mentor in my career.
I knew them simply as Ukrainian Easter eggs, and admired Bill’s patience and ability to hand paint exquisitely detailed designs. It was a natural extension of his meticulous attention to detail as an architectural specification writer, and his willingness to teach me about the practice of architecture. On many occasions, in response to a simple question I posed, Bill would instead go well beyond the direct answer and provide a wealth of deep background information. Incidentally, it also allowed an opportunity to pack his tobacco pipe, a task performed with equal precision. More than anyone else, he taught me how buildings were designed in a way that could be translated into complete technical documents.
Pysanky, as I eventually learned to be the plural word for Ukrainian Easter eggs, are typically made to be given to family members. To give a pysanka is to give a symbolic gift of life, with wishes of protection and love. Their deeper meaning extends far beyond the beauty and elegance of a mere Easter egg. In Ukraine, with lives painfully uprooted in recent months, I can only imagine that the tradition is particularly poignant in this, the most difficult year imaginable. Were he still alive, Bill would most certainly be distressed by the turmoil within his homeland.
It was only after he passed that I learned more of Bill’s history. Previously, I knew only his basic outline as an architectural school graduate from Graz, Austria and, like far too many of today’s Ukrainians, a refugee himself who fled the Nazis as a young man. Not known earlier to me, though, was his work in World War II as an Information Officer for the Ukrainian underground resistance; I can easily imagine the care he would have given to such a role, and his eagerness to undertake something similar to address current events. It was quite a history that preceded his arrival to the United States in the 1950’s.
Over the ensuing decades, Bill built a life as a successful architect and family man, with descendants that now include an expanding number of great-grandchildren. A final gesture, one that I like to think connects long ago experiences in Eastern Europe with his achievements in America, was American citizenship granted a few short weeks before his death. Formally attired in suit and tie, William Vasyl Nahirniak, American, proudly displayed his credentials.
With the world on edge and watching, we all have hopes on this Good Friday that the promise of America, and freedom around the world, will be realized.