VIKTOR P. HLADYK (1873-1947)

Copyright Bohdan Horbal and Carpatho-Rusyn American, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Fall 1995 - all rights reserved.

Viktor Hladyk was a Lemko activist notable for his remarkable half century of dedicated work on behalf of the Rusyn community in North America. Hladyk was born in 1873 into an impoverished peasant family in the Lemko village of Kunkowa, in present-day southeastern Poland. He attended elementary school in his native village and high school in the near-by town of Jaslo. Because his parents were unable to provide him with money to further his education, the twenty-year-old Hladyk was forced to emigrate to the United States.

At first, Hladyk found work as a miner in eastern Pennsylvania. From the very outset, he became active within the Rusyn community and, following the example of many other Russophile-oriented Lemkos in America, he left the Greek Catholic church and became Orthodox. By the beginning of the twentieth century. Hladyk was working as a typesetter for the newspaper Svit. He was not satisfied, however, with the politics of Svit's editors, and that led him to publish a new Rusyn newspaper, Pravda, whose first issue appeared in New York City on March 24, 1902. A year after its establishment, Pravda was adopted by the Russian Brotherhood Organization which continues to publish the newspaper to this day.

While editor-in-chief of Pravda, Hladyk honed his skills as a journalist and took part in the Congress of Slavic Journalists held in 1903 in St. Louis. A decade later he had moved to Canada and in 1913 founded in Winnipeg, Manitoba another newspaper, Russkij narod, serving as its editor until 1918. It was also in Winnipeg where Hladyk established the Orthodox-oriented newspaper, Kanadijskaja pravoslavnaja Rus' (1914). As a long-time supporter of the church, he visited numerous Rusyn settlements throughout North America and helped to establish new Orthodox parishes.

The end of the World War I brought Rusyns in Europe an opportunity to decide their political future. Already in 1917 Hladyk was among the organizers of the Congress of Russian People in Winnipeg, which appointed him a member of the Carpatho-Rusyn delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. He was also chosen (along with three others) to represent in Paris the New York City-based League for the Liberation of Carpatho-Russia. Both the Winnipeg-based Congress and New York-based League consisted primarily of Russophiles from former Austrian Galicia who acted separately from Rusyn immigrants south of the Carpathians. In Paris, Hladyk spoke before the Peace Conference commission for Eastern Galicia, where he discussed the religious situation in the European homeland.

From Paris, Hladyk went to the Lemko Region, where he met with leading Lemko political activists, including the Kacamarcyks (see the two previous issues of Carpatho-Rusyn American soon to be online). He also travelled twice to Warsaw, in order to make sure that Lemkos would not be drafted into Polish army and that food and clothes from abroad would reach Lemko villages. During a special meeting of Lemko political leaders held on March 20, 1920 in the village of Florynka, he strongly advised that a Lemko Political Committee be organized to represent the Rusyn population north of the Carpathians in its dealings with the Polish government. Shortly after that, the Polish secret police arrested Hladyk. Due to the fact that he held American citizenship, he was released but forced to leave Poland. He then travelled to Geneva, where at the first session of the League of Nations he, together with another Galician Russophile, Dmitrij Markov, presented a statement describing Polish brutalities in Eastern Galicia and the Lemko Region. A similar document was sent to the Paris Peace Conference.

Although the Lemko efforts to obtain independence did not succeed, Hladyk continued to work for his people. Upon returning to the United States, he once again edited Pravda (1921-1923), and founded another newspaper called Lemkovshchyna. Viewed as his mouthpiece. Lemkovshchyna called for the creation of Lemko Committees throughout America, a movement that eventually led to the establishment of the Lemko Association in 1929. For a number of years, however. Hladyk did not participate in the activity of the Lemko Association because of its leftist orientation. Instead, during the 1930s, he and his long time friend, the popular Lemko activist Stefan Skymba, organized the Carpatho-Russian National Committee, which published the newspaper Karpato-russkoe slovo. In contrast to the leftist Lemko Association, the Carpatho-Russian Committee emphasized Christian values and recognized the leading role of the Orthodox church in the community.

World War II brought new challenges. Hladyk had always believed that the Germans were the greatest enemy of all Slavic peoples. Consequently, when the Nazis turned against the Soviet Union, he began to support the pro-Soviet Lemko Association and the atheistic Soviet Union. He even went so far as to argue that the Lemko Region (together with all of Carpathian Rus') should become a part of the Soviet Union. This goal was publicly announced during the All-National Russian Carpatho-Russian Liberation Congress, held in Philadelphia in 1944. In the last year of his life, at age 73, Hladyk became a founding member and director of the Lemko Relief Committee, but he died just a few weeks before it became obvious that the new organization would not be able to help Lemkos in Europe. Fortunately, he did not live long enough to witness the 1947 destruction of Lemko villages north of the Carpathians, and he was spared news of the suffering imposed on the region and people to whom he had devoted his entire life.

Bogdan Horbal

New York, New York

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