Sunday, April 8, 2018

(206) Discovering and Visiting Our Long Lost Hungarian Relatives in Ukraine

From left to right are Ella & Disiderius (Dezső) Voloszinovich, Rev. Vladimir & Olga Mihalich.  Behind them are Irene, Martha, Stephanie, and Lilly on the extreme right.   The picture was taken in 1918 or so in present day Slovakia, then part of Austria-Hungary.

       My grandfather, Rev. Vladimir Mihalich (1874-
1943) and his wife Olga Podhajezky (1881-1964) 
had five daughters: Ella (1900-1982), Lilly 
(1902-1987), Irene (1904-2005), Martha (1907-1994),
and the baby of the family, Stephanie (1908-2006).
Because of conditions after World War I, they
immigrated to the land of opportunity, the United 
States in 1921.  However, they left Ella behind since 
she had married Disiderius (Dezső) Voloszinovich 
(1897-1974), a seminarian in 1918 and already had 
two children, Helen Ilona or Ilus (1919 - ?) and Catarina 
(1921 - ?).  Later Ella had two more children, 
Alexander (1924 - ?) and finally the baby Erzsébet or 
Elizabeth (born 1929).

                                 Ella Mihalich Voloszinovich  
         Abandoned by her husband in the early 1930s, Ella 
heroically managed with faith, courage, and 
determination to raise the four children by herself.  
She moved them to Uzhgorod in 1936 for a better 
education.  It’s amazing how she managed.  
What a terrible legacy that the weakness of
Dezső left, extending to at least the fourth generation!
Erzse did reconcile with him and forgave him before
his death.  Ella never did.
I never met my Aunt Ella, but she knew all about us.  Ella was always part of our extended family.  At least we were able to visit her grave and place some flowers on it as a tribute to a heroic woman.  May she rest in peace.

       Helen Ilona (Ilus) married Tibor Gyumoles in 1944 and had three children, Olga (b 1945), Istvan (b 1948), and Kathy (b 1952).  Catarina married Nicolos Timco in 1946 and had three children, George (b 1947), Kathy (b 1949), and Magdaline (b 1950).  Alexander married Margaret Povsik in 1949 and had two children, Margaret (b 1950) and Alexander (b 1958).

       Alexander probably missed serving in the army during World War II since the Ukraine was under German occupation when he reached his 18th birthday in 1942.
       Only Erzsé, Ella’s youngest daughter, is still living, a spry, mentally sharp, and charming 88 years old.  Erzsé, married Istvan Borosh I (1922 - 1998) in 1955, with whom she has a daughter, Elizabeth (b 1956) and a son, Istvan II (b 1960), who married Gertrud (Greti b 1962), the parents of Istvan III (b 1989) and Viktoria (b 1983) who married Jaroslav Ihnatenko. Viktoria and Jaroslav have a six year old son, Denis and live in Kiev. 
Lost and Found. Grandma Stephanie (my mother) kept contact with her oldest sister, Aunt Ella, After World War II Stephanie and her parents sent packages to help her in the years of scarcity under a shattered economy after World War II.  After Aunt Ella died in 1982, Stephanie continued to correspond with her niece Erzsé and sent photos of her children and grandchildren.  Tim (Irene’s grandson) and Barbara Loya did some pathfinding and visited the Borosh family in 1993, but Erzsé was not at home that day.  They inspired us to do the same.  Istvan III was little more than a toddler as seen in the photo below.  Since Grandma Stephanie’s death at the age of 97 in 2006 (well before that she had less energy and did not correspond as much), we lost contact and the Borosh family became lost relatives.

Tim and Barbara Loya were the first pioneers or pathfinders in finding the Borosh family in 1993,  In the photo is Baby Istvan III 25 years ago, being held by his mother, Greti.  To the right is her husband Istvan II, our cousin Helen Ilona or Ilus (Erzsé’s oldest sister), and young Tim Loya.  Barbara is behind the camera.

However, Aunt Ella’s great-grandson Istvan III, through his grandmother Erzsé learned about us and, being very resourceful, found our daughter Naomi on Facebook in 2016.  Naomi got his e-mail address for me and we were in full contact.  His English is good; his very intelligent and beautiful wife Anita’s English is excellent.

       Jaga and I just got back from the Holy Land to Rzeszów which is about six hours from their home in Uzhgorod in the Ukraine.  So we had to take advantage of the opportunity to visit our long lost relatives and bring the Mihalich Extended Family East and West, Old World and New World together.  So we visited Aunt Ella’s great grandson Istvan III & his lovely wife Anita, his parents, Istvan II & wife Greti, and my first cousin Erzsé, all of whom live in the same house.
       Before and after our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we stayed with our wonderful friends, the Kaplita family.  After living in Allentown, Pennsylvania (USA) for a couple of years, they decided to return to Poland.  Their two lovely daughters speak excellent English.  Asia teaches it.  We were supposed to meet Janusz and drive to Uzhgorod, but he took sick.  Janek Kaplita heroically did us a huge favor by driving us for over two hours to a major city in the middle of Slovakia from where we caught a bus to Uzhgorod.  Jaga spoke Polish and the Slovakians understood.

       Benefits of the European Union.  We drove from Poland to Slovakia as though traveling from Pennsylvania to its neighboring state of Ohio.  Passports are not required.  However, the Ukraine is not a member of the European Union.  Thus crossing the border in our bus involved over an hour wait to pass through customs.  Crossing from the Ukraine back to Poland, we were stuck at the border checkpoint for over three hours since they inspected our suitcases.  It’s much worse with passenger cars.

Uzhgorod was first settled by Slavs who built a fortress there.  It was then conquered by Hungarian tribes under Arpad.  Thus the region was part of Hungary as Hungvar since the year 895, but became a part of the Austrian Empire by conquest (1804 – 1867), then under a political compromise, the empire was called Austria-Hungary (1867 – 1918).  The victorious allies carved up Europe after World War I and gave Hungvar to Czechoslovakia (1919 -1938) who changed the name to Uzhgorod.  Germany gave it back to Hungary (1938 – 1944), but the conquering Soviet Union annexed it to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine (1944 – 1991).  When Communism was overthrown, Uzhgorod remained part of a free Ukraine (see

       Uzhgorod was very Hungarian for over a thousand years.  According to the 1910 census, 80.3% of the 17,000 inhabitants were Hungarian.  About 30% of that population was also Jewish, but the Nazis first forced them into ghettos and later sent them to Auschwitz for extermination.  The Soviets did ethnic cleansing by deporting, jailing, or murdering most of the Hungarians.  Nevertheless, Uzhgorod’s roots are still Hungarian.  The Borosh family speaks Hungarian at home and even has its clocks there on Budapest time (one hour behind) to be in sync with the Hungarian TV programs they receive on by satellite ?.  A statue of the great poet, Sandor Petofi below is one of the indications of Hungarian roots of Uzhgorod.  My father would rave about him and show us with pride the book of his poems he won for being best student as a kid.  

We finally arrived and waited in the intercity bus station of Uzhgorod.  Istvan and Anita  only knew that we would be arriving in the late afternoon or evening.  They were looking for us at the border since crossing would be so complicated.  How do we contact them?  I had my laptop and the little bus station had Wy Fy.  They had their i-phones.  So Istvan and Anita received our e-mail and within ten minutes they couldn’t miss those two foreigners with their suitcases straight from the Holy Land and Rzeszow, Poland.  It was a happy meeting.  Amidst the hugs, I exclaimed: “She’s beautiful”.

Aunt Ella had moved her four children from Presov to Uzhgorod in 1936.  She was very resourceful and hard working, being especially good in sewing and crocheting.  Thus Ella was able to purchase a small house.  Later Erzsé’s family of four lived in it.  The next generation, Erszé’s son Istvan II and his family of four lived there with his mother.  Today Istvan II and Greti take care of his mother Erzsé, while Istvan III and his wife Anita live upstairs.  Along the way the family added on rooms.  It’s so beautiful how Erzsé took care of her mother Ella and now her son Istvan II and Greti take care of his mother…..all in the same house.  A nursing home was out of the question.  Isn’t that the way it should be if at all possible?


From left to right, Erzsé, Istvan II & Gertrud (Greti) Borosh, Paul & Jaga, and Anita & Istvan III Borosh.
Erzsé shows us her album of old family pictures, including all the ones that Mom sent her.
Aunt Ella’s picture is just below the old picture of the Mihalich family.

       It was such a wonderful time we had together.  Sunday evening we had supper together with Erzsé, her son Istvan II & daughter-in-law Greti, and Istvan III & his wife Anita.  To my great surprise Erzsé had a family album that included my parents and American extended family (Sebastians, Foleys, and Elds when we were growing up).  It even had a 1933 picture of my mother when she was Maid of Honor for the Martha & Aksel Eld wedding, and my parents’ wedding picture in 1934.  
Because of my mother’s letters and included photos, Erzsé knew about me, Jaga, and our children as well as John and his family.  She knew about the great job that Jaga did in taking care of my mother.  It was such a thrill to meet them all, especially Erzsé, my first cousin.  They gave us great bag of gifts and souvenirs to bring back to the United States.  The conversation was English – Hungarian – English, no Ukranian, although they all speak it.  It was a joy to hear Hungarian, which I have been getting away from.  What little Hungarian I know came back to me.
I had hoped to spend more time with Erzsé on Monday, but she wasn’t feeling well.  I think that we exhausted her the night before.  Tuesday we had to leave for Lviv and back to Kielce, Poland and the home of Jaga’s sister Marysia and husband Janusz.  We did learn a lot about Aunt Ella’s extended family.  Anita did a masterful job of translating from English to Hungarian and vice versa.  Since her father was a Russian army officer stationed in Germany, she never lived in Russia.  Her mother is Hungarian.

Their family business. Istvan II took advantage of an opportunity to be the representative and distributor of building materials produced by a Hungarian company in Budapest.  The distributorship became a family business with his wife, while Istvan III, and Anita having important roles.  Istvan III was interrupted by several phone calls while taking us on a tour of Uzhgorod.  They’ve built up the business, providing work for people, and it has been rather successful.  This is just another example where people, once under Communist domination, can prosper when they are free to be enterprising and creative.  I wish we had time to visit the business.  On Monday evening I commented to Istvan II that he had a long day.  He voiced his frustration: “It’s difficult doing business in the Ukraine because of so much corruption”.  That is the legacy of Communism…… whatever it takes to get around the bureaucracy.
The Ukraine is still far behind Poland and Hungary in its economic development, but there’s tremendous potential.  The Ukraine is progressing.  Potholed streets and roads are common.  The highway between Uzhgorod and Lviv is very substandard…..bumpy and narrow.  At the rest stop, the rest room was   squatting only like I remember years ago in France of the 1960s.  Lviv, sometimes called the “Little Paris of the East”, a big cultural center and very European, seemed to be doing well with construction projects going on.  

Probably the biggest obstacle to development is the mentality inherited from Communism and centuries of Russian domination.  It is manifested in corruption, bureaucracy, inefficiency, and dependence upon government and welfare.  I noticed much of the same in Poland, but they are overcoming it with rapid development.  Another big obstacle is the fact that the Ukraine is fighting a war against Russian speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine who want to be annexed by Russia.  Vladimir Putin, of course, is all for it and helping them.  In Lviv we noticed that there were many soldiers coming and going at the railroad/bus station.

The dollar goes a long way in the Ukraine since their currency is weak.  The century old hotel, five star in its day, but very good today, only cost about $25 per night.  A taxi only costs a couple of dollars.
Istvan III and Anita were most gracious in taking us on a tour of Uzhgorod and then helping us with booking transportation to Lviv and Poland.  For a video tour of Uzhgorod click on  It describes Uzhgorod as “Located on the border with Slovakia, Uzhgorod is one of the less known gems of Europe.”  

On Sunday evening we walked in the old city among the shops, restaurants with outside tables, and street vendors.  Some sort of festival was going on.  The beautiful Uzh River (not navigable) skirts the city.  The next day we walked across one of its bridges.  The city is very quaint with an old European flavor.  It made me think: “That’s how it was when my father lived in Austria-Hungary from 1899 until 1924 when he immigrated to the United States. 

  The next day Istvan and Anita took us to the Divine Liturgy of the Greek Catholic Church.  It was probably offered for a deceased loved one since attendance for a Monday was very good.  The singing in old Slav is so much more impressive than its adaptation to English.  Since Istvan I was Roman Catholic, Erzsé followed; my mother changed rites for the same reason.  Although we are of the Latin Rite, part of our heritage is Greek Catholic (Byzantine Rite) and we’re proud of it.

The                                         Holy Cross Greek Catholic Cathedral in Uzhgorod.  Churches are being restored now.

  Then they took us to the old Uzhgorod Castle pictured.  It was part of the defense of the city in medieval times.  Then we visited the neighboring Museum of Folk Architecture and Life that depicted country life in the 19th Century and before.  The original buildings were moved here from the country.  Fr. Vladimir Mihalich was pastor of five rural churches similar to the one below before immigrating to the United States.  He would travel from church to church by horse and buggy.  Following that, we had a traditional dinner at the restaurant there.

In the afternoon we did some shopping, visited a wine cellar, and the local university which is old and lacking in resources.  We also visited Aunt Ella’s grave.  That’s the closest I’ll get to her on this side of eternity.  Someday in eternity, we’ll all be together for a reunion even more beautiful as the one we had with her daughter Erzsé.
I’m so grateful to Istvan III for uniting our extended family.  It was an exciting trip.  Anita arranged for us to travel by a local bus to Lviv and change to an international bus to Kielce, Poland.  We had about seven hours to get acquainted with Lviv the great cultural center that changed hands over the years between Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine.  For some videos on Lviv, click on

We tried taking a taxi to the center of the city, but that was a negative experience.  I didn’t notice, but Jaga sensed that we might be robbed.  The taxi driver signaled somebody and then made a phone call while being very nervous…….all very suspicious.  To make sure, Jaga said she had to go badly to the bathroom, paid the guy and got me out.  It would be very easy for a taxi driver to take us to some abandoned place.  However, that was cancelled out by a random act of kindness.  We checked our baggage at the railway station, but did not have enough Ukrainian money.  The person next in line so kindly paid for it.  So we traveled by trolley.  Jaga was a huge help in us getting around.  She simply spoke in Polish and the Ukrainians understood.  The languages are very close.

There seems to be a religious revival going on in the Ukraine.   I noticed a disproportionate number of groups from Ukraine visiting the Holy Land.  Uzhgorod has Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, and Orthodox churches.  In Lviv we stumbled upon a beautiful 18th Century Jesuit church, St. Peter & Paul Garrison Church for the military.  The Soviets shut it down and converted it into a book depository.  It fell into disrepair.  When the Ukraine obtained its freedom in 1991, the Government gave it to the Greek Catholic Church.  Now they are restoring it to its former beauty.  This vividly brought to mind the words of Christ from the Gospel of Matthew 16:18……..“THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT”.

Around 5 pm we took an international bus across the border through customs and finally the bus left us off in Kielce, Poland at about 3 am.  It was all such a great experience and an adventure. 

I really hope that many of our relatives become facebook friends with Istvan.  All it takes is for either Istvan or one of the relatives to make a friend request.

Appendix – Other Photos of Uzhgorod and the Museum of Old Rural Life

Views of a Rustic Church and Homes in the Museum of Rural Life in Uzhgorod in Ukraine


  1. I had to memorize the excerpt that you quoted in one of your blog posts from the Declaration of Independence when I was in the fifth grade. I also had to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address when I was in school. I wonder if children today have to memorize these very important pieces of our history!

    1. I did too at Holy Trinity School Duquesne, PA in the 5th Grade. Were we in the same class, Lurking Figure? I'd love to know who you are. God bless.