‘There’s a lot of trauma:’ Beavercreek man sees similarities in war-torn Ukraine

Donald Urbansky and his family left country during height of WWII

Donald Urbansky knows the lasting trauma the war in Ukraine will have on the citizens living in or escaping the war-torn country.

The Beavercreek man and his family were in Ukraine during World War II and he sees similarities between what his family went through more than 75 years ago and what Ukrainians are facing now in the Russian onslaught.

Urbansky, 80, was born in Ukraine. He says his mother admitted herself to a Ukrainian maternity hospital in 1941 when she was preparing to deliver him, but his father had a bad intuition and pulled her from the hospital.

About an hour later, the hospital was flattened by bombs.

As an infant, Urbansky said his parents were in a Ukrainian Theatrical Troupe and didn’t have any interest in fighting for either the Nazis or the Russians and tried to run away from the war with their troupe. They were eventually captured by the Nazis, he said, and were put on a westbound train where they had to entertain soldiers to survive.

Combined ShapeCaption
A photo of Don Urbansky, held by his mother, Julia, along with his father, Omelan and his sister, Lesia, in the 1940s. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

A photo of Don Urbansky, held by his mother, Julia, along with his father, Omelan and his sister, Lesia, in the 1940s. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Combined ShapeCaption
A photo of Don Urbansky, held by his mother, Julia, along with his father, Omelan and his sister, Lesia, in the 1940s. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

“I was just an infant (and) my mother couldn’t nurse me and when it came to feeding me, my dad surprisingly found a tin cup somewhere and every time the train stopped he would run off the train, look for a dairy farmer and plead for milk so I could be fed,” Urbansky said. “That went on for a long time.”

Urbansky says there are frightening parallels between what his family went through in Ukraine in WWII and what Ukrainians are going through now. Reports indicate thousands of people have died in the Russian invasion and there have been billions of dollars in property damage.

Millions of people were killed in Ukraine during WWII.

Urbansky said food was scarce in Ukraine during WWII and some Miami Valley residents who have family in Ukraine have told the Dayton Daily News their loved ones are having trouble finding food and needed supplies.

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“You have people from all walks of life ... they all have a story to tell and they are all losing quite a few relatives and dear friends and when you have a home and all of a sudden it disappears, where are you going to go?” Urbansky said.

Urbansky’s family eventually escaped the train in Austria and made it to Switzerland before moving to West Germany, where they lived in a German refugee camp for several years. He said his family shared a 20-foot by 30-foot room with two other families. He and his sister went to German schools and spoke Ukrainian when they were with their parents.

In the late 1940s, the Urbanskys were able to leave Germany, he said.

“We were given options to go to either Australia, Canada or Argentina; it seemed at that time there were quite a few immigrants going into those countries and they were accepting immigrants and my mother’s sister was already here in the states and so because of the family, they ended up being our sponsor to get into the country,” he said.

“We chose the United States and that was a real good decision.”

On Oct. 31, 1949, the family emigrated. They sailed aboard the USAT General Muir from a seaport on the North Sea to New York City. It took three weeks through rough seas and cold and stormy weather to make it to America, he said.

The family eventually relocated to Cleveland, where he attended Ukraine Catholic School but was bullied and called hurtful names by other children. He said the nuns offered English class every Saturday where he learned how to speak clearly. He said they provided marbles for their mouths which forced him to articulate words.

He said his family held onto its Ukrainian heritage. His father read the Ukrainian newspaper from front to back and they spoke Ukrainian at home.

Urbansky said he obtained his U.S. citizenship in 1954 and has been living the American dream. He went to Ohio University and found employment selling medical supplies and equipment. He lived in numerous cities including Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and worked in New York City.

He said all the moving around was tough on him, his late wife Nancy, and their two children, Clark and Holly. So, the family decided in the 1970s to move to the Dayton area where his wife’s parents lived. He now lives in Beavercreek with his second wife, whose name is also Nancy.

While Urbansky was just a baby during WWII, the events made a lasting impact on his family. He said he would often run into different rooms of their home when his parents began telling stories of the war because they were scary.

“It was brutal, pretty much like what we are hearing and seeing now with the Russians in Ukraine,” he said. “They had all kinds of stories. People’s friends and family disappearing, famine ... the Russians at that time felt the only way to get the people to do things their way was to join or starve them to death. And that is still happening now.”

And Urbansky said what is sometimes lost when discussing war is the human impact.

“People today don’t realize what war does to an individual or a family or a country for that matter. There’s a lot of trauma,” he said, noting that he had a sister six years older than him who remembered the war.

“She was more traumatized than anybody could imagine,” he said. “A child growing up, she had a rough time.”

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Don Urbansky's home in Beavercreek is surrounded by Ukrainian flags. Don said if he was 40 years younger, he would go to Ukraine and fight. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Don Urbansky's home in Beavercreek is surrounded by Ukrainian flags. Don said if he was 40 years younger, he would go to Ukraine and fight. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Combined ShapeCaption
Don Urbansky's home in Beavercreek is surrounded by Ukrainian flags. Don said if he was 40 years younger, he would go to Ukraine and fight. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Kettering resident Anastasia Nagle has family and friends in Ukraine. She said her adult niece is already receiving online therapy because of the invasion, and she said her friends have young children who will need years of treatment to cope with what they’ve witnessed and lived through.

“My friends have children who actually escaped the war zone and it’s been very traumatic,” she said. “I’ve spoken to many of my friends and a lot of their children miss their fathers. They cry a lot for their fathers because they are in the war and fighting.”

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She said the children, who are about six years old, have heard the explosions, and their parents are very concerned for them. She also said her aunt is in Kherson, a city that was invaded by the Russians early in the war. Nagle said her aunt is elderly and is relying on volunteers to bring her food.

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Beavercreek resident Don Urbansky's family fled Ukraine during WWII when he was a child. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Beavercreek resident Don Urbansky's family fled Ukraine during WWII when he was a child. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Combined ShapeCaption
Beavercreek resident Don Urbansky's family fled Ukraine during WWII when he was a child. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

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