A Pougatch pil­grim­age to Kar­denka Street...

A chance let­ter from a dis­tant rel­a­tive led BBC pre­sen­ter Mark Pougatch to Ukraine, home of his an­ces­tors

The Mail on Sunday - - Travel -

ON MY desk at home sits a pho­to­graph, taken in the Fifties. It shows a smart man in his 70s with a grey­ing mous­tache, round glasses and thin­ning hair neatly parted – my great- grand­fa­ther, Sel­man Pougatch. Be­hind his eyes is the story of many Jews a cen­tury ago – the story of the di­as­pora from tsarist Rus­sia. His daugh­ter Fanny, my great-aunt, used to sit in the kitchen of her North Lon­don flat and tell me of his flight from Ukraine early in the last cen­tury. Ac­cord­ing to her, you couldn’t just leave Rus­sia be­cause you wanted to. So my great-grand­fa­ther and his brother-in-law were forced to sneak across the border, un­der the noses of the armed guards. But, just as a new life beck­oned, the enor­mity of what he was about to do and what he was leav­ing be­hind clearly be­came too much for the broth­erin-law and he couldn’t move. My great-grand­fa­ther had to run back to get him be­fore they both made their break for the West. I’d al­ways been very proud of my Ukrainian roots but knew pre­cious lit­tle else about them un­til five years ago when a let­ter ar­rived for me at the BBC, where I’m a pre­sen­ter. It was from Boris Pougatch, a re­tired weather fore­caster, who lives in Greno­ble. He was putting to­gether a fam­ily tree and be­tween us we es­tab­lished that we were de­scended from two Jewish brothers who lived in west­ern Ukraine just over 100 years ago, one of whom (my great-grand­fa­ther) em­i­grated to Paris in 1906, later bring­ing his fam­ily and his brother’s chil­dren over. It was time to re­turn to Ukraine, with my wife Vic­to­ria and sis­ter An­neli, to see what I could find there. When my great-grand­fa­ther fled his home­land, he was pre­sum­ably driven to it by the vi­o­lent anti-Semitism that fol­lowed the first Rus­sian Revo­lu­tion. Thou­sands died, but Jews in Rus­sia didn’t suf­fer only at the hands of their coun­try­men. Among the scrib­bled notes I’d made in my great-aunt’s kitchen a decade ago were the words ‘Babi Yar’. I did not know what they meant un­til we were taken to a deep ravine on the out­skirts of Kiev. Over two days dur­ing the 1941 Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of the Ukrainian cap­i­tal, some 100,000 peo­ple, many of them Jews, were marched through the streets to the edge of the ravine, stripped naked and ma­chine­gunned to their death. Babi Yar (Old Wo­man’s Ravine) is a haunt­ing place in the most ur­ban of en­vi­ron­ments – op­po­site, smoke belches into the sky next door to the head­quar­ters of Ukrainian Television. The nearby mon­u­ment is in­cred­i­bly mov­ing. Bod­ies are twisted as if fall­ing, shot, and at the top of this mass of hu­man­ity a mother bends, hands tied be­hind her back, to kiss her child – her last ma­ter­nal act. The weather in Kiev was -25C and the cold pricked your eyes like daggers. This his­toric city, cap­i­tal of the first Slavonic state in 482, sits on seven hills and is re­plete with beau­ti­ful baroque churches with domes of gold or green.

HERE, West­ern cap­i­tal­ism meets the old East­ern ways. Peo­ple still hud­dle to­gether in damp un­der­passes drink­ing beer yards away from new shop­ping cen­tres hous­ing familiar High Street chains. Kiev wants to look west­wards af­ter the Orange Revo­lu­tion of 2004, but the town my fam­ily hails from has a lot of catch­ing up to do. Zhit­o­mir (‘Zhito’ means rye and ‘mir’ means peace) lies 80 miles west down the dual car­riage­way. A statue of Lenin still tow­ers over the main square and the wa­ter and elec­tric­ity sup­ply are in­ter­mit­tent. At the syn­a­gogue, we quickly dis­cov­ered that no Pougatchs live there to­day and no one of our sur­name is buried in any of the Jewish ceme­ter­ies. So we made our way to a solid Sovi­et­look­ing grey build­ing which houses the Jewish birth records. Speak­ing no Rus­sian, all we could do was let our trans­la­tor, Ye­lena, scour the vast old ledgers for our an­ces­tors. She found one quite quickly. ‘Sel­man Pougatch, son of Moy­sei Melleu­vre Smol­ervitch and Beena,’ she told us.

I looked at An­neli. It was our great­grand­fa­ther. We re­ally were di­rectly de­scended from a Jewish fam­ily from this non­de­script town in west­ern Ukraine. Ye­lena con­tin­ued: ‘Born Novem­ber 4, 1875, in Kar­denka Street in the house of Haim Ducat, cir­cum­cised

one week later, the 11th.’ Sel­man mar­ried Ruth Zafran from Kovel, near the Pol­ish border, on June 26,1903. Their son Moy­sei, my grand­fa­ther, ar­rived on April 26, 1904, in Franko Street – Franko be­ing a fa­mous Ukrainian poet and writer. Our day ended with An­neli and I stand­ing in the street where our grand­fa­ther was born a cen­tury be­fore. We also found the records for Boris’s fa­ther Theodore, the son of Sel­man’s brother Ger­sch. Al­though his chil­dren fol­lowed their un­cle Sel­man to Paris, Ger­sch stayed be­hind to a fate un­known. Ac­cord­ing to French reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ments I have, Sel­man Pougatch, a cabi­net maker, ar­rived in Paris in Jan­uary 1906. Come 1926 and his son Moy­sei – now Mar­cel Pougatch, 22, of Ja­maica Road, Ber­mond­sey, Lon­don – was swear­ing al­le­giance to King Ge­orge V. In Ukraine, we found an­other line of Pougatchs. Haim and Livsha Pougatch had at least one boy, It­shock, and a girl, Martla. Haim’s other names were Moy­sei Melleu­vre just like Sel­man’s fa­ther. And at the air­port, as we were leav­ing, the lady at check-in looked at my pass­port and said: ‘Pougatch is a Ukrainian name. I have a friend called Kon­stantin Pougatch, a Jewish gen­tle­man, who dances in the Virsky Com­pany.’ I gave her my email ad­dress and asked her to ask Kon­stantin to con­tact me. This story, it seems, has only just started for me.

AC­TU­ALLY, it is two sto­ries in­ter­twined in the his­tory of this proud coun­try. One is the tale of a Jewish fam­ily whose fore­fa­thers were brave and re­source­ful enough to get out in time. The other con­cerns Ye­lena and her Ukraine. She cried in the records of­fice be­cause three peo­ple could come all the way from Eng­land to trace their an­ces­tors and Ukraine was happy not just to let them in but to help.

Af­ter cen­turies of try­ing, Ukraine is in charge of her own fu­ture and, thanks to my great-grand­fa­ther, I’m in charge of mine.

NEW LIFE: Sel­man Pougatch, Mark’s great-grand­fa­ther

HAUNT­ING: The Babi Yar mon­u­ment and, left, Mark and An­neli in Franko Street

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.