Amazing that this racial memory I have, of being considered a serf, is actually historically based. For my people, escaping the prejudice that we were no better than pack animals, meant leaving the Russian empire. Stalin created a workers state, like any state, his needed to profit from the exploitation of the only large scale food production in the region. Even as most of the rest of the world was freed from the particular slavery of feudalism, the Ukrainians would remain in bondage if they stayed in the homeland.
There was a mass exodus starting in the last decades of the 19th century and continuing until Stalin’s policies forced the closing of the borders. Canada invited my family to immigrate. Brokers received bonuses for every able bodied man they could convince to come to Canada, where there was open land. Once World War I began, Ukrainians found themselves in the familiar circumstance of forced labor.
During the First World War, a growing sentiment against “enemy aliens” had manifested itself amongst Canadians. These enemy-born citizens were treated as social pariahs, and many lost their employment. Under the 1914 War Measures Act, “aliens of enemy nationality” were compelled to register with authorities. About 70,000 Ukrainians from Austro-Hungary fell under this description. 8,579 males were interned by the Canadian Government, including 5,954 Austro-Hungarians, most of whom were probably ethnic Ukrainians. Most of the interned were poor or unemployed single men, although 81 women and 156 children (mainly Germans in Vernon and Ukrainians at Spirit Lake) had no choice but to accompany their menfolk to two of the camps, in Spirit Lake, near Amos, Quebec, and Vernon, British Columbia. Some of the internees were Canadian-born and others were naturalized British subjects, although most were recent immigrants. Citizens of the Russian Empire were not interned and so could enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.