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Obituary: Professor Bohdan Bociurkiw

Felix Corley
Friday 06 November 1998 00:02 GMT

BOHDAN BOCIURKIW was lying on what many believed would be his deathbed in 1992 when his wife brought in a package of documents that had just arrived from the formerly closed Soviet archives. The documents concerned the suppression of the five-million-strong Ukrainian Catholic Church on Stalin's orders in 1946, the very subject he had spent years researching.

"The documents electrified me," he later recalled. "It was a turning- point in my hospital stay. I asked the Almighty for a sabbatical to finish the book and I regained enough strength to do it."

Despite poor health Bociurkiw spent the next few years working in former Soviet archives in Ukraine and Russia, examining records of the Politburo, KGB and other Soviet bodies that had played a part in suppressing his Church and subjugating it to the Russian Orthodox Church.

This crucial material was added to what he had already unearthed in the Vatican and church archives in the West, combined with material from interviews with key church leaders, including the late head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Cardinal Iosyf Slipyi, whose dramatic release from a Soviet labour camp on Khrushchev's orders in 1963 and expulsion to Rome Bociurkiw described as "near-miraculous".

He patiently gained the trust of the notoriously wary cardinal in several "incredibly difficult" interviews. "I had to conceal my intentions, because as soon as we strayed to the topic of his personal experiences, he would stop me. `No, no interview,' he insisted. Later, when he did begin to talk about his sufferings, he would make me kiss the cross so that I would not betray his secrets."

The book, The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Soviet State (1939- 1950), whose first draft Bociurkiw had completed in 1989, was much expanded by the time it came to be published in 1996, the 50th anniversary of the KGB- organised "church council" which had voted to liquidate the Church. Despite the passionate emotions still raging about these events, about which the Russian Orthodox Church remains unrepentant to this day, Bociurkiw's work was cool and objective.

Born into a Ukrainian family in Galicia in eastern Poland, Bociurkiw completed his secondary education in Lwow (today's Lviv). During the Nazi occupation, he was imprisoned by the Gestapo for his activities in the Ukrainian national movement, ending up in the Flossenburg concentration camp in Germany. At war's end his native region had been annexed by the Soviet Union and in 1947 he emigrated to Canada.

Bociurkiw completed his higher education in Canada and the United States, obtaining his MA from the University of Manitoba in 1954 and his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1961 on Soviet church policy in Ukraine, 1919-39.

He taught Political Science (with special emphasis on Soviet politics, Soviet Ukraine and church-state relations) at the University of Alberta in Edmonton (1956-69) and at Carleton University in Ottawa (1969-92), where he founded the Institute of Soviet and East European Studies and served as its first director. He played an instrumental role in establishing the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at Alberta. After his retirement he was an adjunct research professor at Carleton.

Other research interests included nationality policies, human rights and dissent in the Soviet Union, political succession problems there, and church-state relations in Eastern Europe. Bociurkiw also actively participated in the early debates on multi- culturalism in Canada.

From 1973 to 1979, he served on the Canadian Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee in the Department of State and as a consultant for several Ministers of State for Multiculturalism.

Bohdan Rostyslav Bociurkiw, historian: born Buchach, Poland 3 September 1925; Professor of Political Science, Carleton University 1969-92, Director, Institute of Soviet and East European Studies 1969-72, Adjunct Research Professor 1992-98; Associate Director of Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta 1979-82; married 1950 Vera Wasylyshyn (three sons, three daughters), died Ottawa 1 October 1998.

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