Kolasky, John

Kolasky, John [Коляска, Іван; Koljaska, Ivan], b 5 October 1915 in Cobalt, Ontario, d 21 October 1997 in Kyiv. Educator, political activist, and author. Born in a family of recent Ukrainian immigrants from Bukovyna, Kolasky grew up on a farm near Timmins, Ontario. His parents were members of the Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association in Timmins. During the Depression, Kolasky left home in 1932 and worked at various jobs in Timmins, Ottawa, Toronto (in 1939), and Winnipeg (in 1941). His experiences during the Depression radicalized his political views, and he became a Marxist and joined the Communist Party of Canada (CPC). He completed his secondary education in Winnipeg and then obtained his BA from the University of Saskatchewan and MA in history from the University of Toronto (graduated in 1950). During this time, he contributed to the periodical Voice of the Russian Canadian Youth and became a member of the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (AUUC). In 1954, he completed his studies in education at the University of Manitoba and taught high school for several years in Manitoba and Ontario. In 1963, he was sent by the AUUC to Soviet Ukraine to attend the Higher Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine. This experience made him aware of the Russification policies and practices in Soviet Ukraine and the differences between Soviet theory and practice. He made acquaintances among the Ukrainian political dissidents and began to smuggle abroad information on the political and linguistic situation in Soviet Ukraine. As a result, he was arrested, detained, interrogated, and then expelled from the USSR in July 1965.

Back in Canada, Kolasky used the information he gathered to publish several books including, Education in Soviet Ukraine: A Study in Discrimination and Russification (1968) and Two Years in Soviet Ukraine: A Canadian’s Personal Account of Russian Oppression and the Growing Opposition (1970). After the publication of these books, he was expelled from the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians and the Communist Party of Canada. He later wrote The Shattered Illusion: The History of Ukrainian Pro-Communist Organizations in Canada (1979) and Prophets and Proletarians: Documents on the Rise and Decline of Ukrainian Communism in Canada (1990). In addition, he translated Valentyn Moroz’s Report from the Beria Reserve (1974) and compiled and translated several other publications. Kolasky undertook studies at the PhD level at the University of British Columbia. He also lectured widely on his experiences in the Soviet Union and in the Ukrainian left-wing movement in Canada. He became active in Ukrainian anti-communist community organizations such as the Ukrainian Self-Reliance League. His anti-communist activities were bitterly resented by the AUUC leadership. In 1990, Kolasky became one of the founders of the Ukraine Exchange Endowment Fund to promote exchanges of professionals and academics between Ukraine and Canada. Eventually, the John Kolasky Memorial Endowment Fund and the John Kolasky Distinguished Visiting Fellowship for the Study of Contemporary Ukraine were established at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta. Kolasky supported the 1991 Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence and from 1994 he lived and worked in Ukraine. Residing with the family of former dissident and first ambassador of Ukraine to Canada Levko Lukianenko, Kolasky devoted his time to assisting in the activities of the Ukrainian Republican party.

Myron Momryk

[This article was updated in 2022.]

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