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Kiev, Fastov & Pavoloch

click here to view a slideshow of images from Kiev, Fastov & Pavoloch

Originally published: February 2007

In Kiev we were hosted by ORT Ukraine. ORT is one of the largest non-governmental education and training organizations in over 100 countries that teach practical computer applications along with Jewish culture. ORT staff arranged our hotel, Lybid Hotel, 1 Peremogy Sq., Kyiv, 01135 and then took us on a tour of Kiev’ ORT Technology School, where we met teachers and viewed architectural models designed by high school students. As a member of ORT Montreal, it was my pleasure to bring greetings from the board of directors here. We emailed from the computer room at the ORT school to our friends at ORT Montreal.

In the evening we dined with Slava Leshchiner, Director of World ORT Representative Office in Ukraine, at a wonderful restaurant where we were invited to choose appetizers from a sumptuous looking tray. I tasted many of them but most enjoyed the cottage cheese verenikes. The next day we visited the Babi Yar monument. Babi Yar was the mass grave where thousands of Ukranian Jews were massacred during the Holocaust.

Kiev has certainly changed since my last visit in 1981. The downtown area is massive with sidewalks, flanked with boutiques and restaurants. We visited the huge indoor market which sells everything from cheese to flowers.

On Friday night we attended services at a synagogue two blocks from our hotel and enjoyed meeting members of the Jewish community who invited us to join them for a light supper following services. We communicated in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.

The next day we headed out of town to Fastov, a small town where my grandfather spent much of his youth, and farther on to Pavoloch (Pavolitch in Yiddish), where my grandmother, Malka (Molly) Karasick, grew up. She had always talked abut Pavoloch as a vibrant town that housed three synagogues, a study house, and over 4,000 Jews so I was expecting something a bit bigger than Yagolnitsa and Losatch, where my paternal grandparents lived.

Fastov consisted of a main street, a rather lovely theatre and a cemetery that we visited, although none of my relatives were there. My grandfather, Velode William Levitus left around 1920, managing to hop on the boat that was taking my grandmother, Malka Karasick, along with her father, Dovide, to Canada. They were distant cousins and he once told me that he visited her in Pavoloch and gave her a ride in a wheelbarrow when she was three and he was a few years older.

Our ORT driver, also named Slava and a lovely woman who worked at ORT accompanied us on our journey of over three hours.

When we arrived in Pavoloch, we wondered where the town was. The terrain seemed empty. Two or three women stood huddled together as we drove closer to the only standing building. Suddenly, one of them came running up and spoke to our friends explaining that the building was in fact a museum for the town. What town, I asked myself looking around at the bare earth that seemed to stretch for kilometers. Larissa announced rather humbly that she was the present curator of the museum and that she would give us a tour. In fact, this building was the only remaining building in the town and had once been the main synagogue.

There were many sections to view, including recreated rooms from the time when my grandmother was living here. It was obvious that someone was paying to keep up this museum. There are a lot of Pavolochers in Winnipeg and we were told some of them sent money to keep up the museum/synagogue. I asked Larissa if there was a list of Jews who had lived in the town. She responded that there was a list of 2,000 Jews who had been killed in one night in 1943. They had been forced to dig their own mass grave. She gave me a bunch of dried flowers and led me to the sight of the grave. Two thousand had left during the pogroms and the rest had been murdered in one night during the Holocaust. This was the legacy of the once beautiful town my grandmother had so proudly described.

I asked Larissa if she had any records of my great-grandfather, Dovide Karasick, who was a teacher in the Hebrew school. She went to find the curator-emeritus, who was old and frail, and he told her that a photo of my great grandfather existed in the museum. The photo was small but I could make him out, standing with his students in front of the school. What a joy to see him and to imagine the rich life my family had had here, before the pogroms, before the Holocaust. Standing near the mass grave, I wondered where the motivation had come from, the motivation to travel out to every village and town and systematically murder every Jewish man, woman and child. How lucky I was that my great grandfather had had the courage to leave, that he had sent one son to Winnipeg to earn enough to send for the rest of my Pavoloch family.

I will let my photos describe what we saw and felt in Pavoloch. If you would like to visit Pavoloch, contact me at

For more information about Pavoloch, visit

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