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Christine Kochan Foster
Author, Contributor, Editor (anthology)
A Generation of Leaves: A Ukrainian Journey 1923-1948
Christine Foster, editor (anthology)
The struggle of the Ukrainian people did not just begin in February of 2022 but much earlier– as is abundantly clear in the pages of A Generation of Leaves; A Ukrainian Journey. It is the coming-of-age story of a young man born in Western Ukraine in 1923, a now vanished rural landscape lovingly depicted in the memoirs of the late Ivan Kochan, son of a prominent Ukrainian politician and patriot. Often charming and sometimes frightening, the story not only dramatizes Ivan’s growth and development, but a grim and violent chapter in Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and independence. Much of this tale is set against the flaming background of the Second World War and the dilemmas of being caught between two monstrous evils; the Nazi Fascists and the Russian Communists. The many narrow escapes vividly depicted here culminate in a flight from the Bolshevik Red Army. As was the case with so many Ukrainians this leads to relocation in Displacement Camps and ultimately lifelong exile in Canada and the United States. Yet these memoirs are not just another war story, as extraordinary and unique as this one is; they chronicle the transition of a child into a man. At the same time emerging quietly is a powerful and very moving love story between Ivan and a beautiful young woman, one that will remain with the readers long after the last sentence is read.
Readers interested in a humane memoir of one Ukrainian’s experience of the Second World War and its aftermath will appreciate A Generation of Leaves. Kochan tells his story of growing up Ukrainian in Poland in the 1930s and 40s, with a father involved in politics and growing geopolitical tension though his youth. When Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Kochan continued his secondary education, and later medical education, attempting to stay out of politics and violence, including the pro-Nazi Ukrainian movements. When the tide of the war turned and the Russian army invaded, Kochan became a refugee with his father and friends, fleeing east to avoid living under Soviet rule. Eventually, he managed to make his way to Canada, marry a childhood sweetheart, and resume his education with a focus in medical research.

Kochan’s love for the land he grew up in and his family comes through strongly in this often pained story, especially in the early chapters when he is describing his youth in Tudorkovychi. While the memoir is fundamentally apolitical, the historical context Kochan lives through casts a shadow on his experiences: He describes the fear of being educated within a police state and the chilling experiences of witnessing the “Great Aktion”—the clearing of the Lviv ghetto and murder of over 50,000 of its residents.

Family photos are also included to give readers a better sense of who the main characters involved are, but a map may help readers who are less familiar with the geography. A Generation of Leaves is framed by lovely reminisces from Christine Kochan Foster, Ivan’s daughter and one of the editors. Kochan’s vividly detailed experiences as a refugee are upsetting but also inspiring in his and others’ courage and dedication to find safety and to keep the very idea of Ukraine alive, at a time when the “leaves” are scattering. Likewise heartening: his persistent dream of a free and peaceful Ukraine.

Takeaway: Moving memoir of a Ukrainian’s wrenching experiences in World War II.

Comparable Titles: Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, Anatoly Kuznetsov’s Babi Yar .

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: B


An informative tale, told with buoyancy, poignancy, anger, and love. -Kirkus Reviews


Kochan offers reflections on life in the Old Country and the upheaval of World War II that led to his 1948 immigration to Canada. This posthumously published memoir, compiled and edited by his daughter, Christine Kochan Foster, and collaborator Mark Collins Jenkins, is both a personal tale and a story of generations of Ukrainians longing for national independence. The author was born in 1923 in the small village of Tudorkovychi, then part of eastern Poland; nearly all the roughly 1,200 inhabitants were Ukrainians. To the east was Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. During his early years, Kochan was raised by his paternal grandparents; he later learned that his parents had divorced. His father lived in another town and was a member of the Polish Parliament; his mother had returned to her parents’ farm, close to Kochan’s home. In the fall of 1930, the then-7-year-old author witnessed his first example of the endemic ethnic and political conflicts in Eastern Europe: Polish troops marched through his village hunting for members of the more violent of two Ukrainian Separatist groups. The narrative is packed with lavish imagery of the Ukrainian countryside and is encyclopedic in its detailing of local culinary, social, and religious customs. It’s also a tale of the author’s hair-raising adventures as he moved from town to town, and country to country, trying to continue his education as Europe moved closer to war. Overall, this is not only an engaging portrait of World War II from the perspective of European civilians caught in its midst, but also a timely one; in 2015, when Russia annexed Crimea, Kochan’s daughter asked her elderly father whether he thought Russia would stop with that acquisition: “They’ll be back,” he replied, presciently. “They always come back.”