The Darling of Zhytomyr

On our recent mission trip to Ukraine as members of The Singing Men of Texas, we met this delightful lady at the city of  Zhytomyr, in western Ukraine. She was raised in Zhytomyr, one of the oldest cities of Ukraine, established in 884 A.D. It has been a very important city and lies on a major transportation route between  Warsaw, Poland and the capital city of Ukraine, Kiev. Sergei Pavlovich Korolev was born in Zhytomyr. He is famous for being the lead scientist and rocket engineer of the Soviet space program in the 1950s and 1960s.

A most striking monument is just off the city square. There is a red granite quarry nearby and a statue of Lenin had been built there from this granite. When the Russian unrest began early in 2015, the men shown on this marker were killed by sniper fire, as they spoke for freedom, ordered by the Russian sympathizing president of Ukraine. Lenin’s statue was pulled down by the residents of the city and demolished. In its place, on the pedestal it rested on, are these pictures of the brave heroes of Zhytomyr.

After a brief walking tour around the city, my friend and I made our way back to the hotel, where the busses would pick us up for the next concert. As we arrived, we saw this energetic lady talking to a few of our group. We joined them and began to engage in a most fascinating conversation.

Petrunelya Yeroshenko is a very friendly, outgoing gal that would turn eighty years young the next month. She and we five or six wanted desperately to communicate, but the only common language seemed to be smiles and laughs. She was talking at a fevered rate and we were shrugging, laughing and trying to understand.

Enter Jim Clayman, who understands a smidgen of the Ukrainian language. But he got bogged down fairly quickly and struggled with some interpretations. We are blessed to have a member who is fromUkraineand he finally was found and stepped in. Thank you, Illya Tkachuk. And after hearing her story, we were surely glad that he was there.

Petrunelya was raised in Zhytomyr and her uncle was there when the Germans left and the Russians came in toward the end of WWII. He was more afraid of the Russians than the Germans. The Russians were considered traitors and were brutal to dissenters.

Petrunelya’s uncle had a plan of escape and wanted her to come with him. But she could not abandon her mother, so she stayed behind. She was probably eight to ten years old at that time. Her uncle caught a ride out of Ukraine on a German military convoy and found himself in Poland, where his daughter would graduate high school. His employer relocated to  Chicago, ILand he went with him. There he became a chef in  Chicago and his claim to fame is that he prepared a meal for President Bill Clinton and had his picture taken with him.

Also, Petrunelya’s cousin became a very famous and honored musician in Poland. He was a native of Ukraine, but because his father had been in prison, he was not recognized in his own country.

His father’s offense? It seems that he accepted some broken pieces of discarded bread. This was a serious infraction because the Communist state had not issued the food. As a result of that “terrible deed,” trying to provide for his family, he received a seven year prison sentence. (Freedom is precious – never take it for granted.)

Petrunelya has seen the good and the not so good in her country and in her city. And she has witnessed how it has worked out in her family through the years. But through it all, she has remained a very positive and energetic person. She is proud of the fact that she worked for a resort and was able to greet tour groups as they arrived. She believes this is why her personality is so outgoing. She is definitely a people person.

I am sure there are many more stories Petrunelya could relate that would fascinate us, and I wish we could have visited longer. Maybe she will write me some day with more and I can relate them. In the meantime, if you are ever in the neighborhood of Zhytomyr, Ukraine, please look up this beautiful lady. You are sure to be blessed if you do.

By Blue Ribbon News special contributor John Adams of Rockwall. John serves as an Associate Pastor at Poetry Baptist Church. He is active in the Rockwall Breakfast Rotary. Visit his guest columns at and his blog at

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