The event was timed to coincide with the centenary of World War I. “This year, the UK is holding a series of events to honor those who, while not citizens of the Commonwealth nations, served under their colors and received Victoria Crosses,” British Ambassador to Ukraine Simon Smith noted. “Filip Konowal was Ukrainian by birth but served under Canadian colors. British King George V presented a Victoria Cross to this soldier for outstanding bravery displayed while in command of his squad on the offensive.”
Konowal was born in the village of Kutkivtsi, Khmelnytsky oblast, and left for Canada in 1913. He joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force as infantryman. The great warrior was a corporal and received a Victoria Cross for bravery and initiative shown during a battle fought in Lens, France in August 1917. “This non-commissioned officer alone killed at least 16 of the enemy, and during the two days’ actual fighting carried on continuously his good work until severely wounded,” Konowal’s award citation reads.
“Konowal has become a symbol of courage for many Canadians, a Toronto branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has been named after him, there are publications about his life,” Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine Roman Vashchuk told the assembled guests. “Konowal’s service is a reflection of the complex fate of Ukrainians who immigrated to Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century. This shared history needs remembering, research, and rethink.”
Descendants of the hero live now in Khmelnytsky oblast. His great-granddaughter Valentyna Bortniak admitted: “Konowal never returned to Ukraine. He left his wife and daughter here, and wrote them and sent money home at first. However, the great-grandfather then learned that his family died off during the Holodomor, and the links were broken, with him remarrying in Canada later.” Before leaving his home, Konowal planted a lime tree in Kutkivtsi, which was recently carted off, as the tree rotted away and fell to pieces over the intervening century. Meanwhile, Canadian Ukrainians opened a monument to Konowal in Kutkivtsi 14 years ago.
Plaques honoring the famous Ukrainian have been unveiled in France and England. “The great-grandfather was very skilled in hand-to-hand combat. When he was receiving the Victoria Cross, his fellow soldier said he knew no soldier who was as brave as he was,” Bortniak said proudly. “We kept up a correspondence with his American female relative who lived in New Orleans. We have nothing left at home to remind of Konowal, just some photos. We had kept some of the money he sent from abroad, but we have donated it to his museum in Canada, where his awards are kept as well.”