Who Am I?

German girl, German dirndl, German beer

German girl, German dirndl, German beer

As I’ve become obsessed with the news from Ukraine, first the Maidan revolution and now Russia’s invasion, I’ve found I can turn almost any conversation with any group of people into a discussion about Ukraine and its politics. And so I’m often asked, “Are you Ukrainian?”

The correct answer would seem to be no. No, that’s not my heritage. No, I don’t know Ukrainian customs, don’t paint Easter eggs, never called my grandmother “Baba,” don’t have a closetful of brightly embroidered blouses.

And yet, my ethnic German grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were born on the steppes of Ukraine. I grew up eating food from Ukraine (though we used different names—e.g., käse knepfla instead of vareniki).

Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are in my heart. They’re not my peeps … but they are. So it seems disrespectful to say no, I’m not Ukrainian. And yet, it seems presumptuous to claim that heritage.

Protesting to support Ukraine

Protesting to support Ukraine

A couple of weekends ago, I solved the dilemma by embracing all sides of my heritage. One night, I went to Oktoberfest, wearing a dirndl and drinking German beer. The next day I went to a protest against Russia’s military aggression, draped in a Ukrainian flag and defiantly claiming that Russian-occupied territories are still Ukraine.

So I guess it’s not really that ambiguous. I’m Ukrainian. I’m German. I’m American. It all fits together somehow.


  1. Daniela on October 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Hello Carolyn! I share so much of your sentiment over this issue – like you, I feel more global than singularly committed to any one culture or heritage. Am I German? Yes, but a healthy mix of French, Spanish, and Baltic (White Russian) comingling through the centuries make me less than “pure”. Am I Canadian? Yes, by citizenship, education, and coming of age there. Am I American? Yes, and proud of my relatively new citizenship and adoption of its values and core principles. So….your take on “somehow it all fits together” is so very, very true! I love all your blogs, but just felt I had to weigh in on this one. Cheers, Daniela

  2. Carolyn on October 7, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Daniela – I know you understand! I didn’t even mention in the blog article the affinity I feel for Greece, too. I walk the streets and feel comfortable, feel like I understand the customs. But adding my love of Greece into the blog post just made me sound too confused. 🙂

  3. Natalja Milani on October 8, 2014 at 12:42 am

    Carolyn, you are more Ukrainian than you imagine. We are “your peeps” 🙂 and you are ours. I know this trip to Ukraine will be very joyful to you and especially everyone else who will be so lucky to meet you! I know I am. Well, not face to face, but I hope this will change soon and I’ll get to meet my Ukrainian sister 🙂 And by the way: “No, I don’t know Ukrainian customs, don’t paint Easter eggs, never called my grandmother “Baba,” don’t have a closetful of brightly embroidered blouses” – some of these things will soon change too 🙂

  4. Carolyn on October 8, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Natalja – I am honored to be considered your Ukrainian sister!