Janischewskyj, an internationally recognized scientist and authority on lightning strikes, the long arm of Toronto’s landmark tower became his laboratory. He’d stroll or cycle along city streets between the tower and his office at the University of Toronto, this keen-eyed, lanky man with his signature goatee and wispy grey locks peppering the air behind him. He even had “sky” in his name. He died on Feb. 16 after a brief illness. He was 86.
Wasyl Janischewskyj was born Jan. 21, 1925, into a Ukrainian émigré family of professionals living in Prague. His mother, Hanna Janischewskyj, was an accomplished physician who was also active in the Ukrainian women’s movement.
His father, Ivan Janischewskyj, was an engineer and lieutenant-colonel in the Ukrainian army. His grandfather had been deputy minister of health in the government of the Ukrainian National Council and his grandmother had a PhD in history.
His family was committed to Ukrainian statehood and on the run from Stalin.
In 1982, Janischewskyj took a surprising leap into historical research. He and two other Ukrainian-Canadian men wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Holodomor, or artificial famine, imposed by the Soviet regime in 1932 and claiming seven million Ukrainian lives.
As founder and long-time president of the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre in Toronto, he contributed significantly to gathering archival materials including oral histories, memoirs, photographs, and government documents.
He also worked on two internationally acclaimed films: Harvest of Despair, about the forced famine, and Between Hitler and Stalin, detailing the plight of Ukrainians caught and struggling between these two dictators during the Second World War.
“[Janischewsksyj] was a product of émigré circumstances,” said historian Oriest Subtelny. “He was born in Prague but very committed to Ukrainian statehood … he has always remained true to that, but at the same time he was a very objective and productive scholar.”
Janischewskyj retired from the university at age 65 because they made him. But he never stopped working. His son, Markel, visited his father at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital a few weeks ago. “Call me at the university,” said Janischewskyj. Reminding him that he was actually in the hospital, his father eyed a sheaf of files and with a smile said, “Yes, yes, as I said – call me here at my office at the university!”
With an unquenchable thirst for reading, Janischewskyj got through the entire Stieg Larsson Millennium series last month, said his daughter, Roxolana Martin. And on his birthday they moved a couple of card tables into the hospital room for an impromptu bridge tournament. He won.
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