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Orest Subtelny


 Orest Subtelny

Prof. Orest Subtelny’s death in Toronto on July 24, 2016 of cancer at the age of 75 was widely noted in the Ukrainian diaspora and in Ukraine, including by President Petro Poroshenko. “His contribution to Ukraine’s history is priceless,” Mr. Poroshenko said in a statement. He “made an invaluable contribution to Ukraine acquiring statehood.

“The bright memory of Orest Myroslavovych will forever remain in our hearts.”

Orest  was born in Krakow, in Nazi-occupied Poland, on May 17, 1941. His father, Myroslav, was a lawyer who had lived in the city in the mid-1930s and returned with his wife, Ivanna, in late August, 1939, to take a government job.

“The next day [Sept. 1, 1939], the Germans invaded [Poland] and the job fizzled,” said Prof. Subtelny’s wife, Maria, a University of Toronto scholar of Iran and classical Persia. The clan returned to Ukraine but Orest’s mother later travelled to Krakow to give birth to her son because the city had a hospital.

The family spent the war years hunkered down in western Ukraine, then fled the Soviet Red Army, and spent 1945 to 1949 in a displaced persons camp in Germany before arriving in Philadelphia as refugees.

Prof. Subtelny earned a BA from Temple University in 1965, a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina, and completed his PhD at Harvard University in 1973, in history and Middle Eastern studies.

A talented soccer player, he made the All-American team in college and while at Harvard, played with the Norwood Kickers of the Massachusetts state league.

From 2006 to 2011, Prof. Subtelny managed a development project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The $1.65-million “Promoting Ukraine’s Global Integration” project was aimed at increasing the capacity and effectiveness of Ukrainian foreign missions and promoting trade. It also provided technical assistance to Ukraine’s government to address boundary disputes with its neighbours.

“He was an outstanding soccer player and I think that’s where he got his timing,” his wife said. “He always did things in the nick of time. The book was definitely perfect timing. The CIDA projects were perfectly timed. His exit from Ukraine was perfectly timed.”

There were many laurels: He was given the Order of Merit from the government of Ukraine in 2001; was named a Foreign Member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences; and received an honorary doctorate from the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine, and the Shevchenko Medal from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, for his outstanding contributions to the domestic expatriate community in education.

Recent Russian military interventions in eastern Ukraine and Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, left Prof. Subtelny “very disappointed and disillusioned,” his wife said. Even when asked, he refused to speak about the unrest.

Prof. Subtelny leaves his wife, Maria; son, Dr. Alexander Subtelny; and sister, Dr. Oksana Isajiw.

The Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Portnikov summed up one view of Prof. Subtelny’s influence: “He gave us Ukraine. Not the one that was. But the one that will be.”