Askold Lozynskyj

Professor Taras Hunczak of Chatham, New Jersey, passed away on July 1, 2024 at the age of 92.  Professor Hunczak leaves an indelible impression and profound memories for so many – for those who called him husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle, friend, teacher,  coach and mentor.  He also leaves a record of significant personal and professional contributions to supporting Ukraine’s struggles for statehood, to the development of Ukrainian political thought, and to the popularization of Ukraine’s historic and modern treasures.  Professor Hunczak’s lifestory captures many defining historic moments of the 20th and 21st centuries and epitomizes a life well lived.

Taras Hunczak was born on March 13, 1932 to Maria and Hryhoriy Hunczak in Stare Misto, a suburb of Pidhaitsi, in the Ternopilska Oblast, Ukraine.  In the summer of 1944, he and his family left Stare Misto on a journey that would eventually conclude in Germany – the family and others from the village were sent to Vilsbiburg, approximately 66 km from Munich.  He was not to visit Ukraine again for almost half a century.

In May 1949 the Hunczak family embarked on their journey to the United States on the “General Jumper”, a military transport ship.  In the United States Taras started middle school as well as a lifelong commitment to community activities.  He and the family eventually arrived in New York where Taras Hunczak earned a B.A and M.A. from Fordham University.  His years at Fordham were filled with a combination of defending Ukrainian interests within the university system while participating in many extracurricular activities within the Ukrainian diaspora – volleyball and ping pong in a sports club on 8th Street, singing with “Dumka”, frequent meetings at “Lys Mykyta”.  This time was only interrupted by 18 month service in the U.S. Army.

In 1958, Taras arrived in Vienna to continue his studies at the University of Vienna; the main course of study was history with Slavic philology as a secondary course.  After a visceral disagreement with a professor regarding the need to differentiate Muscovy and Russia from Rus and Ukraine, he left the Slavic philology department and enrolled in the department of modern European history.  The years in Vienna were also filled with activism.  According to Professor Hunczak the most fascinating was “the 1959 action against communist propaganda which was to figure significantly at the world congress of communist youth being held in Vienna.  I was asked to participate in this action by an American entity…….For almost half a year I organized various groups and we succeeded in opposing the lies which the communists wanted to disseminate……By the end of the weeklong congress I was informed that the communists knew it was I who had organized the campaign against their propaganda campaign and for my safety I had to leave Vienna immediately…..”

By May of 1960 he had earned a degree as a Doctor of East European History.  Upon his return to the U.S. he began lecturing at Rutgers University where he also served as Director of the East European and Soviet Studies program, as the Chair of the History Department and on the Rutgers University Senate.  After 44 years at Rutgers University, he retired in 2004.  He was named Professor Emeritus and inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Fame.  In 1991, he accepted a position as professor at the National Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv.  He was the recipient of an honorary doctorate at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in 2013.  His academic achievements were complemented by his leadership on the sports front.  He established and

coordinated the men’s volleyball program at Rutgers-Newark.  His team, described as “stacked with talented players of Ukrainian descent”, won an East Coast championship and placed second in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Championship.

Professor Hunczak’s extensive body of scholarly works focus on 20th century Ukrainian history including a history of Russian imperialism, where he described Stalin and his followers as “building their empire on the bones of millions of innocent victims” during Holodomor.  He become editor in chief of Suchasnist, a monthly journal of literature, translation, the arts, history and political, social, and economic affairs.  When Ukraine gained its independence he moved the publication to Kyiv.

At the center of Professor Hunczak’s life was a love for and commitment to Ukrainian independence, heritage and culture.  He was active in New York Plast; he organized numerous conferences always focused on disseminating accurate and correct information about Ukraine; he participated in academic activities including the Scientific Society named after Taras Shevchenko and the Ukrainian Free Academy of Science; he spearheaded many efforts to support Ukrainian dissidents.

The tragedy of Chornobyl in April 1986 led to the creation of the Children of Chornobyl Relief Fund with Professor Hunczak playing an integral role in its establishment and administration.  As Ukraine moved toward independence Professor Hunczak spent a significant amount of time in Ukraine moving seamlessly between political, social and human interactions.  He was present for and recorded for posterity his eyewitness observations about historic events.  As he left Ukraine in December 1991 he wrote, “I cannot calmly write about it.  It brought the Ukrainian nation that which it awaited for generations, for which thousands gave their lives – for independence.  Finally their will was fulfilled – Ukraine became an independent and sovereign state.”  He captured his thoughts in “My Memoirs; Life’s Journey through WWII and Various Historical Events of the 21st Century”.

Professor Hunczak’s love for family was constant throughout the years.  On August 19th, 1961 he married Olia Karpenko, who survives him together with their sons, grandsons and a large extended family.