91-year-old Auburn woman recalls youth in occupied Ukraine

AUBURN — When the Nazis arrived at Mary Dycio's home in western Ukraine in 1941, she was jubilant.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Dr. Maria Dycio, left, and Martha Stevens-David on the edge of Taylor Pond in Auburn on Monday afternoon where Dycio lives with her dog, Sultan.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

A photo of Mary "Maria" Dycio and her brother, Myron, when they were living in the Ukraine.

A girl of 19, she'd endured two years of occupation by the Soviets; the foul, sometimes barefoot soldiers and the plainclothes Communists who'd appear to snatch people away.

"When they were coming to arrest you, they never came in uniform," Dycio, 91, said. "They'd say, 'Oh we just want to talk with you for five minutes.' You'd know you'd never come back. Some people were hauled to Siberia. Many were massacred."

When the Nazis arrived, Ukrainians hoped they were liberated.

"When the Germans came, they were very elegant. Very civilized," Dycio said. "They didn't walk. They all had cars."

But with them came more deprivation and death. There would be nights fleeing Ukraine in a horse-drawn wagon, incarceration in railroad livestock cars and work in a Nazi labor camp, making munitions in an underground factory.

Dycio's story, detailed in her just-published memoir "My Life's Journey from Ukraine to Maine," covers it all and more. Dycio and ghost writer Martha Stevens-David of Minot spent 15 months doing interviews, dictating, assembling and editing the 211-page book.

Dycio wanted her family and friends to know her better.

She talked about her immigration to the United States, settling in Auburn and working for more than 40 years in the community as an anesthesiologist. She also described her youth amid World War II.

"I want them to see what a hard life — not just me — but my relatives and my friends have had," she wrote, "and to tell you once again that never, never should we have another war. War brings luck to no one. War only brings misery, horror and death to so many."

She witnessed it.

Mary — then called "Maria" — was the daughter of a Ukrainian Catholic priest. She lived with her father, mother and brother in a parish house in a part of Ukraine that had been spared the Soviet takeover of 1922.

When war broke out in Europe in 1939, the Soviets occupied the area along with half of Poland. Mary was 17. Her father went into hiding and the Soviets came looking. They didn't find him.

"He was lucky, because so many of the priests were taken away, arrested and killed," she said. When officials came to their home, they found Mary, her brother and their mother.

"My mother was an elegant lady but she was dressed up like a maid," she said.

Two years later, when Hitler violated his pact with Stalin and attacked the Soviets, Dycio watched as Ukrainians became second-class citizens in their homes.

Food was rationed at starvation levels. They fled into the mountains.

For a while, it worked. They found a friendly priest. Then, one night they heard the sound of Soviet aircraft.

The fled toward Slovakia and were quickly stopped by German soldiers. They were captured, herded into livestock train cars and hauled to Bavaria in southern Germany.

They were taken to a Nazi labor camp outside Nuremberg. They slept in a former POW camp deemed by the Red Cross to be too rustic for prisoners of war. It was dirty, cramped, cold and infested with insects.

"I still remember the itchiness of bed bugs," Dycio said. She recalled swiping her shoulder and filling her hand with dozens of bugs. "As soon as I killed those, more would come."

Her days were spent working in a munitions factory. It was hidden underground, beneath a paper factory.

They worked 12-hour shifts — "six to six" — and survived. In March 1945, a priest from a nearby town managed to get Mary and her family to his home. A month later, the war ended.

And the family remained in Germany.

In 1946, Mary entered medical school in Erlangen. Three years later, she married another Ukrainian student there, George Dycio. A year later, with the help of a cousin who fled Ukraine in 1940, they came to the United States.

By 1957, they were living in Auburn. The couple had two sons, George and Mark. George Sr. was an obstetrician/gynecologist. Mary became one of the few female doctors in the city. She spent almost 42 years at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center. She also worked off and on at Central Maine Medical Center.

George Dycio Sr. died in 2000.

Mary lives in a comfortable home overlooking Taylor Pond. Her living room is decorated with paintings she created while taking years of art classes at Lewiston-Auburn College.

She finished classes there when she was 80, and still drives and attends church.

And she saves lives.

This summer, she was attending Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Lisbon when someone tapped her on the shoulder.

An elderly man had collapsed. He wasn't breathing.

"He had no pulse," she said. "He had no blood pressure. He was as blue like a plum."

She gave him CPR. A few minutes later, he opened his eyes and gasped.

"Where am I?" he said.

To Dycio, it wasn't too unusual. The doctor winters in Florida and has saved several people in an aging congregation there.

"One winter, I resuscitated five people," she said.

On Tuesday, Dycio and Stevens-David of Minot will sign copies of the book in the lobby of Central Maine Medical Center from noon to 2 p.m. The book, "My Life's Journey from Ukraine to Maine," is also available online at Amazon.com.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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 's picture

What a remarkable story and a

What a remarkable story and a remarkable woman!

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