Play tells story of Ukrainian immigrant’s escape from Banff internment camp

A Canadian playwright is hoping his play will raise awareness about how immigrants and refugees have been treated in this country.

Run Nawrocki Run! Escape from Banff Prison tells the story one of over 8,000 eastern Europeans who were sent to internment camps during the First World War.

“It’s a story that needs to be told — also in terms of my family story — in the hopes that we won’t repeat the mistakes that were made 120 years ago with how we treated immigrants and refugees,” said Norman Nawrocki the Montreal playwright/actor/musician behind the play.

Read more: Vernon’s war internment history remembered in documentary

Nawrocki wrote the play after learning that his family name was on a list of prisoners.

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In the play Nestor, a Ukrainian-Canadian citizen, is imprisoned in a federal camp. He rebels and manages to escape.

“I have tremendous respect and admiration for my ancestors that they endured that kind of treatment. That they persevered and they survived. They raised families, had wonderful farms, and fed the world and fed Canada, despite the horrible treatment and miserable conditions, and despite the discrimination and persecution and abuse,” Nawrocki said.

Click to play video: 'Ukraine exhibit and art auction to support displaced Ukrainians arriving in B.C.' Ukraine exhibit and art auction to support displaced Ukrainians arriving in B.C.

Ukraine exhibit and art auction to support displaced Ukrainians arriving in B.C.

Borys Sydoruk is one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation. He says Ukrainians were never a threat to Canada.

“There was never a documented episode of disloyalty to Canada. It was just the prejudice of the day. These people were thought of as subhuman and we didn’t want them here. It was accepted racism,” Sydoruk said.

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“They were imprisoned. If they tried to escape they were shot at. One hundred seven did die some from disease and some from suicide, but there were a handful that were shot,” Sydoruk said.

Read more: Federal internment camp exhibit opens in Banff

Nawrocki said the play about Ukrainians fighting back against adversity is timely because of what is happening now in Ukraine.

“The parallel is there. Untenable situation and ridiculous odds, and yet they are fighting back tenaciously. It’s more timely because once again Canada is opening the door to Ukrainians in Canada,” Nawrocki said.

“But how will we treat them once the welcome glow has warmed off? What’s going to happen to them?”

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Run Nawrocki Run! Escape from Banff Prison runs from June 20 to July 4 on Nawrocki’s YouTube channel. Tickets are free, with donations  to Fundacja Folkowisko Foundation welcomed.

“From my family in Ukraine now for the first time I’m hearing, ‘Please we need some money to buy food,’” Nawrocki said.

June 20th is the anniversary of when the last internment camps closed in 1920. It is also World Refugee Day.

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