Notorious Ukrainian assassin once called Rochester NY home

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As Ukrainians today fight to repel a Russian invasion, some may have in mind a famous Ukrainian patriot from a century ago who struck a blow at national independence – then spent much of his adult life in Rochester.

His name was Miroslav Sichinsky, and calling him a patriot is an oversimplification.

He was an assassin, socialist and Soviet sympathizer, University of Rochester graduate, journalist, and a pillar of the local Ukrainian community.

“He is lively, lively and electric, deeply sympathetic, sensitive and imaginative, with an unusual polish and a generous endowment of the gift of eloquence,” said a Democrat and Chronic journalist sprang up in 1938.

Sichinsky lived to be 91, becoming a rare survivor and protagonist of Europe’s tumultuous history before World War I.

“I told him that I had come to take his life”

Sichinsky was born in 1886 in the region of Galicia, an area of ​​joint Polish and Ukrainian influence in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father was an influential politician, and Sichinsky also took an early interest in it, participating in protests against Polish influence and alleged electoral fraud.

In 1908, after an unfair election helped the Poles consolidate power, 21-year-old Sichinsky decided to take action. He stood in line for a public audience with Count Andrzej Potocki, the local governor of the regional capital of Lviv, calmly reading a newspaper as he waited.

He explained what happened next to the Democratic journalist and columnist in 1931.

“Finally my turn came and I told him that I had come to take his life … because he had deprived Ukrainians of their constitutional freedoms,” he said. “I fired several times, but the first bullet, which hit him in the forehead, caused his death. …

“Then I accompanied (a servant) downstairs and waited an hour for the police to arrive. … I had decided beforehand that it would be indecent to shoot him and run away. My motives could have been misunderstood.”

Sichinsky was convicted and sentenced to death. For the Polish and Austro-Hungarian authorities, he was a murderer and a dangerous harbinger: indeed, political assassinations will become more and more frequent in the coming decades.

For his Ukrainian compatriots, he was a hero. “Long live our Sichinsky and may Potocki rot,” went the refrain of a popular song.

His sentence was commuted from the death penalty to 20 years. He only served two years, however, before escaping with the help of friendly guards. He hid in Sweden and Norway before immigrating to the United States under a false passport in 1914.

Surprisingly, the US government decided to legitimize its presence, considering that the assassination had been “purely political”.

Active member of the community

Ukrainians in the United States had sent money to support Sichinsky in Europe after he escaped from prison. He immediately began traveling the country and writing for the cause of Ukrainian independence.

He visited Rochester in 1916 at the invitation of a professor at the University of Rochester and soon settled there permanently. He found a beloved ethnic community in the city that shared his desire to promote Ukrainian language and culture and to defend its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

“He means to us what Mr. Lincoln does to America,” a Ukrainian from Rochester said in 1938.

He was an early active member of the Ukrainian Civic Center on Joseph Avenue, a teacher at the Ukrainian Night School, and a frequent lecturer on Eastern European politics. In 1930, at age 44, he graduated from the University of Rochester, studying geology and history.

“Together with his wife Julia, he lent himself wholeheartedly to almost every effort to raise the level of social consciousness within the local Ukrainian community,” the leaders of the Ukrainian Civic Center wrote. “There were few activities he was not involved in at one time or another.”

soviet sympathizer

Sichinsky’s influence was also national. He headed the Ukrainian Workingmen’s Association, an ethnic labor organization based in Pennsylvania, and edited various Ukrainian newspapers. He maintained socialist beliefs which eventually translated into sympathy for Soviet Russia.

This sympathy eventually tarnished his reputation, especially among those who fled Soviet Ukraine under Joseph Stalin. In 1958, a local petition to honor Sichinsky on the 50th anniversary of Potocki’s assassination led to a political melee.

“It was true that Sichynsky had murdered Count Pototzky…a man who was directly responsible for the deaths of many Ukrainians. What Sichynsky had done then was good and no one denied him,” wrote a leader of the community.

“The thing to ponder was that for many years there had been another murderer of innocent Ukrainians – Joseph Stalin – and Sichynsky was never heard of criticizing Stalin or his policies.”

By then Sichinsky had left Rochester. He died in Michigan in 1979 at the age of 91. Her only son, a son named John, lived most of his life in the Rochester area and died in Florida in 2017.

As the leaders of the Ukrainian Civic Center in Rochester wrote in the late 1950s: “It is not everyday that such men set foot on the stage of life.

Contact editor Justin Murphy at [email protected]

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