In 1925 Maria-Alina Łukaszewicz was born in a part of Poland that later became Soviet Belarus. She was only fourteen when her family was removed from their home in the middle of the night and loaded onto a cattle train bound for a Siberian work camp. It was -40C. Maria’s feet were badly frost bitten and she suffered for many years with the resulting pain. Once in the work camp, food was scarce and Maria risked arrest to walk thirty kilometres to a local village in search of supplies. While living in the camp, Maria first met her future husband (Olek) Aleksander Romanko.

When the Soviet-German war began in 1941, Siberian prisoners were freed and a group of them began a long journey to Persia (Iran). On the way they were forced to work in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan, where they lived in a clay hut and worked only for food. It was from Uzbekistan that many of the men, including Aleksander and Maria’s father, left to join the Polish Army. Once separated, Maria and Aleksander began a correspondence that lasted until they met again in 1948.

When Aleksander left the others, he travelled to Persia, Palestine, Libya,and then, Iraq. Once their training was complete, his unit was sent to Italy where they took part in the battles of Monte Cassino and Ortona. He received seven medals in recognition of his service. At the end of the war, returning to Communist Poland was not an option so Aleksander went to England.

After Maria’s family left Uzbekistan they went to Persia where she was briefly reunited with her father who was discharged from the army. Maria then went on to South Africa and Rhodesia. In the refugee camps life was more normal and she was able to renew her studies. Finally, in 1948, families of Polish soldiers were transferred to England and Maria was reunited with Aleksander. They married in the spring of 1949. The couple stayed in England for another six years and had two children before deciding to emigrate to Canada.

Newlyweds Maria and Alexander Romanko, 1949.