Russian invasion of Ukraine hits home with St. Charles North coach Rob Pomazak

Rob Pomazak’s father’s family is from Ukraine, giving him a unique perspective and an intense interest in the events unfolding in that country.

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has hit home with St. Charles North football coach Rob Pomazak, a first-generation U.S. citizen whose family fled the country during World War II.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has hit home with St. Charles North football coach Rob Pomazak, a first-generation U.S. citizen whose family fled the country during World War II.

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St. Charles North football coach Rob Pomazak is a first-generation American.

His dad grew up in France and his mom is from Italy. But his father’s family is from Ukraine, giving him a unique perspective and an intense interest in the events unfolding in that country.

“I’ve been wrapped up into it a lot more than I would like to be,” Pomazak said of the daily updates on the Russian invasion of his homeland. “[But] I feel like it’s necessary to be more involved and try to understand this.”

The story, from Pomazak’s perspective, goes back to the early days of World War II, when his relatives “were caught between the Russians and the Germans.”

He said the males in his family resisted pressure to join the Russian army.

“My great-uncle was killed by the Russians and left in the middle of the town square as an example,” Pomazak said.

The rest of the family scattered. One member wound up in Siberia, while Pomazak’s grandfather and uncle went to Poland. “My grandfather went to work in an internment camp,” Pomazak said. “He was a farmer.”

After the war ended, that branch of the family moved to France, where Pomazak’s father was born. Now they’re in the United States.

Pomazak’s uncle is now in his mid 80s and, like his nephew, lives in the Midwest.

“My uncle ... has been sending us stories of what he went through and how similar an experience he had as a child,” Pomazak said.

Watching the hardships being suffered by the Ukrainian people now is hard enough. Hearing how history is repeating itself decades later is even worse.

“For me as a 43-year-old man and father of two, it changes your perspective,” Pomazak said.

It makes him think more about his roots, of which he always was aware but maybe not to the point of his elders. Though his uncle has returned to their homeland, Pomazak has not visited Ukraine on two trips to Europe.

But he has tried to use these as teachable moments with the North Stars, whom he has led for nine seasons, winning 61 games and a state runner-up trophy in 2018.

“I’ve definitely shared with my players my impressions, especially being a first-generation American and watching it through my eyes,” he said.

St. Charles North football coach Rob Pomazak’s family was forced to flee Ukraine during World War II. His grandfather, Mykola (far right) worked as a farmer at an internment camp in Germany after first fleeing to Poland.

St. Charles North football coach Rob Pomazak’s family was forced to flee Ukraine during World War II. His grandfather, Mykola (far right) worked as a farmer at an internment camp in Germany after first fleeing to Poland.

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Pomazak has been heartened to see the world rallying to Ukraine’s cause, whether it be governments sending military aid and sanctioning Russia or ordinary people organizing humanitarian assistance.

He’s also heard from people reacting to his tweets about his Ukrainian heritage and his views of the current situation.

“I’ve had a lot of people showing support for it,” he said.

And he feels like he’s learned more about himself and his family too.

“Sometimes you don’t know where you came from,” Pomazak said. “You try to understand who you are as a person.

“This makes so much more sense now.”

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