‘Warrior’ Mike Ditka proud of his roots: ‘No Ukrainian is going to take crap from the Russians’

Da coach recalls the influence of his Ukrainian immigrant grandparents on his childhood and work ethic.

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Mike Ditka was given a ceremonial ‘Bulava,’ a mace encrusted with the national symbol of Ukraine, at a fundraiser in 2016.

Provided/Henry Fajardo

Da coach is Ukrainian!

Who knew?

“And proud of it,” said legendary Bears coach “Iron Mike” Ditka, whose nickname was forged in western Pennsylvania’s steelworks country.

Also branded “The Hammer,” the irrepressible football champ has also been monitoring Russia’s war in Ukraine from the safety of his summer Florida retreat.

“NO Ukrainian is going to take crap from the Russians,” said Ditka, who was born in 1939 with the Ukrainian last name of “Dyczko.”

“They are indestructible,” he stated. “They give everything and take nothing.”

So what happened to his Ukrainian last name?

“The name was difficult to pronounce,” he said.

So the name with too many consonants for the American tongue was changed.

“My grandparents were from Ukraine,” he said. “They fled hard times in their country,” he said … a Europe of fluid borders and Russian upheaval and oppression.

“They needed work to stay alive, and were hardworking, strict, tough people. My grandmother was of Polish descent, which is a country next to Ukraine,” he said.

“But once they came to the United States they considered themselves Americans!”

In the U.S., they had a strong work ethic and a strict routine in an area known as Steeltown in Western Pennsylvania.

“They led a simple life speaking the same language in their public housing homes, working as miners and laborers,” he said.

“They would get up in the morning and go to work. Then they were home at 4-5 o’clock. They’d have dinner, [maybe] stop by a biergarten or sit on the porch for a couple of hours talking.

Their life overseas didn’t come up much.

“They really didn’t talk much about what they had gone through. They were just happy to be here.”

On Sundays, they’d go to a Ukrainian Catholic church.

“I was proud of my Ukrainian heritage. Really proud. It was a good way to grow up because they believed in always doing the right thing,” he recalled.

Ditka, whose namesake father was a welder and railroad laborer, also required Ditka’s mother, who was of Irish-German descent, to cook at least one Ukrainian meal a week.

“I loved my grandmother’s latke [potato pancake] and dumplings,” Ditka recalled.


Students from St. Nicholas Cathedral school pose for a photo with Mike Dikta for a fundraiser in 2016.

Provided/Henry Fajardo

In 2016, Ditka was honored at a fundraiser to save St. Nicholas Cathedral school, an elementary school located in the heart of Ukrainian Village and part of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral complex.

“The school was earmarked for closure in 2013 and Mike helped raise the funds and secure our future at a fundraiser in 2016,” said Anna Cirilli, the school principal.

“He talked about his Ukrainian roots and how it taught him the perseverance and discipline which shaped his sports career,” said Cirilli.

It was then Ditka was given a ceremonial “Bulava,” a huge mace encrusted with a trident, which is the national symbol of Ukraine, the symbol of a warrior and authority.

“I remember him swinging the Bulava in the air that night and thinking if ever there was a warrior, Mike Ditka was one,” she said.

In 2016, Ditka was also honored by the Ukrainian Sports Hall of Fame at a fete at Ditka’s now-closed eatery on Chestnut Street.

“We were always doing research on which sports star was of Ukrainian descent,” said Myron Bytz, the organization’s founder and president.

“So when Mike got up and announced he considered himself 100% Ukrainian, it was the most moving part of all,” said Bytz.

“He is a warrior. It doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.

Trump ’em …


Sneed is still mired in Donald Trump’s MAGA mail despite opting out of all the donation requests I’m getting to fund Donald Trump’s political PAC.

My delete button is in agony.

Requests to verify the correct spelling of my name never end.

I am entreated again to hit the top of Trump patriots list.

And this past week, Donald J. Trump Jr. asked if I thought his father was a “better President than Joe Biden will ever be.”

The kicker was Trump thinking of me as one who constantly “fights back against the Fake News Media’s Lies.”


Well, at least the Trumpster got that right.

Altar rails …

A special mass for journalists covering the war in Ukraine will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Mary of the Lake church, 4220 N. Sheridan Road. Fallen and injured journalists and their families will be remembered during the service. “All Chicagoland area reporters are invited to attend regardless of their faith tradition,” according to a missive dispatched by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

Sneedlings …

Say whaaaaa? Chicago attorney Terry Sullivan, a serious animal activist, whose law firm puts out a periodical called “The Leagle Beagle,” recently offered up this quote from British poet Warsan Shire: “I think people should have photos of themselves as children around. There’s no way you can hate that version of yourself.”

Saturday’s birthdays: actor Jesse Plemons, 34; actor Michael Fassbender, 45, and actor Christopher Meloni, 61, Sunday’s birthdays: actor Eddie Murphy, 61; actor Alec Baldwin, 64, and primatologist Jane Goodall, 88.

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