THE Ukrainian flag is flying at half mast on Lismore’s war memorial in honour of much-loved character Johnny Borysenko, who died on Wednesday aged 94.
Mr Borysenko was born in Ukraine, the eldest son of a Russian Cossack, and served in the Russian army during World War II.
He was captured and spent time in a German prisoner of war camp. When the war ended he stayed in Berlin, where he was employed by the occupying forces to deliver coal.
During this time he met his German wife Carla and the couple emigrated to Australia in the early 1950s.
They lived in Geelong, where Mr Borysenko worked for the railways and at the Ford factory.
The Borysenkos came to live in Lismore in the middle of the 1960s and he started up a boot making and repair business.
Neville Dunn, a close friend and later carer of Mr Borysenko, said he had been a bootmaker in Ukraine and was excited at the chance to resume his trade.
“He was known as Johnny the Boot or The Bootmaker and he had the business for a while but there wasn’t enough people here to keep it going,” Mr Dunn said.
“He went back working on the railways and did that until he retired.”
Tragedy struck in 1994 when Mrs Borysenko was hit and killed by a vehicle while crossing the Hamilton Highway.
Mr Dunn said the tragic accident had caused much grief for Mr Borysenko and the town.
“It took Johnny a fair while to get over that. It was a tough time for him and everyone.
“I think after that Johnny became even closer to the community and I know the people of the town and district meant a lot to him.
“And he was such a friendly and likeable person. Everyone loved him and he didn’t have an enemy or anyone who would say a bad word about him.
“There is a young lad in town who collects flags so the idea came to put up the Ukraine flag in honour of Johnny, which was a really nice touch.”
Mr Borysenko’s friend Gary Poole showed a keen interest in his Ukrainian heritage.
Mr Poole used to take Mr Borysenko down to Ukrainian shops in Melbourne to get some tastes of home.
“They have a Ukraine bakery and butchers down there and Johnny used to love speaking to the young people down there,” he said.
“He could still speak fluent Russian and Ukrainian so he enjoyed the chance to speak to others who could do the same.”
Mr Poole can speak some of Mr Borysenko’s native languages, having travelled to Ukraine more than a decade ago.
He was also influential in ensuring Mr Borysenko’s wartime service was recognised.
“A few years ago I noticed Johnny never had any medals and it was because they had been taken off him when he was a prisoner of war.
“So I brought this up with David Hawker, who was the member of Parliament at the time, and we were able to organise for Johnny to get his medals.”
With the football season imminent, Mr Borysenko will be missed at Lismore-Derrinallum games where he was a keen supporter.
He was also a passionate supporter of the Geelong Football Club.