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Saint Olha.
Saint Olha.

Ukrainian Tombstones and Tributes

Field review by the editors.

South Bound Brook, New Jersey

St. Andrew Cemetery is the official burial ground of the Ukarainian Orthodox Church of the USA. It opened in 1954, created here as a safe place for eternal rest -- particularly for Ukrainian religious, political, and cultural leaders -- because nearly all of the cemeteries in Ukraine had been destroyed by Stalin and Hitler.


At the entrance is a large, ominously black statue of steely-eyed, no-nonsense Saint Olha, "Great Princess of Kyiv." The inscription on the statue's base describes Olha as a "zealous Christian," hence her beatification, but she was also legendarily vengeful, scalding to death her captive enemies, drowning others alive in a ship that she deliberately sank, and destroying an entire town by setting it on fire with incendiary pigeons. Any neo-Stalin or Junior Hitler approaching St. Andrew's would be smart to turn around and drive the other way.

Behind Saint Olha is the cemetery itself, and what sets St. Andrew apart from every other graveyard is its obviously liberal policy on tombstone art. Some of the monuments are so high-concept that they don't look like tombstones at all. And since most of them are engraved in Cyrillic script, their intent can be hard for some to fathom.

We asked Rev. Vasyl Shak at the cemetery office about a couple of the tombstones, and although he tried to be helpful, he essentially said that they were what their families wanted them to be. One, from the "no funny business" school of Saint Olha, is a monumental figure of a scowling 18th century Ukrainian Cossack, with a bald head, enemy-cleaving-in-two saber, and a Yosemite Sam mustache. Another headstone, completely avant garde, is a large, upright, reflective slab with a hole cut in the middle, perfectly sized for a human head as if it were a roadside photo-op (Which it certainly isn't). Rev. Shak guessed that the hole might be designed for floral arrangements, but he honestly didn't know its purpose.

St. Andrew's is a relatively young cemetery, so visitors need to be respectful of mourners and family members. As a tourist, unless you want to see the grave of the rector of the Ukrainian Institute of Technology and Economics (Viktor Domanytskyy) or the Minister of Post and Telegraphs of the Ukrainian National Republic (Ivan Palyvoda), you'll be here for the art.

Ukrainian Tombstones and Tributes

St. Andrews Ukrainian Cemetery

240 Main St., South Bound Brook, NJ
St. Andrews Ukrainian Cemetery. The cemetery is behind St. Andrew Memorial Church, a towering building on the west side of Main St./Easton Ave. just north of I-287 exit 10.
Gated after dark. Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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