Family and friends mourn couple killed outside church

Posted: November 28, 2006

Nick and Halyna Shevchuk first met in the bunkhouse of a Nazi labor camp 63 years ago. He was 12. She was 6.

There was hardly a time since they had been apart.

"They were together from a very young age and you probably never saw them apart except when Dad was fishing," their son, Peter, 51, said. "As sad as it is, it was fitting they went out together."

Nick, 75, and Halyna, 69, were hit by a pickup truck and killed on Sunday while standing outside the church they had dedicated so much of their time and energy to, the Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church in Levittown.

Fellow churchgoers witnessed the accident between two pickups - and watched as one was sent spinning into the parking area where the Shevchuks were standing. Bristol Township Police yesterday identified the drivers as Robert Ramus, 22, of Fairless Hills and Jason DeVenuto, 36, of Stockton, N.J.

The Shevchuks first met as children after their families were driven from their native Ukraine and forced to live in captivity. The two families shared a bunkhouse, separated by a curtain.

Even when they were freed from the camp the families stayed together, moving to France. Ultimately, the couple married, had Peter, and came with both of their families to the United States - settling in the Trenton area.

For the last 45 years, the Shevchuks lived in a modest two-bedroom A-frame in Hamilton Township. They converted the attic to a third bedroom to accommodate the three children they raised there: Peter, Elena and Natalie.

John Shulgach and his wife Nadia met the Shevchuks some 45 years ago, when the women worked together in a sewing factory. The families, with their common past, grew close and shared a bond.

At the church and with each other, they spoke Ukrainian - retaining thick accents a half-century later. They taught their children the language.

"We raised our families together," Shulgach said. "We celebrated Christmas together and other holidays. Best friends."

The men were blue-collar guys, working in factories around Trenton. Both ended their working careers in a ball-bearing factory there.

Peter said his parents were great role models. They did not have much financially, but would give all they had to help someone.

"If you were looking for the definition of saints, their pictures would have been there," he said. "They would never say no to anyone."

Neither had much of an opportunity to have a formal education, but felt strongly their children should. Peter said they were so proud that all three children graduated from college.

"It's amazing they got three of us through college," he said.

Peter said his mother loved to cook, and cooked in large quantities for occasions and to help out others. His father was handy and still a strong man with a vise-like grip.

Avdiy Chripczuk, pastor of the church, said he could not imagine life without the Shevchuks. Nick was a deacon there - and much more - and Halyna taught Sunday school.

"The first house I stepped into when I came here was their house," said Chripczuk, who is of Ukrainian descent but from Paraguay.

"To me, to lose Mr. Shevchuk is to lose one of my arms or my legs," the pastor said. "He was my support for everything."

Nick shoveled the snow, mowed the lawn, and took care of the leaves. He took care of the heating and air- conditioning. He showed up for every committee meeting and every church service.

Halyna was a mesmerizing Sunday school teacher, Chripczuk said, who had command over an astounding array of Bible verses.

"She was a nice cooker, too," he said. "Everybody knew her by her blueberry cake. Everybody knows that's Mrs. Shevchuk."

The pastor said, "I cannot imagine the church without Nick and Halyna Shevchuk."

Contact staff writer Mitch Lipka at 215-854-5334 or mlipka@phillynews.com.

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