LYSHA Rayisa Saveliyivna
author: Vasyl Ovsiyenko
V. Ovsiyenko: On April 14, 2002, in the editorial office of Nasha Vira Newspaper Ms. Rayisa Lysha tells her story. Vasyl Ovsiyenko is the interviewer.
R. Lysha: The place of birth determines quite a lot in our life. My Village of Yalosovetivka as it was called at the time was situated in the Kozak land, Sicheslavshchyna. Later they distorted this name to make it allegedly grammatically more correct and it became Village of Yelyzavetivka, but to my mind the old popular name Yalosovetivka was more mellifluous, more intimate … So Yalosovetivka, or at least Yelysavetivka, was situated nine kilometers from the famous Petrykivka of Petro Kalnyshevsky. By the way, Yuri Vivtash cleverly played on this name and jokingly called it Ya-lysha-vetivka.
There’s a whole group or cluster of Kozak villages: Sotnytske, Loboykivka… There are as much as three rivers nearby: Dnipro, Orel and Protovchanka. And this is apart from numerous brooks. Unfortunately, the builders of Dnipro-Donbas Canal destroyed Protovchanka. There were situated Protovchanska and Orilska Kozak Palankas. And one can feel there Kozak spirit and tradition.
I remember a very beautiful village situated beside Dnipro−Pankivka−where our relatives lived; once my parents were on a visit to them (sometime in 1947) and they took me with them. The streets had trees with lush leafage on the sides: poplars, willows, oaks ... The khatas were buried in flowers. Even now I recall it as a paradise. That wonderful old village like the picturesque Village of Auly on the opposite right bank was inundated by the so-called Dniprodzerzhynsk Sea. Nearby my village, nearer to Dnipro there was Kurylivka Village, winter abode of Kytaihorod Sotnyk Pavlo Semenov, who built three churches in Kytaihorod in the style of Kozak Baroque, which were wrecked but by a miracle the ruins are still there. Yalosovetivka happened to be located on the very border between Kozak Hetmanate and Kozak Zaporizhia. Having been overwhelmed by Zaporizhia, the village fell to its lot like all Ukrainian Kozaks in difficult times.
In my childhood I took hard memory−live and painful−about those on whose bones St. Petersburg had been built, about Solovki, and about Kalnyshevsky.
By the way, Yalosovetivka fomented armed rebellion against serfdom. Yalosovetivka always supported the right to liberty and right to self-government. Although it often came to grief.
My parents were villagers; to my mind, they were exceptional, deeply religious people, both my father and my mother. They stood out, as I now see it, due to extraordinary, natural tender conscience, generosity and talented humanity. One could say that this was typically Ukrainian spiritual aristocracy. My father was innerly engrossed. He did not like empty words. I remember how after the war−it took place in 1946-47−he read the Bible and a man, Feodosiy, frequented to him and they were talking about "divine", about Christ.
My parents, probably from the earliest childhood, cultivated in me the incomprehensible feeling that God is the One with whom both on earth and in heaven you do not feel terrified and lonely.
By the way, during the war, my father was called up for military service shortly before the German advance (they kept him at the factory where he worked as a steelworker). I was about two years old. In my mind, this picture is still alive. My father took me in his arms and went to our neighbors: there, in the garden, was the gathering station for those who were sent to the front. There were about 200 meters from our khata to the highway. On the highway we saw roaring advancing vehicles, maybe tanks, and marching soldiers. And I, already knowing that my father was going "to war", suddenly said, “Oh, they will beat you, Dad, badly”. And then I added: “But you come back soon”. I remember that garden of Aunt Maryna, reserved men, who were joking and asking me about something. And the husband of Aunt Maryna did not return from war. And many others did not return, too. Most of our neighbors were killed.
And I, while waiting for my father, every day kept praying before the icon of the Mother of God that he would return. My father later said that those prayers− my mother’s and mine−saved his life. He was severely wounded near Voroshylovhrad (Luhansk) and maimed, nevertheless, he came back.
When I went into the first grade, I kept in mind my father’s warning: "At school they say that there is no God but you do not say so.” Actually, I already would not be saying this in any case. But with time my father’s precious reservations gradually became for me as a lesson of complete rejection of betrayal. No wonder he liked so much Taras Bulba by Gogol. And he asked me to read it aloud for him when we studied it accordance with the curriculum.
There was no church in our village. The Church of the Intercession built by Kozaks was destroyed in the 30s. But the faith remained all the same: not a kind of religionism, but true traditional Kozak devoutness.
During high Christian festivals the heaven was the dome of the temple. It was so to say open in a peculiar way. Our Christmas carols resounded there… The Word was really born in the vast space… During the Feast of St. Basil the strewers pronounced wassails, angels and souls of ancestors sat down to table to eat kutia. The Easter enveloped the soul with miraculous unearthly light of the Resurrection. There were true, unforgettable festivals: Ascension, Intercession, Trinity Sunday, Assumption… St. Barbara, St. Nicholas ... The villagers also observed the feast of the place. God was somewhere close, though invisible.
V. Ovsiyenko: You still have not named your father and mother. And, please, tell us their life years.
R. Lysha: My father’s name was Saveliy (colloquial Sava) Tytovych. Born 1901. He died in 1984. My mother was Nataliya Demydivna, born 1903, died 1991.
V. Ovsiyenko: What is the correct pronunciation of your last name?
R. Lysha: It is a very common name in the country. There are people bearing the last name Lysha in Petrykivka. Lyshà. There were also variants of this last name: Lyshivtsi, Lyshivny, Lyshenky, Lyshyha… there was one such Aunt Nastia, wife of my Uncle Vasyl… That is, there are many inventive variants of this name. A girl was usually called Lyshivna. It is a Kozak name; the word itself is very old. Perhaps it was a familial totem. I have dug it out in some little book on the history of Ukrainian and Lithuanian children’s folklore. It turns out that in olden times there existed a counting-out rhyme: "This one is lyshá, this one is kuná, and you clear out.” The author of the study maintains that this rhyme is at least two thousand years old. Lyshá stands for a fox, and kuná stands for a marten. Valery Illia also said that he had found in dictionaries that lyshá meant fox. Very interesting and specific nouns were used as traditional Kozak last names or sobriquets in my village: Dizha, Patalashka, Nepadymka, Kyianytsia, Kopyak, Serdiuk, Netrebka, Vizmelo… They generate a great lot of associations and testify to the affluence of word formation methods in our tongue.
Many a man considered my name abstruse. Almost everyone stressed the first syllable. I decided to finally come to terms with the fact: let it be my pen name.
It is worthwhile telling now about my parents and my mother’s family and their fate in the twentieth century.
In olden days the fugitives from the Turkish raids in Podillia fled to our village. The Podillia element is clearly visible in the structure and spirit of the village. I think that my father’s family came from Podillia.
Probably, my Grandfather Tyt’s family came from a wealthy Kozak starshyna stock. This is really true judging from the fact that my grandfather had "before the revolution" 50 hectares of arable land and four horses, as it was written in the minutes of the meeting about the exclusion of my father from the collective farm as a son of the dispossessed person. Indeed, near the village on the south side there was an area called Lyshivska Gully which was a part of my grandfather’s land, where they later excavated the dazzling white and good sand, which they exported somewhere abroad (they say, to France) and as a result of excavations in the 70s there emerged the Holube Lake. There was also a plot or land on the northwest: Hrabove. My father told me about it once. But the family of my Grandfather Tyt and my Grandmother Natalka was large: six sons (Yakiv, Petro, Vasyl, Ignat, Saveliy, Danylo) and two daughters (Fedora and Paraskeva). All of them were typically chivalrous, strong, diligent, creative, and kind. For instance, Aunt Paraska wove very good sackcloth, stitched felt boots, hats, sheepskin coats. My father together with his brothers planted an alley; these eastern cottonwoods protected the village against the sands approaching from the Dnipro riverside. This alley was called Lyshivski Osokory. This alley together with another one consisted of Bolle’s poplars and cottonwood also planted by brothers decorated the village. But in the 80’s there came guys wishing to cut down beautiful majestic trees. At the time the people were seized with wild lust for devastation.
My father also dug a big pond in the coastal strip behind the kitchen garden, perhaps 40 plus meters long and 5 meters wide; later people were fishing and children were swimming there. He also lined the pond with willows; however under screen of night someone unrooted all willows. (It was the time of "collectivization"). Only one big willow-tree grew on the bank of the pond.
Not only my Grandfather Tyt, but also my father and all his brothers were dispossessed. The Komsomol members killed the eldest brother Yakiv in 1933; Petro shot himself unwilling to join the collective farm and being in despair. Danylo, the youngest brother, was forced to flee in search of work and, without documents, found himself in Georgia. He was eventually caught, arrested as a passportless person and sent to the Volga-Don Canal where he perished later. He sent a letter to his brothers in 1933, where he wrote that he was hungry and asked to send bread. Vasyl and his young son Dmytro were killed in action during the war.
At first, my father’s was expelled from the collective farm as a son of kurkul for “demoralization of collective farmers during grain procurements”, “did not subscribe to the domestic loan and entered into arguments, failed to sign the contract of procurement and entered into arguments”. Soon, in February 1933, they together with mother and two children−three-year-old Stepan, who the same spring died of starvation, and five-year-old Mykhailo− threw out of their khata having confiscated their property and food. And they did it despite the fact that my mother went to work at the collective farm. Then my father survived only because while wandering in search of any work, barefoot, exhausted, he accidentally came across the Deputy Chief Engineer of Metallurgical Plant in Kamyanske (Dniprodzerzhynsk), who knew him and immediately employed him as an assistant steelmaker. My father always remembered the man with gratitude. Later my father became a famous steelmaker. He loved his job and told a lot about it. But he never uttered a word about the fact that he was honored as the overachiever and Stakhanovite.
My parents recovered our khata somewhere in 1940, because the new occupier failed to get accustomed to the place. He decided to return home.
But I still cannot get a handle on the fact that during the war, when my father with a head injury stayed in a hospital, the commies returned and began to draw out of khata my mother with me, a three-year-old child, and my teenage brother. Only the intervention of the captain, who was our roomer and whom my mother asked for help, stopped that predicament.
When I already was a staffer in the oblast newspaper Prapor Yunosti, I interviewed Professor of Metallurgy Semykin, who had designed and updated blast furnaces in Dniprodzerzhynsk, and suddenly I heard−because displayed interest in my name−that he had known my father, who had helped him to experiment with furnaces.
I was also impressed by the fact that about my father’s active service as a young lad in the army of Ukrainian People’s Republic I learned not from him, but from his elder brother Mykhailo. Perhaps, he simply did not want to expose me to danger. Only once, when for some reason I asked him, “Dad, did you serve in the army?" he smiled enigmatically and answered: “Yes, I did. I was a tall guy and I added myself two years and they drafted me.” And I had no idea what army it was. And his tone was rather regretful, when he recalled that in 1918 people believed in Lenin’s Decree on Freedom and Land to peasants.
V. Ovsiyenko: And what was your mother’s maiden name?
R. Lysha: My mother’s maiden name was Nevhamónna. There was a family lore, which she told me. My Great-Grandfather Denys Ivanovych came from Zolotovusy family. He had an independent streak. He was tchoomak, brought from Kyiv icons which people wanted. Once he drove his wagon from Polovytsia (now Dnipropetrovsk) and met the approaching landlord’s carriage. Those were already the times of forced serfdom. The landlord wanted my grandfather Denys to make the way for him. But my great-grandfather ignored that arrogance whipped the landlord’s horses when the carriage was about to push away the wagon. After that the landlord ordered to take away my grandfather’s name Zolotovus.
V. Ovsiyenko: What do you mean by “take away the name”?
R. Lysha: I do not know. But, after the incident, the landlord gave him a new name as a kind of punishment: Nevhamónnyi. At the time the army had already quelled the uprising and serfdom was gradually introduced. There was a legend that there was an executioner in the village, who used to put rebellious people on pillars like stylites. There is still a saying in the village: like one put by executioner on a pillar.
My mother’s cousin uncle Semen lived in the Village of Kvaky, a few kilometers southwest of the village. My mother often mentioned him. I saw him only once, when I was an eighth-grader. He arrived from somewhere to see relatives. I was impressed by the freedom and certainty of his behavior. Uncle Semen told how in the 30s they dispossessed him and were about to arrest him this time. He saw them when they were approaching; he smashed a window and escaped. I’m still regretting to have not made inquiries about this amazing and courageous person.
But Nevhamónnyi is also a good name. The Nevhamónnyis were generally lively people. My mother was very talkative. My father was a taciturn person, though witty, sometimes he made dry-humor Kozak cracks, while my mother was very fond of the language itself. She literally flourished in the actual utterances. She used to go to our neighbors to gossip. She brought them cakes or bread, pickles or something else and they talked by the hour. It seemed she could not simply exist without it. When I happened to come, while I studied at the university, I first of all sat down and listened to her. And later I began writing down her words. She naturally lived in her language: she just created her language. She was very talented. By the way, my mother even was on the verge of tears when remembering that she as a little girl in a family of many children was not allowed to go to school. But, it seems, this very fact strengthened even more her talent to narrate. The way she uttered those surprisingly blooming and innovative words was amazing indeed, plus an exclusive fund of words! Live neologisms!
Actually, not only my mother, but the whole village was a great creator of language. It was an ocean of language and one couldn’t but love it. Thence emerged my sense of the word as something live and mysteriously beautiful.
Moreover, I see in my parents, in their view of the world, indigenous Kozak traits from the depths of generations: I grew up free; I was given an opportunity to be free and independent. My parents trusted me, protected, advised and forgave everything. More than once I heard: “See for yourself…” That is, try and think. But my father did not tolerate any falsehood. It was a categorical imperative. “It is easy to say truth,” he said. And life has shown that it is really so. For it means that a person should not muck herself/himself with untruth. This was the key to the weight and significance of the word.
Despite the rigors of time my parents presented me with the world where there was a fullness of existence, which I accepted still being unaware of the price of the gift. There was independence, there was God, love and goodness, live treasure of centuries-old worldview… And all of it created an essential, most important, invisible wealth of my village despite the complex processes in which it had to survive. And my parents had not even a hint of some kind of inferiority complex. This force of dignity was given them for their choice of good.
Even in times of abject poverty, famine in 46-47 there was no begging for bread in our khata. My mother used to be very upset when she was not able to make contribution for the poor. My parents always shared with beggars whatever was at hand and treated them as messengers of God. Once I gave a beggar an apple pie that my mother had baked for the day. And I was not given a telling-off.
All vanities vanished into thin air before them. This all remains with me as a perpetual value. For example, my father told me that while he worked at the factory as a steelmaker he was offered to join the Communist party, they promised to send him to study, they tried to persuade him, but he refused. He could not and did not want to participate in something that was untrue in his judgment. Once he gave me a piece of mature and valuable advice: “Do not seek after money”. One day he said and I felt it was like a confession and food for thought; he believed it was extremely important to tell me this: "May you know: during my life I never killed anyone both in times of revolution and in times of war at the front”.
Generally, he did not like, did not want to remember war. His attitude differed from that of Uncle Luka Khaliavka, black-haired, dark-eyed, with very dexterous and plastic movements, typical Mamai from Petrykivshchyna, soldier by birth; at the front he was a machine gunner who reached Berlin. He eagerly told about adventures marked by strategist’s talent and military quick-wittedness, and about prosperity of proprietors in Europe.
Instead I heard many times a story how a man reported to the authorities that his neighbor drove a herd of cattle from our village to Germany; according to my father, the squealer mentioned my father as a witness and he was summoned to the NKVD. He recalled how the officer put his revolver on the table before him. And then the officer began the interrogation. “And I affirm that I have not seen it.” They kept him there for a long time and, of course, threatened him. But my father was not one of those who cast a stone at a man in trouble.
So the relatives usually said about my father: “He is a purposeful person”.
My father and mother were happy about my desire to learn. And this is also forever: their joy, their holy expectations of something from you…
On the whole, I was always impressed by optimality of their steps, their choice when they were thrown in at the deep end. So, if you asked me about my greatest teachers, I would name them, my father and my mother, and then the village and people who also kindled the light of the world and were able to be themselves.
And then came school and university with the avalanche of cosmic controversial and terrible world, with its good and evil, right and wrong; and they showed that it is not a simple thing to learn to be one’s own accord. In your actions you may suddenly begin to see the authenticity of yourself and the world.
In the olden days the Kozak rode in the open field to get to know the world wide and himself. Therefore, taking these things into consideration, my father sent me to school not when I was under seven, but when I was under eight years old. At the time I had already known how to read and write. In my father’s khata, my education exceeded the usual limits of knowledge, and I saw the truths both most-valued and unattainable.
I finished school in 1959 and that same year joined the philology department (Russian branch) of the Dnipropetrovsk University. I chose the Russian branch because in upper school I grew fond of Russian literature. Maybe the quality of meticulous lectures was better. And I wished to know the whole immensity of the unknown.
However, both the school and university, despite all contradictions and falsifications of the time, including the distortion of, true knowledge, managed to bring light into my inner space. Many shallow and dull things of the past became much deeper and acquired new mysterious light.
For example, the image of first teacher Mariya Olexandrivna, who loved children very much and was like an angel. Each time I see a sunlit room. Children learned to syllable words. In the meantime I twiddled my thumbs. So I listened and looked around. Boy Lionia Nizdran read a tongue-twister. It sounded like as follows: “Six sick hicks nick six slick bricks with picks and sticks.” The children laughed unquenchably. And the boy looked like a small defenseless hicker. And the teacher stroked his head. She admonished the children that it was improper to give a boy a ha-ha: all of them were still clumsy at this or that and all pupils were there to learn. And I was prey to thoughts: “Why his name was Nizdran? Maybe, because the creek near his khata skirted the market place on a rising ground in the middle of our neighborhood was called Nizdranka? This lively brook might even flood the neighborhood at times.
In the third and fourth grades our teacher was Ivan Yakovych Bilenko: strict, demanding, you just couldn’t play a lazy bone, because he tried his best to show you the way up if you liked to be respected; he was scraggy, dark, with black shiny eyes, in which a mysterious fire shone. Later on I came to know that he was persecuted in the 30s for express Ukrainophilia.
There was also an intellectual of the non-Soviet old school old: geography teacher Petro Kuzmovych. He lovingly talked about the world so that we could not but love geography, Earth, and Ukraine, and traveling.
Brilliant, elegant, noble math teacher in high school Volodymyr Andriyanovych transformed math, algebra, and geometry into poetry bringing nearer the charms of invisible space.
The summer biking tour after 8th grade to Askaniya Nova and Kamyana Mohyla Reserve under the guidance of Ulyan Opanasovych Chubynets became a new discovery of the world for me. Especially impressive were the boundless and plain-country steppe and deeply mystical Kamyana Mohyla.
Generally my school in the 50s, despite all "innovations" of history, was focused on strengthening the native culture-specific principles. And now with a certain peculiar sense of gratitude I recall teacher of geography and history Zinayida Yakivna Zaternianska which was the only one who gently chided me for choosing the Russian branch at the university. But I did not know, was not aware of the subtext of fighting and hidden meanings of social processes.
It was a happy feeling of euphoria. I passed the exams with distinction. There were 16 candidates per one place, and only five school graduates (without career history) were admitted.
At that time the university was a hot spot. The Khrushchev’s Thaw had just got underway. Though, very soon everything began to freeze, and lecturers had to say something quite the opposite. Of course, it aroused thinking and destroyed the view of the world and society as an entity. In the first year we were carried away by brilliant lectures on linguistics (in Russian) by Halyna Isayivna, who was a proponent of the theory of Marr. All of a sudden the officials began to accuse her of distortion of the "party line." All students rose in her defense. But we were also accused of rioting. The seniors had a thin time. For the freshmen the danger was over. And the talented linguistics lecturer had to leave her job and quit the city.
I also took particular in lectures on old Ukrainian and foreign literatures. The latter course was given by highly intelligent, wise and refined Professor Nina Samoylivna Shrader. I attended her study group. I wrote a yearly essay on Goethe under her guidance.
I was keen on art. I bought books on the history and theory of art etc., I spent all my maintenance allowance leaving money only for bread and tea. And strangely enough, I did not feel hungry. The Impressionists, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, Petrykivsky painting, Scythian and Polovetsian babas in historical museum… Another wing of my interest included theoretical physics, secrets of the universe. I was fascinated with physical dictionaries. And then appeared a wonderful book by J. Danina The Imminence of Strange World…
In the 60s, in literature (Mykola Vinhranovsky, Ivan Drach, in Russia Andrei Voznesensky, his collected poems Triangular Pear), mainly in poetry, the authors zeroed in on the form issues. The Nuclear Preludes by M. Vinhranovsky charmed with a new living space, which opened in those poems freely, out of dogmas of the cramped world. The critics called these poets formalists.
Meanwhile the poetry readings attracted thousands of fans, especially students. The craze for poetry was so big that I failed to attend the soiree with M. Vinhranovskiy. I even could not join the standee audience.
At the time the new trend in art attracted everyone’s which was called abstractionism. A public discussion on this topic erupted at our department. Because of this interest in the abstractionism I could be expelled from the university.
In the dorm I hung over my bed a reproduction of a work of a Western artist: “Girl with a Die”. The picture showed the head of a girl who stared at a die on the plane: light and shadow. The officials ordered me to remove the picture because it supposedly was an abstract art. And I objected to it.
There was a lively student wall newspaper; I publish there some of my writings. One student wrote an epigram about my opus: "Sometimes you are like Lesia, sometimes like Syniakov…” (Lesia implied Lesia Ukrayinka and Syniakov was the editor of the wall newspaper who later became a journalist). The wall newspaper was soon torn down because somebody considered it too liberal.
By the way, there was a strange incident in connection with the placement of graduates. One day I went to a school in Dniprodzerzhynsk, where there was a vacancy of an aesthetics teacher, and spoke with Director Tetiana Danylivna. And she said she would come to the university and would ask to strike me off the placement list. Meanwhile, I was assigned to a small Village of Pidpilne in Novomoskovsk Region where there was no school. However, despite the request of the director (she spent two days following the formal procedure) I was not allowed to teach aesthetics.
V. Ovsiyenko: What language did you use at the time? You graduated from the Russian branch…
R. Lysha: This is an important question. I wrote in Russian and in Ukrainian, even poetry. At the time I was overwhelmed by the need to study, to learn… I thought that one can write in both languages and the most important thing is what and how you write. Only after the university I came to understanding that while writing in a foreign tongue you doom yourself to unoriginality, because you severe your spirit from the underlying sources and meanings of your life. Then I began to see clearly.
This does not mean that you cannot write something interesting in a foreign tongue. You can, of course. However, you can come to know the true depth existence only through the feeling of unique native foundations.
So the awareness of the uttermost truth that you are a live carrier of the whole, spiritual, cultural and historical heritage of your ancestors and that you have to convey this world and hold up its heaven emerged right after, as if it just kept waiting for the prime time to go up from the subconscious.
So, I worked for two years in the Pishchanska evening school near Novomoskovsk where stood the known masterpiece of Ukrainian architecture, Kozak nine-dome wooden Trinity Cathedral. There I could see the amazing monumental several-meter-high unique icons. Forlorn as an alarming question mark they were heaped in the “museum of atheism…
I had a bent for journalism, I wanted to write; therefore I went to Dnipropetrovsk to look for a job in a newspaper. And it was not an easy thing: you had to find accommodations without a job and job without registration. For almost a year I was out of work.
In 1967 I began working at the oblast newspaper Prapor Yunosti; for a few months before it I worked at the regional newspaper Dniprovska Zoria, but I left the job feeling that it was better to be out of work than to stay in such a slough. Sure, there were interesting journalists and some creative outbursts in the Prapor Yunosti. But the qualifying standards for the Soviet newspapers had a leveling tendency. “The newspaper requires a standard, and not creativity,” the chief editor frankly instructed me.
…But I have not finished my thought about the language in which we store and carry on our boundless spiritual world and in which we create the environment and the form of our existence that nurtures and cultivates a unique view of every person and every nation. As Shevchenko wrote: “And words, it seems, are only words, are words and voice and nothing more. But spread their wings all hearts as birds the very minute they resound…”
So, in 1968 I went to Riga at the invitation of Technology College students, future architects who admired rock climbing and about whom I had written in the newspaper. And it was there where I felt for the first time how it was to live a week without hearing your native tongue. You sort of start choking. Because your language is not something external, mechanical, but your live inner world.
You see, when looking for a job, I came to the Prapor Yunosti and I spoke Russian doing it through inertia; it was simply beneath my notice. Suddenly the senior secretary observed: “How are you going to work if you speak Russian? You probably do not know how to write in Ukrainian?”
It was so easy and suddenly, as if for the first time I saw myself speaking Russian which sounded strange for people … and actually for me as well.
Then there was this old journalist Nikulin, whom I remember very well; the Zoria newspaper was a Communist party organ, nevertheless it featured Ukrainian culturological materials, too. The Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian sentiment were present in a sort of truncated form. There was something hidden in the depths.
He was the father of Natalka Nikulina, poet and journalist. She worked for oblast radio. She tragically died a few years ago. I was not acquainted with her, but everybody had a kind word to say about her.
So, Nikulin and I went on a business trip to Krasnopillia: he represented Zoria and I represented Prapor Yunosti. Mechanically, with him I began speaking Russian as well. Suddenly this man−I think he was cautious because he knew all the trouble one was in for when he spoke about Ukrainian “issues”−and we had to negotiate snowdrift there−he suddenly asked me: why I, a Ukrainian working for Ukrainian newspaper, was speaking Russian? He said it with such disgust with me, with such inner rejection, that I experienced a real shock. Even now I am grateful to this man who precipitated my sobering up from invisible captivity dogma about Soviet reality.
My father, for example, when I came home one day and spoke Russian, said nothing, but I read in his eyes that he was not happy with my demonstration. It happened only once. But I remember this incident as a flare that suddenly illuminated the space, which somehow I failed to notice.
About the state and condition of the Ukrainian language I had very important for me conversations with talented journalist, conscientious Ukrainian by the scale of her world view Tetiana Chupryna, who was placed on a job at Prapor Yunosti upon graduation from the Kyiv University. We worked in the same office. Tetiana showed not indifferent or rather zealous, careful involvement in the language development, as if the heaven itself appointed her a guardian of Ukrainian words. She completely ignored those secret circulars that existed then in the press, which banned the use of "too Ukrainian words" and offered to replace them with close Russified equivalents. Instead, she declared war on the so called "Russisms" and she was convincing in her arguments, because she knew the language perfectly.
Unfortunately, very soon Tetiana left her job. I endured three years in the Prapor Yunosti. By the way, Tetiana, having read some of my poems, expressed the opinion that I’d better move to Kyiv. She even offered to help me to find a job at some editorial office. But I did not dare to leave my parents away from me.
V. Ovsiyenko: When did you meet Ivan Sokulsky?
R. Lysha: Well, you see… we failed to get acquainted at the university, because when he transferred from Lviv to Dnipropetrovsk University (1964 – V.O.) I had already graduated. But I remember Hryhoriy Malovyk, though he was a year or two my senior. He was a poet and, as I subsequently learned, the closest friend of Ivan. The poems of Hryhoriy Malovyk testified to his considerable potential talent. The characteristic traits of his poems reminded of the poetry of Vasyl Symonenko. He did not spare himself and contracted tuberculosis.
Ivan always spoke of him with great emotion. I think it’s high time to publish a book of his poetic legacy. His personality flared like a torch, he had a real Kozak spirit. He just blatantly ignored the fear that prevailed among inhabitants. It is God probably gave birth to such a man to manifest the free live Kozak spirit. It happened at the time, when such individuals were scarce as hen’s teeth.
V. Ovsiyenko: When did Hryhoriy Malovyk die?
R. Lysha: It happened in the late sixties. I cannot say for sure, but it happened before the arrest of Ivan.
V. Ovsiyenko: That is before 1969? Ivan was arrested on June 14, 1969 in connection with the Cathedral.
R. Lysha: Yes, the campaign against Honchar’s novel was put on a drive when I still worked for the Prapor Yunosti… If Hryhoriy were alive, he would have been involved in the process. He could not be out of the swim. He went to the tomb of Prince Sviatoslav, he was a bright personality who sparkplugged people.
When in 1976 I made the acquaintance of Ivan, I felt how alive Hryhoriy was for him. He always mentioned him as his best friend and was exceptionally sorry for his demise. Ivan even said that he had never had such a friend as Hryhoriy. I some of his poems and saw him in the university, as they say, from a distance. But even from faraway and allowing for the opinion of other people one could conclude about the considerable force of his personality.
The novel of Honchar was vitally important for me.
V. Ovsiyenko: For the first time it appeared in January issue, 1968, in the Vitchyzna Magazine.
R. Lysha: It so fell out that both the Cathedral by Honchar and harassment contrived around this outstanding work, as well as the enforcement proceeding against Ivan Sokulsky and his friends tried for “bourgeois nationalism” played a special role in my life precisely because formally I still worked for the printed media, which denounced this work as a hostile publication, which was close to me for its truthfulness, and "nationalists", which I wanted to protect from the evil that befell them. And in my eyes they were the best people, knights and heroes.
Actually the underlying message of the Honchar’s novel (and he himself was born in Kozak settlement Lomivka near Dnipropetrovsk) was easy to decipher against the background of local realities, which I also tried to cover in the newspaper: destroyed, devastated Kytaihorod churches, smoky Kamyanske (Dnipropetrovsk), Novomoskovskiy Cathedral, the question of its monumental baroque icons, innovative performances of Ukrainian youth theater put on stage by talented director Hryhoriy Kononenko, who brought a fresh wind of life in the city (despite the achievements this director and several artists were driven out of the city and had to go to Kharkiv), ecology of Dnipro and small rivers… But in fact the Dnipropetrovsk Soviet media did not need either Ukrainian or any other culture.
The officials isolated me from handling the matter. My materials were turned down. The editors read, praised my materials but declined to print them…
But Honchar novel, despite its persecution, changed the spirit of the times, created an atmosphere of growth and intimate union. And no one could quell it. The novel was a real support. It stirred up what we call "stagnation" and actually stripped the mask of communist atheism showing its essence as the destructor of spirit and culture.
During the trial of Ivan and like-minded persons, I was not allowed to enter the courtroom. No invitations ensued. The head of the ideological department wrote the relevant material using the widespread cliché. And I had a feeling that I had to be there among convicts. My soul was with them. And actually for me my reading of materials and in particular of quotations from "The Letter of Creative Youth” was an absentee acquaintance with Ivan. Then I knew already that I would leave the newspaper and I did not regret. After all those publications in the newspaper I was ashamed of it. I could not adapt to hypocrisy and take part in it.
In 1970 the atmosphere in the newspaper grew defiantly unbearable. Someone suggested me a job in a design institute consisting in editing technical texts in Russian. There was no doubting how the wind blows.
Within a month, the administration rudely evicted me from the dorm. I began to knock about the world and look for accommodations.
Subsequently, the KGB officers told me: "We have been keeping this washed-up vacancy open for you for a decade now.” Why did they keep it? Firstly, they separated me from journalism. In addition, there was a very good supervision and only a minimum wage. You’re balancing between existence and non-existence. But I thought that I would be able to write and put it on ice as they said at the time.
At that time I keenly felt the lack of Ukrainian creative environment, lack of real communication. Although, it should be said, during my work for the newspaper I met interesting people. There was flamboyant professor Mykola Svynolobov at the metallurgical institute: powerful intelligence, highly creative nature, heuristic thinking and true Ukrainian soul. He took interest in the language and true history of Ukraine. In general, this institute in the city stood out for the palpable atmosphere of conscious Ukrainian mindedness.
Another distinctive personality was Yuri Slavko. He was a noble and intelligent man. He was Ukrainian, but he wrote talented poetry and prose in Russian, because was brought up in a family of Russified intellectuals. He wrote an original work about Pushkin and Tsvetaeva. Everything soviet he considered absurd. He wrote, of course, with no hope to see it in print. Creativity was his only salvation. I do not know if he is still alive for he was often ailing.
Movies and theater were of particular interest for me then… Paradzhanov, Illienko, Ivan Mykolaichuk, Italian Neorealism, Fellini, Polish movies… There were also outstanding phenomena in Russian culture: Theatre on Taganka, which gave guest performances, Stanislavsky Theater performing Antigone by Jean Anouilh with starring unique Russian actress Lisa Nikishchikhina (I reviewed the performance), also I met then Russian writer Mikhail Roshchin… All of them believed that the Soviet ideology ruined culture.
At the same time I met artists Mykola Malyshko and Nina Denysova. This meeting brought me immense joy. Mykola had just finished an extremely good Ukrainian-style panel for children’s cafe. And I published my notes about his works. But they, like most talented artists, could not withstand the suffocating lack of freedom, left Dnipropetrovsk and went to Kyiv, and some of them to Lviv.
Nobody knows where they are now, those masterpieces of the great artist? Not a shred was left; the officials destroyed these works, like many other.
Worst of all, perhaps, was this feeling of a sort of non-existence. It looked like there was no Ukraine and only longing for it remained… However, I began to find this and that and I realized that Ukraine should be outlined anew. It had to be outlined so that the Ukrainian space could become a living reality.
One of fighters for this vital space was poet Volodymyr Sirenko. He riveted my attention because then, presumably, he was one of a few persons in Dnipropetrovsk, who protested against the announcements in Russian at the railroad terminal. He went through channels and wrote formal applications. Those were brave deeds at the time.
By the way, it was Sirenko, who introduced me to the researcher of Ukrainian history, courageous sufferer for Ukraine and true spiritual aristocrat Mykola Bereslavsky, with the Kuzmenkos.
V. Ovsiyenko: The Kuzmenkos? Where did they live?
R. Lysha: Olena Fedorivna and Olexandr Olexiyovych with their daughter Oksana, who was a beautiful singer, played bandura, composed songs, lived in Dnipropetrovsk, near the Botanical Garden, which, unfortunately, does not exist now. Olena Fedorivna was for many of us like a mother. At their place the atmosphere was free and natural. We fearlessly talked about everything. I learned a lot about what was happening in Kyiv, about dissidents and persecutions. It was the discovery of Ukrainian life, not visible on the surface.
V. Ovsiyenko: Kuzmenko was a former political prisoner, a member of the OUN, or wasn’t he?
R. Lysha: They both were in OUN.
V. Ovsiyenko: Were they born in Dnipropetrovsk or elsewhere?
R. Lysha: No, she was Boyko from Western Ukraine. It was a UIA field communications crewwoman; she was probably about 14-15 years old when she was arrested. They tortured her, they fastened her with the help of her plaits: she was severely tortured. Her family was also exiled to Kazakhstan.
V. Ovsiyenko: So where did they meet? Apparently, after the prisoners were sent in exile?
R. Lysha: It looks like it. He was from Dnipropetrovsk, from these lands.
V. Ovsiyenko: When officials began to transfer the convicts from concentration camps to the places of banishment, the exiles got to know one another there and married. This happened in the mid-fifties.
R. Lysha: You know, it is very bad that we do not record such things. She told me so much, and I was not smart enough to record all those things.
Under no consideration they were extremists. But they always ran the hazard receiving all those who came to them and helping when they could.
Olena Fedorivna knew how to create sublime, just magically harmonious atmosphere of Ukrainian world. She was an expert on customs, could interpret their meaning and beauty. In each Kuzmenko found sense of living intact their culture is its bearer and creator. To my mind, it was of great importance because one could come to the house, a small island, which shone with conscious Ukrainian life.
There one could meet poets Mykhailo Diachenko, Volodymyr Sirenko, Oles Zavhorodniy, whom I knew from his student years, Liubov Holota, Mykhailo Romanushko, Ivan Sokulsky… All visitors from Kyiv called on Olena Fedorivna.
There was a great deal of talk about, in particular, Lviv and Western Ukraine. I wanted very much to go to the Carpathians. And Volodymyr Sirenko gave me the address in Stari Kuty, where his friend poet Mykola Blyzniuk lived. This was a Hutsul family. So I went there on vacation, and Mykola, extremely good and inspiring personality, was my guide.
The Carpathians impressed me: real and non-egalitarian Ukraine, which was not afraid to be authentic. The children, I beg to say, were chirping in Ukrainian… The people were sincere and friendly. The river Cheremosh was amazing. There were many art products: pysankas, wood carving, Kosiv ceramics, embroidery, carpets, candlesticks… The Kosiv Market seemed to me the most luxurious artistic action.
Then, thanks to Mykola Blyzniuk, I met poet Taras Melnychuk. It was a great event for me. He had been home from the zone for about three months then. He was skinny and exhausted. He was a real icon for the locals. They talked about Taras like about a saint. I was very touched by the fact that people talked about him in such a way. His poems impressed me by the depth and naturalness as well as by self-dedication of the poet himself.
In addition, Taras could uniquely enjoy not only his own creations. He had an inherent feeling of creative brotherhood. He also had a perfect sense of authenticity of poetry. He told me about Mykola Vorobyov, Vasyl Holoborodko, Igor Kalynets; he believed that at the time their works were the most powerful events in Ukrainian poetry.
Taras then presented me with a little book of Igor Kalynets which later figured during the search at our apartment when Igor was imprisoned. (“How do you know Kalynets?” And so on.)
I then met with a warm support when Taras highly praised my actually almost unknown poems which never had been at the printer’s. I saw then that there indeed existed unknown to the world unofficial Ukrainian poetry; not only I wrote poems like nothing on earth.
Speaking of Neomodernizm or avant-garde… Taras Melnychuk considered the poems of Taras Shevchenko the most modern and the Ukrainian folk songs the most modern avant-garde… And I think along the same lines. Although it is said polemically, but by and large it is true. The main determinants in poetry are the depth of foreknowledge of the image of reality: of human being and time.
When in 1976 I met Ivan Sokulsky, Yuri Vivtash, Mykhailo Romanushko and then Yaroslav Lesiv, all by itself a creative group emerged. It was our group, not New York, but Dnipropetrovsk group. Yurko then laughed and said: “Pendopupovsk”; it was his coinage for the Dnipropetrovsk group. But we also invented an alternative name: Dnipropol. We were a group apart: our relations concentrated upon creativity. I remember the enthusiasm with which we maintained (that is, there was a need for Ukrainian literature at the time) that there was a need to create poetry at global, at European level… We should keep the dialog alive with the world. These were our plans, and I think they were not unfounded.
For example, the mystically deep and noble power of poems of Ivan Sokulsky has not been effaced from the memory until now. His Ukraine−the God’s garden of freedom, truth and love selflessly kept by him−has been firmly inscribed in the spiritual universe. So, today the Ivan’s word sends a life-giving breath of heavenly light. For he was the poet who heard the “crying of a stone”.
Or a wonderful poem by Mykhailo Romanushko “Concerto for a lonely voice” which he left us here like a valuable gem, full of beauty, pain and music, before he went to Kazakhstan; and there were no news of him ever since. He was like a star that approached too close to something in space, but suddenly left its orbit and flew into the unknown. And the pearl is here: it is opalescing saying in a strange voice… “Destinies, destinies…” as Yuri Vivtash wrote in “Porohy”.
There is no denying that the pathbreaking fiction of Yuri Vivtash is remarkable phenomenon in the modern Ukrainian literature; his Black Dandelion was a banned and persecuted work; his breakthrough artistic manner−due to concentration of image-senses, freedom and spiritual vision−outran its time .
It was written in Russian; nevertheless it is a Ukrainian work. The plasticity of thinking and images are Ukrainian, like those in Gogol’s Evenings on a Farm near Dykanka, Terrible Revenge and so on. Later, Yuri Vivtash wrote prose and poetry in Ukrainian. These works were characterized by rich style, deep intuition of man in time and eternity.
By the way, when in 1995 Swedish critic Sigvard Lindqvist, who was very fond of Ukrainian poetry, translated it and took interest in Ukraine, came to Kyiv, a lot of what we had imagined was confirmed. He interviewed in poets, including me. They also talked, among other things, about the world avant-garde. About my writings he suddenly told me that he considered them the poetry of the future. But I think that somehow he saw all modern Ukrainian poetry in its best works in the same light. Moreover, Sigvard Lindqvist stated that the modern Ukrainian poetry was more advanced than the European one. Of course, it is not a matter of top ranking. The main thing is that the authoritative Swedish critic recognized the phenomenon of Ukrainian poetic domain a major achievement in global spiritual and artistic vision.
By the way, Sigvard Lindqvist compiled and published an anthology of contemporary Ukrainian poetry in his own translations Det Okände Ukraine (The Unknown Ukraine), 1995. His article about my poetry “Intuitive Modernist” was published in the Swedish newspaper Tisdag on 01.08.1995 and its shortened variant appeared in Chornovil’s newspaper Chas. Time translated by Olga Seniuk (23.02.1996).
So, 1976. This year was extremely eventful. Ivan Sokulsky had just returned from his imprisonment and was still under observation. And I wished to finally meet with Ivan and Orysia. They said that he should not meet with anyone; otherwise he exposed himself to a risk… But there was something higher and more significant than all cautions and warnings. Those controversies and vanity were nothing compared to the power of truth, true free action, especially the fate of Ukraine!
It seems, we met with Ivan in the same suburban electric train, Sirenko and he were going to Dnipropetrovsk. There instantly emerged an atmosphere of trust and finding of something long overdue.
Ivan’s appearance looked rather strange. He stood out among his acquaintances due to special spirituality of facial features. He looked like being out of the top drawer. He had unusual light in the expression of his eyes, majestic bearing of his head. He had his own distinctive features: the rare and great range of intonations and feelings comprised infantile tenderness and admiration, lofty calmness and delight and cold skepticism, caustic irony and sarcasm. He was both a mystic and activist: quite a rare combination.
Soon Ivan invited me to baptize Mariya. The christening took place on 25 May. At the time she was a tiny baby.
When I arrived, there was Yuri Vivtash. We met there for the first time. It looked like a heavenly sign. Yuri and Ivan were acquainted already. We were waiting for Mykhailo Romanushko: he was expected to be the godfather. But he arrived two days later. Therefore Yuri had to become a godfather.
Yuri Vivtash was perhaps one of the biggest victims of the system. He came from the old Kozak Village of Kytaihorod, Tsarychana Region (08.08.1951). He worked in Krynychky as a newsman. Earlier he studied at Moscow University, faculty of journalism; he was expelled for the so-called anti-Soviet activity.
V. Ovsiyenko: When was it?
R. Lysha: In 1971. From the very beginning did not fit into that ideology, in all those clichés of communist regime. He had an extraordinary talent, imaginative, syncretic vision of how things worked. In addition, he had an independent, courageous character. He hated the pretence.
In 1975, near the hotel "Dnipropetrovsk" he was beaten and booted down the stairs, but a miracle only he was not crippled. There were two brutal beatings. In 1982, when we already had our own apartment, he was beaten again. I was out. A seemingly normal friend called Yuri to set up an appointment with him in downtown at 19.00. It was March. Yuri went to that meeting, and in an alley four karatekas attacked him, broke his nose with a heel, beat badly, and he had a concussion of the brain… When I came to see him in the hospital, I was terrified. You cannot imagine his disfigured face! To make it worse, they forcibly poured wine into him so that he would look drunk and everyone would think that he had fallen by himself. But in reality he was sober. Fortunately, there was a telephone booth nearby, and Yuri, having recovered consciousness, called an ambulance. Still he had capacity to do it. By the way, it leaked out that somebody from the city health department called the hospital and made inquiries about his condition and advised to treat him…
When we met, Yuri was already the author of the wonderful book of innovative prose The Black Dandelion. He then read us excerpts from it. Later, in 1992, he printed the magazine Rodnik (Spring) in the Baltics. As regards this book, there is a good saying: misfortunes never come singly. As in Bulgakov’s novel Master suffered for his work, so Yuri came to grief for his literary creativity. By the way, the officials told Yuri, that his destiny was considered at the All-Union level. That is, he was treated as an exceptional person.
V. Ovsiyenko: Let us make the remark that the Rodnik was a literary and art magazine published in Latvia, Riga. # 6 (66), 1992. It is said that this novel was written in 1973-76; here is the date.
R. Lysha: In 1980, when the KGB officers searched our apartment, there was no such magazine it; it was launched around 1986; it was the first magazine to publish Nabokov in the USSR.
Fragments of the Black Dandelion first appeared in the independent magazine Porohy which we published with Ivan Sokulsky in 1988-90, then in the Kuryer Kryvbasu, magazine Ukraine, in the newspaper Nasha Vira, in Ukrainian, in the author’s translation. In general, it is past time to publish this book in Ukraine. Not only that, but also poetry and prose written already in Ukrainian, his journalism and essays. His works have been silenced until now.
At the time there were many carbon copies that Yuri distributed among his friends and acquaintances. One copy he bound by himself; it was confiscated during the search, the one with the artistic collages by Yuri. The book Black Dandelion was published by the Parish of the Intercession, Village of Rubanivske, Vasylkiv Region, 2012. There is an article by Petro Perebyinis in Appendix about Yuri Vivtash.—R.L.].
In short, it seemed that the baptism of Mariya blessed our creative circle. This baptismal ceremony was something really special. On the road to the church we crossed the sand reserve plot near Ohrin which contained in its depths relics of many centuries. The sun shone, the smell of grass was in the air, and camomiles were blooming. Yuri bore Mariya awkwardly and Volodymyr Sirenko helped him. The world in May looked newly born. The candlelight flickered inside the church. The words of prayer were blossoming out, the smell of sanctity, closeness of the invisible God and the wings of angels showed up white. It looked like we were not on earth at that moment.
And for some reason the old women on the church porch looked puzzled and asked us: “What is your ethnic origin?” and we happily answered, “Ukrainian”.
What made us happy despite the hardships of life, hard time with work, with everything? To my mind, it was spiritual discovery of something: of ourselves, our land, our language, as well as understanding, friendship, and communication. The space was filled with something that needed your attention and definition. The people have forgotten about it but it lives on…
For example, I have a poem where I mention Kalytva: Mount Kalytva near Tsarychanka where the Kozaks kept the watch in the 16th century. From the mount the Kozaks on patrol could see approaching Tatars. The plowmen are Kozaks at the same time. But the plowmen work in the gully and the village is in the gully and Kozaks are on patrol on the mount. When the Kozak sees enemies, he signals waving kytaika. Then people fly to arms, hide their children… This legend I knew from my childhood, it was retold in my village. But I was afraid that people might forget it, and forget the mount. I liked very much the very word Kalytva and I deliberately included it into my poem about Kalytva, the mound became a mysterious symbol for me. This mount is mysterious indeed: the last glaciations created it and did not go further…
We intuitively used to find these significant words in our environment. At least I had the feeling that they were flying to meet me. This time was very fruitful for me, Ivan, and Yuri…
Ukraine, its space revived in our communication and expanded fantastically. In this sense the meetings and friendship with Mykhailo Horyn and Yaroslav Lesiv were of utmost importance for us.
In 1976 (or maybe in 1977), when Yaroslav came to Ivan and Orysia, we felt in him the enormous bulk of Carpathians, ancient Ukraine and thereupon Europe. And he wanted to know very much Eastern Ukraine and whether it existed at all, because at first he expressed some doubt. We brought him to Petrykivka, showed him landscapes, adornment, and offered our explanations. We showed him the Scythian and Polovtsian stone images in the historical museum… We did our best to show him the animating though invisible story of our past against the dull background of Soviet reality. And Yaroslav finally said: “There is a live Ukraine, I feel it”. And many a man disparagingly maintained that there was nothing but a desert.
Perhaps Yaroslav understood Yuri as no one else: he did not bear him malice, ignored occasional inflammatory remarks. Yaroslav treated him in a fatherly manner. It was Yuri who wrote about his poems in 1988: it was a preface to the book of collected poems Droplets on Bars manually sewn together by the author.
By the way, when Yaroslav was already a priest, he used to say: “I feel myself a Kozak priest”. That is, he had an underlying Ukrainian universal principle. And during the symbolic observation of the 500th Anniversary of Kozaks Father Yaroslav was treated as a real natural Kozak priest.
Actually I noticed that all events in which Father Yaroslav participated became significant, large-scale and truly powerful.
In 1977 Yaroslav invited us to Luzhky. And we—Ivan, Orysia, Yuri and I--went to him in the Carpathians. Then in Ivano-Frankivsk Yaroslav introduced us to Opanas Zalyvakha, we saw the painter’s pictures, which were imbued with cosmic force of life. With all his heart Yaroslav showed us the Olesky Castle, we admired there Ukrainian icons of the 15th century, old wooden churches, mountains.
I remember the militia halted the bus in which we were traveling. They demonstratively got on the bus and started checking documents. And Yaroslav still had no right to travel… That was close.
In Luzhky, in the mountains, Yuri took pictures. He found a long stick, put it on top and fastened to it his sweater, and on the pic it looked like a flag. Therefore during the search this pic aroused suspicion: where it was and what it is…
And really it was an unforgettable moment. We climbed to the top of the mountain. We felt what it meant to ascend to the top of the Carpathians, and that was what Yaroslav wanted the strongest.
V. Ovsiyenko: Mykhailo Horyn was imprisoned in 1965 and was released in 1971. So when did you meet him?
R. Lysha: After his imprisonment, after 1975. Apparently, God guided my steps. Because if I had met Ivan, for example, at the university, I would have certainly been on that isle the island, in that circle. I would have inevitably got there… Instead all these happenings seemed to slow down.
V. Ovsiyenko: And where did you meet Mykhailo? Mykhailo lived in Lviv.
R. Lysha: We went there several times and put up for the night there. There was a sort of mysterious, romantic atmosphere around him and Olia. The room was full of books. Coffee… Besides, Lviv was a kind of concentrated Ukrainian world, even in everyday life, in details, even in the apartment. Mykhailo told me that they received guests throughout the year: we, somebody from Moscow… This was the life full of some anxiety, agitation, flight of thought and charm of freedom, I would say. And total surveillance…
All of a sudden in June 1976 suddenly came Taras Melnychuk. In his Utoropy, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, a very difficult situation emerged. After his release, he went on writing something. He was persecuted. He was very sick. Then we all—Ivan, Orysia, Yuri--met with him. He had to stay somewhere and I put him up at a dorm for a few days, in the guest room. However, in three days I was told that the room should be freed because someone had to come. No go, and I decided to take him to my village. It was not easy. But I had to do it, because I saw that he had to stick it out and try to get a rest. He was nervous and driven to the edge, he had to be shielded from danger. So I offended the proprieties and brought him to my village. I explained my parents that he was a poet, that he was ill and had to stay somewhere. It was smooth sailing and he spent some time in the village.
V. Ovsiyenko: How long did he stay there?
R. Lysha: It seems at the time I was on leave. It went on for about two weeks. He took a rest and we, by the way, wrote poems in one breath: we were lounging on the grass and writing. Our neighbors came to sniff out something, went around in circles and my father was very upset.
Taras wrote many poems in the village then. He filled the whole notebook with poems. However, he added there earlier poems as well. There was a line: “The sun comes to itself on pryzba”; it’s Yalosovetivka as it was. It looked as if he himself had sat there on the mound of earth.
At the time Scythians prevailed in my poems. They sort of echoed inside me. No wonder: not far from our khata on all sides there were four Scythian mounts. They were opened and scattered, tilled, slumped, but they were there. I showed them to Taras. He apprehended the steppe and took interest in Scythia. Moreover, at the time Mykhailo Braichevsky published his book The Origin of Rus. It stirred desire to understand our Ukrainian history.
In Dnipropetrovsk Taras kept asking people, “Where are the Scythians?”
And they soon put themselves on the map when Borys Mozolevskyi unearthed the Golden Pectoral in Nikopol Region. They were recognizable and kindred spirits.
Then Taras visited Ivan and Orysia, the Kuzmenkos, Oles Zavhorodniy.
I remember how we all—Ivan, Orysia, Taras, Yuri and I--were walking down the Karl Marx Avenue and we were tailed in the process as usual. And Taras said: "If I were an artist, I’d just paint only clouds.” The cloud were scudding in the sky, beautiful clouds over the city, and you perceive all these things not rationally, but you feel it in your bones, with the whole your soul. Your living spirit may carry you over all adversities and show you its true power. And you can live like this, in spite of something unbearable.
However, it was high time for Taras to return. There was no possibility to help him more in Dnipropetrovsk.
I remember it was our last meeting before his departure. We were sitting on a bench in the garden: there was a fountain, water, a birdie was bathing in the water, and he watched the she-bird bathing and said: “It thinks it is raining…” It was sad.
V. Ovsiyenko: Do you have anything left of Taras writings?
R. Lysha: There were several letters and poems. What he wrote to me is lost. How were these writings lost? Later, when the time of searches came and we were afraid of confiscations, we mark, I took the papers, which seemed to me the most important and worth saving, and carried them to one of my friends. We talked with her, I left her all materials, and asked her to keep them for several days. And when I went out of doors, I saw a car below the windows which we were able to identify already; the officers inside the car overheard our conversation. I returned to the apartment and wanted to take the papers away, I thought that they might confiscate them. I saw that she was at a loss. I gave it a second thought and decided to leave the papers with her. How did she dispose of them? I have only her word for it and I have no idea what happened in reality. She brought those papers somewhere to the staircase to hide them there but nevertheless all documents disappeared. Maybe she just handed them to the officers, I do not know, I cannot say for sure.
V. Ovsiyenko: Were there your writings as well?
R. Lysha: There were two or three letters from Taras and some poetry. My poems were there as well. There were some private papers, which I would like to preserve, but, to my mind, there was nothing for her to worry about. In any case I would never leave a person holding the bag.
However, there had to be one more notebook with poems by Taras. But it is nowhere to be found. The same is about his copybook with a draft of a long poem. He created a very presentative image of molfar in it.
My first call to the KGB was connected with the arrival of Taras Melnychuk. A colleague came and told me that the chief of human resources department of the institute would like to talk things over with me. I went there and in the office I saw a dark swarthy man in a dark suit. They told me that I had to go somewhere and bring some documents for the institute. And already in the car the man suddenly announced that we were going for a talk to the KGB.
When I entered the office there, some boss met me and said: “Well, let’s become acquainted with you at long last.”
What was of principal interest for them? They needed background info on Taras Melnychuk and his arrival. They asked many questions about Taras and about my friends… “Why do they consider you a poet in Lviv?”
I was afraid that they might try to get some information out of me and I might blurt out something neutral. And they might recognize my words as anti-Soviet… And in general, I hate extricating myself from a difficult situation.
V. Ovsiyenko: Oh, it is not an easy task to do. We were not taught to lie.
R. Lysha: It was very difficult indeed. And when they asked about Horyn, I answered that I never met him. I knew that the moment I utter a word, further questions would follow. He nodded: “You don’t say so!” Therefore I sometimes said that this was my private matter or something like that. And I write poems for myself, not for you.
Then I heard for the first time the critical appraisal of my poetry as "ideologically harmful". I told them, “I do not publish my poems.”—“But you’re reading them…”
They also threw brickbats that I professed idealistic philosophy. And I did not even contradict them. Kant particularly appealed to me. Renouncing my favorite philosophers was the last thing I wanted. To my mind, all true philosophy−Berdyaev, Pascal, Skovoroda, Yurkevych, Heidegger−was somehow connected with the cult of the divine ideal of life.
But most of all they obtained material needed for them due to my trust to people who informed against me. I used to immediately respond when people turned to me in Ukrainian or started telling something about Ukrainian language. Once, in a suburban electric train−I realized it only when I was summoned to the KGB−I conducted an on-the-way discussion with a KGB department chief. I thought he was an ordinary interlocutor and tried to persuade him about something. As a result, they charged me of nationalism. They also told Yuri that he and I were a kind of explosive mixture and that together we made up something fearsome.
All of it seemed to me an exaggeration. I even tried to explain that I insisted only on recognition of the right to be Ukrainian on equal basis with others. Was it nationalism?
V. Ovsiyenko: It’s OK, the KGB simply brought us up to the mark: they made the diagnosis and slanted facts in favor of their theory.
R. Lysha: Very likely. So, in 1976, they began summoning us and giving the sack. The apartment owner could ask you to move and the apartment and some apartments were of questionable character. By rights, at the end of the line it was a dorm…
One woman suggested (this was already in 1977) a bizarre habitation: a room with tap water and a tiny gas stove. The woman fell ill and was in hospital in Verkhniodniprovsk, while her apartment was vacant. I settled there, and later we lived with Yuri there. But you had to be registered; otherwise you had no right to stand in housing line. She gave us such written consent. (Unfortunately, this good woman was very ill and about two years later she died.) And I spent eight months seeking registration. At last the head of the regional executive committee, who had to sign the document, when I asked why he was against, when the owner of the apartment agreed, why not register at least temporarily, he could not contain himself any longer and said, “Do not you know why?!” But, perhaps, they sort of changed their mind and we were registered temporarily.
The apartment was located downtown and therefore it became an attractive meeting place for many people.
Once Mykola Horbal came there. So we met with this unique man who was more of a spiritual type.
Another time there came a man who identified himself as Svitlychny. He asked how to find Ivan Sokulsky. I believed him, thou later I was told that by appearance he could not be Ivan. But he said that Nadiya was about to go abroad. The man was very concerned.
V. Ovsiyenko: It is strange. Ivan Svitlychny did his term since 1972, and then he was transferred into exile.
R. Lysha: No, my guess is… it happened in 1979…
V. Ovsiyenko: All the same, he did seven years in prison from 1972 to 1979 and then he spent five years in exile: up to 1984. And Nadiya went abroad on October 12, 1978.
Did you mention Sarma-Sokolovsky?
R. Lysha: I met Sarma-Sokolovsky earlier, at the Kuzmenkos’ apartment. But he wrote something rather inconceivable about Olena Fedorivna…
V. Ovsiyenko: It was a cowardly KGB fabrication. [About this episode see: Mykola Sarma-Sokolowski. The forced request. The Zona Magazine, no. 22, 2007, p. 73-82. The article on penitence “I am tormented by my past” was published in the newspaper Zoria on July 18, 1984.—See: The site of KhHRG: “The dissident movement in Ukraine" in the section "Memoirs”.--V.O.]
Mykhailo Chkhan also wrote a penitence article.
R. Lysha: I did not know Chkhan.
V. Ovsiyenko: I have a whole folder called Penitents”. It contains repentances wrung from them.
R. Lysha: Yuri and I got enthusiastic about keeping a creative diary for the UNICEF calendar (it was in 1979) and letting people who came to us to write down their thoughts as well. But the latter was already dangerous. We just made some records. It was in the air: the searches were pending. We could not make open statements about the news and arrests. Once Yuri began writing something about the New Year… At the time, two youngsters frequented our apartment. Then it turned out that there had to be an angle. One of them wanted to meet with Yaroslav Lesiv. And Yaroslav saw through him. From that day the youngsters disappeared.
1977 faced a real flurry of events.
Earlier, when in March 1976 Yuri’s mother Oleksandra Demyanovna who was a teacher died, they took away the Kytaihorod apartment where he lived with his mother using the pretext that it was an apartment provided by the employer.
Yuri carried the books and belongings to his grandfather Damyan and Aunt Olga (both of them also were teachers) in Tsarychanka. They did not give him a steady job. For some time he was busy manufacturing stub posts. Then he gave it up, because he constantly overtoiled. And then the militia arrived together with the medics and took him as a non-working "parasite" to the nuthouse. They dispensed with formalities conducting it on the eve of the “60th Anniversary of Great October”. They ran him in, diagnosed sluggish schizophrenia and immediately began administering chlorpromazine. They forbade me to visit him. Only relatives were allowed to visit patients in this specific hospital. I went to my aunt in Tsarychanka and to my grandfather. Then we came with my aunt and we were allowed to see him. I saw Yuri and what they had managed to do with him during a week: he started to swell. This chlorpromazine was the most potent drug, then they administered haloperidol, such therapy could kill even an elephant.
He spent in the hospital about two weeks; he was kept together with asocial patients. Ivan Sokulsky, Orysia and I took counsel and decided to call A. Sakharov in Moscow. We called him and told him everything. Yuri held his own, he was a healthy person, he had robust health by nature. These drugs were very potent; however they did not impair his responses; only now he had become a slowpoke with leisurely movements.
Nevertheless this call to Sakharov helped. The radio "Freedom" reported on involuntary treatment of Yuri in a psychiatric hospital. Besides I, having talked with Ivan and Orysia, entered a protest to the prosecutor that the man had been wrongly seized and that this was persecution. I also wrote to the oblast Communist party committee.
After this the impertinent doctor was debarred and Yuri was transferred to another department with softer conditions. There was a more delicate doctor and probably he had been instructed. The conditions here were more lenient; at least we could now meet, I could bring him something to eat. Yuri stayed there for ten weeks or more.
V. Ovsiyenko: In what year did it happen?
R. Lysha: It happened in November and December 1977. It is clear that those drugs were very potent. But when I saw with my own eyes that Yuri could not stand it any longer, I went to the doctor and said that he does poor and requested to replace the medication. Or I asked to give him respite without any preparation. I saw that Yuri needed salvation and there was no alternative. We had to somehow get in touch with his doctor. He could not say frankly that this was done on purpose.
Yet even so Yuri managed to write there and to pass me such daring poetry in Russian and Ukrainian. All of it combined unusually.
One more point. I was summoned to the KGB. At this time the Helsinki Group was organized. So we I talked it over with Ivan. Ivan himself joined the group and offered me to follow him. But I refused. I did it on the following grounds: first, I’m allergic to the parties, to the Young Communist League, to the so-called “collective will”. It seemed to me that in this case I would have to act on someone’s behalf. I told myself that I would do everything on my own. Ivan said: “In this way you would have better protection." But I felt that I could not be a member of any party.
In fact, I do not know whether I was mistaken. Maybe I would have had an opportunity to save someone if had joined the UHG. But if I were arrested, for my parents it would have been a tragedy. My parents might die of grief. In addition, Yuri could die. He constantly was under considerable pressure and I saw it; further still, he was such an unsuspecting man…
I remember, I was again summoned to the KGB; they asked me if I had given money to political prisoners. I answered that I knew nothing about it. Actually, we did collect money. And once or twice I gave something as well.
They summoned me once more. That week Yurko and I decided to register our marriage. We understood that it was necessary for our protection as well. However on the scheduled day−it was Saturday, he returned from the hospital−I was summoned to the KGB. They reckoned that I would certainly throw everything overboard and run to the KGB. Instead we went first and registered our marriage, and then I went to them. The KGB officer did not know it yet and he asked me something about Yuri and suddenly said: “It seems your marriage is not registered yet?”—“We’ve registered it today.” Then I saw how his face got distorted. I think they had a plan for Yuri. So, we did it in time because without an official document it might be difficult for me to defend him.
V. Ovsiyenko: You threw their plan into disarray.
R. Lysha: Yes, this was the case. I do not know what their plan was…
When was it? Ivan presented me a book by Kulish and inscribed there: “In times of total siege.” It was in 1978, 1979.
After a while Yuri was again taken to the psychiatric ward. Moreover, this time they were smarter. The doctor said it had to be done perforce−and that’s that. The 1980 Moscow Olympics was on the threshold. And at that point in time Yuri stopped working as a lab assistant at the Institute…
And at my job the personnel cut was underway. Sometimes, on advice of V. Sirenko, I went to the KGB, saying that they were the masterminds of this policy. In addition, I twice visited them asking why Yuri could not get a job anywhere. The personnel cut employers in turns refused to consider him for a job. It happened indeed. And you the personnel cut don’t have to draw me a diagram with the personnel cut at my job. The Diprovodhosp was completing dwellings for persons on the waiting list. And my superiors announced that this time they didn’t sack me, but carried out personnel cuts, including the very position of editor.
V. Ovsiyenko: And the problem of dwelling was out of the enquiry?
R. Lysha: That’s cake. They gathered sort of a boodle and started accusing me of… ridiculously. The department head said: “She makes some money on the side as an outworker”. It would seem that this was good: I wanted to do my job on time. If I was given a text under the wire, I took it home. In addition, the same boss earlier gave me a certificate of the “Communist shock-worker”. Yuri advised me to refuse. After that they stopped giving me a job. And then the head of the personnel department said: This position will be cut down and no more talk. There is no position of an editor in the institute”. The next day they suddenly suggested “taking into consideration the housing problem”: “We need a stock control clerk at our dorm…” And I had but agreed knowing that we needed a dwelling in any case, otherwise we might become skells. Maybe they thought I would not agree, but I was still so brave that I thought: let it be hard and let it be humiliating, but I understood the meaning of it all. Therefore I somehow was not really scared.
It was in early 1979 and we did get an apartment in 1981. For three plus years I worked as a stock control clerk.
But again I say, I had a soul above these petty things: I was able to write and paint and was very active. The claims to Yuri made me more uneasy…
And I felt that there was continuous eavesdropping. When we moved from Samarska, we found under the table a slot for a "bug", though the "bug" itself disappeared.
Sometimes, not to say it aloud, we wrote something on such a board, where you write and immediately rub it out with your hand.
V. Ovsiyenko: In Moscow they called this board “Russian-Russian phrasebook”.
R. Lysha: In general, 1979 - 1980 were filled with anxiety. Something more severe was approaching, the oppression intensified. Shortly before the Moscow Olympics Yuri was already isolated in that sinister hospital…
V. Ovsiyenko: Then they performed "Olympic purge”.
R. Lysha: Right, it was related to this event…
I was alone at home. Many people repeated the same story: at six o’clock in the morning they rang the doorbell… Here is the search record.
V. Ovsiyenko: This is “Wilna Dumka”, no. 11-12… what year? And the newspaper Nasha Vira. Without the year of publication. The issue number is indicated, but the year is unknown.
R. Lysha: It was published after the perestroika…
V. Ovsiyenko: There is a signature: July 1991. [Republished later in the book of collected documents Porohy. Selected works. Dnipropetrovsk, 1988-89. No. 1-9. Kyiv, Smoloskyp Publishers, 2009].
The search record, March 12, 1980, KGB investigator Captain Khrypkov…
R. Lysha: They came at six in the morning with several witnesses, looked for something, found Black Dandelion by Yuri, some of my poems, both retyped and manuscripts, notebooks, and took away drafts. They found the combination of yellow and blue colors in my poems, while it turned out that such combination should have been evaded. I said, “Why should I avoid it? I love this combination, it is very harmonious.”
V. Ovsiyenko: Did they inform you on the grounds of what case they conducted the search? Here they came, seized evidence in some case, but which one? Every search and examination should be carried out in the framework of a particular case. Did they specify the case?
R. Lysha: I have a bad head for these things. The document read: “for seizure of evidence in the case”. When they took all those notebooks, poems, paper calendar "UNICEF" and calendar published in Poland with our notes, I made a statement that all items confiscated were not related to any proceedings, except for the book of poems by Igor Kalynets who had been sentenced. But then the book was officially put out by the Soviet Publishing House.
Well, what of it? Famous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was also under suspicion. Yuri was keen on him. On the occasion we bought a second-hand book about him in French; it featured a wonderful photograph on the cover. His works were published in Ukrainian or Russian very rarely, in fragments. I translated fragments of his works in Russian and wrote them down in my copybook. We took that copybook and said: “This is a typical samizdat”. Kierkegaard seemed to them anti-Soviet. In 1995, we told about this to a critic from Sweden, he was dumbfounded with such a life…
They also found “ideologically harmful” poems. I did not hide my views on the issue of language and culture. But my position on national life issues was not like a fascist one. It was correct and noble. And they found one clearly anti-Soviet poem in Russian, which was among our documents. I have no idea, who was the author, but there was something about the Kremlin and Stalin… “Who is the author?”−“I’ve got no idea.”−“How did you get it?”−“I’ve got no idea.” I knew very well that Yuri had it. However Yuri wasn’t its author. But I could not say so. They took it together with my "yellow-blue" manuscripts.
There was also an attic floor, where landlady kept pieces of iron. Investigator Khrypkov went to the attic and asked, "Should I search it or not? Should I ransack it or not?” I answered: “As you like”. And they didn’t like the idea of searching there. And I hid nothing there. In fact, why had I to hide anything?
All illegal, or rather declared as such, materials included our creative works and our worldview. I never considered myself a politician. I was interested primarily in poetry, creativity, and personal freedom in man. But it turned out that being a Ukrainian meant politics, and even a scary one for somebody. Such was the paradox.
Ivan then received information that on the same day in Ukraine searches were simultaneously carried out in the dwellings of many people.
When the search was over, I kept sitting alone for some time, but I also had to talk with someone, and I went to Ivan. And there the search was underway. And I was searched again.
V. Ovsiyenko: And did you have to stay there until the end of the search?
R. Lysha: Yes, I was sitting there with Mariya and I think to some extent I somehow helped Ivan and Orysia. For Mariya was still a kid and she could not understand these doings. I tried to draw something with her. The officers reproached me telling that instead of sitting at home and thinking I rushed here.
Sometime after that search Ivan was arrested. The questioning began. They also interrogated me, Orysia and other friends.
The officials cherished desire to lay bare a “group”. And in the heat of the moment they found my poems during the search: twenty-five pages retyped. Orysia retyped them. “Who retyped the poems?” The decision was as follows: I’d better say that I did it myself. In fact, I did not know how to type on a typewriter. I just cut my teeth on it. Ivan had a typewriter. Learn as you may.… I worried about it, especially as I touched the typewriter for the first time… So, during the examination investigator Khrypkov told me: “Sit down to the typewriter”. I cast a glance at the typewriter and it was of different make; I began pressing the keys awkwardly. He said, “Well, how could you type them? You could not print them yourself”. I stubbornly maintained that I did type them myself and now I just worried. He threatened me, even shouted, “I can arrest you for refusing to give evidence.” Those were long conversations.
After the conclusion of investigation of Ivan they announced the so-called "official warning” to me and Orysia. The violation of those points might entail arrest. I even asked, "So, you consider our companionship a nationalist kit and caboodle?” They without turning an eyelash answered: “Yes”.
But, you know, I would not treat too implacably all KGB officers… I think that they were no-choice people, but some of them remained upright people. They had no choice, and it was not that easy to throw off the yoke. I happened to run into one of them in the middle of the street; somehow I treated him with some confidence and wanted to ask him something. He guessed that I was going to ask something risky that would hurt me, and said, “You see, there is a car around the corner waiting for me.” That is, he simply implied that this whole conversation was recorded. I mean, these people also deserve a closer look, not indiscriminate disfavor.
There was an episode. Some of the relatives in the village told me that a KGB man “with a bag” visited them and inquired about me and my parents…
They began exerting pressure on my parents. It was the hardest for me to bear: the officers made dark hints about my supposedly terrible acts which hurt them very much.
And once my former neighbor came across me: the girly I knew in the past was now a librarian or something. It was probably in 1979. I laugh at this absurdity, but still I’m glad that I answered her in such a way standing on my land; she was my deceived countrywoman, who did not ask me anything else, in a more evasive manner. She asked me, "Well, what idea do you have now and what are you thinking about?” And I told her frankly: “The idea of free Ukraine”. I gather that she wanted to worm out something. So I played up to her. She was taken aback. There were no more questions. Maybe it complicated my case even more, but I do not regret that then in my village in 1979, where my countrymen had long forgotten such words, I uttered them aloud. I think even that it somehow affected the greater space. For these are mystical things and I believe in the spiritual power of words. In fact at that moment there emerged a fleeting inexplicable desire in my heart to hug that woman.
After the arrest of Ivan (11.04.1980. – V.O.) other times came to be. It looked like a desert. Of course, I kept drawing and writing something, mostly painted, and I began picturing the images of dreams…
There were a lot of problems, but we stuck by one another: Orysia, Mariya, and Yuri. Mariya had to be protected and brought up. I did not write Ivan, because everything here was trembling in the balance: the threats to Yuri, the threats to my parents…
In 1980, Demyan Ivanovych, Yuri’s good and wise grandfather, fell ill and died. He yearned over Yuri very much.
In 1984 my father died. He suffered very much; seriously ill he stayed for about two years in bed, and I again was involuntary unemployed. I saw that he failed to understand it and suffered. I felt kind of guilty. My father died in my absence. He was getting better. Yuri and I went to Dnipropetrovsk and there we received the telegram that my father died. My widowed mom remained alone and helpless, my brave mother. She did not want to move to town, to leave her khata and land. My mother, by the way, was very brave. When my father began to hesitate, my mother cracked hardy.
V. Ovsiyenko: How come?
R. Lysha: She was full of vitality and steadfastness. By the way, it was she who very opportunely commented on current events: “They do this so that people do not rise…”
The time went on. It seemed, nothing really had changed. As before, we met, listening to music of Vivaldi and Bach… But in reality everything was different. We missed Ivan very much… Even Ivan’s pet cat Kuzma, who was an integral person in our communication, because he understood human language, felt miserable. Ivan in his letters asked: “How’s my cat Kuzma?” We also missed Yaroslav Lesiv, Mykhailo Horyn. Both also were arrested.
Mykhailo was arrested (03.11.1981.—V.O.), but before we had managed to meet.
Then Mykhailo had a presentiment about his arrest. He talked about it with prudent stoic understanding of things. Nevertheless he cherished a hope for the best, for some marvelous victory.
Orysia measured swords with officials over Ivan, helped Yaroslav.
Though darkness in the early 80s seemed impenetrable, but the premonition was already growing that such condition cannot remain for keeps.
You ask, how our resistance manifested itself. To my mind, it manifested itself in creation and defense of Ukrainian existential space, personal self-dependence and adherence to the deep ancestral cultural, Ukrainian environment, especially in the word. We tended to invigorate it. Generally in the 60s through 80s there was great opposition to the entropy of spirit, which promoted new forms of Ukrainian time. And for that very reason at the turn of 80s and 90s the song about “Ukrainian time” sounded and the word revival… The drastic changes took place. The intellectual capital developed and accumulated, the new broad outlook expanded the view of the world.
And all of a sudden there began perestroika and glasnost. We prayed for Ivan, for all prisoners… We listened to the radio "Freedom". We cared for Vasyl Stus. The pulses of his spirit were heard perceptibly. And news of his death was a heavy blow. I reflected this in my long poem “The Dream of Dyke Pole”…
We loved Radio "Freedom" and especially Nadiya Svitlychna. She was very good at covering current events and was the messenger of truth. By the way, in 1988 I suddenly heard for the first time my poems on the radio "Freedom" and they were even named the event of the year.
V. Ovsiyenko: Ivan was released on August 2, 1988.
R. Lysha: And I in 1989 resigned my job at the school, which was like hell, even compared with the district library, where there was enormous pressure. Already at the end of my work at school, during one of the teachers’ meetings the principal said: "You know, in the midst of us there is even a dissident.” It was clear whom he meant, but I contained myself to shelve the provocative action: I neither answered him, nor explain anything. I was fed up with twaddle: in 1988 I refused to go to the polls and had to say that in reality those elections were not free.
So, Ivan came back and we started making independent magazine “Porohy”. Once we sat in the public garden in front of the Shevchenko Theater. It was one of the first meetings of the friends. In the air, there was an exciting feeling that something had to be done. It was an amazing anticipation new, unprecedented opportunities. It was a gorgeous sunny day. The sky was the sky of modern times. And the issue of the magazine arose. We began to look for a proper name. In the long run we accepted Ivan’s proposition: Porohy.
V. Ovsiyenko: When was your magazine inaugurated? The first issue was out in 1989…
R. Lysha: We started making magazine earlier: we began compiling materials in 1988. We really wanted to create a free Ukrainian edition.
So, we managed to print 50 copies. The Ukrainian Republican Party−thanks to Mykhailo Horyn−gave us a possibility to receive about one hundred karbovanetses per month for our work in the magazine. Later Yaroslav Lesiv helped. By the way, all 3,000 copies of the magazine printed in Vilnius thanks to arrangements made by Yaroslav with Lithuanians were destroyed, when the television center was seized. He saw with his own eyes the scattered copies of our Porohy Magazine. They never reached Ukraine. They were destroyed intentionally.
The Porohy published a great lot of McCoy works that had no chance to be issued publicly in the Soviet times. They include poems by Ivan, Father Yaroslav Lesiv, Mykhailo Romanushko, poetry and prose by Yuri Vivtash, articles on the art of iconography, Scythian plastic art of Lydia Yatsenko…
The Porohy published my poems for the first time as well. True, earlier they appeared in Lviv "Kafedra" (in 1988) edited by Mykhailo Osadchiy. However, the first official publication along with reproductions of my paintings was in the magazine "Ukraine".
In summer of 1991 we said goodbye to Ivan. Being ill, he still managed to redact his first book The Master of Stone. But he did not live to see it. The book contains my and Yuri’s words about the poet, Knight of Ukraine.
Subsequently, in 1997, the collection Identity of Freedom appeared; it was edited by Orysia and featured an afterword by Yuri
[My and Yuri’s afterwords were also in the book Letters to Maria. Selected correspondence (1981 -1987). Compiled by Orysia Sokulska.--Dnipropetrovsk, "Sich", 2000. - 87 p. and the same--Kyiv, "Smoloskyp", 2000--92 p.
Our publications of Ivan’s poetry also appeared in Nasha Vira.
In the approach to the 70th Anniversary of Ivan Sokulsky there were also publications as follows: R. Lysha "They won’t steal the heights”—“Nasha Vira”, no. 7, 2010 and "Ukrayinska Literaturna Gazeta" and Yu. Vivtash “Pioneer of Troubles”—“Slovo Prosvity”, July, 2010].
Due to Yaroslav we held out for some time when URP stopped financing the magazine. He understood, if any man did, the importance of free Ukrainian editions and Ukrainian printed media. He really wanted to publish "Porohy".
Today it is clear that if Ivan, Sokulsky (died 22.6.1992), Yaroslav Lesiv (died 19.10.1991), Mykhailo Osadchiy (05.07.1994), Vasyl Stus (04.09.1985) Zinoviy Krasivsky (20.09.1991) and … many of those who created revival and kindled Ukrainian spirit remained alive, Ukraine would be a much more developed country now. Everything might look in a different way. Those were irreplaceable losses.
[Recently Orysia Sokulska has submitted to the Smoloskyp Publishers the book of poetry, journalism, letters and so on of Father Yaroslav Lesiv compiled by her, which also contains reflections and memories of this truly holy man who did impossible things for Ukraine, for the revival of the UGCC. Orysia Sokulska included into her compilation my article “Yaroslav and Ark” (the excerpt went out in Nasha Vira, no. 1, 2012, the same “Golden pectoral”) and an article by Yuri Vivtash “Brave Knight, Good Shepherd” ("Ukrayinska Literaturna Gazeta", November, 2012)].
V. Ovsiyenko: How many issues of Porohy were printed?
R. Lysha: Perhaps twelve issues. Some of them were lost. The last issue was expected to feature poems by Vasyl Barladianu. But only one copy of the magazine was printed. In 1990 the last issue was out.
V. Ovsiyenko: Whom did the editorial board of Porohy include?
R. Lysha: The initial editorial staff included Ivan, Yuri, me, Orysia, Petro Rozumnyi and Yaroslav Homza gave their materials, then artist Serhiy Aliyev-Kovyka and art critic Lidiya Yatsenko joined the team; these were real people who worked to make our magazine. The staff also included typist Nadiya Rozhanska, with whom Ivan came to an agreement. She joined the URP. In URP, it was Mykhailo Horyn who understood the necessity to support the magazine and establish independent Ukrainian editions.
It seems to me that it was a huge mistake of the Rukh and all social agencies which failed to develop powerful Ukrainian printed media at the proper time.
V. Ovsiyenko: I am of the same mind.
R. Lysha: We see the backwash effect now…
V. Ovsiyenko: We had an outstanding journalist, he was called Vyacheslav Chornovil. He had to make an influential Ukrainian newspaper and magazine. But he failed.
R. Lysha: Not only Vyacheslav Chornovil. But Vyacheslav made a very good newspaper “Chas. Time”. It played an important role. Unfortunately, its printing was brought to a stop.
At the same time, when in Dnipropetrovsk the first general meeting of the Rukh was held, we immediately suggested funding a newspaper. And it seems there were funds to realize it. However, all ended in talk. But the Porohy Magazine was coming out. Remarkably, most of the materials, journalism and historical essays, etc. sound in tune with the times.
When Ivan brought the first issue of the magazine to Yevhen Sverstiuk in Kyiv, the latter very gladly welcomed magazine and wrote me a letter. He liked my poems. Thus our acquaintance began. I was in correspondence with him for a while. He wrote the essay about my poetry “In a ruined khata wonderland” (Suchasnist Monthly, 1991 and in the book Prodigal Sons of Ukraine, 1993). At that time he was elected the Head of Informal Association in Lviv: Association of Independent Creative Intelligentsia. It was based on the principles, which attracted me the most: the spiritual and artistic unity.
Then our mother was taken to her bed and we transported her to Dnipropetrovsk. She had to be taken good care of. In December 1991, my mother died. We buried her in the village, on the cemetery near the pines, where my father’s grave was. And here’s a mystical thing: my mom died on December 7, the day of Catherine, the patron of writers.
In 1990, Ivan Sokulsky and I went to the World Festival of Ukrainian Poetry “Golden Reverberation”. Yuri remained alone with his mother. And when I was presented the Vasyl Stus Prize 1990, Yuri stayed with his mother.
I want to say just a few words about the “Golden Reverberation”. It was a major development which gave an additional impetus to the progress of Ukrainian poetry. After a long stay in the dungeon everybody suddenly could see the endless blooming sky. Everybody felt an appeal of endless space and freedom. The Ukrainian poets from Ukraine and from the entire world came together: new acquaintances, flare of creativity and improvisation. It turned out that the Ukrainian poetry was incredibly rich and actually reached amazing heights. It was precisely the historical event the importance of which we probably do not fully appreciate even now.
During this “Golden Reverberation” I met with Mykola Vorobyov, Stanislav Vyshensky, Viktor Kordun, Mykhailo Hryhoriv, Sofiya Maidanska, Vasyl Herasymyuk, Natalka Poklad, Valentyna Otroshchenko, Vira Vovk, Bohdan Boichuk, Mariya Revakovych, Yuri Tarnavsky, Oleg Zuyevsky, Bohdan Rubchak, Larysa Onyshkevych… All these meetings were for me a great gift and joy. Later, Yuri met with them as well. It was an incomprehensible miracle: the new space of poetry, sense of understanding… friendship… Earlier that year, I met Oleg Lysheha, Yurko Gudz, Valeriy Illia…
V. Ovsiyenko: For what book were you awarded the Stus Prize?
R. Lysha: I was awarded this prize for my creativity. I had no books officially published yet. My collected poetry Three-Sphere was published only in 1994. (Kyiv, "Ukrayinsky Pysmennyk", 1994.--109 p.)
V. Ovsiyenko: Is it your only book of poetry?
R. Lysha: Yes. The publication of the Three-Sphere ran into major obstacles. And if Mr. Y. Sverstiuk had not found the necessary sum of money, it might have not come out. I had to cut the size down three times to meet the available sum of money.
But I have many publications in newspapers and magazines, including the anthologies: in English, German, Portuguese, Polish and French.
I have already mentioned two of my first official publications in the Ukraine Magazine edited by Olexandr Klymchuk in 1989 (with paintings) and in 1990. The Kyiv Magazine in 1991 published my poem "The Dream of Dyke Pole" and then the essay “Which angel sounded”. In "Artania" edited by Mykola Marychevsky appeared the phantasmagorian extravaganza “The Snow Monk” with my drawings. Bohdan Boichuk together with Mariya Revakovych started publishing a wonderful Svitovyd Magazine; it featured several publications, including Bohdan Boichuk’s article about my collection of poems Three-Sphere. My selected poems were also published in the "Suchasnist", "Kuryer Kryvbasu", "Osnova" edited by Valery Illia, "Dzvin", "Literaturna Ukrayina", "Nasha Vira"…
[In 2010, the Yaroslaviv Val Publishers put out the book The Glowing Skies. Selected and Unpublished Poems illustrated with paintings of the author. It won the H.Skovoroda International Prize “The Garden of Divine Songs”].
In 1992, Yevhen Sverstiuk asked Yuri and me to be in charge of the newspaper “Nasha Vira”. We had been already writing for it since 1991.
“Nasha Vira” attracted Yuri and me mainly due to its focus on issues of renewal of completeness of the national worldview, belief, culture, literature, art, history… commitment to the spiritual foundations of life, understanding of the world in the light of truth and acquisition of true knowledge. In our view, these were the most needed essentials for human beings, Ukraine and the world to pull through the extremely dangerous detours of civilization and proceed to the road of highest predestination. Actually, it was a high time for such publication.
Among other things, Yuri was a born composer of imaginative space and master of collage. Wheresoever he could find himself, he perceived any place as a space for creation, for bringing out the image of the world pulsebeat. In the same creative way he treated the space and content of the newspaper. With the same vigor he applied himself to the design of the newspaper and made it to look exquisite and expressive (1992 - 2000).
By the way, the issue of integrity of Kytaihorod churches was associated with Yuri Vivtash: three churches in the style of high Kozak Baroque, 1754-75. And it was his village and his churches. He used to tell about them, we went there to look at them; we went into the churches and saw that they were empty and plundered. Yuri wrote about these Kozak temples for the Porohy and Nasha Vira. He made very eloquent photographs. The church echoed in his Black Dandelion and in his essay on the icon of St. Barbara.
At the time Yuri began publishing a lot in the "Suchasnist", "Ukrayinske Slovo", Svitovyd Magazine, "Kuryer Kryvbasu", "Literaturna Ukrayina", in “Nasha Vira”… And his articles evoked a warm response.
V. Ovsiyenko: So when did you move to Kyiv?
R. Lysha: In 1992, in winter, in December. But we came to know Kyiv earlier in the past, during several visits here when we participated in the demonstrations of Rukh (1988-89), in the Chain of Reunion brilliantly created by Mykhailo Horyn in 1990.
By the way, at the invitation of Oles Shevchenko I spoke at the meeting of the culturological club. It was in July 1988. For the first time I read my actually banned poems to such a distinguished packed audience. Yuri and I several times participated in those meetings.
Thus, at the time Kyiv attracted and called us already irresistibly.
Our visit to Kyiv coincided with the moment of great changes in the history of Ukraine. The late 80s and early 90s were absolutely sacred event in terms of content and expression. The dawn of Independence. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church returned to life out of nothing. The prophetic voice of Patriarch Mstyslav. The first community of Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church emerged in Dnipropetrovsk. Prayer in the open. The attempts to defend the Cathedral of the Transfiguration and my Communion at Christmas.
The Rukh, the Ukrainian Language Society, meetings, the first setting-up of the cross to Holodomor victims; it was stolen at night… The newspaper "Word" on the stands on of Karl Marx Avenue…
The first exhibition of miraculously preserved icons in Dnipropetrovsk. Then followed the grandiose exhibition of Ukrainian iconography in Kyiv and soon after that−which seemed altogether improbable−the exhibition of contemporary icons. And especially significant was the return of the sacred principle in the so-called secular art.
Symbolic was the foundation of the painters’ fraternity of St. Alypius of the Caves. Rebuilding off the St. Michael Golden-Dome Cathedral, Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God Pyrohoshcha in Podil District; inside there were amazing icons created by Mykola Malyshko and his students in neo-Byzantine-Ukrainian style.
The clusters of events and new development full of bursting creativity, awakening of the depths of genetic memory were on the agenda.
I think that the Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Kozaks near Nikopol, where on high old Scythian and Kozak mounds military standards flourished and sea of yellow and blue flags, hundreds of thousands of people, who had arrived from all over Ukraine, was the most significant event... And militia cordons blocked the way for the citizens of Nikopol, the so-called "tsar Scythians". But who can cut roads for the Spirit coming down from heaven?
It was truly a holy miracle. I could not even imagine such a feeling. I think that people, Ukrainians, assembling on the graves of ancestors felt themselves once more−after decades of emptiness−as the great congregation of the Lord, united in Spirit: “the dead, the living and the unborn”. From everywhere you heard the word "Unity!" which was in the air like a beautiful bird set free.
Without this event, I probably would have not been ready to move to Kyiv. This event lighted up my inner space.
And if you take a good look now at what happened and what happens to us and what has become possible, at all those wonderful changes, you can sure conclude that the Ukrainian resistance of the 60s through 80s has really changed the time, the very idea of the meaning of historical events, changed the understanding of space and time in which the human being and the nation are acting. Resistance was not combating tyranny with naked force. It was a spiritual and creative action, transformation that gave rise to a new quality of perception of the world, expanded the horizons of the spirit, gave the sense of unity of time: past, present and future.
"The world has changed", "We live in a new world": these cries of joy and surprise of the early 90s are not forgotten yet. And all of it is due to individuals who held out against the outer darkness of falsehood and evil world and revived the living vertical of spirit. The resistance of the 60s through 80s 60 - 80 years grandly stated that the real victory is a victory of the spirit of truth in man. With this insight in view, today the prospects of Ukrainian way become clearer despite all attacks of entropy. The restored vertical of spirit is active again, because it has realized itself as the truth of life.
V. Ovsiyenko: What does Kyiv mean for you?
R. Lysha: Ten years we lived in Kyiv in rented apartments, particularly in an old house on a uniquely picturesque Turgenivska Street. Curiously enough all this moving increased the sense of charm of Kyiv: its spirit and many centuries of history.
Now by a quirk of fate we live in our tiny apartment on Lepse Boulevard, Solomyanka.
I know: Kyiv is the mount and the holy land which elevates a man and opens the new enlightened depths of existence. Kyiv contains a mystical secret, poetry. And poetry is the highest, intimate, and always free entity.
When I first saw the inscription on the fence: "There was the church of the Mother of God Pyrohoshcha, and it will stand here in the future", I suddenly gripped by a strange excitement. It looked like someone said the words directly to me as if I had something to do with it. When the church was rebuilt and I went there, it suddenly inspired me with joy and I realized that this was my grandfather Denys Zolotovus who prayed there and another elder from my mother’s family. And I felt their spirit and their presence: they spoke to me. They loved this temple and Lavra, and the St.Michael Golden-Dome Monastery.
 Palanka was an old Ukrainian administrative and territorial unit in the New Sich Time in the mid-18th c. (translator’s note).
 See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kutia (translator’s note).
 The Ukrainian suffix –ivn- in names indicates that the bearer is a daughter (translator’s note).
 All this reasoning about “two thousand years” is nothing but folk etymology. In fact, the etymology of the root “lys” is connected with Indo-European designator of color “red” and the root “kun” is connected with the Indo-European noun meaning “dog”. Mr. Ilia is not a professional etymologist. The meaning of "lyshá" as “fox” may be found in different Slavic languages formed in the Middle Ages (translator’s note).
 Kozak starshyna was a Kozak military administration (translator’s note).
 Hryhotiy Malovyk died in 1970. http://www.11channel.dp.ua/news/dp/2003/11/20/6741.html (translator’s note).
 The author resorts to the so called occasional terminology (translator’s note).
 The poems by Nabokov were published in the Soviet Russia in Petrograd in 1918 (translator’s note).
 A cotton fabric (translator’s note).
 A mound of earth along the outer walls of a khata (translator’s note).
 A magician in Hutsul folklore (translator’s note)
 For the same purpose in Kyiv people sometimes used special Polish notebooks called in Polish “znikopis” (translator’s note).
 In fact, it was the Molod Publishers, Kyiv (translator’s note).
 In Kyiv his works were on offer in other languages, e.g. in Polish (translator’s note).
 See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svetovid (translator’s note).
 The correct dates: 1754-1757. The style definition, especially in the case of the third church is rather disputable. See: http://uk.wikipedia.org/wiki/Китайгород_(Царичанський_район) (translator’s note).