YATSENKO Lidiya Ivanivna
V.V.Ovsiyenko: April 4, 2001 in the City of Sicheslav, that is Dnipropetrovsk, Art Museum on 21, Shevchenko Street; we are having a conversation with Lydia Ivanivna Yatsenko.
L.I.Yatsenko: I was born in Dnipropetrovsk on December 24, 1940. I have two birth certificates: one was dated June 24, 1941, but it was issued by German authorities, so they changed the date for December 24, 1940. So I exist now as a Draco according to the horoscope. I was baptized in the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, because my grandfather Ivan Rytiv was the head of the church district of the UAOC in 1941-1943. It was his last public work, as he was already an elderly man. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Henadiy Sheprykevych. He began his career in the early twentieth century. later I read with interest the memoirs of Ivan Matiushenko The Renaissance of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Sicheslav Oblast, where my grandfather Ivan Rytiv was mentioned among people who at the time were related to Ukrainian revival. He wrote, “…I.I.Rytov and great Ukrainian scientist-patriot Dmytro Ivanovych Yavornytsky worked in Sicheslav.”
My grandfather knew and esteemed Dmytro Ivanovych, but he himself was a bank clerk. He was born in the Village of Helmiaziv, Zolotonosha Region, Poltava Oblast; he came with his mother’s blessing−an icon−to Katerynoslav, and therefore he belonged in the Ukrainian community in Katerynoslav. Recently, local historian and journalist Mykola Chaban told me that he found the name of my grandfather among the seven who had been founders of Katerynoslav “Prosvita” and who had submitted its organization charter for registration. In the twenties, my grandfather was a member of the UAOC Annunciation Cathedral in our city. So the traditions of my family were Ukrainian; we never removed icons in our house. And I lived all my life before the past year in the house of my grandfather; there hung icons and a portrait of Shevchenko.
Mine was a teachers’ family. My grandmother was in charge of a school in Sicheslav-Katerynoslav; my parents were teachers; by my first diploma I am a philologist, I graduated from the Philological Faculty of Dnipropetrovsk University in 1963. Since 1966, for 35 years already, I have been working in the Dnipropetrovsk Art Museum. While working here, I graduated from the Repin Leningrad Institute (former Academy of Art) by specialty the History and Theory of Art, so I am an art critic, which determined my free work.
In the museum I did my best to study Ukrainian art. I consider myself very lucky due to my family which was always important for me: neither school, nor educational institutions influenced me in the same way as the family atmosphere. In the literal sense of the word: the furniture and domestic surroundings were preserved since the times of my grandparents. We were poor, because, as my mother used to say, the revolution broke down our family.
All ancestors by my mother’s side are here, in the land of Prydniprovya, and by my father’s side they came from Cherkasy Oblast, the Village of Zhabotyn. My mother and my father were also interred here. Half a block down the street from the museum there was the house of my great-grandmother. I myself spent my life in this historic area of the city. And it always inspired me. Although the members of the family always evaded this topic, I knew that my grandfather was arrested in 1937 for conspiracy “to overthrow the Soviet power”, as it was written. And again, after the war, they summoned him to the KGB, but refrained from arresting him, because he was too old, born in 1876, a very old man. He was spared then, but it had an impact on the emotions of the members of the family.
In the museum I tried to choose the pre-revolutionary, as they called it at the time, to keep clear of the Soviet art, as far as possible.
At the university, though I dealt there mostly with the contemporary art, my diploma thesis was “The Oeuvres of Andrei Voznesensky”. And then the known plenum took place and the theme was banned. I had to change the subject. It also had an effect on my outlook.
When I came to the museum, I used to be a guide and to be tied with daily chores. However, I am very grateful to the museum personnel, who gave me the opportunity to pursue my spiritual interests. This was the main guardian Olga Serhiyivna Ohryzkina. I came to know the museum holdings: there was, e.g., the unsorted stock containing the correspondence of Yavornytsky. I immediately remembered my grandfather, because it was one circle. I also worked with the icons from the historical museum, which they transferred to us. It was the only attractive side of my work at the time.
For this reason, among the contemporary artists, of course, I also chose those, who were ignored and were not members of the Artists’ Association. I mean Yakiv Kalashnyk, who played a very important role in my life; this artist was already terminally ill, he was dying of lung cancer. His oeuvres were banned. It was believed that he was under surveillance of the KGB agents; therefore the exhibition committees rejected his works. He was an oppressed painter and I tried to do my best to help him somehow. He died in 1967. I wrote an article about him and made a TV show. This immediately had a negative impact on my museum career: they considered me a dissident and banned my publications; such was my way to the circle of people with a dubious reputation.
There was also a painter Mariya Yevhenivna Kotliarevska. I am very grateful to her, like to Yakiv Kalashnyk, for such artists were an outlet for me. Firstly, she belonged to the school of artist Mykhailo Boychuk, and, secondly, she was repressed for the caricature of Stalin in the Kharkiv newspaper in 1941-1943. Then she, too, was disgraced, and I met with her, we became friends, I compiled a catalog of her works. But the composed type was strewn and the exhibition was banned.
Artist Volodymyr Loboda was also continuously persecuted. I mean the Lobodas working in Lviv now. There they joined the circle of the Kalynets: they are known artists now. Here they were humiliated, and they were not allowed to the museum. But they influenced me and helped me: up to the end of the 70s we also had a small group, and it was through them that I learned about Ivan Sokulsky who was a kind of our banner. Even the name of this forceful personality strongly influenced us. We felt sympathy to him, but, unfortunately, we could not do anything for him in those years. In 1974, I wrote a poem dedicated to him, but gave it him only later. I actually joined the circle of people such as Ivan Sokulsky, Rayisa Lysha and Yuri Vivtash. But I more often conversed with artists, and this was a literary circle. I kept writing poetry all these years and some of my poems people passed over to the Svoboda, but I wrote mostly in Russian. I graduated from the Russian department. Although for Dnipropetrovsk it might have been typical: I had an outlook of a Ukrainian and tried to write in Ukrainian, studied Ukrainian art but my poetry was mostly in Russian. But my friends used to copy my poems, like this poem dedicated to Ivan Sokulsky, and even tried to distribute them among a group of readers.
In the museum, I was despised, I wasn’t promoted; nevertheless I continued to discharge my duties. When the phase of national renaissance began in the late 80s, I certainly did my best to join the circle of Ivan Sokulsky. I am very grateful to him. He invited me to work for the Porohy Magazine, which he began publishing. Ivan was the life and soul of the magazine and its Editor-in-Chief. And there I published some of my articles. He was the only one, who published some of my poetry. My articles covered the destiny of the old Petrykivka and old masters, who actually died of starvation, because no one was interested in them. And Petrykivka was primarily a factory.
Ivan Sokulsky invited me to the magazine, because he saw that I was studying icons. I told him about my family. When our first UAOC Transfiguration society was formed (it is still located on the street near the Transfiguration Cathedral, which now belongs to the society of Kyiv Patriarchate, and then it belong to the Autocephalous Orthodox Church), I joined this society and became the head of the parish council, in the capacity of which I remain up to now. We tried to win the Transfiguration Cathedral by court action, reached the Supreme Court, but, unfortunately, we are still behind the fence. When the Fraternity of St. Andrew was formed, I became the Head of the Dnipropetrovsk Brotherhood. I considered it my duty: so I did homage to my grandfather. I thought it would be my tribute to his activities. The more so, as in the desk book of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church published in Canada I then read about my grandfather. He was mentioned there as the head of the Circuit Church Council.
I became a member of the “Prosvita”, the Union of Ukrainian Women, joined the RUKH, co-worked as the head of the Fraternity with the Ukrainian Republican Party, I participated in its 1st Congress. I was very pleased to have been introduced to Ms. Oksana Mieshko. This was a beautiful and bright page in my life in the early 90s. Frankly speaking, I also co-worked a little bit with such an organization as Ukrainian National Assembly - Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense and would also like to say a good word for it. Our relations were not that strong, because I worked as the head of the Fraternity, but these guys also left a pleasant trace. They helped us and several times visited here. We tried with them to win at least one church by court action, but to no avail. We went on hunger strike in 1991, when the question arose of the transfer the Cathedral of Transfiguration to the Moscow Church. We entered the Cathedral of Transfiguration, stayed there 16 days, but unfortunately, it did not produce a positive result.
In recent years, while working at the museum, I tried to occupy myself with the Ukrainian art: now we had an opportunity to make several exhibitions. I compiled a catalog of Ukrainian icons.
I think I am very much obliged to Ivan Sokulsky. Firstly, he treated me well as an expert, and secondly, it could be said, he opened for me the world of Ukrainian national revival and people of this circle. So I met Rayisa Lysha and Yuri Vivtash, whom I consider my friends. And when I was preparing a book of letters of Ivan Sokulsky to his daughter Marichka and two volumes of the Daybreak Letters, I was honored to write the foreword to them. I was very pleased that Ms. Orysia Sokulska, whom I greatly admire and respect, invited me to participate in these publications.
This is what I can say about myself, and I also have a kind word to say about my friends of the 90s, who, I believe, are the people deserving to be remembered in modern Ukraine.
Dnipropetrovsk was rather a specific Ukrainian city in the 60s and 70s. It was a Russian-speaking city, and for the most part the local intellectual elite were not Ukrainian. People like Ivan Sokulsky were the odd men out. I mostly worked with artists and wrote little bit. God trusted me to write. The end of the 60s was a time of cooling. It was felt in the Art museum as well. When I came there in 1966, Ukrainian was a language of business communication, but in the late 60’s it disappeared. The Kozak theme to which I turned was about banned; I felt it, too. Expositions of icons, which I did, always evolved negative reaction. They said: “You gather only icons; you have a bias in this direction.” I felt the pressure. Firstly, I was set at naught; mine was a voice in the wilderness. And secondly, my works were not published. I reworked those works dozens of times and always they found something there that could not pass censorship. After my program about Yakiv Petrovych Kalashnyk went on the air, the director of the museum suggested the voluntary termination. I disobeyed; then he wanted me to take care of travelling exhibitions. It was no longer the main staff of the museum, but a subsidiary one.
But it so happened that at that time another woman was appointed the director. She was a communist, her husband was the head of the department of the oblast committee, but she treated me, I should say, more humanely, because she not being an expert could use my services. I could write for her a material that she signed; therefore in everyday matters she was not trying to put pressure on me, although the rest of the museum personnel strived for it. One of them, by the way, is now the director of the museum: Liudmyla Volodymyrivna Tverska. She used to say: “With such persons they should converse in other offices” or “they will converse with you in special office.”
V.O.: And what is the name of director you have a kind word to say about?
L.Y.: Vira Andriyivna Demydova.
V.O.: And what was the name of the director, who wanted to discharge you?
L.Y.: Mykola Skrypnyk.
V.O.: And when was it?
L.Y.: The program about the artist Yakiv Kalashnyk went on air in February 1968. Under direction of Valentyn Desiateryk. I do not know whether he is on your list, but he was a very progressive man at that time. Today he is a TV man: Valentyn Hryhorovych Desiateryk; the “seditious” program about prohibited artist Yakiv Kalashnyk we made together. Now his pupil Feodosiy Humeniuk is the Shevchenko Prize winner, but in the past he was despised too, he was not even allowed to write a thesis, precisely because he was a pupil of Kalashnyk. When Kalashnyk died, we decided, even posthumously, to make a program about him, which was disapproved by the then Artists’ Association: they deplored the fact that we in an unvarnished manner said that this artist was persecuted and driven to death? I must say that Kalashnyk work’s are in the shade up to now. Actually, I have been working in the same field all the time and I feel that the same people remain at the helm in culture.
Also I had to touch in a way the destiny of the museum’s director during the occupation of the city, i.e. Korenev. Up to now his work−the only portrait of Natalia Doroshenko, wife of famous historian Dmytro Doroshenko−is not exhibited and is kept as if in the shadow. It looks like there is an invisible screen serving as partition surrounding this circle of artists… While many facts have come to the surface and blank spots have been erased, in Dnipropetrovsk the officials are slow on the uptake. For example, the exhibition of Mariya Yevhenivna Kotliarevska, with whom I had worked, too, was banned in 1980. These were the eighties already. This lovely artist, who is already recognized as a painter from the circle of Boychukists, wrote me her last post-card: “Once there will be a clear sky above us.” She did not live up to see it: she died in 1983.
We had difficult times in the seventies. I remember what Vira Andriyivna Demydova said about Loboda (she was kind of good to me: she let me go for some household needs; however she always said that the main thing is to live quietly)… She said: “Do not let Loboda to come to the museum, do not let him even enter here.” She was very afraid of the same Tverska, who is the director now; in the past she headed the department of Soviet art and drew up lists of formalists and nationalists (it was a must at the time), and all these lists contained the name of Loboda, therefore he was not allowed to the museum.
At the end of the 80s we had a young restorer Victor Olexiyovych Iliutkin, and they started to summon him. I realized that the fact that he had joined our circle−Loboda, art critic Solovyov and I−negatively affected his fate. He told me: “The circle grows narrow.” It was in December 1980, around December 18 and on December 19 he was killed on the street of our city. The perpetrator remains unknown. He restored icons in the first place. He was so handsome, he was only 26. He graduated from the Kyiv Institute of Art, department of restoration.
Then strange stories were getting around. Even my co-workers told me, “Perhaps, Loboda killed him because of those icons.” I also felt that the circle grew narrow. What was the end of it? Loboda , fortunately, moved to Lviv, Solovyov went to Moscow, and I stayed here. I also was not fated: my baby died. Then for two years I was on vacation, because I had two small children. I returned to the museum already in 1984. The perestroika set in, it was a difficult period, and in this dark time KGB surveyor Oleg Vasyliovych Sorokin frequented the museum. He taught us counter-propaganda; but this pressure was already indirect, it was ideological preparation, which went on for a long time. I can say that the Art Museum (maybe it is improper to say such things about someone’s place of employment) was the center of stagnation even in the early 90s. I remember that when I had to go somewhere to deal with my public duties, my co-workers were shouting “She’s absent! She’s at the rally! We’ll soon discharge her!” It was a stock phrase.
So, first of all I would like to mention the people who were chained to the oar. Although I always felt myself like living on the occupied territory, so to speak.
V.O.: Occupation is the right word.
L.Y.: In the enemy’s rear. I worked, but it looked like I spent my life outside the law, I was an outlaw. I had no my say at the museum, they treated me as a foreign body. I’m still not a member of the Artists’ Association, though I have many published works. I didn’t belong to the preferred set and I think that it is for the better. I could not do a lot because they didn’t publish my works for a long time, and then there were already family circumstances, which affected my daily life. It was a personal tragedy of my life, because I always was under some sort of prohibition, under close surveillance. Of course, I cannot compare myself with Ivan Sokulsky, who spent fourteen years behind bars. But I did not breathe freely; I always worked under some kind of pressure. I used to hide my poems in a box of detergent, then somewhere else, but most of them I learned by heart and did not write them down. My friends copied them with their own hands. All of it influenced me. I certainly cannot compare myself with Ivan, because Ivan Sokulsky is a hero, and I’m just a daily victim of the regime.
V.O.: You had to bear your Ukrainian nature as a heavy cross, didn’t you? Being Ukrainian is a heavy cross to bear.
L.Y.: Yes, but I cannot say so about myself, because this facet kept me afloat. I remember myself thinking that those people had nothing, and I felt behind me my grandfather, native landscape that managed to survive. Now the cityscape is different: we walked through those streets, we strived to preserve our old Sicheslav, we photographed it. Loboda keeps a big album. He and I wanted to open a museum of the city architecture, we would like to do at least something in this direction, but of course there was a barrier. Although I still do not regret, because otherwise it would be impossible to survive here. I learned it the hard way, but I felt that my grandfather called me, and I needed no transition; if I changed, it was to the worse (my mother used to say that a person grows more grouchy while putting on years); meanwhile I have the same philosophy, I did not need to change. I have never been a Soviet woman. I was always surrounded by people chosen by myself. I had a good command of words and could write about Lenin. I was invited by artists and head of the artists’ association to write, but I chose my own inner islet all the same. I had no freedom on the outside, but there was freedom inside myself. I believe that you couldn’t get through it otherwise, even physically. Well, a person couldn’t survive without dignity. I am grateful for this, firstly, to my family, my old house, which now exists no more… I am living in apartment now. But the house was our family’s island, where my grandfather’s Ukrainian spirit lived, and nobody could infringe upon it. They could limit financial support, could ruin our career development, but they could not suppress our spirit.
V.O.: I need to refine some biographical data and address. So, you mentioned children; please, give first names and years of birth of your children, their last names.
L.Y.: Well, I have two children; they are late children. My daughter Mariya Yatsenko was born in 1981; she is a third-year student at the Metallurgical Academy majoring in economic cybernetics. My son Oles was born in 1982 and he is now a university student of the department of Ukrainian and English language of the faculty of Ukrainian philology and Art criticism.
My current address is Apt. 11, 11-A, Chernyshevsky Street; phone 46-2556. Zip code 49005. But I live here since recently. And until last year I lived in an old ancestral house, which is being bought back bit-by-bit now. I still have my portion there, but the rich people are buying it piecemeal, you call them roughneck now. This address is apt. 1, 10 Gagarin Ave., former 4, Laherna Street−that was my grandfather’s house.
I want to present you with my catalog of Ukrainian icons, which was compiled with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus-Ukraine Filaret. I want to name this man who played a significant role in my life. I knew all three patriarchs. Patriarch Mstyslav I knew due to Ivan Sokulsky. He used to give me a lift and helped me to get on in the world. On the road to Kyiv he might say, “Lidiya Ivanivna, I’ll introduce you.” He led me to the Ukraine Hotel1 to Patriarch Mstyslav. Mr. Petro Rozumny and Mr. Ivan introduced me to Oksana Mieshko. I did not know these people; and they introduced me to this circle. Due to Ivan I also came to know Rayisa and Yuri, whom I really appreciate as friends and as poets. Among my new acquaintances were Patriarch Volodymyr (Romaniuk) and Patriarch Filaret. I was inspired with respect for this man; I consider him an outstanding theologian; to my mind, he did a lot. I am also of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and my coreligionists now occupy different positions, but I think he fortified, he strengthened the Church, and it would be a ruin without him, because, unfortunately, neither patriarch Mstyslav, nor Patriarch Volodymyr could cope with the horror that could be understood by a man only from the inside. Likewise Dnipropetrovsk can be understood only by a Dnipropetrovsk townsman. Its special atmosphere, a wall that is, but it is not of stone, but amorphous; it sucks in, like in symbolic play of Maeterlinck: the wall is a sort of non-existent, it is invisible, but it is still there. Only Patriarch Filaret, because he came up from within, was able to keep the church and now he can handle it. Therefore, I was much favored with his blessing for publishing this catalogue, the publishing of which was sponsored by Soros Vidrodzhennia Fund and which I now want to give you.
V.O.: Thank you and I will present you my booklet about Stus, because I have nothing else about me.
L.Y.: Thank you. Among my more significant works, there was an article about artist Yakiv Kalashnyk; it was published in Mystetstvo Magazine in 1969. It was very important for me. It is the only publication about this beautiful Ukrainian artist, which, I think, will become widely known and will go down in the history of Ukrainian art. Then followed the catalog “Unknown Portraits” from the collection of the Dnipropetrovsk Art Museum. I have this catalogue, and I can also give you it now. Those old Ukrainian parsuna portraits that came to us primarily from the collection of Yavornytsky need description and systematic study.
Then followed my article about Petrykivsky painting in 1980 and the catalogue this same year, which we published for the exhibition. The exhibition was called “The Sources and The Present”. For us it was a matter of principle, because we wanted to show that Petrykivka painting was largely distorted. The emphasis was on the Petrykivka factory; the old masters, who carried on the tradition of Petrykivka designs, were already forgotten and dying out at the time. We managed to show that Petrykivka was no exception; it was one of thirty villages that were centers of painting in early 1920s; but under the Soviets these folk traditions were ruined in other villages, and only Petrykivka survived.
In addition, I would like to mention my work in the Porohy Magazine. Firstly, it was an informal magazine; it was really a Ukrainian edition. The magazines Yevshan-zillia or Ukrainian Herald were published in Lviv, and Ivan Sokulsky accomplished a feat, because he was in Dnipropetrovsk, in this asphalt desert, when he returned from bondage, oh God, he really did a lot at the time, as I remember. A wonderful poet, and at the same time he did the rough work every day, including this magazine, of which he was the life and soul. We, as members of the editorial board, met with him in Prydniprovsk, near his khata, and these precious issues got out. There I was able, of course, to publish anything I liked. There appeared my article about stone babas, this unique collection of Yavornytsky that still stands in the open air, these beautiful stone stele of the Great Steppe: Polovtsian, Scythian and even earlier. This magazine published my article “The fate of the old Petrykivka” and article about artist Vyacheslav Korenev in the last issue of the magazine. My article about Ukrainian icon, on which this catalog was based, was headed “Let it rise again”; it was later published with some amendments in the Man and the World Magazine. The editors of the magazine were nice to me, and this article published in two issues of the magazine for 1991 was recognized one of the best yearly publications in the magazine. I dedicated to the memory of my mother Mariya Ivanivna Yatsenko, daughter of Ivan Ivanovych Rytiev. I managed to mention him in this article.
Oh, and a short article associated with Ivan Sokulsky. I value it rather high. This is the preface to the book of Ivan Sokulsky. In it I pay homage to this person. My article in the Fine Art Magazine “The Spirit of Kozak liberties” was also about Ukrainian art of Prydniprovya. Of course, I have many booklets, which belong to specific museum publications. At the time I tried to write about what I wanted. Even in the sixties, I was able, for example, to publish a small article on Ukrainian folk painting “Hopak”, a unique piece of Ukrainian folk art from the Yavornytsky collection. It is in our museum. I also wrote on the Ukrainian works of Borovykivsky, publications about exhibits of our museum. The collection of museum articles contained my piece about Burliuk, about Ukrainian works of this world famous artist of the twentieth century, the works that he donated and sent here in 1929, mindful of Ukraine, as long as he lived in New York.
In my works I always tried to give credit for the people who were official-art and art-history castaways, such as Yakiv Kalashnyk, Vyacheslav Koreniev, the Lobodas− Volodymyr and Liudmyla, Nina Pavlivna Hryhorash−the oldest art critic of our city, which failed to publish her manuscripts. The article on Korenev, unfortunately, came out only in the Ivan Sokulsky’s Porohy Magazine. It hasn’t appeared in the official press yet. Nevertheless there is already an order, and I think that this artist will soon have the publicity he deserves. There I mentioned Nina Pavlivna Hryhorash, because the museum work is, you know, rather specific, it is not for the general public, it is invisible, so it is particularly important that those people, who worked at all times, are not forgotten. Museum in this sense is a contradictory phenomenon: on the one hand, it was the center of the official Soviet propaganda and counter-propaganda. As they maintained: we were the ideological struggle frontline fighters. On the other hand, there are real works of art. I have a kind word to say about Vira Andriyivna Demydova: she defended me from jail, as she had friends in high places. I remember, she was like a colonel in civilian clothes; once she said: “You knows, thirteen KGB generals are going to visit us.” And sort of snapped to attention. But she needed a specialist, because someone had to know the history of art; nobody knew him, he got scanty earnings of 75 karbovanetses per month, but he was an indispensable specialist, because otherwise these works would simply collect dust, while they also needed to be studied. And she felt it. So all sorts of things happened in the troubled life of the museum. Unfortunately, things have changed here a lot; they simply failed to dry straight in culture. Museums are mostly about traditions, and both good and bad traditions cannot be uprooted that fast.
V.O.: Thank you. And this is the Ukrainian icon in the collection of Dnipropetrovsk Art Museum: from 1tth till early 20th century, Dnipropetrovsk, Dana Publishers, 1997, author and compiler art critic Lidiya Yatsenko.
L.Y.: I am pleased to add that it was Ivan Sokulsky, who provided a reference, and I joined the Ukrainian Helsinki Union in the early 1989. At the time of my first publication in the Porohy Magazine I became a member of the editorial board and a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union. It was rather unusual for our city at that time, and it happened thanks to Ivan Sokulsky, his inexhaustible energy. He came back very ill, he was very pale, tired, and we just wondered, how he immediately began to set up these very important for our city Ukrainian organizations. In this city the dissent and opposition had no Ukrainian traits; it swam with the tide of general democratic trends and it was represented mostly by non-Ukrainians.
V.O.: And adherents of non-Ukrainian culture.
L.Y.: Right. It was neither Ukrainian tradition, nor Ukrainian culture. Ivan Sokulsky, Rayisa Lysha and Yuri Vivtash were exceptions to the rule. At the time Rayisa and Yuri were closely associated with him, and without him they would have obviously failed to extend the scope of Ukrainian influence, as it was only within Sokulsky’s power. For example, I remember the first meeting of “Prosvita”, when he came in and all eyes turned to him, everybody just stood up in the hall, so great was his authority. These meetings took place on the premises of Ukrainian Helsinki Union and afterwards of Ukrainian Republican Party. These premises, in fact, were at the house of my grandfather. There was a special informal atmosphere. I believe that it was the brightest phenomenon of social life in our city in the early nineties.
Let the name of Ivan Sokulsky resound in time: he deserves it. People say different, but I want to say only good things about him. Now it is easy to say how heroic everybody was. But he bore the full brunt of it.
V.O.: I knew him in the Urals, though I did not share the same cell with him. You know, Vasyl Stus once put it very clearly… He said that he wouldn’t have the heart to judge those who showed weakness, because the conditions were terrible. But those who were not there would better keep silence.
L.Y.: That’s right, this is very wise. Vasyl Stus said it. And people, who did nothing, which did not experience the disgrace, which were not under close surveillance and behind bars, come to judge him now. Many of them climbed the ladder under Soviet rule. Therefore Ivan Sokulsky’s is a bright name, bright personality, beaming major poet. He will go down in the history of Ukraine forever. For me, Ivan Sokulsky was a symbol. Before I met him, I was surrounded by completely alien and hostile people and suddenly the very thought that somewhere in our city there was such a man was gleam of hope. If there are such people everything is not half bad. Therefore, all details or private judgments that I can find out later are irrelevant to me. You need perspective to apprehend great phenomenons. Perhaps people, who closely contacted, could see different manifestations in different ways to assess them. But we must see the most important thing that he really was a man dedicated to Ukrainian national idea. This, I think, no one can deny. And the twists and turns of life… only God is without sin. How can we judge a person who spent fourteen behind bars? He told me how he had swollen hands from the handcuffs as his was dragged in those handcuffs… He proved his loyalty to the idea by his own life. Why hunt for the little nothings of life related to the physical condition of a person, the circumstances of life, when we see his books and public organizations created by him. He was their organizer and their soul. When he returned, for everybody it meant return of something real, Ukrainian. It was not the beginning of the thaw, but the dawn of the state. His authority was great among ordinary people, who sympathized and shared his views. I relate myself to such people. It’s true, it is holy truth. For us it was important that there was such a poet, who was a man who could resist, and hence we needed to fight.
V.O.: So ended her story Lydia Yatsenko.
1 This hotel was located at the corner of Pushkinska Street and Shevchenko Boulevard at the time (translator’s note).