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23 August, 2011  ▪  Miroslav Slaboshpitskiy

Ulianenko Uncensored

August 17 was the first anniversary of the death of Oles Ulianenko, the only officially banned writer in independent Ukraine

In 1997, working on the first serious film script in my life, I thought that I had ought to find a writer to do the job together. However, in my environment I could not find a man angry and radical enough to share my views. Then I came across an interview with Ulianenko, whom I did not know back then, in a periodical in Kyiv. A renowned man of letters, representative of the older generation, remarked as he answered my question about Ulianenko, “This interview is surely going to ruin him. He may be right speaking of certain things, but you can’t express yourself like this, and break all the rules of the game.”

I had already heard from others that he was a man with “a soul blacker than pitch.” So I said to myself, “That’s it. I must meet the guy.” And so I called him.

Ulianenko was working for the morning program “Chainyk” (“Tea pot”) on Channel STB. We met at the entrance to Dovzhenko Film Studios and had a talk. Ulianenko had totally given up drinking by then. We had some tea and arranged to do something together. I was impressed by his manner of thinking. I loved the speed, analytical abilities, and ruthlessness of his thought. I eventually finished the script on my own, but we became good friends and were quite close till my departure in 2003. Ulian lived at 72 on Hmyria Street, in an apartment without a telephone. He never completed the formal procedures to make the apartment his own, nor did he install a phone in it. If I wanted to meet him, I had to go all the way to Pozniaky (an industrial and residential neighborhood in Kyiv – Ed.) and knock on his door. When the master of the house wasn’t in, I would leave a message, since mobiles were a luxury back then. Upon finding the note, he would walk down to the telephone booth at the entrance and call me back.

When the sessions of the NEC (National Expert Commission of Ukraine for the protection of public morality. – Ed.) began, I got a call from my friend, a lawyer Oleh Veremienko, who alerted me to a dirty campaign against Ulianenko. I still believe that this case (in 2009, the novel The Woman of His Dream was labeled as pornographic by the above-mentioned authority, and the book was withdrawn from sale. – Ed.) became fatal for Ulian. I feel very much ashamed for Ukraine. I think that the stain will remain forever. The people who did that are stigmatized in my eyes for good. I will never shake hands with any of them.

In the days of the Orange revolution, Ulianenko would not climb up the stage on the Maidan in Kyiv. He never mixed with the men on the stage, some of whom later created the NEC. He would rather be in the crowd that helped Yushchenko come to power. In the heat of the revolution Ulianenko said, “It’s God that led the people out and on the Maidan.” Yet in his subsequent interview he would say, “Kuchma was more liberal than our Beekeeper (a popular nickname given to Viktor Yushchenko for his passion for bee keeping. – Ed.)” What happened afterwards became a great disappointment for the writer. Moreover, though most were merely disillusioned, Ulianenko was persecuted. This is an inadmissible and shameful practice. The moral of the whole story is simple: this should never happen again.

His example gave me hope. I believed that one can live like this. In a sense, he lived a righteous life. He was a righteous man. Not that he had never drunk or had sex with women. I mean that he was honest about his gift, he was quite uncompromising in this, and he would not prostitute his talent. I so hoped to see him awarded during his lifetime. But his loss was so sudden. It hit me hard, this was sheer injustice. And this is how the idea of the book was born, to collect all his interviews from 1994 to 2010. The result was something like a novel. The man talks for 16 years. He changes, and through him, you can feel the metamorphoses of the whole nation.

Of course Ulian left no will. He was totally unique in this aspect. I remember how he asked me a brilliant question soon after we met, “Look here, old man, don’t you happen to know by any chance how you pay your rent?”

In a year without Ulianenko I have lived through a great depression, and the book helped me get out of it. It is a kind of attempt to put things right, but you can’t do it. Now a monument is being erected on his grave. Two of his novels are being translated to be published in the Czech Republic. His books need to come out in Ukrainian and other languages; it’s all we can do for him. I would be happy if we could establish regular cooperation with schools of higher education, so that students could get free rights to Ulianenko’s stories to make them into films.

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