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24 June, 2011  ▪  Natalia Feshchuk

Shadows of the unforgettable

Among the nice-looking new buildings in the village of Chortoryia (Bukovyna) stands an old hut where Ivan Mykolaychuk was born and lived…

On the inside it looks almost exactly as it did in his lifetime: small windows, a bench by a wall, stone millstones in a mud room, a loom, walls hung with embroidered rushnyky, Ivan’s small suitcase he took with himself to Chernivtsi when he studied there. Frozyna Hrytsiuk, 80, tells about her brother’s life.

Our parents had 10 children. I was the first and Ivan the fourth. It was customary in the village to live in the small hut (khatchyna), while a bigger building (svitlytsia) was for guests. But because our family was large, we occupied both. We kept millstones in the passages and a loom in the small hut. Mother and I wove everything: canvases, tablecloths, burlap carpets and bench covers. Ivan studied here in Chortoryia for four years, then in the neighboring village of Brusnytsia until grade seven, completing grade eight in the town of Vashkivtsi. And later, when he studied at the theater studio in Chernivtsi Olha Kobylianska Drama Theater, he finished the ninth and tenths grades at a night school there.

Neighbors would visit our place at night. Mother would hang kerchiefs over the windows and father would bring out Ukrainian books. I still don’t know where he kept them. Many years later when brother was playing parts in films I often told him: “Ivan, why are flinging about? You know the present. We have the Ukrainian language; students are studying it in school; newswomen are speaking it.” To this he replied: “How can you not grasp it? Look, Hnatiuk rejoiced, tears in his eyes, that he was allowed to sing another song in Ukrainian. What kind of Ukraine is that?” The same went for Ivan’s films. Sometimes his films would be approved in Moscow and rejected in Kyiv. Brother was highly principled in patriotic matters. I remember they brought the film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors dubbed in Russian to our village. He refused to have it shown and said that no one would understand it: “If you don’t have it in Ukrainian, we don’t need it in Russian.”

Father was initially displeased with Ivan’s choice, saying that acting was no real profession. But when my brother performed in the play Earth in Chernivtsi, he invited mom and dad to the premiere. I remember how my father returned from the city, deep in thought, and said: “Oh my, I am a firm man, but even I eventually cried, because this is how it is in life.” But he didn’t live to see Ivan’s great success. He died in 1963 when mother was not yet 50. She was left with six school-aged children to care for. They could barely sustain themselves – they had a cow and a small plot of land, and mother received 15 rubles apiece as aid for two small children. It was survival, not life.

I still don’t know where Ivan’s tendency and talent for acting came from. I remember they staged Beztalanna (The Fortuneless Maiden) in the village club. Ivan, 13 at the time, was chosen to play Sofia’s father. You had to see the way he played the episode in which his character lost his daughter. When he said from the stage: “And who will bury me?”, the women in the audience burst into tears. He played primarily old characters in the village drama circle, because no one else wanted to play them.

When the villagers saw his wife Marusia, they said she became so much part of our family that even came to resemble us. Everyone liked the girl a lot. And then her parents came. Maria’s father gave mother a gas stove, the first one in the village. Girls always liked Ivan. Look at his school photos: boys are in one group, while Ivan is among girls. But Maria was his only love.

Ivan gave mother part of the money he started earning. He lived in a dorm and was involved in two film projects at the same time – Night Dream and Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors. His eyes hurt because of the very bright lights they used. Directors called for a well-known eye doctor. He examined Ivan and was surprised: “You are taking so much care of him because he is so indispensable?” “Of course!” was the answer. “So why does he live in a dorm?” Several months later he was given a one-room apartment.

Actors and directors, Ivan friends, came to Chortoryia. Even Sergej Parajanov himself came. We gave him an embroidered bag (taistra) commissioned by Ivan. He said: “Prepare a bag that I can give to Parajanov.” I replied: “Come on, Ivan!  He lives in a city. How will you give him a taistra? Don’t make a laughing stock out of yourself.” He insisted: “I tell you, make it.” So we made a nice taistra and embroidered on it the words: “To great Parajanov.” Brother later told me: “If you could only see how he goes around Kyiv with this taistra! And he boasts of it in front of everyone.” In 1991, when Ivan would have been 50, we had dinner near our house. Many people came, including party bosses. And then Havryliuk stood up and said: “‘Don’t read Marxism-Leninism. Read the Bible!’ This is what Ivan used to say.” I was worried he could be punished for it.

We didn’t know until the last day that he was sick. The only person who knew was my son, because he often traveled to Kyiv. But when he was about to go back to Chortoryia, Ivan would ask: “Be a man! Not a word to mother and relatives.” So the telegram about his death came like a thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky. The year 1987 was the most difficult one for us; it seemed we would not be able to bear it. Mother could not get over it; a medical attendant gave her shot after shot. No words in the world could convey her pain…

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