The Faces of Ukraine

30 December 2010, 12:33

Every day, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens simply do whatever it is they do best, as best as they can, sincerely, without any expectation of reward or recognition. These people are treading the path to a democratic world where a person has rights and duties enshrined in law, where an individual is guaranteed freedom and dignity, where no one has to fear the future. The path to real political freedom lies in the intellectual and spiritual independence of individuals. The Ukrainians presented here are all strong, independent, talented, good people. They may differ as to profession, age and life experience. They may live in different corners of the country and the world. But they are all joined by one thing: a love of Ukraine. And there are hundreds of thousands of them. 

Ukraine’s Paralympic Team
(Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv, Kirovohrad, Kyiv, Lutsk, L’viv, Sumy) 
At the 10th Winter Paralympic Games, which took place in March 2010 in Vancouver, Ukraine’s athletes brought home 19 medals: five golds, eight silvers, and six bronzes. Ukraine was in third place, together with Canada. This success is all the more impressive when you think that the Olympic Team Ukraine came back from Canada empty-handed. The Paralympic team had 26 athletes, including 14 invalids with diseases of the musculo-skeletal system, 5 who were blind, and 7 assistant athletes who performed together with the blind and helped them get to the finish. The team competed in the biathlon, speed skating and skiing and included such renowned athletes as Olena Yurkovska, Liudmyla Pavlenko, Svitlana Tryfonova, Yulia Batenkova, Yuriy Kostiuk, Vitaliy Lukianenko, Oleh Munts, and Serhiy Khyzhniak.  
Anatoliy Zadvineyev, the first trainer of paralympic skier Oleksandra Kononova: “The main thing is that this kid is an invalid and an orphan. Oleksandra not only brought a terrific result for Ukraine, but she proved to herself that she has a place in this world. To win three golds and a silver is an unbelievable result for such a young person.”
Sviatoslav Vakarchuk 
musician, leader of Okean Elzy, founder of the People of the Future Fund (Kyiv) 
Okean Elzy has been named most popular rock band in the CIS and Eastern Europe more than once. In 2009, a popular vote on the song “Druh (Friend)” in August named it the best song in Ukraine for the previous 18 years. In 2010, the band did an unprecedented tour with the group’s seventh album, Dolce Vita. In 9 months, they performed more than 100 concerts in 95 cities of Ukraine, Belarus, the US, Canada, across Russia from Kaliningrad to Sakhalin, Turkey, and Czechia. In 2009, Mr. Vakarchuk founded the People of the Future Fund. The fund is currently carrying out his 3-D project, Dumai! Diy! Dopomahai! (Think! Act! Help!), whose purpose is to equip orphanages with computers and internet access, to develop a culture of philanthropy in Ukraine and trust in it among ordinary Ukrainians. 
“When you realize that you cannot change this country, don’t give up. Tell yourself: I cannot change everything, but I can change this little bit here. Clean up your courtyard, or help a specific orphanage. You begin to do this and you feel more optimistic, and you start to think more positively about Ukraine, too.”
Andriy Antonovskiy 
poet, translator, performer, artist (Barcelona)
When Andriy Antonovskiy moved from Khmelnytskiy to Spain, instead of settling for the quite life of a migrant worker, he decided to build cultural bridges. Together with his wife, Catalina Giron, he translated an anthology of poetry called “Three centuries of Ukrainian Literature” into Catalan. It included the poetry of Taras Shevchenko, Lev Borovykovskiy, Ivan Franko and Lesia Ukrainka, “Rotation” by Bohdan-Ihor Antonych, and poems by Mykhailo Semenko, Lina Kostenko and Yuriy Andrukhovych. Thanks to his intermediation, ties between Catalonian and Ukrainian writers have become quite lively. In 2010, Mr. Antonovskiy organized a visit to Barcelona by Serhiy Zhadan, Halyna Kruk and Yurko Zavadskiy, whose literary evenings were quite popular.   
“We are too far from one another. What do Ukrainians know about Catalans? Just about nothing. A bit about Gaudi, FC Barcelona, and that’s about it. The same for them. For Catalans we’re some kind of mysterious people somewhere over there on the borders of China! They actually have a saying that after Hungary, China starts.”
Lesia Voronina 
children’s writer, journalist (Kyiv) 
One of the best-known children’s writers in Ukraine, whose body of writing includes a series of comic detective stories for children and over 100 comic series, Lesia Voronina has not found the path to success easy. As the boss of Soniashnyk (Sunflower), a children’s magazine, in 1992, she managed to survive that time of socio-economic disaster in the country. For nearly 20 years since, Ms. Voronina has constantly and determinedly promoted children’s literature, visiting schools and orphanages, and donating books to county and oblast libraries. Despite having won many a prize and award in literature, the well-known writer remains a modest and pleasant woman who overcame all the obstacles to do what she knows best. On the side she is an activist, participating in protest actions against the choking of civil society in Ukraine.
“When I wrote my Superagent 000 tongue-in-cheek series of detective stories, I really, really wanted kids to learn to take life with a smile, so that they would understand that dumb brute force is not the main thing and that evil can be overcome, not just with pumped up muscles and iron fists but by laughing at it.”
Pavlo Hudimov
musician, designer, curator and owner of Ya Galeria art center, and leader of the Hudimov band (Kyiv) 
Pavlo Hudimov is known as the one-man-band thanks to his many-sided arts activities. Yet his work promoting Ukrainian culture and arts seems to have annoyed someone very much, because in September 2009 the gallery was set on fire by unknown vandals. That did not stop Mr. Hudimov. With his own money and the help of friends, artists and musicians, he renovated the premises and opened a second Ya Galeria on vul. Khoryva. In 2010, a third gallery opened in Dnipropetrovsk. Together with local and international sponsors, Mr. Hudimov has also set up a grant program called “Gene Pool” for young artists. In January 2011, a show opens in Vilnius exhibiting the works of grant recipients.
“Ukraine has enormous artistic potential that is not only coming but is already happening. This work on projects that help reveal the potential gives me real joy.”
Volodymyr Kushpet 
musician, kobza and hurdy-gurdy (wheel lyre) teacher, author of theoretical papers on traditional musical culture in Ukraine (Stritivka, Kaharlyk County, Kyiv Oblast)
Many older people remember Mr. Kushpet as one of the founders of the legendary folk-rock group Kobza in the 1970s. Today, Volodymyr Kushpet is a member of the All-Ukrainian Society of Kobzars and promotes traditional performance among Ukrainians around the world. He is a Merited Arts Professional of Ukraine and has been awarded the Ivan Nechuy-Levytskiy and Volodymyr Hnatiuk Art Prizes. Mr. Kushpet has also written a number of books including “Teach yourself to play old world musical instruments” and “Minstrelsy: Wandering singers and musicians in Ukraine in the 19th and 20th centuries.” Today he teaches in Kyiv at the Stritivka Pedagogical High School of the Art of the Kobza, a college that trains singer-bandurists, kobzars and teachers of musical disciplines. In 2010, Volodymyr Kushpet finished a paper called “The School of Traditional Performance.”  
“We know a lot more about European and American culture than about our own. I work in ancient music, yet this is not a step back but moving forward. When we know our past, then we can understand where we should go further.”
Nadia Hula 
professor, head of the biochemistry of lipids at the Paladin Institute of Biochemistry, NAS (Kyiv)
A discovery by Ukrainian scientists could prove revolutionary in combating heart disease. Back in the 1980s, in the laboratory of Prof. Nadia Hula, bioactive substances were discovered in a neuroblastoma, a brain tumor, that were later named endocannabinoids. The most interesting trait of these compounds is their ability to actively affect the renewal of tissues. As soon as the organism experiences an emergency—inflammation, stress, tumor or infarct, repair teams of endocannabinoids rush to the rescue. The release of a fundamentally new medication based on these compounds is underway at one of Ukraine’s pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, the efforts of many years put in by Dr. Hula and her team were acknowledged with the 2010 State Prize of Ukraine in science and technology.
“In science, there is nothing more practical and useful than good fundamental work.”
Larysa Masenko 
sociolinguist, professor, head of the Ukrainian Language Department at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Kyiv)
Larysa Masenko is a talented academic and teacher, known both in Ukraine and abroad. Her main area of study is sociolinguistics, a science that studies the language situation in a country and proposes language policy. She is the author of seminal papers, such as “Language and policy,” “Language and Society,” “(U)movna (U)kraina,” and others. Ms. Masenko is active in public debates on the language issue and language policy, maintaining a firm pro-Ukrainian position and arguing that bilingualism is a wrong and dangerous path. On January 14, 2010, she was awarded with the Vasyl Stus Prize.
“Bilingual countries nearly always face the danger that they will break up. Trying to maintain two languages within a single country inevitably leads to conflicts between the two languages, their cultures and identities. Large-scale bilingualism is generally a temporary phase, ending in either the victory of one language or in the break-up of the country.”
Olha Samborska 
journalist and human right activist (Berlin)
Olha Samborska was born in Mykolayiv Oblast to a family of Boykos who had been deported from the Ukrainian-Polish border region in 1951. Nowadays, Ukrainians who have problems abroad often turn to this woman for assistance. Ms. Samborska tries not only to tell her fellow Ukrainians about their rights and how to protect themselves in a timely manner but also does investigative journalism into the affairs of Ukrainians who have run into trouble outside their home country. She has been monitoring the situation abroad for a long time, writing about the lives of Ukrainians in Germany, and has a number of internet projects: a human rights blog, a portal called “Khata skrayu” and a journal for Ukrainians abroad called “Imigrada.” Ms. Samborska has also put together a site for the heirs of deported Boykos called “Domivka,” meaning “our home nest.” She has also organized a number of conferences and seminars on mental health, ethnic interactions and xenophobia. Last, but not least, she produced the German film, “In the shadow of illegal labor migration.” 
“We are worried about our country’s poor image in Europe. I’m working on the formation of a Ukrainian identity among immigrants and the awareness of people in Ukraine and Europe about the state of their societies through various projects, cultural events, discussions and media campaigns.”

Olha Sira 
Deputy Editor, Chornomorski Novyny [Black Sea News] (Odesa)
The residents of Odesa Oblast know the name Olha Sira very well. Many a time, her sharp, analytical articles have roused lively debate in the pages of her paper and had an impact on the community. She talks about the choice of values and the benefits of European-style life in a common security region. A member of the Ukrainian-Polish Press Club “Without Prejudice,” Olha is a one-time regional media expert on the National Commission to Entrench Freedom of Speech and the Development of the Press. Today she is putting all her efforts into saving the only Ukrainian-language paper in the region, which is being published largely on the enthusiasm of its staff. All the money that it earns goes into printing and distributing the paper itself. 
“[The burning of ecologist Serhiy Hutsaliuk’s car] is a challenge to all the Odesa community, but especially for us journalists. If we remain silent yet again, if we agree that someone has the right to act in this way, then we will never live in a civilized and peaceful city, where everyone can freely and without fear express their own views. If we all together ensure justice and a fair investigation of what was done, those who have become used to operating in this way will understand that they will have to answer for their deeds.”

Valentyn Sylvestrov 
composer, winner of Shevchenko National Prize, National Artist of Ukraine (Kyiv)
This Ukrainian composer first became renowned in 1967, when he became only the third composer on then-soviet territory to be awarded a prestigious Koussevitzky Commission, after Dmitri Shostakovich and fellow-Ukrainian Sergei Prokofiev, and won a Gaudeamus Prize in the Netherlands in 1970. But since his scores were being sent to competitions bypassing officialdom, reprisal was not long in coming. Valentyn Sylvestrov was banished from the Union of Soviet Composers, his works were rarely played, and for a long time he was subjected to psychological pressure, harassment and silencing. Today, he is the most renowned Ukrainian composer in the world and his works have joined the treasury of 20th century music, along with other composers of his generation like Alfred Schnittke, Avro Pärt, Giya Kancheli, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Edison Denisov. An ascetic, solitary man always in search of harmony and answers to eternal questions, with every composition, Valentyn Sylvestrov nevertheless strives to be heard and understood.
“The scale of gifted Ukrainian musical talent is the equal of the Germans and the French, but there it is promoted, whereas here it is not. The state is always suspicious when people are engaged in writing poetry or music rather than digging with a shovel or fighting the enemy…”

Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy 
filmmaker, screenwriter, writer (Kyiv)
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy has, all on his own, participated in the Berlin Film Festival for the last two years. In 2009, he represented Ukraine with a short film called “Diagnosis,” on the problem of HIV/AIDS and drug addiction. In 2010, the director went to Germany with his film “Deafness,” which focuses on the deaf and mute. He has written screenplays for a number of made-for-TV movies, as well as a slew of prize-winning works that have been printed in various publications. He participated in the film series, “Mudaky. Arabesky” [Jerks. Arabesques]. Mr. Slaboshpytskiy represents the younger generation of Ukrainian filmmakers who are using digital technology to reduce the cost of filmmaking and to get around without state support. 
“When I lived under the soviets, I really wanted to see movies about what was real, and not some imaginary reality. I’m not interested in formal history, because it’s always written by the winners. I want to film what goes on outside the window. I think this is the right way—what else is there to talk about?”

Oleh Skrypka 
musician, singer, composer, arts promoter/producer, leader of Vopli Vidopliassova (VV), a rock band (Kyiv)
Oleh Skrypka’s biggest project has been the annual Kraina Mriy folk festival. Thanks to his efforts, prejudice against traditional Ukrainian music, clothing and simply “Ukrainianness” has been dispelled in the country’s capital. Under the aegis of “Land of Dreams,” Mr. Skrypka has also launched publishing and educational activities. Nearly as popular is a new festival he launched called “Rock-Sich.” In 1996, thanks to Skrypka’s songs, even Moscow was piqued by the Ukrainian language, Ukrainian rock and authentic Ukrainian things. The talented musician has shown remarkable ability as an arts producer: his “Ethnic Evenings” have become a gathering place to promote Ukrainian culture abroad: Paris, the Alps, Oslo, and Moscow. 
“I’m not waiting for my illusory Kraina Mriy to turn into a real country. Obviously, the name has worked because it appealed to people and matched their own dreams. Its unconscious meaning has come through. In fact, though, it’s people that make it meaningful, give it energy, bring to it their emotions, wishes and fantasies.”

Mykhailo Shpolanskiy 
priest (Mykolayiv)
Born in Leningrad, Mykhailo Shpolanskiy fell in love with Ukraine as though born here. An engineer by profession, he ran into problems with the system while working at the Mykolayiv Shipyard and was persecuted by the ideological arm of the KGB. The priesthood came to him without outside influence and he was given a neglected parish in the village of Bohdanivka, Ochakiv County. Together, he and his wife Alla put the parish on its feet. In the meantime, he began to organize a foster home: in addition to their own already adult children, Father Mykhailo’s house became home to eight more children. For each child, he looked for a good person to become their godfather, while his wife Alla became godmother to them all. For many years now, he has spent summers with the children on the Kinburn Spit and they spend part of the season picking up and carting off the garbage left behind by vacationers in his UAZ jeep. Father Mykhailo is also one of the organizers of the “Kinburn Life” movement, which promotes the protection and proper functioning of the Biloberezhzhia Sviatoslava National Park. 
“Foster homes are a relatively new form of rearing orphans in Ukraine, a kind of in-between step between the orphanage and actual adoption. On one hand, the children in our family are in the same situation as our own. On the other hand, this is a sub-unit of the administration with strictly regulated functions and public funding. For a long time this dualism hampered the entire system, but since 2006 it’s been working much better.”

Leonid Ushkalov 
historian of Ukrainian literature, PhD in languages, professor at Skovoroda National Pedagogical University (Kharkiv)
Leonid Ushkalov has dedicated all his efforts to studying the history of Ukrainian language and literature and to return to life forgotten works and facts about Ukrainian church and literary figures of the Baroque period. Prof. Ushkalov is one of the most reputed students and promoters of the heritage of philosopher Hryhoriy Skovoroda in the world, respected by academics in many countries. At the end of 2010, he personally published a complete academic collection of the works of Skovoroda with the requisite scholarly underpinnings, a project he had dedicated more than a decade to. Prof. Ushkalov has nurtured students who now call themselves members of the Ushkalov school, not only following his academic and methodological approaches in studying the heritage of Ukrainian culture, but also upholding the Kantian precept of the scholar without compromise: be honest, respect your colleagues and never, under any circumstances, “use your elbows” in research. 
“Having a full edition places Skovoroda in the context of Ukrainian and European culture from the Antiquities until today. It makes it possible to think about the world of ideas and the images of our great cultural philo­sopher. It’s important to think about culture in a cultured manner, the way that academic tradition 

Mykola Sukach 
artistic director of the Philharmonia Academic Symphony Orchestra, conductor, Merited Arts Professional of Ukraine, founder of the annual “Siverski Musical Evenings” Festival (Chernihiv) 
Mykola Sukach was able to do the impossible: to establish a symphony orchestra in a provincial town from the ground up, moreover one that today has toured successfully in Spain, Portugal, Belarus, Croatia and Russia. Every year, world-renowned stars come to Chernihiv’s Siverski Musical Evenings, sometimes without even stopping in the capital. The line-up has included pianists Vadym Rudenko, Mykola Luhanskiy, Borys Berezovskiy, Mykola Suk and Oleh Polanskiy, cellist Oleksandr Kniazev, violinists Sayaka Shodji and Erik Schumann… In 2010, musicians from Germany, Great Britain and Russia performed with the Philharmonia orchestra at the festival. Mykola Sukach can also be credited with the lion’s share of effort in returning the works of talented Romantic Ukrainian composer Serhiy Bortkevych. Mr. Sukach has been invited more than once to conduct the orchestra in Kyiv and offered a contract in the US when he was a visiting conductor, but so far he has turned all these offers down. 
“I don’t like talking about patriotism or nostalgia. That’s personal. But I really love my city, my Chernihiv, and I only want to live here. Of course, the symphony orchestras of California, Las Vegas or Germany, with whom I have had the honor to work, are a dream-come-true. It’s the kind of perfected instrument a conductor can only dream about. But the feeling of having built something from nothing with your own hands, in your own town, is such an rush, that it doesn’t compare to any high from success in foreign countries, or the satisfaction with the fees.”

Stanislav Shumlianskiy 
director, Molode Radio [Young Radio] (Kyiv)
Stanislav Shumlianskiy is the founder of the first and only radio station in Kyiv that offers 100% Ukrainian music to its listeners. Molode Radio began broadcasting on the lower VHF frequencies in April 2005, but by 2006 it was forced to switch to the internet and since then operates at In contrast to most online radio stations, which limit themselves to musical content, Molode is unique in offering a strong news component, through community podcasting at Starting in 2009, Mr. Shumlianskiy began offering workshops in podcasting for young journalists and bloggers.
“Community podcasting is a way of communicating directly with your audience, without being a journalist, and a chance to hear about things that don’t get talked about on television.”

Interesni Kazki
graffiti artists Volodymyr Manzhos and Oleksiy Bordusov (Kyiv)
Volodymyr Manzhos, who works under the name WaOne, and Oleksiy Bordusov, who calls himself Aec, spent the entire year tirelessly painting concrete enclosures, walls and the bridges at interchanges in Kyiv, with polished figures of people, fish and mysterious creatures. They even dolled up the Terminal Aquapark in Brovary. Their works are easy to recognize because of their unusual style: surrealism with an ethnic Ukrainian palette. To prepare for the EURO 2012 championships, the Kyiv graffiti group Interesni Kazki has become involved in the biannual marathon festival called Muralissimo! whose goal is to change the look of grey industrial zones and the dead walls of the capital.
“The art of the 21st century will be murals based on national and ethnic motifs.”

August Virlych 
executive secretary, Kherson Oblast “Rehabilitated by History” Commission (Kherson)
Born in Kuban, the territory adjacent to Eastern Ukraine, August Virlych found himself in a Nazi concentration camp because his family tried to save Jews during the war. And when he returned to the USSR, his “suspicious” (i.e., Hungarian) surname gained him a tour in a Soviet camp. At the beginning of the 1990s, together with journalist Eduard Dubovyk, he began the “Rehabilitated by History” series, collections of historical articles about repressed individuals from Kherson Oblast. These were written on the basis of the archives of the former KGB and eye-witness testimony. Altogether, four series have come out so far. The last one was dedicated to the persecution of clergy in the oblast. In 2005, an informational volume of nearly 1,000 pages was published called “Rehabilitated by History,” which collected the work of those many years. The commission chaired by August Virlych also initiated the unveiling of a monument to victims of the totalitarian regime in Kherson. 
“The soviet government was a puppet of the communists. The Nuremburg trials condemned fascism and now we need to condemn the Communist Party along the same lines. Our books are testimony enough: communism is worse than fascism because fascism killed everybody, whereas communists killed the best.”

Linguistically loyal teachers 
Alla Generalova, Nadia Panchenko, Iryna Ivakhno, Valentyna Padalko (Kyiv)
The “Don’t be Indifferent” movement this year decided to recognize the most consistent teachers in terms of their use of language in Kyiv. The organization’s volunteers ran a survey among senior high-school students in Kyiv schools to find out which teachers inculcated in them the most knowledge of the Ukrainian language and culture. The winners in this poll were: Alla Generalova, who teaches Ukrainian language and literature at Public School №49, which offers intensive French; Nadia Panchenko, who teaches history at Public School №80, which offers intensive English; Iryna Ivakhno, who teaches and supervises musical arts at Public School №253; and Valentyna Padalko (in photo), who teaches Ukrainian language and literature at the Financial Lyceum. Each of these teachers has found her own way to interest pupils and transmit as much knowledge as possible. For instance, Ms. Generalova organizes exhibits with her pupils and takes them to museums. Iryna Ivakhno provides a good deal of extra materials and uses interactive technology, even putting together and showing her own films for her classes. What unites these teachers is that, in addition to their subjects, they instill in their pupils a love to their native language, culture and land. 
Alla Generalova: “Happiness is being able to transmit your knowledge to someone.”


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