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Tartak rock group and its leader Sashko Polozhynsky

 

Sahko Polozhynsky, frontman of the Ukrainian popular rock group Tartak and host of many music shows and programs at the M1 Music TV Station and at other TV stations, shares some of his impressions of his summer travels with Maksym Protskiv, WU senior editor.

 

Last summer you went on tour to many parts of Ukraine, didnt you? Where did your tours begin?

Id say not so much on tours as just travelling for pleasure. It began in Yaremcha, in Western Ukraine. We had just returned from Poland and played a gig in that town. Our next gig was scheduled to be played a week later in Ternopil, and I could return to Kyiv for several days, but instead I decided to use the time for seeing more of the Carpathians. It was not my first visit to that area but I wanted to see more of Hutsulshchyna and Prykarpattya.

Which places did you go to?

From Yaremcha I went to Kolomyia, then to Kosiv, then to Kosmach and then back to Yaremcha, Vorokhta and then still further east to Ternopil. Part of this route I travelled by car and thoroughly enjoyed what I saw from the window. The scenery was gorgeous.

But surely it was not only from the car that you looked at nature, was it?

Of course not! I took walks through the places I stopped at. Kolomyia looked to me like quite a European town. While in Kolomyia, I met a very remarkable person, Myroslav Symech. In fact, the main reason I went to Kolomyia in the first place was to meet that man. During the Second World War he was one of the commanders in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA) that fought both against the Nazi Germans and the Soviets. One of the best known operations he commanded was the liquidation of a NKVD (soviet secret police) punitive unit. The commander of the unit, Major General S. Dergachev, was killed then. Incidentally, he had been one of those soviet military commanders who had been responsible for evicting the Crimea Tartars from their homes after the war, allegedly for collaboration with the occupying German forces, and sending them off into exile, packed into freight trains. Mr Symych was later arrested by the soviets and spent 32 years in concentration camps. His patriotic spirit had not been broken but he has never been rehabilitated and so technically he remains a criminal. Thats a bit tough for a person like him to live in the independent Ukraine for whose independence he fought. And he is by far not the only surviving UIA veteran who faces the same injustice I met other UIA veterans and they all of them are strong in spirit in spite of being treated so unfairly. They do want to see Ukraine free and prosperous, and of course, they would like to see their contribution to Ukraines independence officially recognised. The atmosphere of the meeting was spiritually uplifting Incidentally, once, not so long ago, I found myself in the company of several Red Army veterans  we shared the same compartment in a coach on a train. They, after several rounds of drinks, told a lot of stories of the kind which is still regarded taboo by many. They spoke of the senseless slaughter of the newly recruited Red Army soldiers in WWII when these recruits, untrained and often without weapons, were sent into battle against impossible odds. They spoke of cavalry attacks against strongly fortified German defences only to be manchinegunned, without ever even coming close to the German trenches. There was also a lot of talk about medals, parades and privileges. The atmosphere was radically different from the one I experienced at the meeting with UIA veterans.

Did you get to go to the market in Kosiv, famous for its souvenirs?

No I did not. When I got to Kosiv, I was told that souvenirs are sold there only on Saturdays and I arrived on Wednesday. But I found someone who agreed to be my guide in a hike in the mountains. It was not that easy but I was in luck. Ivan took me to Dovbushs Rock (Oleksa Dovbush was an eighteenth-century Ukrainian Robin Hood who led a group of opryshky-outlaws, who robbed the rich and gave the loot to the poor; the outlaws hid in the forested mountains, and Dovbushs Rock is supposed to be one of the camps of the opryshky; Dovbush was killed in Kosmach  tr.), which is rather high in the mountains. He told me I should try walking barefoot to feel the earth of the Land of the Hutsuls. At first, I did not think it was a very good idea, but I did take off my shoes. The ground was damp and springy. Later, when we came upon a mountain stream and I washed my feet in the bitingly cold water, it did feel good

To Kosmach I travelled by bus. That bus was something special. It was a very old vehicle, dilapidated to such an extent that it seemed to be about to fall apart at any moment. I never thought they used buses like this any longer. But it did deliver me to my destination. The drivers cabin was decorated with plastic flowers, a poster with a half-naked girl in it, a Ukrainian state flag  a very curious combination. And the driver played one and the same cassette all the time, with kolomyiky, sort of modern Ukrainian chansons de geste about current political leaders  Yushchenko, Tymoshenko and others. Some of these songs were funny and censorious. There were other songs on that tape too  Ukrainian versions of popular British and American pop songs. Hilarious! The passengers were no less colourful than the songs played. They were talking loudly, all of them at the same time. Imagine  the songs coming from the old loudspeaker at full volume, stories about fishing, excellent bargains, drinking parties, police bookings with people shouting at the top of their lungs to be heard above the din and whine of the poor old engine. That was an experience I can tell Id hate to miss! It was like a scene from an ethnic movie  only it was very much for real!

What did you see in Kosmach?

Oh, I met several wonderful people who told me a lot about the town and about their life, and the life of their ancestors. I was told that in the vicinity of Kosmach there were deposits of medicinal salts with curative properties that can be helpful for treatment of many diseases. The deposits are still waiting to be used on a commercial basis.I saw a unique collection of embroidered shirts that should be in a museum, really Neither in Yaremcha nor in Vorockhta which are resorts, I saw see anything that would be of great interest to me  just tourists In Ternopil, I met several friends of mine who canoe down Ukrainian rivers every summer. They had kept inviting me to join them for several years in a row but I always refused because there was no time. However, after our gig in Ternopil I felt I just had to get away from it all. We were scheduled to play our next gig in Artek in the Crimea almost two weeks later, and I thought I had enough time to join my friends at last on their canoe trip down a river. This time it was Vorksla, a very beautiful river, that they chose for their canoe trip. And it proved to be a great trip. The only thing that I did not like was the time we spent camping on the banks rather than moving down the river. We planned to get as far as Poltava but because of the time spent in those camps I did not get there. The riverscapes were really wonderful. Vorksla is rather a placid river, with not too many dangers on the way except for shallows, submerged logs and some sharp turns  but no rapids. A very relaxing trip it was. White water lilies that dotted many stretches of the river close to the banks were juts marvellous. But at one point I realized that I was running the risk of missing that gig in the Crimea and I had to leave.

So you never got to Potava, did you?

I did, though not in a boat. Its a very nice town. I went there by car leaving the boys to move down the river at their unhurried pace. And from Poltava I proceeded all the way down to the Crimea.

Did you have a chance to sunbathe and swim in the sea?

Just a little. I like the Crimea but its much better there in spring than in summer, when there are still not too many people there, not so much garbage strewn around. Even the sea and the air seem to be cleaner. Artek is well known in Ukraine as a resort with children camps. I had not been there before and it was interesting to take a look. In the soviet times, it was considered to be something special  a great privilege for kids to go there. Frankly, I was not impressed with what I saw. Only some of the places in Artek looked modern and well-taken care of.

Did you perform a special programme or your usual stuff? With all those political hints?

Yes, our usual stuff. Our audiences were quite grown-up anyway. Songs are a way of expressing myself the way I want to express myself. I find it important to be able to express my thoughts and ideas through my songs. However, I do not think in terms of advancing our groups popularity through political content of some of our songs. Besides, I would not call it really something political  our songs are rather patriotic than political.

Do you find your songs may help people to become aware of their national identity?

Probably, to some extent. Patriotism and national awareness are closely related things. If our songs help someone to discover their national identity its great, but its not something that we aim at musically. Our message is music and everything else that comes with it.

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