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Nila Kryukova’s potent message of courage and Ukrainianness
Nila Kryukova, a remarkable Ukrainian actress, recipient of the honorary title of the People’s Artist of Ukraine and of the Shevchenko National State Prize, was awarded the Order of the Hero of Ukraine shortly before the Day of Independence of Ukraine in August 2008. She has devoted many years of her life to recitals of Ukrainian poetry on various stages of Ukraine and abroad. Ms Kryukova is a great enthusiast of Ukrainian culture and she has done a lot to bring home to her many audiences the Ukrainian message.
I have to admit I was greatly surprised when I received an invitation to a recital that was to be given by Nila Kryukova at the Philharmonic Society in Kyiv on August 22. I knew that Ms Kryukova had met with an extremely unfortunate, bad accident and had been bed-ridden, partially paralyzed, in hospital for more than two years. And now a public recital? In a wheel chair?
I could hardly imagine a person, confined to a wheel chair, appearing on stage and professionally reciting poetry to the accompaniment of an orchestra. But then I remembered that in spite of various physical predicaments and disadvantages a number of singers not only performed in public, but achieved a great success — blind singers, for example, like Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder. But they were Western performers, and I could not recollect a single physically handicapped Ukrainian performer who would have achieved fame or success. Probably it was still part of the soviet legacy to regard a physically disadvantaged person — be the disadvantage the result of an accident or a condition one was born with — as an equal member of society who could make their contribution to culture or business, no matter what.
I went to the concert with mixed feelings — I feared there would be only a handful of nostalgic people who would turn up just to pay their respects; I feared that Ms Kryukova would be not able to perform as well as she used to, and that the audience would appreciate her courage and stamina and resilience rather than her performance; I feared I would be overwhelmed by the sight of the person who used to be so energetic, full of life and now reduced to a helpless paralytic and would not be able to focus on the recital itself…
My first fear was dispelled even before the concert began — I arrived some fifteen minutes before seven when the concert was due to begin, and to my great relief and surprise I discovered quite a sizeable crowd of festive-looking people waiting and talking among themselves in front of the Philharmonic Society. In fact, when I made my way into the concert hall, I saw that all the seats were occupied, and that there were many people on the balconies. Some people were even standing at the walls and at the columns.
My second fear was dispelled the moment Ms Kryukova appeared — she was wheeled onto the stage by one of the best Ukrainian poets of today Dmytro Pavlychko. From where I sat I saw that Ms Kryukova looked her usual, vigorous self, complete with her Ukrainian traditional embroidered shirt, her black hair, and her smile, and minutes later I totally forgot that her sitting position was not a matter of choice for her.
Among the officials who greeted her were the minister of culture and one of the vice premiers; the official who read out the citation and handed the order to Ms Kryukova was overcome with emotion. And then she was flooded with flowers.
All of it was very nice — but now came the crucial moment. And Ms Kryukova proved to be at her usual best. A couple of minutes into the recital — and you stopped seeing the wheel chair. She gripped the audience with the artistic power, message and music of the poems she recited — Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, Andriy Malyshko, Vasyl Symonenko, Borys Oliynyk, Dmytro Pavlychko and Lina Kostenko — never let go until the end of the recital. Kostenko’s long poem Marusya Churay has always been Ms Kryukova’s tour de force — and so it remained.
Her recital was interspersed with Ukrainian songs performed by the Natsionalna kapela bandurystiv Ukrayiny im. H. Mayborody (National Bandura-Players Ensemble and Choir named for H. Mayboroda), with songs performed by Nina Matviyenko, Mariya Mykolaychuk, Mariya Stefyuk and Valentyna Kovalska, and with stories told by Ms Kryukova with her usual gusto, humor and passion. These stories (about attempts by the soviet authorities to prevent her from reading Kostenko’s poem, about the students’ hunger strike in 1990, which presaged Ukraine’s independence, and of which she was a participant, about the events of the Orange Revolution, in which she was actively engaged) do deserve to be written down and published. The appreciative audience laughed and cheered. Even though some of her stories had a rather tragic side to them, Ms Kryukova’s overriding optimism gave her stories a highly hopeful ring.
Several times, during the performance, I felt tears welling in my eyes. I surreptitiously looked around, and saw that some of the people also had tears in their eyes. They were the tears of high emotion produced by the whole atmosphere of the recital, by something that can hardly be expressed in words — and by the gratitude I’m sure not only I felt, the gratitude to the recitalist for showing such mastery and fortitude, and for giving a perfect example of the victory of spirit over body.
At the end of this amazing performance all the people rose to their feet and greeted Ms Kryukova with a prolonged applause — and with still more flowers.
The people in the audience were reluctant to leave. I looked at my watch and discovered that the concert lasted over two hours! There had been no rehearsals — for obvious reasons, and yet there had been not a single uncertain or awkward moment during this long — and yet too short! — non-stop performance.
I’m sure that the people who came to attend the concert shared an eagerness to be exposed to the Ukrainianness expressed in such a highly poetic way, to be among the like-minded people, to be filled by the lofty emotions. Strangely enough, almost twenty years since Ukraine’s independence, there are so few similar public occasions held at which people could feel unashamedly proud of their Ukrainianness and of being part of Ukrainian culture.
After the concert I could not help reflecting upon the vicissitudes of life, unpredictability of accident, and above all, the strength of human spirit that can overcome any adversity. And I wished I had such strength too.
By Oleksandr PANASYEV
Photos are from Myroslava Barchuk’s archives