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Ivan Mykolaychuk’s 70th anniversary
On June 15 2011, the great Ukrainian actor and film director Ivan Mykolaychuk would have turned 70. Olga Dubovyk takes a look at how this date was marked in Ukraine.
Oleksandr Horobets and Serhiy Marchenko
Ivan Mykolaychuk was born in the village of Chortoryia, in the Land of Bukovyna in Western Ukraine. The house he spent his childhood in still stands and has been turned into a museum. Among many museum pieces which once used to be ordinary household items, there is a cradle in which all the ten children of the big Mykolaychuk family were successively rocked to sleep in their first months of life. Ivan Mykolaychuk, as an actor and film director, became the central figure of what came to be called “the Ukrainian poetic movement,” the phenomenon that developed in spite of the destructive pressure that the soviets exercised upon all the arts, cinema included.
There was something in Mykolaychuk, besides obvious artistic talents and appearance, which defies definition, but which made him a Ukrainian actor par excellence who epitomized the very best in the appearance and the spirit of the Ukrainianness.
Ivan Mykolaychuk was destined to live only 46 years but his cinematic legacy has become a most valuable contribution to Ukrainian culture. Films like Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors, The White Bird with a Black Spot, Vavilon XX, became classics right at the time of their first screening.
The people who gathered in Chortoryia to pay homage to Ivan Mykolaychuk included those who were related by blood, marriage or spirit, those who appreciate his work as actor and director, and his admirers — among them his wife Mariya Mykolaychuk, who has taken upon herself to represent her late husband on this earth, his sister Frozyna, his brothers Yury and Mykhailo, the film director Roman Balayan, the poet Ivan Drach, the theater director Fedir Stryhun, the actor Bohdan Stupka, the singer Nina Matviyenko, the publisher Oleksandr Horobets and his family, the artist Serhiy Yakutovych, to name just a few.
Once, quite some time ago, Ivan Mykolaychuk wanted to put tables, on some special occasion, along the road from Chernivtsi to Chortoryia and invite all those who would care to come to share a good drink and good food. He never got around to doing that but at the festival, Na hostyny do Ivana (Welcome to Ivan’s Place), which celebrated Ivan’s seventieth birthday, the villages that are situated along the road from Chernivtsi, the regional capital of Bukovyna, with poetic names like Mamayivtsi, Luzhany, Dubivtsi, Zeleniv or Luzhany, lined up the road that connected them with tables laden with food and drink.
Though the Ukrainian authorities did endorse a resolution to mark Ivan Mykolaychuk’s seventieth birthday officially, the celebrations in the village were organized mostly by his relatives, friends and admirers. There was nothing official in the celebrations — it was a truly folk festival. A new driveway to Ivan Mykolaychuk’s house was built; the mile from the highway to the house was lined up with children wearing Ukrainian traditional dresses and holding the traditional Ukrainian embroidered decorative towels; songs, in which Ivan Mykolaychuk joined in spirit, were sung nonstop by all and sundry — there were no guests, all were participants.
On the official side, a film festival was held with Ivan Mykolaychuk’s films being shown all across Bukovyna; some of the central TV stations showed programs devoted to Ivan Mykolaychuk (unfortunately, only one TV station showed films in which Ivan Mykolaychuk played or which he had directed); an all-Ukraine exhibition of art dedicated to Ivan Mykolaychuk was staged in Chernivtsi as well as a short-film festival, Kinoetyka-2011; the Olha Kobylyanska Music and Drama Theater in Chernivtsi staged a play, Tysyachy snopiv vitru (Thousands of Sheaves of Wind) which was based on the major events in Ivan Mykolaychuk’s life. Ivan Mykolaychuk’s wife, relatives and friends had been interviewed in order to make the play as authentic as possible.
The Publishing House Mizhnarodny Turyzm published a book, Ivan Mykolaychuk: mahiya lyubovi (Ivan Mykolaychuk: Magic of Love), which had been compiled by the film critic Larysa Bryukhovetska and Ivan Mykolaychuk’s widow Mariya Mykolaychuk. The book is richly illustrated with photos, many of which have never been published before.
On June 18, a memorial event was held at the Ivan Franko Drama Theater in Kyiv, which was attended by some of those who had been present at the Ivan Mykolaychuk birthday celebrations festival in Chortoryia and by numerous admirers of Ivan Mykolaychuk’s talents.
Many heartfelt words were said, a lot of moving singing was done, a play was shown, based on a script written by Ivan Mykolaychuk.
The official side of the celebrations was supported by the Ministry of Culture, National Union of Cinematographers of Ukraine, Chernivtsi Regional Administration, local authorities and the Chernivtsi local company Kinovideoprokat.
15 “mementos” from the life of Ivan Mykolaychuk
Ivan Mykolaychuk was born on a Sunday, June 15 1941, a week before Nazi Germany invaded Ukraine.
At age six, he sang a song, “Ukraine Has Not Died Yet” (the song had been banned by the soviet authorities) at the wedding party of his sister Frozyna; the guests at the wedding showered the boy with presents and money of appreciation.
In class, Ivan Mykolaychuk did not give God the finger as the teacher required the pupils to do, the only one to refuse to do it in class. Said Ivan: “You’ve said yourself there’s no God – so who I could give the finger to?”
Married Marichka (Mariya) Karpyuk when he was twenty; the couple moved to Kyiv where they lived in a dormitory, sharing one small bed.
Ivan became a movie star when he was slightly over twenty years of age.
The film in which he starred Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors, directed by S. Parajanov, won a wide international recognition.
The soviet authorities criticized films in which Ivan Mykolaychuk played or which he directed “on ideological grounds”, and he faced considerable obstacles in continuing his career in cinema.
Attempts were made to make him an informant for the KGB, soviet secret police; Ivan Mykolaychuk categorically refused to do anything with that repressive organization.
The US astronaut Neil Armstrong who was the first to walk on the Moon (“One small step for man, and a giant leap for mankind”) admired greatly the film The White Bird with a Black Spot, with Mykolaychuk starring.
Ivan Mykolaychuk built a new house for his close relatives who lived in Chortoryia. Once he brought a huge barrel of beer to Chortoryia and invited the villagers to partake of it. His dream of laying tables and inviting as many people as could come, came true during the celebrations of his seventieth birthday, twenty four years after his death.
Once, at a film festival held in Yugoslavia, he met and talked to the French actor J.-P. Belmondo who did not speak Ukrainian; Mykolaychuk did not speak French but they did not need an interpreter as they could understand each other without words.
During his lifetime, Ivan Mykolaychuk collected a number of official titles and prizes but the main prize was a permanent place he had won in the hearts of Ukrainian people.
He and his wife Mariya (Marichka) lived a happy life together for twenty five years.
Ivan Mykolaychuk passed away on August 1987; his last words were: “Now I know how to make movies.”