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Facets of Her Soul
Olga Bohomolets is a doctor of medicine of great prestige and renown, who is also a popular baladeer, who is also a talented composer, who is also a knowledgable art collector, who is also a passionate revivalist of the national heritage, who is also a successful parent, who is also….
Yevhen BUDKO, Mizhnarodny Turyzm senior editor, talked to Ms Olga Bohomolets. courtesy of Olga Bohomolets
Talking to such a multitalented person as Ms Olga Bohomolets, I could not help being impressed by her amazingly striking, multifaceted personality which manifests itself in many ways. In fact, her formidable personality is of the kind that can easily awe or intimidate. Some of the facets of her personality open up in her songs. Even her voice, deep and powerful, reflects her personality in a subtle way. She can be sparklingly cheerful and thoughtfully pensive.
Among her ancestors and blood relations were public figures, scientists, politicians, religious and culture figures, revolutionaries and prominent physicians.
She graduated from the Medical University in Kyiv which is named after her great-grandfather, and now she is a professor at the National Bohomolets University, and her father was a professor of the Bohomolets Institute of Physiology.
In her collection, the core of which is made up of ancient Ukrainian icons, you can also see many portraits of her ancestors.
It seemed logical to begin my interview with a question about her ancestry.
— Professor Bohomolets, whom among your ancestors, you regard to be of a particular prominence?
— I have no doubt that the most distinguished person in the line of my ancestors was my grandfather, Oleksandr Bohomolets, an academician, whose contributions to the development of the medical science were groundbreaking. His discoveries were many, and those in the sphere of blood transfusion and blood preservation had helped save lives of hundreds of thousands of the wounded in the Second World War. He lived a hard but full life. I feel particularly close to him in spirit.
However, there are quite a few others who deserve a mention and are worthy of admiration. Incidentally, among them were a general of the Russian Imperial Army and a general of the Ukrainian People’s Army — two political poles apart.
The earliest known mention of Bohomolets dates to the fourteenth century. The Polish king gave awards to some members of the Bohomolets family, evidently for their bravery, elevated them to the nobility and granted them the right to display their coat of arms. One of the Bohomolets clan is known to have taken part in the Battle of Grunewald at which the combined forces of Poland, Lithuania and other Slavic lands decisively defeated the knights of the Teutonic Order in 1410 thus stemming the Order’s aggressive push further east.
I think it’s always been the mark of the Bohomolets family to defend and protect people and seek truth for centuries.
— In the soviet times it was often vitally important to have the “right” sort of ancestry — workers or peasants — in order to move up the social ladder, and the nobles among one’s ancestry were a very wrong sort of ancestors. Did your grandfather or father have any problems with that under the Soviets?
— No, not really. If the soviet power frowned upon their ancestry, they did not persecute or prosecute them. Probably, it was the great authority in the field of medicine that my grandfather enjoyed, that protected him. Besides, his mother was known to have died in fighting against the Russian czarism and it also could have been a redeeming factor. She gave birth to her son, my grandfather Oleksandr, when she was doing a term in a czarist prison.
— Was your choice of medicine as an occupation motivated by your desire to continue the medical traditions of the family?
— I definitely knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was still a child. As I grew up I could not imagine doing anything else in life. Of course, I was exposed to all that medical talk in the family and that must have affected me. The family traditions of providing care and love of people must have played a role too. My eldest daughter is also a medic — and thus she is the sixth generation of physicians in our family.
— There was a time when you were better known as a singer rather than a doctor of medicine. But these days you do not seem to be as active as a singer as you used to be.
— Singing for me is something that my heart longs for, and medicine is my professional calling. Through medicine I heal the bodies, and through my songs I try to heal the souls. I want to see the world around me full of joy and harmony, and seeing happy smiles on people’s faces makes me happy too.
I want to feel fulfilled as a woman, as a mother, as a doctor and as a member of the society I live in, and I think that such fulfillment is quite attainable.
— How many children do you have?
— Four. The two elder ones have already found their way in life, the younger ones are still in the process of finding their own feet in life. I know that all my children are living a rewarding life. Their ideals do not include earning as much money as possible, climbing as high as possible on the social ladder or attaining fame or great power. They all are very nice, decent people, they know how to achieve aims they put before themselves, they are looking for ways of fulfilling themselves fully as God ordained they should.
My children are all very different in character but they are strong-willed and talented. Well, anyway this is what I think they are (smiles).
— Did your children inherit your talents for music or medicine?
— My eldest son Andriy and my middle daughter Anna compose music and write their songs and sing them wonderfully. My elder daughter Kateryna and the youngest Sofiya want to become physicians. I hope that my own experience as a doctor may come in handy for them.
— Did the medical fame of your great-grandfather, your grandfather and of your father help you achieve your goals in medicine?
— I’d rather say that fame was more of a hindrance than help. When I was a medical student and later when I started to work, I felt the great pressure of that fame on me — I had to be proving myself all the time, I had to demonstrate I was worthy of my recent and distant ancestors. But they did help me in the sense of providing inspiration and challenge. The discoveries and work of Oleksandr Bohomolets had saved millions of lives, and he serves as a great role model for me.
— You have opted for dermatology as the field of your medical work — any particular reason why?
— At the Medical University I majored in a different medical field but when I happened to attend a world congress of dermatologists held in the USA in 1991, the things I heard and saw made such a great impression on me that I decided I had to go into dermatology. I clearly saw a great gap, not in favor of Ukrainian medicine, between the western achievements in this field and Ukraine’s lagging behind. I realized I could successfully treat those cases which had been considered untreatable in Ukraine. Lasers produced a revolution in many fields of medicine, and their application in dermatology was crucial for treating many problems.
I founded a clinic of laser medicine, the first ever such clinic in Ukraine. It took a long time, efforts and resources to do that. Now I run the Institute of Dermatology and Cosmetology of Doctor Olga Bohomolets, but it all began with the purchase of just one piece of laser equipment.
I’ve given my Institute my name — to emphasize my personal involvement and my personal responsibility. I’ve been encouraged to open other such clinics all over the country but I knew I could not find enough highly qualified doctors to staff more than one clinic.
Skin tumors, unfortunately, are among medical problems that affect a great many people, and melanomas are particularly dangerous. A birthmark can give a start to a malignant tumor. If it is not detected at an early stage of its development, then ninety five percent of people with melanoma die. I faced the challenge of bringing down the number of deaths caused by melanoma in Ukraine and we’ve achieved considerable success in this direction. The main thing is to diagnose melanoma at an early stage. At present, my Institute is working out a system of diagnosing melanoma at a high professional level without making patients come to our Institute. If successful, it will save lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
— You seem to be a person who is not indifferent to the processes that are taking place in the public life of Ukraine, in Ukrainian society. What is your opinion about the state of things in the poetical and social life of Ukraine? Is our society basically healthy or is it sick?
— It is badly sick but not terminally ill. It can be brought back to a healthy state. To do that the mechanisms of purposeful “self-cleansing” should be activated. The social immune system should then kick in, and the role of the main “doctor’ in this process should be assumed by the “civil society.” You can’t reform a social system without gaining the support of the majority of people of this society.
— A major overhaul in the system of health protection and medical care is also badly needed in Ukraine, is it not?
— Absolutely. We have already developed a number of very practical propositions as to the overhauling the whole system of health care in Ukraine. The moment the government decides it’s high time the health of the nation was made a high priority, we can provide the government with a working model of changes to be introduced.
— I can’t help wondering how you manage to combine the tough attitudes of a manager, professional decisions of a doctor, scientific and medical curiosity with the lyrical part of your nature which is revealed in your songs and in your love of art.
— I don’t know. It’s all just there, in me. But I never wanted or aspired to be a professional musician — I always wanted to be a doctor. My songs came to me all by themselves. As far as I remember, I wrote my first song in 1983, after I had read a poem by Lina Kostenko, one of the best Ukrainian poets. The poem was called “An Autumnal Day.” It triggered something in me that produced a melody. It did not take me long to realize I did have a gift of songwriting and I decided I simply had to let people hear my songs. My songs are generated by my emotions, by that side of my nature, which, as you’ve put, is lyrical.
I write music mostly at night when the quiet descends upon the earth and upon my house.
— And since that first song, songwriting has always been with you?
— Yes, it has. After my first experience of songwriting which was very uplifting, I decided that I did want to go public but would never-ever charge money for my performances. This principle of mine has never wavered in these past twenty years. I’ve never demanded money for any of my public performances.
— Your songs can be described as “romansy,” that is, lyrical ballads —are they particularly close to your heart?
— I believe that melodies, that are created within the depths of my being, are inspired by God who lets me hear the music of love — and then I let others hear these songs. These days songs of harmony and love are what our society which lacks in kindness, trust and understanding, badly needs to hear.
Though there may be gaps in my creative output which are caused by my work and all sorts of projects to be attended to, my songwriting never goes away, and I know I will play and sing for those who appreciate my songs some day. And I hope it will be sooner than later — my heart is full of music!
— I know that you devote a lot of your time and resources to charity, to support of children who are in urgent need of medical help, and to other social things. I also know that one of your major projects was the creation of the Radomysl Castle, a cultural complex, not far from Kyiv. In fact, I was present at the opening (see WU issue 2’ 2011), and saw those wonderful icons which were exhibited there — when did you start collecting them?
— It began quite some time ago, and quite by chance too. Once, at a flea market, I saw an icon, lying on the ground, in mud, among pieces of junk. The vendor wanted one hryvnya (about 80 US cents) for that icon. I bought it — I could discern the face of the Savior through the dirt that covered the icon and I just could not let it stay there, in the mud…
Somehow, that purchase aroused my interest in what may be called “household icons” — that is icons that were painted to be kept at homes rather than in churches. The more I learned about such icons, the more fascinated I became. A whole new world was opening up for me. Such icons were painted both by professional icon painters and amateurs. They reflected the grassroot ways of seeing the spiritual world, they did not follow the dogmatic or canonic principles of icon painting. There are about 5,000 items exhibited there, in Radomysl Castle. We called the exhibition The Soul of Ukraine. I don’t think there is any other such collection in the world anywhere.
— Could you please say a few words about that amazing art center of yours, Radomysl Castle.
— It would take too long to go into all the details but briefly — a swamp and a dump and ruins of a water mill were turned into a castle. The resurrection lasted for five years. During the reconstruction, if you may call it that, the ruins of older structures were unearthed — originally it was a paper mill turned fortress.
The resurrected “castle” stands on solid rock that is about a mile deep, and thus did not need any foundation. You can see outcroppings of that rock around Radomysl Castle. The center has been provided with a small concert hall that has excellent acoustic properties. Incidentally, there is a natural spring of water in it, which makes it the only concert hall of its kind.
The swamps were turned into a wonderful park with all sorts of plants, rare ones too, growing there. And with all sorts of animals living there too — beavers, muskrats, otters, storks…
— Do you think it can become a self-sustaining tourist center?
— I hope it will. The center has a conference hall, a hall that can be used for all sorts of ceremonies, like marriage registration, rooms for guests. You’ve got to pay a fee for a visit and these fees, hopefully, will be paying for maintenance. The state does not give us support in any way.
In the year that has passed since the opening day, we’ve had more than ten thousand visitors, among whom were tourists from the US, Canada and Australia. A documentary about our center and its collection of icons was shown by one of the TV stations in Japan. Tourism and documentaries should improve the image of Ukraine as a country with a rich and ancient culture.
— There is a national flag flying above Radomysl Castle — and there is also a coat of arms on the wall. What’s the symbolism of it?
— The head of a bull pierced with a sword means: Kill the animal in yourself. It symbolizes the victory of the spirit over the matter. Its closeness to the flag indicates that the destinies of the Bohomolets clan have always been and will be linked with Ukraine. I could go to any country in the world, including the most developed ones too, and I would earn a lot of money as a top specialist in the field of medicine. But I will always stay in Ukraine and I hope my children and their children will always live in Ukraine too.
And if you happen to come to Kyiv on a visit — welcome to Radomysl Castle. It does deserve a visit.
Radomysl Castle — a former paper-making factory which was restored and turned into a culture center by Olga Bohomolets.
Sofiya Bohomolets (1856–1892), the mother of Academician Oleksandr Bohomolets. She was a Ukrainian nationalist of a revolutionary kind, who gave birth to her son in prison and later died in a hard-labor penal colony.
Vadym Bohomolets (1878–1936), a cousin of Academician Oleksandr Bohomolets — an active military figure of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR); he was for some time a UPR representative in Rumania.
Oleksandr Bohomolets (1850–1935) — the first in the line of Bohomolets medical dynasty; his wife was Sofiya Bohomolets.
Olga Bohomolets has published over 70 scholarly papers and has been awarded 9 patents for her inventions.
Academician Oleksandr Bohomolets in his young and mature years; and represented on postage stamp released to mark his 90th birthday.
Olga Bohomolets, in her capacity of a singer in a concert; her voice is often described as "velvety"; she is sometimes referred to as "the princess of Ukrainian song."
Icons displayed in the halls of Radomysl Castle.