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Katrina Mykolaychuk, the mother of a Ukrainian cult actor


Myroslava Barchuk tells a story of Katrina Mykolaychuk, the mother of Ivan Mykolaychuk, one of the most prominent figures in the Ukrainian cinema of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Ivan Mykolaychuk was more than a great actor and film director — he was a cult figure. Myroslava Barchuk went to a village in the Carpathians to explore his roots and discovered an amazing personality in her own right.


Few are the women who have been blessed to be mothers of geniuses. Not many are the mothers who have the misfortune to survive their children. It is not for people to choose their destinies but for God. It is God Who gives us the cross to carry.

Ivan Mykolaychuk once said that the true worth of a person is determined by the amount of pain this person can keep in the heart.

Katrina Mykolaychuk turned 90 in March 2004. On a warm spring day she sat on a sofa, among the embroidered cushions, in the house that had been built by her son Ivan and his wife Marichka, and smiled serenely at the guests. There seemed to be no end to the people who kept coming to Katrina’s house to greet her and, pay homage to her, and kiss her hand.


“O, our native land! You give birth to us so that we could open our proud hearts to you. We can’t get away from you the same way we can’t get away from our destinies, and no matter where the hurricanes of time would carry us, we, the moment they subside and the horizon clears, want to return to those places which we saw from our cradles. From that angle, it looked as though the earth had been turned upside down; then we looked at the earth from the windows with the cross-like frames; still later we wondered out into the yard overgrown with the knot-grass, feeling the earth’s warmth with the souls of our bare feet. We felt your incomparable strength penetrating our veins. It is you, our native land, that makes the swans come back from the distant worlds, and those who did not hear them cry out as they die, looking for their native land in the impenetrable fogs, those who did not see the swan leaders die hitting mountain peaks that rise unexpectedly in the darkness of the night, making it possible for others to reach their destination, those will hardly understand that the humans, similarly to swans, are governed by the laws of searching for the promised land.”A excerpt from Vasyl Zemlyak’s novel Lebedyna zgraya, or The Flock of Swans.


As a child, whenever I heard Ivan Mykolaychuk speak of his mother, he pronounced “my mama” with a tenderness that never failed to move me deeply.

We are in a semi-darkroom of Ivan’s apartment. Olesya, Ivan’s niece, and I, we are rocking our dolls in a cradle, not a toy one though but for a real baby. Ivan opens the door from the adults’ rambunctious world and tiptoes into our room. He leaves the door slightly ajar, letting the noise and some light in. He joins us on the sofa — there’s a Hutsul carpet hanging on the wall with stylized red roses on it; he puts his unfinished cigarette into a horse’s hoof that serves as an ashtray, and says in a very low voice as if talking to himself, “My mama says that it’s a sin to rock a cradle without a child in it. Mama says that the child that’s supposed to be in the cradle, is in pain when the cradle is rocked…”

I remember being stunned by these words — I see a crying child, an empty cradle rocking somewhere in the night; the smoke from the cigarette in the hoof is rising to the ceiling; neon, disturbing lights of Kyiv which is gripped by the winter cold filter through the curtains; the red roses on the carpet that look almost black, stand out boldly against the light background — “my mama says…”

“Our cradle at home, in the village of Chortoriya, had rockers, and when our mother was rocking one of our younger siblings to sleep, we heard the soft sound the rockers made on the floor — rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat… And there, in the backyard, in the old pear tree, a hoot owl would go,” — Ivan raises his hands to his mouth, makes a megaphone out of them and hoots “Tootle-tootle-tootle…”


Chortoriya emerged from Ivan’s stories as a most wonderful place in the world. It was there, in Chortoriya that Ivan played his violin, sitting under a birch tree on the top of a hill and two starlings came to join him and “sing along”; it was there, in Chortoriya that “stars affixed themselves to the twigs and boughs of the old pear on Christmas”; it was there, in Chortoriya that the River Cheremosh “turns silver because of the backs and fins of huge fish that swarm in it; it was there, in Chortoriya — or somewhere in its vicinity — that a white horse grew so fond of Ivan that he followed him everywhere and even “right into the house, ascending the wooden steps.” It was there, in Chortoriya that Ivan’s Mama and his brothers and sisters lived. His siblings had wonderful names — Frozina, Kost’, Mytro, Ivan, Kaychyk, Mariya, Yurko, Mykhailo, Annychka, and Ivanka, and at first, when I, as a small child, heard these names, I thought they were princes and princesses who lived in the magic beech forests of Bukovyna.

Once, when I was, I think, about six, my parents and I were on our way to the Mykolaychuks’ place in Kyiv to celebrate Christmas. I felt the magic of the occasion even in the taxi — the lights on the roof and on the dashboard blinked in a mysterious and mesmerizing way; the bowl that sat on my knees with kutya, the traditional Ukrainian Christmas dish, which was still warm. It felt very special to know that no one in the cold and alien city knew where we were going and why.

When we walked into the Mykolaychuks’ apartment, the warmth enveloped us. Through the open door to a room behind Uncle Ivan who wore a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt, I saw a Christmas tree, all ablaze with small multicoloured lights. In the dark window I could discern a frozen stretch of the river and distant dark hills. On the table, among the earthenware plates and bowls with traditional dishes in them, stood burning candles and sat home-made loafs of bread. And around the table — the twinkling eyes of Ivan’s brothers and sisters — green, hazel, dark-brown, the Mykolaychuk-family eyes. Ivan’s tall forehead and dark-brown eyes were also inherited from his mother. Serenity and quiet. Ivan’s narrow hand with long fingers soar above the table and in a gentle, conducting movement invite the guests to sing kolyadky (Ukrainian Christmas carols — tr.). “Let’s do the one that mama likes so much…”

In one of his letters that date to approximately the same time, addressed to his brother Dmytro, Ivan wrote, “…when I write a letter to someone in Chortoriya, I feel a constriction in my chest…I begin to experience a difficulty in breathing — and in living… all those thousand years that I have lived on this earth rise in my memory like a dark mirage… Yes, it does feel as though I’ve lived in Chortoriya for a thousand years, running barefoot over knolls and vales, shepherding the sheep that were grazing on the green pastures, smoking Vasyl’s homemade cigarettes with very strong tobacco, taking swims and fishing in Cheremosh… During long winter nights I stayed indoors, sitting in a warm corner by the stove, learning to sing kolyadky, making decorations and things for Nativity Plays… I spread fresh hay on the table for good luck in the New Year, and then brought in and decorated a Christmas tree…When I was already in my early teens, I went on climbing to the tops of the neighbouring hills in the evenings to watch the lights go out and go to sleep in the windows of peasants’ houses. O, how beautiful you were, Chortoriya… I have not seen you for such a long time, and I’m missing you so much… I’m missing all of you, people, my kin, friends, and those who did me wrong and who caused me pain… I’m not ashamed at all of being so melancholic. Beauty causes one to be melancholic. And another thing, We should not be ashamed of our tears, we should weep when we feel like it, because tears are the evidence of our humanness. And humanness comes from the Universal God. And I am not ashamed of my humanness, and write about it freely.”

Chortoriya, a village in the land of Bukovyna is an amazing place indeed. A sort of a gateway to the Ukrainian Carpathians. Though geographically it is not part of Hutsulshchyna, culturally it has close affinities with it. Village musicians, Christmas celebrations, Nativity Plays, kolyadky, embroidered clothes adorned with glass beads, ancient superstitions, myths and fairy tales that Mykolaychuk mentions in his letters are not inventions of his artistic imagination but were facts of everyday village life. The village was isolated from “the mainland Ukraine” for centuries; the village remembers the Hungarians, Rumanians, Austrians and Russians who all of them left behind their traces, energy, bullets, blood and dreams. It is probably because of such multi-ethnic and multi-political influences that it possesses such a mysterious power that has such a strong impact on all the Ukrainians who live there. At the times of the greatest oppression, subjugation, harassment, persecution, slavery, the villagers were forced down on their knees; they pressed themselves to the earth, and the rock and the reddish soil made them feel — This is our land, our sweat and out tears fall on it, and bedew it, and saturate it and impregnate it. And when there was nothing else left, their soil and rocks gave them strength to survive and persevere.

It was into such world that Katrina was born. She was a second daughter of Oleksa and Mariya Ivanyuk. She was christened Katrina but her parents called her Katrinka.

At the time of her birth, Bukovyna, and consequently the village of Chortoriya in it, was under the Hapsburgs. Katrinka could not care less under whose political authority her village was, until one terrible day in the year 1916, several strangers came to their new, recently built peasant house made of logs, and took away her father who was an Austrian citizen. It was later that Katrinka understood that her dad was conscripted into the Austrian army to fight against the Russian army. Such was the plight of the Ukrainians — to be fighting each other in foreign armies. There were 3.5 million Ukrainians in the Russian army and 250 thousand Ukrainians in the Austrian army facing each other as bitter enemies in the First World War. Katrinka recollects that one of the Austrians who came to fetch her father — incidentally, an ethnic Bosnian — carried her around the house, gave her “very white sugar” instead of candy. And in the morning he led her father away. And he never came back.

The front line passed close to the village, and there were days when during the fighting the Russian and Austrian bullets whistled through the air, flying in opposite directions, many of them hitting the log walls of the peasant houses. On some days, the fighting took place right in the village, and then, the next morning, the peasants found bright empty copper cartridges strewn around in their backyards and gardens.


Ivanyuk’s children were growing up and their still young mother was waiting for her husband to come back. Some food was left from each dinner for Oleksa, “Maybe tonight your dad will come back.” They waited — but he did not return. The little, big-eyed Katrinka started helping her mother do chores. In winter, she brought faggots from the forest, but not daring to bring cold with her into the house, she would spend some time, before entering the room, in the hallway, leaning against the warm wall behind which stood the stove.

When it came time for her to go to school, the village was under the Rumanian domination. She tried hard to learn to write correctly the Rumanian letters, to learn by heart Rumanian verses of which she could hardly understand a word. She was such a diligent student that not once was she punished by birching. Katrinka had to — like all the other students of the school — do some chores for the school’s principal — to pluck feathers for cushions; to work in the barn, or in the vegetable garden or in the field, weeding and hoeing.

In 1923, the villagers were happy to learn that the Rumanian authorities have allowed Ukrainian classes to be conducted twice a week. Mariya immediately had her two daughters signed up for the course of Ukrainian studies and bought one text book — she did not have money for a second one. Realizing that one text book would not be enough, she went to the school’s principal with a request, “Mr Principal, I’m a poor widow, my children never have enough to eat, they don’t have shoes, I’m penniless and I can’t buy a second textbook. Would you allow Katrinka to use Vasylyna’s textbook? They could share…” But the principal was not a person easily moved by a widow’s pleas, saying, “Would your girls be able to hoe the garden using one and the same hoe at the same time?” And Mariya was forced to sell the cow in order to buy another textbook for Katrinka. They had been poor before, but without the cow they became still poorer and hungrier. But Katrinka was happy to be able to learn to read and write Ukrainian. “I would go on reading in my native tongue without stopping all day long — if only I could!” Two weeks later Ukrainian classes were suspended, but Katrinka kept her textbook at home, hiding it under her pillow, and whenever she had a chance, she climbed the hill rising above the house, and read poems and stories by Ivan Franko, Stepan Rudansky and Taras Shevchenko.

Katrinka graduated from the Rumanian school at the top of her class. The principal said to her mother, “Your daughter has a talent, take her to the town of Chernivtsi and enroll her in a good school. It will be a great sin if you don’t do all you can to let her continue her studies.” But Mariya either did not have money to send Katrinka to school in a town far away from the village, or was loath to separate the sisters — or both, and Katrinka stayed put in Chortoriya. Probably, it was God’s will — many years later, Katrinka’s talents which did not find a proper application in her own life, were passed on to her son.

In the early summer of 1930, Katrinka was given in marriage to Vasyl Mykolaychuk. Vasyl, a sedulous and decent fellow, known for his wit. He worked at the railroad and earned “good money” by the standards of Chortoriya. In fact, it was not Vasyl that Katrinka had wanted to marry — the young man of her dreams was Zynovy, a dashing, handsome, artistic young man from the neighbouring village of Vashkivtsi (he played the violin in the local community orchestra). But it was not her destiny to marry Zynovy.

Thanks to Vasyl, her mother’s debts were paid, sheep and cows were bought. They even began acquiring more land. A year later, the Mykolaychuk’s first child was born — their daughter Frozina. Then two sons — Kost’ and Dmytro. Recollecting those times, Katrina says, “I worked so hard then. We had some land to work on. If you don’t have your own land, you’re nothing.” In winter, in the evenings, she taught her husband to read and write; she worked on the loom, she embroidered shirts for children — and she sang.

It was at the end of the 1930s that an event occurred that Katrina still remembers as “a moment of happiness” — her husband Vasyl bought good shoes for her. In fact, they were the first shoes she ever owned. They looked so fashionable, small, patent-leather, with pointed toes. It felt so nice to be thinking of an occasion when she would put them on — on a Sunday to church, or on a holiday — for everyone to see what a marvel of shoes she had. So beautiful, with that sparkling sheen!

It was a harvest time. Frozina, though still a child, was also given some work to do — she raked hay into a haycock in the family’s vegetable garden. She was barefoot, and the prickly dry awns and bristles bit into the soles of her feet. To protect her feet, the girl put on her mother’s new shoes, and though they were several sizes too big, they served their protective purpose. Her work finished, the girl took off the shoes and left them by the haystack. The shoes disappeared, never to be found again. Katrina wept so bitterly over the loss — but only when her children could not see her crying. It was only the first one of the losses she suffered.

In 1940, the Russian troops entered Bukovyna and the villagers, fearing repressions, burned books in the Ukrainian language — history textbooks were the first to be destroyed; the bibles were thoroughly hidden.

In June 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Katrina was in the maternity ward of a hospital with her newly born son Ivan.

Many years later, Ivan Mykolaychuk related, in his own words, the story of what had happened on that fateful day:

“It so happened that I asked to be delivered into this world on an evening a couple of days before the war broke out. When my mother felt her labour was beginning, my father harnessed the horses to the wagon and drove his wife who was already in pain to the regional hospital. He chose the shortest route and they had to go through the thickets of a forest at night. They arrived just on time. After she was checked in, he went out and knelt in front of the hospital praying to the All-Mighty and to all the patron saints to help his beloved wife to give birth to her child, and make sure that she and the child be all right. Then he whistled to his horses and returned home. It was on June 22 1941 that he turned up at the hospital again, to find out how things with his wife and their new baby were. He was told that both the child — that is me — and his mother were in good health, and several minutes later, he heard the approaching rumble of many planes. They were German military planes on a bombing mission. When the bombs began to fall on the town, people rushed out of their homes, seeking shelter. The hospital was not hit but all those who could, ran away. An old nurse ran up to my father who stood, gaping, utterly at a loss and not knowing what to do, grabbed him by the arm and shouted, “Go, quick, get your wife and child, and get out of here as fast as you can. Make your horses run as they’ve never run before! You’ve no time to lose — if a bomb hits the hospital, your son and wife will fly away with the angels!”

Father, shaken out of his stupor, brought the horses and the wagon round to the hospital door, while the old nurse carried out me, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Mama, like a duck worried over her brood, followed behind.

Father picked me up from the nurse, and then helped my mama onto the wagon. In fact, he very carefully picked her up from the ground and lifted her onto the wagon. Then he got into the driver’s seat and urged the horses into the gallop. When we were halfway home, there appeared a flight of German bombers gravely moving across the sky. They were escorted by a bevy of belligerent fighters. They, like shepherds’ pugnacious young dogs running around to burn excessive energy, were weaving in and out of the orderly formation of the bombers. The pilots must have been bored and looked for something to entertain them. And then one of them spotted a peasant’s wagon racing along an empty road. The pilot thought it would be fun to chase it. He promptly dropped out of the group, nosedived, and began to chase and spray the road with bullets. The horses reared up and bolted. Father lost hold of the reins and fell down into the wagon. The German fighter made a circle and came back, firing at us from its machine guns. The deadly game lasted for at least half hour. My parents were lying in a heap in the wagon, covering me with their bodies, and praying to the Virgin Mary to protect me and save me from death…

And a miracle did happen — we all of us survived then…”

At this point, Ivan Mykolaychuk made a meaningful pause and then delivered his philosophical punch line, “See, right from birth, I was disagreeable to Satan. I’m sure it was the devil — may he be locked forever in hell! — that was out there hunting me in that fighter… Maybe you won’t believe it, but that satanic chase continues, the devil keeps harassing me, pushing me into tight corners, into blind alleys, giving me no respite. If it were not for the Virgin Mary whom my mom and dad asked at the horrible hour to be my protectress, I’m not at all sure I wouldn’t have been snared and done away with by one of his viceroys on this earth…”


Soon after the war, “the collectivization of agriculture,” Soviet style, began in Bukovyna. It was carried out along the same lines as it had been done in Eastern Ukraine in the late 1920s and early 1930s — and with such disastrous consequences.

Katrina Mykolaychuk recollects, “Those soviets came to every house and made the people give their land and cattle and what else they had in their households to the kolhosp (collective farm — tr.). They came to our place too… My Vasyl was led out of the house at gun point. I was pregnant then, but I put myself between Vasyl and those who trained their submachine guns at him… They took away our land — three hectares! They took away all those things that we had been buying for years, long years of hard work. They took away our orchard — Vasyl and I, we had planted so many trees in it! They took away everything from the pantry — all the eggs, milk, meat — and left it empty! They took even the sunflower seeds from the trays on the stove! That was the way they made us join their commune… We were allowed to have only a vegetable garden about one seventh of an acre…. Some of the people of our village who had been robbed in this way, went out into the fields, and lay themselves down on the ground in front of the kolhosp tractors. But the soviets did not care… Then they introduced what they called prodrazverstka (quotas of agricultural products peasants were to contribute to the state; it was no more than a euphemism for requisitioning of food products — tr.) — 150 eggs, 60 kilograms of meat and 200 liters of milk from each household to be delivered each year. And what were you to do if your cow was barren and did not have any milk, if you did not keep pigs for meat? Then you had to buy milk and meat from someone else in order to fulfill this prodrazverstka. And if you refused to comply, then a truck would come at night, and you would be told, at gun point, to pack your things and to write an application for “volunteering to be transported to Siberia for developing the virgin lands there”. And then they would drive you and your family away to a railroad station, put you on a freight train and send you off to Siberia (even as late as in the nineteen-sixties, at the time of Khrushchev’s “thaw” [a period of freer domestic policies and introduction of a measure of intellectual freedom — tr.], the Ukrainian peasants who “volunteered” to go to Siberia, could not return home; their “applications” for transportation to Siberia were carefully preserved in the Soviet archives as evidence of their willingness to be deported — M.B.).

Ukrainian guerilla fighters (members of the Ukrainian Insurrection Army, UIA, fighting for independence of Ukraine — M.B.) also paid visits to Chortoriya at night — they asked for food. Villagers gave them food and milk, medicines, warm clothes, and blankets. When snoopers tattled on the peasants who had helped UIA fighters, the whole families were deported to Siberia. The Soviet authorities, to easier find out who supported UIA fighters, once in a while sent out their agents, disguised as UIA men, to the villages to snoop around.

The Mykolaychuks were spared the tragic misfortune of deportation. Vasyl did do things which could land him in trouble — he invited friends over to his place at night to read Shevchenko’s Kobzar aloud, or stories about hetmans of Ukraine. Katrina would hang thick shawls over the windows and leave only one candle burning. Every so often, Vasyl would pull out his Bible from its hiding place and read Psalms to his fellow villagers. They would ask him, “Read us the prophecies, we want to know what to expect,” and he would reply, “People will come back to the true faith, take my word for it… but then, it may be too late, don’t know why… maybe because God won’t accept us.”

In 1947, famine struck Ukraine. The Mykolaychuks’ eldest son, Kost’, was ordered to load the bodies of the villagers who had died of hunger, onto a wagon and take them to the cemetery. It was there and then that his childhood ended.

The Mykolaychuks survived only thanks to their cow. Also, they had two millstones — the only ones in the whole village — which were used for grinding grain that had been saved from confiscations. All the villagers who had such grain, could use the millstones. But soon a day came when the authorities moved in and seized the millstones — “Did the Soviet power give you the right to be grinding grain?”


I was always amazed at the intensity of Katrina’s gaze looking at me from the old photographs — steady, self-confident, thoughtful, magnetic, calm and untroubled. There was also defiance in her dark eyes — defiance of spiritual oppression she was subjected to. When I look into Katrina’s eyes, I understand where that dignity her children had, comes from. It was from his mother that Ivan inherited the inner freedom and rebelliousness. None of Katrina’s ten children was lacking in character or fortitude, all were personalities with strong moral fiber.


Chortoriya was always famous for its musicians and kolyadky singers. No matter how hard the Soviet power tried to “weed out the religious superstitions,” groups of kolyadky singers would go around the village on Christmas, knocking at the doors and chanting “Christ is born”. Police detachments were also prowling around, on the lookout for those who were wearing holiday dress. Yurko Mykolaychuk once got caught and was taken to the police station where he was booked for “refusing to comply with the regulations and challenging behavior.” When he was told he was to pay a fine of 5 rubles, he produced ten and said, “That’s to take care of the next year’s fine too.”

The eighteenth-century Ukrainian philosopher Hryhory Skovoroda who challenged the customary way of life and became peripatetic, said that happiness was not in opposing or defying the whole world, but in “knowing thyself.” There was something of the same attitude present in the Mykolaychuks, and I instinctively felt it when still quite young. The evidence of this was in the way everyday occurrences were elevated to the status of myth, in the way they recollected events that had taken place in the village, in the way they made toasts, imbuing them with philosophic meaning, in the way they treated each other in the family, and outsiders as well.

Once, when I was about twelve, Ivan Mykolaychuk said, addressing me with seriousness and respect that I thought were due only to a grown-up, “I wish you knew, Myroslava, how thankful I am to you for helping us look after my niece Olesya.” Olesya was six years my junior. I, an awkward, unhappy adolescent, was overwhelmed, and my memory has captured these words for good.


For thirty four years, year in year out, Katrina would get up very early in the morning to send her children off to school (in cold seasons it was still dark), rush to the barn, milk the cow, make coffee with fresh milk, fry eggs, wake up the children, and give them their breakfast. When they came back from school, she would spread their clothes, if they were wet, near the oven to dry, attend to their soar throats and aching ears, teach the elder ones to weave and embroider, rock the little ones in the cradle, and sing songs for all to hear. On holidays, she would pull out Shevchenko’s Kobzar, released “before the Soviets,” in which God was printed with the capital G, and read the poems to her children. The words “free Ukraine,” “freedom,” and “truth” would send a shiver down the spine — shiver of excitement and hope. These readings, this shiver, these songs sung in the quiet of their house gave the Mykolaychuks their inner strength, spiritual flame and harmony.

Vasyl continued working at the railroad, and every summer the older children helped remove the weeds growing along the tracks, whitewash whatever needed whitewashing, and collect garbage. In August, it often became unbearably hot, the heat being particularly great near the rails. But the children continued doing what was required of them, faint with the heat. Once, Ivan came up to his father and said, “Look, father, you can kill me but I won’t do it any longer.” It was an unheard of rebellion in their family. And Vasyl said prophetically, looking the boy in the eye, “Well, I see that this boy will have something much better to do in life.”

Ivan was fond of listening to the wind singing in the field on his way to or from school, of watching the flowers open their petals in the morning, of climbing “his” apple tree and daydreaming and playing the flute, of taking part in amateur production of plays at the community centre, of singing and dancing. All the rest of his life, he kept reiterating that all the best and most important things in life he had learnt before he had turned fifteen, and after that age, he only used his memory to serve him. It was in his young years that he came to an irreversible decision about what he wanted to do with his life. “I remember clearly that day. I was out in the field, looking after our grazing cow. It was a warm, golden, autumnal day. On the way back home, we passed by a house with an open window, and I heard a beautiful song playing on the radio. I never heard that song before, but it affected me so much that after I led the cow into our barn, I got my shoes out, cleaned them up, put on my suit and went to the railroad station to wait for the train that would take me to the town of Chernivtsi. I’d find a school there where they would teach me to be an actor.” He did it, and did become an actor, a famous one at that.

Later, Ivan said that “my best audience is my mama.” His mother is a person possessing her own, comprehensive and thoroughly personal conception and view of humanity, of the world, and of life, a person of the noble spirit, a person with an inborn artistic sense. In one of his interviews, Ivan had this to say about his mother, “Once, my mama walked into my room at the moment when I was listening to Chopin. She stood there listening, and then compared Chopin’s music with the thuds of falling apples in the autumn. I’m not sure whether it is possible to render better the emotion produced by the music of Chopin. I’ve never heard anything better, anyway. My mama is a simple peasant, but she intuited the rhythm of nature in Chopin’s nocturnes.”


Out of ten Katrina’s children only six are alive. Ivan died in 1987, then Kost’, then Mariya, and then Dmytro.

There is a museum in Chortoriya dedicated to Ivan Mykolaychuk, the old Mykolaychuks’ house. A lot of people, from Ukraine and from abroad, regularly come to pay homage. Ivan’s mother thinks of him as though he were alive. Once in a while she would get up, saying, “Excuse me, I’ve got to go and bring Ivan a fresh towel.” And she would go to that old house-museum, take the towel that has been hanging there for some time, and exchange it for the new one.

That year when Ivan died, several hundred swans came and stayed at the lakes in the vicinity of Chortoriya for winter, the first time ever. These swans that have come to stay, are referred to now as “Ivan’s swans.” It was Ivan’s soul that has come back to his native land, back to his mama.


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