Thursday, September 11, 2008

The passing of a young man...Yuriy Pokalchuk

Yesterday, I received a phone call! I was not surprised when my editor friend on the other end of the phone asked, "You introduced me to Pokalchuk, didn't you?" Then he continued about some statement that President Yushchenko had made about what a patriot Yuriy Pokalchuk was. I then realized that he had finally succumb to leukemia, a good acquaintance of mine had died. He was 67 and looked not a day over 50!

I met Yuriy about four years ago in Kupidon on Pushkinska Street in Kyiv. Sometimes he would invite me to sit with him in the VIP section, now an antiquarian book shop, and once we even joked that we had studied in the same University, when I recalled the month I spent in Leningrad back in 1985. Some time early last fall the owner of that establishment and I were sitting with Yurko talking about a number of things. When Yuriy got up and left for a while my friend said to me, "He just found out that he has cancer, but don't mention anything to him!" I understood that Yurko didn't want people making a big thing about his illness.

Over the months I would see Yurko and he would always shake my hand, we would exchange a few words, and I would tell him to take care. His reply would be, "I'm doing the best I can!" almost hinting to me that he knew that I knew he was battling the battle of his life.

Now I must digress for a moment. Last spring I was at a pub night at the Canadian Embassy, and this stranger came in looking for me, his name: Yuriy Jendyk, Mayor of Onoway, Alberta. He had been told by a common friend of ours to find me to show him around and to meet interesting people. As we became better acquainted, the Mayor said to me.. "You wouldn't happen to know Yuriy Pokal'chuk? I would really like to see him, we met in Edmonton many years ago!"

I made a few phone calls, but Yuriy wasn't in Kyiv at the time so the Mayor never got to see his old friend. A short time later Pako was back in Kyiv and I told him that this guy had been looking for him. We sat and he recalled how they had met many years ago, and asked me to somehow pass on his regards to Mayor Jendyk. Unfortunately, all I could do was send an e-mail this morning to the Yuriy Jendyk that Yuriy Pokalchuk had passed away in his sleep after succumbing to leukemia.

While Yuriy, an extremely talented individual with a grasp of to eleven languages, six of which he spoke fluently:Polish, English, Spanish, French, Ukrainian and Russian was not a musician, it was his knowledge of languages that allowed him to make the written word sing. He had translated works by Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Rimbaud, Jorge Luis Borges , Julio Cortázar, and penned anywhere between 20 and 26 novels of his own, and over 600 articles in periodical publications.

The best know of his novels include: ”Те, що на споді” (That, which is underneath), Окружна дорога (The Ring Road), Таксі Блюз (Taxi Blues). He was to present his latest novel Озерний вітер (Lake Wind) at the L'viv book fair this weekend, and was working on its continuation under the working title Straight Love when he died.

Last year some time, as far as I can remember, he brought a recording of his reading his poetry on the backdrop of some music into Kupidon. When I asked him when he started doing this, he said he had been doing it for years. He always encouraged young people to search out the best in themselves, in fact any time I saw him with people who were clearly a lot younger than he was, you would never know he was as old as he was... He was always so positive.

Yuriy, with his kids!

If you ever visit Kupidon, back on the stage there is a big white board... Written at the top of if are the words "Зона особливої уваги" (Zone of Special Attention)... This was something that Yuriy felt very strongly about, and for at least the last 10 years he devoted much of his life of working with juveniles in a penal colony in Pryluky, in Chernihivska Oblast. He would teach them to read and write and helped them publish their works in a publication called Horizon. He referred to them as his children...

Yuriy Pokalchuk, Born on January 29, 1941, in the City of Kremenets in Ternopil Oblast
1956 — wrote his first story
1959 — Entered the Lutsk Pedagogical Institute, transferred to Leningrad University to study Eastern Philosophy, graduated in 1965
1976 — Became a member of the Writer's Union
1994–1998 — Head of the Foreign Division of the Union of Writers of Ukraine
1997–2000 — President of the Association of Ukrainian Writers
2000–2002 — Member of the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting

Вічна йому пам'ять!

1 comment:

  1. He was a good, versatile man. I saw his TV interview a few months ago. He was talking about his rehabilitation project with a juvenile correctional facility.

    Vichnaya pamyat.