Talent Based on Conscience

EXCLUSIVE ARTICLES15.06.201517:01 The birthday of Ivan Mykolaichuk was on June 15th.


when you have something to say to people,

when you have an interesting worldview and want to share it with others.»

Ivan Mykolaichuk

We do not know how many other unsurpassed roles he would have played, how many other great films he could have shot, or how many other accomplishments he could have done for Ukrainian cinema and for us. This year, he would have been 74 years old, but he has been missed for 28 years so far…

The film «Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors» (1965) was called by Emir Kusturica, a Serbian film director, the best shot picture in the world. It is, without a doubt, due to the enormous efforts done by Serhiy Paradzanov, Yuriy Illienko, Myroslav Skoryk, the whole film crew, all the actors, and the protagonist, Ivan Mykolaichuk, who was, at the same time, a beginner and a professional (By the way, this role was not given to him by random chance, but by the impressive strength of his talent and by the command of fate.)… 

He was born in a family with many children in the village Chortoryia of the Chernivtsi region. He always considered his connection with his small fatherland as «happiness and gold stock». It is there that the foundation of his worldview—the peculiar capacity of feeling nature—was established and nurtured within him to become an inexhaustible source of inspiration in the future.

His talent was visible even in childhood. At first, Ivan’s father scolded him for imitating his neighbors. Then, the boy attended the village’s dramatic circle and participated in school performances. But, primarily, he was not going to become an actor. He was good at singing and playing musical instruments, and, later, he studied in a musical school. He, however, applied to a medical institute wishing to be a psychiatrist. Finally, he chose in favor of studies affiliated with the Chernivtsi Theater, although he had always been interested in exploring the human psyche. As a young man, Ivan assisted his friend, a psychiatrist, to treat the sick through his acting capacities. Mykolaichuk considered the knowledge of psychology to be the most fundamental skill for an actor and for any person in general. He was really able to listen to and understand people, to comfort and to bring cheer with his endless tales, and to help regardless of circumstances. For instance, Les’ Taniuk, his good friend and colleague, recollected: «A reporter once asked me who Ivan was for me, and I said he was like a priest. This is the solemn truth. One could confess to him. He was able to soothe and to understand, to instruct imperceptibly, and to forgive. He was able to give everything he had». Additionally, Serhiy Paradzanov called him «a torch that attracted everyone».

As with every person, Mykolaichuk also needed understanding and support. He found them in his beloved wife Marichka, who always was near him in both joyful and sorrowful moments of his life. They met in a theater during the staging of a tale in which Marichka performed a frog, while Ivan was croaking, instead of her, behind the scenes. It was love at first sight. At that time, in Chernivtsi, they lived close to each other and spent a lot of time together. They got married when Ivan was a second-year student at the Ivan Karpenko-Karyi Kyiv Institute of Theatrical Art; that same year, he performed the role of Shevchenko in the film «Sleep» and that of Ivan Paliychuk in the «Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors».

The next films were «Anna», «The Intelligence Agents», «Commissars», «A White Bird with a Black Sign» (in which Mykolaichuk also tried scriptwriting), «Zahar Berkut», «The Lost Letter», and many others.  He completely immersed himself into his work, laying aside his personal problems; he was preparing precisely for every role; he was able to transform into an aristocrat, a peasant, a commissar, or a rebel. He was genial in his simplicity, universality, and sincerity. His wife recollects that, for performing in the film «The Wild Grass», Ivan was fasting for a long time so that he could look really exhausted in a scene. He most of all desired to create, and he often joined the shooting process throughout all its stages and not only as an actor. Cinema was his life, notwithstanding an awful censure which was cutting the film strip and the hearts of its creators—against absurd obstacles such as the prohibition to perform a role because of the non-conformity between the color of his eyes and the character’s image.

He knew what world recognition was like, having received an invitation to work abroad (without obtaining permission from authorities to do that). This test of glory has been passed by Mykolaichuk, with dignity, since he changed neither his character nor his firm life principles. Even when asked if he liked himself, he responded that only when he was doing good. Fedir Stryhun, the stage director of Mariya Zankovetska Lviv Ukrainian Dramatic Theater, remembers: «Ivan was not a selfish man; he never took care of himself or his career; he was thinking about people, about cinema, about Ukraine, about art, but not about his place in it». 

It was followed by the accusation of nationalism, the stigma of «disloyalty» and six years without any serious filming. The fear felt by the Communist party of Ukrainian art, particularly poetic cinema, was not without grounds, for, in this art, the undying soul of Ukrainian people lived and thrived. It is through this authentic and cordial soul that the roles and the films by Ivan Mykolaichuk came to be. Now, however, the word «nationalist», for many people, sounds like a compliment, but, at that time, it closed many doors of the professions held by genuine patriots to their land. Nevertheless, the struggle against the harsh system continued; even more, it became progressively more confident since it was a forerunner to our victory. 

All his friends underline his immeasurable and active love for Ukraine, manifesting in everything he did. His elder sister, Frosyna Mykolaichuk, was grateful to her brother that «he never and nowhere acted against his conscience in front of his Ukrainian people. Ivan was not only an actor, but, first and foremost, he was a patriot of his land and his nation».

Mykolaichuk himself admonished and admonishes the Ukrainians: «Is it necessary to have any special care of traditional culture to save it? It seems to me that no. It is necessary to save the soul of the people, the soul of one’s nation. All of the greatest values are in the heart of the people. If we preserve their spiritual health, the traditional culture will not be lost».

This manifold and diverse Ukrainian culture was depicted, in a variety of unsurpassed ways, by Ivan Mykolaichuk in his first produced work «Babylon ХХ».  Unlike many of Mykolaichuk’s scenarios and conceptions, which have been waiting for years for the censor’s resolution, this film did appear. But it was at a high cost, since the actor’s delicate health deteriorated during its shooting. He still shot other films and performed other roles, but many of his ideas did not make it in time to become masterpieces of cinema.

Very nice words were said about Ivan Mykolaichuk by Yuriy Illienko, a prominent Ukrainian film producer: «Ivan was divinely handsome, handsome as life itself. Without pathos, but deep as depth does not know pathos. In the 20th century, the greatest loss of Ukraine was the premature death of Ivan Mykolaichuk».

But the films remember him being alive! Find some time to watch the poetic cinema produced by Ivan Mykolaichuk.

Ivan Mykolaichuk was an actor who has always remained as himself.

Iryna Voloshchak

Photo: the scenes from the films "In Memory of Ivan Mykolaichuk", "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors", "The Lost Letter", "Babylon ХХ".

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