Ирина Говоруха
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YURI RYBCHYNSKY: The Poetic Heights of a Ukrainian Playwright

YURI RYBCHYNSKY: The Poetic Heights of a Ukrainian Playwright
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Yuriy Rybchynsky / obozrevatel.com

 

Yuriy Rybchynsky (born May 22, 1945) is a poet, playwright, founder of modern pop songs, and People’s Artist of Ukraine. His prolific career spans three thousand songs, with every tenth becoming a hit. Among them are «Charyvna Skrypka», «Mynaye Den», and «Zelen-Klen». Notable among them are «Charyvna Skrypka», «Mynaye Den», and «Zelen-Klen». His creative collaborations with about fifty composers have further diversified his musical repertoire. His work extends beyond music, as he is the author of librettos for the rock operas «Bila Vorona» and «Parfumer», the plays «Piznya Serenada» and «Moya Druzhyna — Brekhukha», and the musical «Edith Piaf. Life on Credit». He has also published four collections of poetry, a testament to his creative depth and versatility.

 

THE EMERGENCE OF TALENT IN POST-WAR KYIV

 

He calls himself a Child of Victory and a Sunflower because he was born on May 22, 1945, with a thick head of red hair. He jokes about his birthday: «If I had been born two weeks earlier, it would have been tough because the doctors were still recovering from their celebrations». As it was, everything turned out for the best. The war had ended, and people were gradually returning to peaceful life.

The family lived in Podil, among hills, churches, and craft workshops. At that time, the area resembled a small village. Kyiv residents kept livestock, so in the Rybchynsky family’s yard, a cow mooed, chickens laid eggs, and the garden bloomed with hollyhocks and rue. The cherry jam was being made.

I say thank you to fate.

And that distant spring,

For it was destined in Podil

For me to be born.

 

Юрій Рибчинський у дитинстві
Yuriy Rybchynsky in childhood / glavcom.ua

 

His mother was a military doctor by profession, and his father was a financier. Both survived all the horrors of the war and would fondly recall the story of their meeting whenever they had the chance.

In 1941, Yevhen was serving in the cavalry and was severely wounded. He lay under a dead horse when his future wife, a medical service lieutenant colonel, rode by. The battlefield was strewn with bodies, but she managed to spot a living person. She stopped, provided first aid, and later performed surgery on him. The amputation had to be done without anesthesia. Instead of anesthesia, he was given a glass of alcohol, and to keep him from moving, she tied him to the bed with ropes. This act saved the young man’s life.

They met for the second time in 1944 in Almaty. The father had just graduated from another university and was engaged in teaching, while the mother had arrived to recruit doctors for service. She was a wonderful woman with copper hair. Yevhen did not hesitate and called out, «Hey, redhead, come sit at my table».

She immediately rebuffed the audacious young man. She emphasized that she would not, under any circumstances, allow anyone to speak to a lieutenant colonel of the medical service in such a manner — a woman who had been through Khalkhin Gol, the Finnish War, and World War II. Nevertheless, the young people found common ground and fell in love with each other. The mother had just turned forty-two, and the father was thirty-four.

All her life, she worried about the age difference. When she brought Yura to school, she felt embarrassed hearing, «What’s your grandson’s name?» She raised her son strictly, encouraging him to read a lot and memorize poems. For each poem he memorized, she rewarded him with a cup of his favorite cherry jam, and for remembering the poem «Ruslan and Lyudmila», she gave him a three-liter jar.

She constantly worried about not looking older than her husband and took great care of him. The father worked in the finance department and walked six blocks to work. In winter, to prevent him from slipping, she would sprinkle sand on the sidewalk, and in the evening, she would sometimes pull her beloved on a sled.

 

FIRST STEPS IN ART

 

Yura studied, drew, and participated in sports (he did pole vaulting). When asked what he wanted to be, he said he wished to remain a big child and not grow up. He endlessly reread «The Little Prince». During his teenage years, his idol was Gina Lollobrigida from the film «Fan-Fan the Tulip», and for a long time, a photo of the actress in a swimsuit adorned the wall above his bed.

In the eighth grade, influenced by the Belarusian film «Red Leaves», he wrote his first poem. He left the cinema hall inspired, breathed in the quiet Kyiv autumn, and saw a maple leaf on the pavement in the shape of a human heart. Since then, he has never parted with his pen.

When he was finishing the 10th grade, his poems were published in newspapers such as Molodaya Gvardiya, «Yunost», and «Komsomolskaya Pravda». He was expelled from the Komsomol twice. The first time, he was expelled for comparing spring to a promiscuous woman, and the second time, he was expelled for refusing to write an ode about the mausoleum.

 

Ігор Поклад (ліворуч) і Юрій Рибчинський (праворуч) під час служби в армії
Igor Poklad (left) and Yuriy Rybchynsky (right) during their military service / glavcom.ua

 

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CREATIVE ASCENT AND YOUTHFUL ROMANCE

 

During his military service, he found himself in an entirely Russian-speaking environment and began to have dreams in which the characters communicated exclusively in Ukrainian. He met a young composer, Igor Poklad, and was captivated by his peculiar melody: stirring and agitated. It had a constant undercurrent of tension that evoked sadness and melancholy.

Yuriy set the text to music, resulting in the song «Eyes on the Sand» for Tamara Miansarova. Interestingly, the text was originally in Ukrainian: «Lonely and sad, I carry my separation to the sea. Every day, every night, I draw eyes on the shore of the sea…»  The song quickly became popular, with many vocalists covering it, as the hit allowed them to showcase a two-octave range. At that time, there were two melodies on the stage, both about eyes: «These Eyes Opposite» and «Eyes on the Sand».

A little later, in Chernivtsi, he became friends with Volodymyr Ivasyuk. Their thoughts and ideas aligned: both dreamed of elevating the Ukrainian song to unprecedented heights. They aimed to modernize it, refine it, and imbue it with taste and style. Together, they created «Klenovy Vohon» and «U Doli Svoia Vesna». Every time they met, Ivasyuk would ask, «Buddy, do you have something for me?» Yuriy always had something.

 

YURI RYBCHYNSKY: The Poetic Heights of a Ukrainian Playwright
Yuriy and Alexandra Rybchynsky / glavcom.ua

 

With gymnast Alexandra, a single glance was enough to make the earth spin faster. The lovers scheduled their wedding for April 1. Knowing Yuriy and his penchant for all sorts of pranks, half of the guests didn’t show up. Out of eighty invited, forty thought it was a joke, and the groom had to urgently call the military ensemble of the internal troops and ask them to send soldiers to fill the empty seats. They wanted the vodka, sandwiches, and roast chicken to be used.

In December, the couple welcomed their firstborn: a son named Yevhen—his most incredible creation. The child practically grew up in the gym, engaging in basketball. He developed an early interest in poetry and wrote compositions such as «Thistle», «Nobody’s», and «War is Always War». He did not heed his father’s advice, growing up self-assured and proud. Instead of criticism, he only wanted to hear praise.

Therefore, Yuriy approached the upbringing of his teenager with utmost seriousness. When playing checkers, he never let his son win because, in life, no one would let him win either. Moreover, there can’t be a collective approach to upbringing. Boys and girls should be educated separately, and parents must arm themselves with patience to endure the whims of their children.

When Yevhen grew up, he started wearing the same size clothes as his father, and he occasionally wore his father’s shirt and jacket without permission. Yuriy warned him once, then a second time, and the third time, he cut the sweater into pieces with scissors. If he couldn’t resist the temptation to take his father’s things without permission, he might eventually want to take something from a neighbor or colleague without asking.

 

POETIC LEGACY AND LIFE WISDOM

 

So, life brought various experiences — both frustrating and humorous. The poet created, befriended, and fell in love, believing it impossible to infuse rhyme with emotion if the heart is in complete and unwavering calm. He considered love to be a lack of information. If a man knew everything about a woman, it is unlikely that passion would ignite between them:

Don’t extinguish the fire.

With the cold of your palms!

I’ll weave the blaze of leaves into your hair

So that everything comes true.

Don’t extinguish the fire.

With the cold of your palms!

Once, he wrote a song titled «Ne Revnuy» (editor’s note: Don’t Be Jealous) for Tamara Gverdtsiteli. The singer had just moved to Tbilisi, and so the lines were born about not being jealous of a woman for Paris or any other city, as her heart is forever with the capital of Georgia. One day, the poet visited the Central Post Office, and suddenly, a tall Georgian man fell to his knees in front of him. He warmly thanked Yuriy for the hit song and confessed that he hadn’t lived in Tbilisi for sixteen years, but such an ode to his homeland had deeply moved him.

Such a reaction is not surprising because his poems are always filled with sincerity and honesty. They capture the diversity of flowers, life-giving herbs, the rustling of leaves, raindrops, the boundless sky, and the golden sun. A mosaic of poplars, maples, and steppes. The rain as violinists. The glowing horizon. Whether a gunshot or a heartbreaking «goodbye».

When «Pesniary» (editor’s note: Soviet and Belarusian vocal and instrumental ensemble) performed «The Bird’s Cry» for the first time, the audience fell silent. A poignant silence took over, broken only by the sound of people sobbing. Then came the cries, whistles, and ovations.

 

Юрій Рибчинський з Софією Ротару
Yuriy Rybchynskyy with Sofia Rotaru / glavcom.ua

 

There were also mystical incidents. In 1986, Yevhen graduated from school and enrolled in university. His father promised him a trip, as a friend had offered a cruise on the ship «Admiral Nakhimov». However, for some reason, the family decided not to go. Shortly after that, the passenger ship sank, taking with it over three hundred vacationers.

In addition to intuition, the poet is sometimes endowed with the ability to see prophetic dreams. While still in university, he dreamt that his mother had died. He woke up in the dead of night with a round, ball-like moon and a cross in the middle of the sky. He went home and told his mother about the dream. She smiled and said, «Don’t worry, it means I’ll live a long time». Exactly a year later, she passed away forever.

A few years before the Chornobyl disaster, he saw a fire, people running around, and fear. He asked, «What happened?» A soot-covered man explained, «An explosion at the power plant».

So, there was enough of the incomprehensible in both life and poetry:

Oh, the wild geese flew,

Oh, they flew on a rainy Sunday.

Feathers fell into the yard,

Rolled away, like a legend, into the grass.

The poet believes in God and considers himself a sentimental person. He can cry while watching films like «Yesenia», «Last Tango in Paris», and «The Lion in Winter». He loves the number thirteen and has been a lifelong supporter of Dynamo Kyiv. He admits that a blank sheet of paper excites him more than a beautiful woman. He mainly writes poetry at night. He doesn’t believe in the existence of a formula for inspiration and can’t see himself in any profession other than poetry and playwriting. Therefore, he continues to write despite his age, often repeating:

No matter how many years the cuckoo counts,

It will never be enough for me, dear cuckoo…

 


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