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21.07.2010

In Memory: Yevhen Kontsevych

   

Yevhen Kontsevych, “symbol and legend of the generation of “Shistvdesyatnyky”* died on 21 July 2010. He was 75.

Yevhen Kontsevych was born on 5 June 1935 in the Zhytomyr region.  He injured his spine n a terrible accident as a teenager and was from then on (for 58 years) unable to walk. 

He began writing and translating after meeting some of the key “Shistvdesyatnyky” and his stories were published in a number of national journals.

In Soviet times local Party officials tried to make Yevhen Kontsevych into a good Soviet hero, an example to youth. This he became and remained all his life, but for other reasons. His home became a focal point for many of the “Shistvdesyatnyky”*.

In the early 1960s a former neighbour who had made it into the nomenklatura came over to look at an album in which Kontsevych after his friends left had discovered a bugging device, and deactivated it for him.  The KGB was already preparing for the August arrests of 1965 and turned up to search his home…. The head of the regional department of the KGB himself together with his henchmen demanded that the bugging device be handed over and that all be kept in secret, and tried to persuade Kontsevych to work for them. Kontsevych emphatically refused and the shameful incident became common knowledge throughout dissident Ukraine. Foreign radio stations also reported it. The same KGB colonel wanted Kontsevych to make a public statement in the press against the foreign publications about this “gift” for his birthday.  Kontsevych once again refused.

In 1972 a search was once again made of Kontsevych’s home in connection with the second wave of arrests: they took away 17 documents of samizdat, a large number of manuscripts, letters, a typewriter and other things.  One KGB officer was brutally open: “If that man lying inside here could stand up, he still wouldn’t be walking freely. He’d be inside … “

The Zhytomyr Writers’ Organization tried twice to have Kontsevych excluded from membership of the Union of Writers, however the response of the Party bosses above was clear: “Don’t make him into a great martyr”.   Kontsevych’s works stopped being published.  He was surrounded on all sides by informers. The interference continued up until the middle of the 80s.

Kontsevych greeted the national revival of the end of the 80s – beginning of the 90s with optimism. While remaining removed from political organizations, he nonetheless exerted an influence on the national, cultural, literary and political life in Zhytomyr, and on the spiritual renewal of Ukraine. He was highly respected by the Ukrainian intelligentsia.

 “Yevhen Kontsevych is in his way a symbol and legend for this generation – the generation of the Shestydesyatnyky. He is an amazing man who always inspired everybody.  It wasn’t, as might have seem, that he needed to be supported – he supported everybody and gave them some of his energy…. (Ivan Dziuba)

Yevhen Kontsevych received a State Honour in 2005 for Courage.  He will be buried in Zhytomyr where he lived from 1947.

 Вічна пам’ять             Eternal Memory

 

“Shistvdesyatnyky”* were the intellectuals of the 1960s who whether in socio-political life or in their creative work sought greater freedom

 

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