Dear Friends and Admirers of Ivan Drach!

 It is perhaps very fitting that on just the day after the 4th of July and our celebrating the Independence of America, we at the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation launch our remembrances of Ivan Drach, one of the founders of the Independence of Ukraine. We invite you to share your thoughts, remembrances and photos of Ivan Drach. We were very fortunate to have honored Ivan Drach [photo above] during our Ukraine in Washington event, held on December 1, 2011 on the 20th anniversary of the Independence of Ukraine. 

You can submit your remembrances for publication on our website by sending them via email to info@usukraine.org

A Remembrance Curated by the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation

 Ivan Drach – Giant of Ukraine’s Independence

By Robert A. McConnell

Ivan Drach, a giant in Ukraine’s movement to independence died June 19 in Kyiv hospital at the age of 81.

Drach, a long-time member of the Writer’s Union of Ukraine, was a respected and award- winning poet and screenwriter.  With his poem “Knife in the Sun,” he first came into national prominence during “The Thaw” – a brief period of political and cultural liberalization under then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Twenty years later, Drach again came to national and international prominence as a political activist during the Soviet Union’s Perestroika period in the late 1980s and then during the early years of Ukraine’s independence.  The numbers of young men from Ukraine lost in the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan and handling of the Chornobyl explosion led to Ukraine’s civil society becoming restless with directives from what was euphemistically known as “the center” (Moscow) and distrustful of leaders in the Kremlin.

Ivan Drach

In what began in late 1988 as an initiative of the Writer’s Union of Ukraine, a year later had become a national movement. In September, 1989, at the founding congress of the “Popular Movement of Ukraine” (Narodniy Rukh Ukrainy), a grassroots opposition movement known worldwide simply as “Rukh,” Drach was elected chairman and, subsequently, Mykhailo Horyn, a political dissident who had survived the Soviet Gulag, was elected head of Rukh’s secretariat.  The pair combined focused vision with determined leadership and guided the organization, and civil society, through a tumultuous period in history.

As Rukh’s membership grew throughout Ukraine other prominent dissidents, as well as representatives of major ethnic and religious groups in Ukraine assumed leadership roles. However, Drach, although often understated in his actions, was the recognized leader.  With the sensibility of a writer, Drach was eloquent in his expression of Rukh’s goals and ideals, particularly emphasizing the inclusivity of Rukh.  He always spoke in terms of “people of Ukraine,” and not “the Ukrainian people.

A recognized tool in the USSR’s system of authoritarian governance was routinely to create friction between nationalities in order to weaken opposition. In contrast Drach and Rukh recognized and spoke to the common interests of all citizens of Ukraine – Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, Jews, Tatars, and others.  At the founding congress of Rukh, reflecting upon the principles of Rukh, Drach underscored the importance of multi-ethnic respect within Ukraine stating, “Jews should live better and feel more comfortable in Ukraine than in Moscow, Leningrad, New York, Tel-Aviv, and Jerusalem.” While at the helm of Rukh he actively supported the decision by Rukh’s Council of Nationalities to help fund the gathering of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, the first to be held in Crimea since the group’s mass deportation by Stalin in 1944.

On March 4, 1990, in the first politically contested elections in Soviet Ukraine, 111 candidates, including Drach and others from the Democratic bloc, a political coalition that included the Helsinki Watch Group, and the Green Party as well as Rukh, were elected to the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) breaking the Communist Party’s monopoly on political power.

The day after the election, March 5, Drach and other leaders of Rukh, a number of whom, like Drach, were members of the Communist Party, drafted and signed a statement calling for Ukrainian independence and denouncing the Communist Party and calling on the Communist Party to take responsibility for the genocidal 1932-33 famine (the Holodomor), deportations, repressions, the policy of Russification, economic decline and ecological disasters.

In early August, 1991, Drach received international attention at the time President George H.W. Bush came to Kyiv to deliver a speech to the Verkhovna Rada in which he cautioned Ukraine against “suicidal nationalism.”  (Later called “Chicken Kiev” by the late New York Times columnist Bill Safire).

On the same day of the speech, but before President Bush landed in Ukraine from Moscow, at a Rukh rally in central Kyiv, Drach surprised the crowd and the media by anticipating Bush’s message and repudiating it in advance: “I am afraid that Bush has come here as a messenger for the center … we are not a sample of Soviet culture …. Our culture is the culture of Ukraine, the culture of Ukrainians, Russians who live in Ukraine, Jews, Poles.  Ukraine will become independent despite the center. Like the United States that cast off  the British Empire, Ukraine will cast off Moscow’s Soviet Empire.”

One of Drach’s most important contributions was his role during the week between August 19, 1991, and August 24, 1991.  In response to a coup in Moscow during the early morning hours of August 19, under the direction of Drach, Rukh immediately issued a statement condemning the leaders of the coup and the effort to return the USSR to hardline Communism, away from glasnost and perestroika.  Rukh feared a reverse in the course of freedom that had been advanced.  Rukh called for a special session of the Verkhovna Rada to be held immediately in order that a strategy be developed to distance Ukraine from the coup in Moscow.  Behind the scenes, the leaders of Rukh pressured the members of the Communist majority in parliament to agree to a vote for Ukraine’s independence on August 24, the date of the special session.  Then, by an almost unanimous vote, parliamentarians passed Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence conditioning it upon the vote of the people of Ukraine in a national referendum which was held on December 1, 1991.  Ukraine was the only republic of the Soviet Union to condition its independence on a vote of the people.

Drach continued to lead Rukh until the autumn of 1992 and continued to serve in the Verkhovna Rada through several more election cycles.

Ivan Drach was born on October 17, 1936 in Telizhentsy, Kyiv Oblast, Ukrainian SSR as Ivan Fedorovych Drach. He is survived by his wife Mariya and daughter Maryana, who is a journalist for the Ukrainian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. His son Maksym, who had worked as part of a medical team during the aftermath of Chornobyl, and later suffered health consequences passed away in 2009, at the age of 44.

Although offered a prominent state burial he was buried in his native village next to his parents and his son.

A Remembrance by Marta Farion, President of the Kyiv Mohyla Foundation:

IVAN DRACH.  Just the mention of his name brings to mind symbols and recognition to every Ukrainian.  On June 19, 2018, we bid farewell to Ukraine’s bard of poetry, a brilliant screenwriter of award winning films, a leader, a patriot, the first chairman of the Movement for Independence known as RUKH.

My parents’ generation followed his writings when he first came to prominence with the publication of his “Ballad for The Sunflower”, published in the journal Literaturna Ukraina in 1962.   With that poem, he broke the codes of Soviet regimented poetry.  He began a cycle in literature that exploded with fantasy and a free spirit, and metaphors – symbols that people interpreted as allusions to their own lives and the fate of the nation.  Often called the conscience of the nation, his destiny became intertwined in poetry, cinema, politics, and public activities.

Marta Farion with Ivan Drach at his dacha.

A man of unquenchable thirst for revolt and personal initiative, both in literature and politics, he was driven by a profound concern for Ukraine’s destiny and for unity of the nation.  “The Sunflower” became an allegory for the poet who must seek higher ground, symbolic of the human being holding his/her head up high like the sunflower, and as a consequence, a symbol of the nation deserving of dignity and freedom, energized and illuminated by the sun, symbolic of a higher Being. At the time, it was revolutionary.

When his friend Dr. Yuriy Shcherbak began to write about the Chornobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, Ivan Drach became enraged by the lack of care and response of the government, and began a cycle of writings and public declarations protesting the catastrophe.  His own son Maksym, a medical student at the time, was sent to the zone just days after the disaster without any protection against radiation, eventually causing serious health damage.  With the rumblings of protest in the Soviet Union in 1988, his friend and prominent writer Ivan Dziuba advised him to leave poetry, leave everything else, and use his stature to engage in Ukraine’s political struggle for independence.

Together with film master Yuriy Illienko, in 1988 Ivan Drach traveled to the United States to the International Film Festival in San Francisco.  On the way back to New York, they stopped in Chicago and stayed at our home.  That was the first time my husband and I personally met these giants of Ukrainian culture.  I will never forget when Ivan Drach said then that there will be a big change in Ukraine soon.   None of us thought at the time that it was a prediction of what was to come.  We had no idea that he will lead the Movement for Independence known as RUKH, and that there will be a living chain of people from Lviv to Kyivv in 1990, and that in 1991 Ukrainian independence would be proclaimed by an affirmative vote of over 90% of votes cast.  Ivan Drach played a powerful and crucial role in that process.

In November 2017, I had the fortune of recording an interview with him.  We spent many hours recording the memories of those pivotal years between 1988 and 1993, when Ukraine’s new independence was being formed, when negotiations took place on the values that the new constitution would embrace, on the various political forces pulling in different directions, on the challenges of preserving the unity of the country.

Ivan Fedorovych loved the land of Ukraine, its cultural heritage, and the nature that surrounded him.  He loved the black soil, the flowers, the wheat, every flower and tree, every bird and animal that he encountered.  He was inspired by nature and found peace surrounded by it.

Ivan Fedorovych Drach left significant contributions to the Ukrainian nation – in literature, in film, in politics, and in bringing the dawn of Ukrainian independence in 1991.  He lived and endured every moment of the history of the Ukrainian people with every breath. He will be studied in history books along with Ukraine’s greatest heroes and founding fathers.

Along with my husband Ihor Wyslotsky, we loved and respected him from the first moment we met him in 1988.  Eternal Memory, Eternal Love, Dear Ivan Fedorovych.  Vichna Pam’jat!

A Remembrance by Eleanor Fishel from Her Student Days in Kyiv:

It was with deep sadness that I learned of the passing of Ivan Drach, a Ukrainian patriot who overcame the Soviet occupation regime on the way to becoming a leading voice of his country’s anti-totalitarian consciousness.  While his death is a loss for good people everywhere, including our country, Mr. Drach’s life was a celebration of Ukraine’s unrelenting spirit and its history, its culture and its language.  For me, his passing is also a reminder of how Mr. Drach’s work and ideas influenced my life and shaped my understanding of the country of my birth.

Eleanor Fishel has fond memories of Ivan Drach from her student days in Kyiv. She currently resides in Virginia.

My family was anti-Soviet, and it was from my father that I learned about the brutalities imposed on Ukraine and its people by that criminal regime, including the Holodomor genocidal famine.  Speaking of my father, he was one of only three instructors at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute to lecture in Ukrainian and the only non-ethnic Ukrainian to do so.  As a result, it was quite natural that the ideas advocated by Mr. Drach and the other nationally conscious Ukrainian cultural figures appealed to me.

I first met Mr. Drach when I was about fifteen.  My best friend Vita and I were introduced to another great man, Ivan Dzyuba, who had just been released from prison.  In turn, it was Mr. Dzyuba who introduced us to Mr. Drach.  We were so awed by their self-assuredness, conviction and determination that we decided to start inviting famous cultural figures to speak at our school and, we hoped, to widen our and our fellow students’ horizons.  We, of course, wanted to start with Mr. Drach and Mr. Dzyuba.

Somewhat surprisingly, we received permission from the school administration to proceed with our idea.  In addition to Mr. Drach and Mr. Dzyuba, we invited Vitaliy Korotych and others.  These lectures invariably turned to issues relating to the Ukrainian language and culture and one’s pride in them, topics that the never fully secure occupation regime apparently found quite incendiary, especially in view of their relative popularity with the students.  At some point, the school administration ended this lecture series.

But for a number of us, this was just the beginning.  We continued to meet with Mr. Drach and Mr. Dzyuba, but now in parks and other public places.  The smaller circle led to discussions of topics that would have been impossible to broach otherwise, including Jewish-Ukrainian relations and the need to improve cooperation against the common enemy – the Soviet occupation regime.  These sessions struck us as nothing short of revolutionary, and the people who led them, including Mr. Drach, came across as pragmatic idealists who would not rest until Ukraine regained its independence and who would – and did – put it all on the line to see this become reality.

As a direct result of these interactions, my friends and I started to speak Ukrainian in public – in the capital of Ukraine! – receiving mixed reactions, including surprise, curiosity tinted with support, and derision.  Once I entered Shevchenko State University, my friends decided to take our protest activity to a higher level, while making more contacts with Jewish-Ukrainian and Ukrainian dissidents.  Inspired by Mr. Drach and Mr. Dzyuba, we asked the university administration for permission to mark traditional Ukrainian holidays and other events, including Taras Shevchenko’s birthday.

These requests were denied, including the one about Shevchenko’s birthday, even though the university was named after him!  Moreover, we were threatened with undefined disciplinary actions if we persisted.  But persist we did.  One of our initiatives was to wear blue and yellow clothing on important dates, leading to a generally positive reaction from our fellow students and, more surprisingly, benign neglect from the (perhaps somewhat supportive?) administration.

This experience made for a smooth transition to other anti-regime activities encouraged by Mr. Drach, including dissemination of samvydav (so-called self-published materials, known in Russian as samizdat).  We copied and distributed a range of writings, including those by Andrey Sakharov.  This entailed retyping long manuscripts while worrying that neighbors would report this activity to the authorities.  In my case, it also involved hiding the incoming and outgoing materials in my son’s stroller on the way to and from meetings with other activists.

Though the preceding occurred a long time ago, there are some lessons that are timeless.  Given the challenges Ukraine is facing today, most importantly the debilitating official corruption as well as Putinist Russia’s ongoing aggression, men and women of principle are sorely needed.  Ukraine has never been closer to reclaiming its rightful place in the European family of nations.  Ukrainians owe it to Mr. Drach, to those who stood with him, and to all the preceding generations to see this effort through.

May the earth of your native land be a comfortable resting place for you, Ivane Fedorovychu, and may your Ukraine become a reality.

A Remembrance by Nadia K. McConnell, Former President of Ukraine 2000, Washington, DC Committee in Support of Rukh the Movement:

One of my life’s many blessings and privileges was meeting Ivan and Maria Drach, witnessing their work which led to the Independence of Ukraine.

Five days before his death, I spoke at the annual Ukraine’s Quest Conference in Washington on the topic of civil society. Key to my presentation was identifying the founders of the People’s Movement of Ukraine Rukh. Those leaders who’ s work from 1989 thru 1991, resulted in the 93% referendum vote for Independence on December 1, 1991 and who laid the foundation for today’s civil society in Ukraine.

Founders of Rukh, the Peoples Movement of Ukraine.

Much could and should be written and recognized about their achievements, especially the role of the acclaimed writer and poet Ivan Drach.  So many memories, but I will recall here two from those early years, which for me revealed so much about Ivan Drachthe man.

His appearance always reminded me of Benjamin Franklin, but his manner, usually quiet and thoughtful belied the steel strategic determination of the man.  I met Ivan Drach when I made my very first trip to Ukraine in January 1990 for the Human Chain of Unity, unifying all the people of Ukraine, Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Jews, every ethnic group living on the territory of Ukraine.  This  massive civil action was organized by Rukh, people holding hands from Lviv to Kyiv,  across 350 miles, displaying the blue and yellow flags, which were very much illegal.

Andriy Futey and I travelled together, bringing with us 17 pieces of baggage filled with medicines and toys for Children of Chornobyl.  The morning of the planned Human Chain, January 22, as Andriy and I stepped out of our hotel in Kyiv we saw many buses mostly from Ivano-Frankivsk. People spilling out with massive number of blue and yellow flags,

Not knowing if enough people in Kyiv would dare to bring out these illegal flags, Rukh made sure that this demonstration would succeed and brought in people from Western Ukraine to help fill any gaps across the 350 miles. There over months,  people had been carefully secreting yellow and blue materials into their homes so that they could make flags for this great unifying event.   The chain was an incredible success and afterwards hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the Square for a meeting (demonstration).

The next day I was having tea with Maria Drach in their home.  When Ivan Drach arrived, Maria informed him that he had a call from Party Headquarters telling him it was time to take down the flag on the Rukh building which at that time was around the corner from the Dnipro Hotel. As Drach weighed the clear warning I saw the same thoughtful quiet demeanor I would see so many times throughout the years.  After a few seconds he said, “we will think about that.”

That blue and yellow flag never came down.

The second of so many memories was also in those early years.  Again I was privileged to be in their home.  Events were fast moving and unpredictable. Changes were in the air and Rukh was the force moving civil society and Drach was a force, the primary force within Rukh. He stepped into his library just off their living room, looking wistfully at his books he turned and to no one in particular asked out loud: “When will I return to my work?”  I was taken aback, the head of Rukh, one of the main strategists of Rukh was longing to get back to his writings. After a few stunned moments, I recall saying that perhaps God and history had a different role for him. I don’t think he was convinced. He was totally immune to the allure of politics and power.

The same could be said for Mykhailo Horyn, Drach’s “right hand” and perhaps the key operative of Rukh. Their lack of personal political ambition made their close successful working partnership immune to all sorts of political intrigue and inspired the popularity of Rukh leading to independence, all before Rukh became a political party.

The credit of Ukraine’s Independence goes to these selfless leaders of Rukh. President Poroshenko in his eulogy recalled many of Ivan Drach’s achievements as a writer and poet but said the greatest of these achievements is the Independence of Ukraine.

Rest in Peace My Friend, Vichna Pam’jat!

A Remembrance by Amb. Roman Popadiuk, first U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine:

Ivan Drach will always be remembered for his dedication and selfless service on behalf of Ukrainian independence and democracy. His struggle began under the Soviet regime as a strong advocate of Ukraine and a defender of human rights. As a founding member of Rukh, he was in the forefront of the struggle for Ukraine’ s independence and, as an accomplished poet, he eloquently expressed the consciousness and goals of the Ukrainian nation. In this regard, one of his major political contributions was to recognize Ukraine’s multi-ethnic nature and the strength this provided the new state. He spoke of the “people of Ukraine,” an affirmation of the inclusiveness of the new state. He leaves an enduring legacy in politics and literature that will influence future generations.

I greatly appreciated his friendship, counsel and observations on political developments. In the turmoil of the early days of independence, he exhibited a down to earth sensibility that helped guide the young nation in its early stages. Through all his political activities, however, he never lost sight of the human element, the need to treat all with dignity and respect. His kindness and generosity touched everyone and left a lasting impression.

I remember visiting with him in his home and in official settings. In all cases he exhibited kindness and gentleness and a gracious hospitality. His political work and his body of literature will, undoubtedly, be remembered but the friendship and kindness that he shared will not only be remembered but cherished by all those he touched.

Pictured at top of page, from left, are Nadia K. McConnell, Ivan Drach and Amb. Roman Popadiuk.

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