Welcome to our web-site dedicate to my father Yaroslav Pavulyak, a Ukrainian poet.
My name is Mariana and I am Yaroslav’s oldest daughter. I created this site to tell the world about the life and work of a man whom I admire very much. Also, I would like to make his poems available to anyone interested in Ukrainian language and literature.
My father was born on April 30, 1948 in the village of Nastasiv, in the county of Ternopil, in Western Ukraine. His father Ivan was a carpenter and his mother, Melania, took care of the house, the farm and their three sons: Bohdan, Yaroslav, and Yevhen. Yaroslav attended an art school in Lviv, focusing on ceramics. He graduated in 1967 and began working at different galleries and craftwork sites while also doing various restoration work.
Yaroslav was very fond of his fatherland and of the Ukrainian national culture, history and literature. Unfortunately, this passion made his life (and – not only his) very challenging, because, in the former USSR, it was forbidden and/or very unwelcome to promote anything Ukrainian – even reading Ukrainian books, with the exception of a very few approved Ukrainian authors and books. The suppression of all things Ukrainian was present in daily life: the Russian language, and not the native language of Ukrainian spoken by the locals, was the preferred and the promoted one. But, my father was young, full of ideals, and he cherished the greatest Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, so much that he decided to build Shevchenko’s bust to honor him. At that time, my father was 21 years old. He had to build the bust in absolute secrecy. However, as the finished statue was big and heavy, he asked his close friends to help him install it in the middle of Nastasiv in the middle of the night. When the villagers woke up on May 1st, 1969, they could not believe their eyes – standing on a small hill there was a bust of their beloved poet staring at them! At that time, this was a shocker. Of course, the KGB (the secret police) immediately came to the village and began an investigation and hearings, eventually finding and arresting my father. They started to harass him and they tried to force him to remove the statue from the village. But they had no idea how stubborn my father could be. He refused to cooperate. The KGB then asked his brother Bohdan to convince Yaroslav to do so, but that did not help either. They started to look for anyone in the village who could remove the statue, because they were afraid to remove it themselves. It would be too large of an attack against Ukrainian culture and it could lead to the eruption of overt anti-Russian and anti-Soviet sentiments. The KGB was not able to find a single villager who would take down the statue. I can imagine how scared of the KGB the villagers were, so I really admire their defiance and thank them for their courage. The statue remains standing there to this day. My family, however, went through severe persecution following the statue incident. My father was under house arrest for two months and my uncles were fired from their jobs. Uncle Bohdan was so stressed out that he ultimately suffered a stroke. Nevertheless, no one ever had any doubts about the importance of what my father did.
My father later attended the University of Tchernivtsy. In this town he also met his first big love and became engaged to a black-eyed Mariyka. However in December 1971 he was fired from the University because he was again promoting Ukrainian culture. He also experienced another disappointment – Mariyka’s parents became scared of the KGB and they forced Mariyka to return the engagement ring to my father and cancel the wedding (and, I think that this unfortunate event might have influenced his subsequent, complicated relationships with women).
My father restarted his studies in 1972 at the Department of Teaching at the University of Kamyanets-Podilskiy, where he was again forced to leave for the same reason as he left Tchernivtsy. Yaroslav, unhappy – but stubborn – went to Kyiv to see Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, to complain about the KGB’s actions. It did not help, although he learned that all the Universities in Ukraine were instructed not to accept him for studies. My father then secretly fled to Moscow, without even telling his family, causing them to worry that the KGB had killed him. My grand-mother Melania even went to a palm reader to ask what had happened to her son, and was told that he was safe.
In 1973 my father was accepted to the Gorki Institute of Literature in Moscow. This University was well-known for its acceptance of “creative” students. Here he met my mother, Natasha Durinova, also a student at Gorki. When my parents decided to marry, the KGB was angry because they were unaware of my father’s secret departure to Moscow, and realizing that now he was going to marry a foreign citizen (my mom), it became too sensitive for them to act directly against him. Therefore they asked the Rector of the University, Vladimir Pimenov, to convince my mother that it was not a good idea to marry a Ukrainian nationalist. However, my mother was even more stubborn than my father: she told the Rector to tell the KGB that she could not understand why they thought my father was a nationalist. Having built a bust for a national poet, my father would be honored in the former Czechoslovakia (where she was coming from), instead of being persecuted in the former USSR. Therefore, the KGB then contacted the STB, the secret police of the former Czechoslovakia. The STB sent agents to my grandfather Ondrei living in Bratislava to inform him that his daughter was planning to marry a “former prisoner, and a dangerous man”.
Thank God, my grandfather was a very brave and morally correct man. Of course, he was surprised his daughter was even getting married, but he did not become frightened by the STB’s sudden visit and told them that his daughter lived her own life and that he would not interfere in her personal life. I appreciate and admire his strength very much, especially because at that time, my grandfather was working at an important post which he could have easily lost just because of a man he had never even met. To his day I can only thank my dear grandfather for being so brave, because I know that many other potential grandfathers would have been scared and flown to Moscow to talk to their daughters; he did not and therefore he made it indirectly possible for me to be born. My parents finally got married in Moscow in July 1977. My father moved to Czechoslovakia where he worked at a literary agency, LITA. In September 1978, I was born.
Unfortunately, their marriage did not last and my parents divorced. They remained good friends, though. After the divorce the KGB and STB again contacted my mother and told her that they could now expel my father from Czechoslovakia back to the USSR if she wanted. They thought she was angry at him over the divorce. However, my mother told them that if they ever tried to do it, she immediately would remarry him so he could stay. Therefore I am also very grateful to my mother because I know that plenty of other women are often hostile towards their ex-husbands and would really not care of they ended up somewhere in a dark cold place. However, my mother always wanted me to be in contact with my father: I could meet him at any time, and she never tried to turn me against him. In addition, she actually has always been helping my father throughout his life (and until his death) with any possible issues, including arranging a life-saving complicated surgery for him. She could truly serve as an example of how the relationships could work even after divorce.
When the KGB finally realized that their efforts against my father would not work, they planted false friends within our family network to receive reports on whatever my father or mother were doing, thinking, saying, or whom were they been meeting with. Some of these people were existing friends who agreed to betray us, some of them were new friends who approached us. These people came to visit us, dine with us, and do everything with us that friends do with one another. My parents were very disappointed to find out later that these people were betraying them for so many years. However, I have to say that we appreciate that one of the STB agents met my mother and, as he was surprised and pleased by her character, he finally told her to be alert and to be careful about people that were coming to our house. Later my father learned about other so-called “friends” himself, and the names of some others later have been published on special STB-agent lists, after the Communist regime was gone and the STB archives were opened. I do not understand how these people live with themselves. I do not care much for KGB agents – they not only did their dirty jobs, but they did them well. I am rather surprised the KGB and STB were able to find such good actors and weak characters that were eagerly ready to serve them. Anyways, all this is over now and I know that I cannot change it. I think these people will eventually have to explain their behavior to other, higher forces. I believe in karma and I know that what goes around eventually comes around.
My father remarried and his second wife was a Ukrainian girl, Irina. In 1988 my sweet sister Nastassia came into the world. We lived close to each other (several stops by bus), so we felt as if we were sisters full blooded, rather than half sisters. Our mothers are friends.
My father’s second marriage did not work out either, and he divorced again. During this time there were many political changes taking place in Europe. Most importantly, the former USSR and the former Czechoslovakia fell apart. At this point my father had to decide whether he wanted to stay in Slovakia or return to the Ukraine. He first decided to stay in Slovakia and tried to get his paperwork in order. This should not have been a big problem because he lived and worked (and, by the way, paid taxes) in Slovakia for more than 15 years, and he also had two daughters born and raised there, both of whom were Slovakian citizens. But, for reasons unknown, he was not able to get permanent residency. The immigration officer (a woman) always found some exception in the law that made it impossible for my father to stay in Slovakia. When my mother realized my father was having problems with documents, she went to see the officer herself. I went there myself many times too. But despite all our efforts, the officer and the entire system simply did not care that they were breaking up a family, separating two daughters from their father, making it difficult for them to see each other. Or, perhaps, we just got hit by some leftovers of the old corrupt system that was dying out. Anyways, when my father realized this, he decided to return all the documents he had to the officer and he left for the Ukraine for good. So much for the logic of the immigration laws in Slovakia: we want your taxes, but not you. The officer was proud of herself. She thought she was a brave and committed worker and she was probably happy to close one more case. I think Gogol would enjoy this situation and write another funny story about the clerks and the primitive bureaucratic society.
But please do not think this destroyed us. I think my father actually became much happier in Ukraine than he would be in Slovakia. He married for the third time and he had a very good wife, Oleksandra. She is a doctor and also writes poetry and plays piano and violin. Oleksandra completely understood my father’s artistic world (which is really not easy to). My father used to work as a director at a Museum of Political Prisoners and Victims of Communist Regime in Ternopil. My mother and I were visiting him from time to time, and I think that, in the end, everything worked out well.
I described to you the details of my father’s life not just so his story could be told, but also because I think that it reflects what was going on in the former Soviet and Czechoslovakian societies. I know there are many others who went through a similar (or, much worse) hell. If you look at the Ukrainian history, you can easily find and follow a whole chain of harassment, stalking, bullying, tortures, and killings of anyone who had the courage to openly stand for their Ukrainian heritage or nationality. So, our family has actually been quite fortunate because we were able to handle the negative impact on us quite well. I also know it is past; no one can change it. But I do not want the destiny of one man and his family to be forgotten so easily and become simply another statistics. My father and my family suffered a lot because of the KGB and STB (and, thanks to lots of fake friends, too), and I will never be silent about this. My father’s health had also deteriorated as a result of the KGB’s actions. But try as they did, the KGB could never take my father’s soul. My father never denied his Ukrainian origin and he always told the whole world how proud he was to be Ukrainian. He endlessly and unconditionally loved his country, culture, and people. He loved the grass he used to lay down in sometimes while thinking about life. He loved his apple tree growing in his garden. He really was a very simple guy and naïve in many ways who was punished purely because he loved his fatherland and because he showed his love for it. He did not betray his people, nor his opinions or soul. Because of all of this I love him so much.
In addition to my father’s life, I also want to tell about his poetry. My father was a member of the Association of Ukrainian Writers and the Society of Ukrainian Writers in Slovakia. In 2010, before his death, he has also been nominated for the Shevchenko National Prize for his book of poetry “Dorohy dodomu” / “Roads to home” (2009) – unfortunately, he did not win the Award although, in my humble opinion, he fully deserved to win – I am not saying this because I am his daughter, but because his poetry overall has truly deserved to be recognized through such award. His poetry is special. I would say it reflects his inner thoughts, emotions, sadness and instincts, and it is full of an incredible imagination. He often plays with words. His poetry has been appreciated and recognized by many literary critics for the masterful use of language and fantastic metaphors he created. Overall, there have been four books of his poetry published: Bludniy lebid / Straying Swan (1993), Mohyly na konyakh / Graves on horses (1999), Dorohy dodomu / Roads to home (2009), and Son ye son / A Dream is a dream (2016). Unfortunately, many poems of my father have been confiscated by the KGB and despite our best efforts, we were not able to find them anywhere.
My father died on November 25, 2010 at his home in Ternopil. He was 62 y.o. To this day it’s still hard for me to believe that he is gone, and the thought of his departure still hurts me – yes, he has been a fantastic poet, but to me, he has been my beloved father, in the first place. His death has deeply traumatized me. I am still not quite able to digest watching some videos of him, or looking at his pictures, and I often end up wiping my tears and feeling miserable. And I do not think this will go away – because, when you lose someone you deeply love, your life is impacted forever and it just never will be same as before. I keep missing his voice, energy, and spirit. Despite the fact that I did not live in a traditional family life with him, I am very happy and lucky being his daughter (along with my sister Nastassia), and I would never in my life want to ever have any other father – but him.
The very last book of my father, Son ye son / A Dream is a dream (2016) was born thanks to the efforts of my father’s friends and family. This book has been illustrated by a fantastic and genius Ukrainian painter Ivan Marchuk . I am endlessly grateful to Mr. Marchuk for being so generous and kind to provide his talent to make this books so perfect.
My father’s work is currently available in Ukrainian only, but I hope one day I will find a poet, someone who understands his work, passion and love of the Ukraine, to translate his work into more languages.
If you wish to leave a message for us, please use the contact form available at this web-site.
I wish you all the best, and thank you again for visiting us here.