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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“A Duck Swims On” as requiem and warning

Honoring Maidan heroes to the accompaniment of Pikkardiiska Tertsia
6 March, 2014 - 11:06

The old sad Lemko folksong “A Duck Swims On” has been for more than ten years in the repertory of several performers, including the group Plach Yeremii (Lamentations of Jeremiah) and its front man Taras Chubai, Lviv Les Kurbas Theater actors, Mariana Sadovska, and the vocal ensemble Pikkardiiska Tertsia (Picardy Third). Not all may have known it until now. But today this song, sung by Pikkardiiska Tertsia, is familiar to all without an exception, because it embodies pain and grief over the Heavenly Sotnia and because people paid their last respects to almost each of the innocently killed to the accompaniment of “A Duck Swims On.” We will always remember the heroes!

“Twelve years ago, when we were recording this song, we did not expect it to be able to sound so mournfully,” Volodymyr YAKYMETS, artistic director of Pikkardiiska Tertsia, told The Day. “It was important for us that people should remember their folklore, and ‘A Duck Swims On’ is, in our view, the best example of folklore. So we wanted this kind of songs to get a new lease of life thanks to our performance. I know neither the time this song was written, nor the historical circumstances under which it emerged. Our group came to the conclusion that it is an army recruit’s song, and it seems to us that it was composed and sung after some sad events.

“As for using ‘A Duck Swims On’ in our performance as a mourning accompaniment to the Heavenly Sotnia, nobody consulted with us. After all, there was no need to consult – we would not have refused. I know that ‘A Duck…’ was first put on video footage after the Maidan’s first victims, Sergei Nigoyan and Mikhail Zhiznevsky, had lost their lives because it was one of the most favorite songs of the Belarusian Zhiznevsky.

“Our group was on Kyiv’s Maidan before the tragic events of February 18, 19, and 20. We came and sang the Anthem of Ukraine several times both in front of and without the viche because we considered it necessary to support in this way the Ukrainian people and all those who stood on the Maidan.”

Why do you think scientists and artists, i.e., well-known and respected people whose opinions we have always heeded, kept silent so long about the Maidan events? They only burst out speaking when it became clear that the Maidan had won?

“The people who were supposed to put their messages across did so. I mean, in particular, Professor Ivan Vakarchuk and Maria Zankovetska Theater actors, who came to the Maidan several times to support the people. I am strongly convinced that there should not be ‘support for the sake of support’ – they should have declared a plan of developments. In this case, it would have been effective and topical. And what you are talking about concerns double-standards people – they ostensibly support events and ideas but, at the same time, are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“Incidentally, the Inter TV channel radically changed its attitude after February 20 (the live program ‘This Concerns Everybody’ on February 21, 2014). I mean, in particular, the singer Natalia Valevska who had come out in support of the authorities two months ago but was wearing black, as she were in mourning, at the Inter studio. That was a significant program, when all those present were trying to justify themselves and only speak about the victims, not about hatred.”

Mingling with many people, I have drawn a conclusion that people are becoming different, dividing their life into two periods – before and after the Maidan. Can you say about yourself that there are two Yakymets persons now: one before and one after the Maidan?

“No. Nothing has changed in my awareness. I did not like the authorities, say, three years ago and do not like them now. As before, I support Ukrainian culture. As before, I wish Ukraine would join the European Union. But the point is that some sentiments have become more acute after those tragic events. Now I would hardly be insisting on a compromise about all matters because what the Heavenly Sotnia is demanding is not a compromise. The current situation is that Ukraine will never revive unless we take right and clear-cut steps in the foreign and domestic policy, the economy, culture, and education. We are now on the brink of a war with Russia, Crimea has been occupied, and a part of Left-Bank Ukraine is being ‘adorned’ with separatist Russian tricolors. But I believe in the better and in a united Ukraine.

“I want to wish us all unity, but unity never comes on its own, nor will it appear at the wave of a magic wand. The unity of people is a field, where there must be a compromise from various sides – from east and west, south and north. Unity must be achieved through understanding that we, in the west, wish nothing bad to people in the east. We must speak to each other by way of wise thoughts, not slogans. Only then will we reach a needed compromise. There is a large stratum of folklore which only a few know of because it is never discussed on the world’s TV and radio channels. To learn the history of a country, the causes and results of tragic events, one should always turn to folklore. For example, there are a very large number of riflemen’s songs. We must remember people who gave their lives for the fatherland. For example, Mykhailo Haivoronsky, Roman Kupchynsky, Oles Babii, Yurii Shkrumeliak, and Levko Lepky have left us a huge stratum of this history – we have just forgotten and our statesmen have never paid attention to this. I am afraid those tragic events will bring about, unfortunately, another array of sad songs. Some will write this from the bottom of their heart, some will do so to make a name for their own selves. Some songs will be sung even a hundred years later, and some will be forgotten in three days’ time. But this will be Ukraine’s contemporary history. Should this emerging stratum of culture be also forgotten (as we have in fact forgotten the songs of Sich Riflemen), our descendants will unfortunately draw wrong conclusions. I wish very much that all people would draw right conclusions from the events now under way in Ukraine.

“We are now going to sing ‘A Duck Swims On’ twice as often, but the message will be that this song is a warning, not a requiem. I want everybody to remember the people who died for our freedom.”

By Tetiana KOZYRIEVA, The Day, Lviv