The last moments with Bohdan Stupka, before Eternity takes over

Thousands of Ukrainians see off the great Master with a storm of applause

The nation began to say goodbye to Bohdan Stupka late in the afternoon on July 23 at Askold’s Grave. A Requiem Mass lasted throughout the night at St. Nicholas’ Greek Catholic Church. Not only relatives and colleagues came to pay their respects to this outstanding Ukrainian actor, but also his fans. And there were thousands of them. Fans also came to bid farewell to Stupka as he lay in repose at his home Ivan Franko Theater. The mournful procession took three hours instead of two, as had been planned. Hundreds of people, a long line that stretched from the theater to Khreshchatyk Metro, and three Ukrainian presidents coming to pay homage to the great actor. The word “genius” sounded perhaps most frequently, mingling with the words of mourning.

Even at 9 p.m. floral tributes kept pouring in, to rest by the actor’s coffin. People were coming to Askold’s Grave, saying quiet prayers, and leaving. The soft sounds of prayers and singing drifted from the church. A candle in a tall chandelier glowed behind the door. No sobs or wails, only the words of the Holy Scripture. A young girl sat on a bench, staring at the church, wiping tears from time to time. Some mourners remained seated outside the church, others went to offer their condolences to the family, but everyone seemed struck by grief and the realization of the loss of a great Ukrainian. Here and there you could hear scraps of hushed conversations: “a selfless man,” “strong will,” “the great master of Ukrainian theater,” “a true Ukrainian.”

“For me Bohdan Stupka is an outstanding man in Ukrainian art,” says tearful Natalia SYVASHKO, music school teacher. “It saddens me to think that he has left no equal in Ukraine’s cultural space. I do not know which of Ukrainian actors can come close to the genius of Bohdan Stupka. So I’m sad for Ukraine, too. I believe this man to be our national hero, if only on account of the characters he played. Stupka was in a way a champion of the Ukrainian idea. My first association at the sound of his name is a true Ukrainian. This man enjoyed respect both in Soviet time and today. That is why I am here not only to pay homage to Stupka, but also to thank this man for his selflessness and love for Ukraine. God bless us with others like him.”

The doctor Volodymyr BRYN learned about the actor’s demise from his friend, and on the same day came to the funeral service at the church at Askold’s Grave:

“I have remembered Bohdan Stupka ever since I was a child, because my parents often watched movies where he starred. Even then I was charmed by the actor’s voice, its unique timbre, which made it impossible to mistake him for another. Stupka is an enormously powerful personality; it will be no exaggeration to call him a genius. But in my personal view, he has been working too selflessly of late. A pity, since he was of an age when a man can still do a lot. At present, I can see no one to take his place, though I certainly wish Ukraine had more such devoted people. In my mind’s eye, Stupka was always associated with Ukraine. I remember that recently there was a commercial where Stupka compared the Dnipro to the Nile and said that there are a lot of places in the world worth visiting, but for him Ukraine always came first. Back then, I felt as if he was saying goodbye.”

“Bohdan Stupka is a genius,” says journalist Marta SEREDA with conviction. “It hurts me to think that we have lost such an outstanding man, a prominent actor. And that there is no hope to see another take his place in Ukrainian art. He is unique, and there is no other to equal him. There are no such talented actors among the younger generation.”

“What did Bohdan Stupka mean for us? Glow, light, and warmth,” sadly says Vasyl KUSHERETS, chairman, Association Znannia Ukrainy. “He did a lot for us, and he often came to give talks. We published a book about him. He is one of those monumental figures, who have an outstanding place not only in Ukraine’s history, but also in that of the world. Of course, his loss is an immense drama for our country, as now we will have less light, less truth, and fewer values. I think his spirit will ever remain among us. His example will inspire people. They will have someone to look up to, and continue the good things he did.”

“Bohdan Stupka is a man who unites not only Ukraine, but also distinct nations,” states Vasyl VASYLASHKO, poet, secretary for Association Znannia Ukrainy. “And you know, when they say that Galicians are different, we can see that Stupka is more than a Galician, he is a Great Ukrainian. We must be grateful that our land still brings forth such great Ukrainians. He will always live in our memory.”

“Bohdan Stupka was an exceptional Master and a wonderful person, who truly loved his country. His professionalism and talent are incontestable,” says Yulia SHYLINA, director, department of corporative communications at Kyivstar. “His decease is a great loss for our nation. When last year we at Kyivstar came up with the idea to talk to Ukrainians about the love for our country, and we launched the program Znai Ukrainu! (“Come to Know Ukraine!”), none of our team members had any doubts about Bohdan Stupka being the face, voice, and soul of Ukraine. Since Znai Ukrainu! was not a standard commercial program, Stupka (for an only time in his life) took part in the shooting of the commercial video. This video effectively became the Master’s last appeal to us: ‘I love Ukraine, and I believe that so do you!’”


Stupka’s last work at the theater was Mefistofeles in Andrii Prykhodko’s Lehenda pro Fausta (The Legend of Faust). Most significantly, Stupka’s last appearance on stage as an actor was as Tevye the Dairyman. The best Tevye ever…


By Nina POLISHCHUK, Anna ZHURBA, Tetiana AVDASHKOVA, Den’s Summer School of Journalism




Krzysztof ZANUSSI, film director, Poland:

“Bohdan Stupka was an actor of continental fame, well known not only to most Ukrainians, but also to a considerable part of the Russians and Poles. Nobody else in Eastern Europe can be compared to him, a trilingual actor, as far as language is concerned. The artist’s death is an irreparable loss to all admirers of his art.

“Stupka knew how to be different and, at the same time, always to retain his true self. It remains a secret how an actor manages to express diverse human characters through the prism of his own one. The art of an actor means releasing the potential, not the actual, content – it is the description of one’s imaginary, rather than true, identity. In this sense, the actor is, to some extent, a superhuman, for he or she projects not one but many images.

“Stupka possesed a great talent for reincarnation and had an unchangeable individuality. He was quite organic when he played Tevye the Milkman and really looked like a great-power leader in the role of Bohdan Khmelnytsky. But, first of all, Stupka is archetypically Ukrainian. For the post-Soviet nations, Bohdan Stupka personifies Ukraine and its mysterious separateness: it seems to be similar to Poland or Russia but is essentially different owing to its wholehearted gestures, love of freedom, as well as secretness and reticence – a cunning manner of meeting its evil fate.


“I worked with Stupka in two productions. He once played an English invader of France in a Polish TV production of Jean Anouilh’s Joan of Arc story L’Alouette (The Lark). His familiar and, at the same time, alien Ukrainian accent in the Polish text aroused a sensation of danger. In my film And a Warm Heart (Serce na dloni), Stupka played an East European oligarch, a man without scruples, who is seeking out his humaneness. There was no actor in Poland, who was fit for this role (nor are there true oligarchs among my acquaintances). Stupka’s wonderful role, which fetched him an award at the well-known Rome Film Festival, pivoted on a real combination of the two extremes – good and evil. He plays an oligarch who writes a will, pondering on how to divide his property in order to do humankind as much harm as possible. Finally, he changes, watches with an angelic smile and reflects on the reincarnation of another person, thus proving that good and evil is a human choice rather than something predetermined to man ‘from above’ – it is in fact a field of choice on which freedom is at stake.

“Actors like Stupka must be born only once in a century!”


Alla BABENKO, stage director, Maria Zankovetska Theater, Lviv:

“He was a superb actor whom fate decreed to have symbolic encounters. When he was still a ten-grade pupil at School No. 28, Natalia Lototska, a student at the Maria Zankovetska Theater’s studio, came to do her internship at that very school. Lototska took Stupka to Borys Tiahno who revealed to him a fascinating but difficult world of the theater. A legendary producer, Tiahno assigned the main role in Faust and Death, a play by Levada about cosmonauts, to Bohdan. He acted wonderfully. The studio showed this production in Moscow on the stage of the famous Art Theater (MKhAT). As early as that time, critics prophesied a great theatrical future to the talented Lviv boy. What is more, the destinies of Serhii Danchenko and Stupka crossed in Lviv in 1966. This was the decisive moment. The stage director and the actor made their first joint effort in Rozov’s On the Road. It is Danchenko who unearthed Bohdan’s talent, and their tandem made it possible to make such landmark productions as Richard III, Stolen Happiness, Uncle Vanya, Tevye-Tevel, and King Lear. And thanks to Yurii Illienko, cinema-goers could discover Stupka’s original talent in the film White Bird with Black Mark. I think Bohdan Stupka is the Ukrainian theater’s only number-one Actor who reached a worldwide orbit. In my theater, he acted in the production Nora based on a play by Ibsen. This production was recorded for the radio. It is very good that there have been a lot of films and videos left because everybody who loves Ukrainian culture and the Ukrainian language must see the way the master plays. Stupka was a patriot. He was repeatedly invited to move to Moscow, but Stupka always said that he was a Ukrainian actor who cooperates with theater and movie directors from various countries. His death is a great loss for Ukraine.”


Ivan DRACH, poet, scriptwriter:

“Bohdan Stupka is an outstanding figure in contemporary Ukrainian history. It is very sad that he was gravely ill in the last six months – he was in fact saying goodbye to life. You know, when Stupka celebrated his 70th birthday last autumn at the Ivan Franko Theater, I saw him playing jazz on drums and I was sure that he was incredibly joyous and sound at this age. Then after the benefit performance, when we were having supper, Stupka would come up to every table and I saw that it hurt him to walk, sit down, and stand up. It was difficult for him to move, for he had spent all his strength on the stage to please the audience. When he came up to our table, it became clear that he was really a very sick but spiritually strong person.

“Bohdan Stupka made a name for himself not only in Ukraine, but also in Russian, Polish, and Italian culture. So far, none of the prominent personalities of today is so well-known and popular in various countries as the actor Bohdan Stupka. He is in the same line with such masters as Amvrosii Buchma, Dmytro Miliutenko, and Hnat Yura. It was a stunning figure in art. In various situations, in the circle of different people, be it painters, writers or actors, Stupka was always in the highlight. He was overfilled with the impressions of his tours and human contacts in film making. He knew a lot of jokes and interesting stories and always enjoyed the love of various people.

“I can remember how difficult it was for Bohdan to take part in Yurii Illienko’s White Bird with Black Mark. It was his cinema debut. The role of the Bell Ringer was supped to be played by Ivan Mykolaichuk, but Soviet cinema bureaucrats did not allow him to do so because it was the role of an anti-Soviet underground fighter, while Mykolaichuk’s latest role was that of Taras Shevchenko in the film Dream. It was not so easy for Stupka, but he did a brilliant job, and that movie opened a cinematic page in the master’s career.

“One of his last movie roles – of Taras Bulba – stirred up a storm of criticism in Ukraine. But the blame lies not with the actor but with the author, Nikolai Gogol, who essentially revised the second version of the novella, and with the film director Vladimir Bortko who hurled imperial ambitions onto the screen. As an actor, Stupka played brilliantly.

“Stupka has left a memory in the hearts of millions of people in various countries, who knew and loved him as a theater and cinema actor.

“I last saw Bohdan when he was in hospital. He and I signed a letter of address that the Humanitarian Council should look into the ‘language law’ situation and the president exercise the right of veto. Stupka’s signature testifies to his active citizenship. He was a courageous person and a patriot who understood that there can be no state without a language.

“The death of Bohdan bereaved me of a friend and a human being. I used to frequent the theater and visit him ‘to have a fireside chat.’ I am now going to miss this fire, for the sparks of talent, kindness, and wisdom that he produced were so powerful that they could set human hearts alight!”


Larysa IVSHYNA, editor-in-chief, The Day:

“Bohdan Stupka’s uniqueness is multidimensional. But people were the most attracted by the magnetism of his acting talent. I always thought that besides watching water flow or fire burn, one could endlessly watch the thought or feelings being born. And it was always unbelievably interesting to look at Stupka’s every gesture, sparkle in the eyes, every wrinkle.

“At the certain point of time his talent literally breached the atmosphere of the cultural desolation that had fallen over the neighboring countries after the Soviet Union had fallen apart. And some of his roles provoked grand discussions. Probably, that was partially caused by a bit of envy, which is not an uncommon thing for artistic people. Did Stupka have to participate in Bortko’s Taras Bulba, the non-ideal film from Ukrainians’ point of view? Did he have to play a role in With the Fire and Sword, since Ukrainians do not consider Henryk Sienkiewicz to be a perfect screenwriter?

“The question is, if anyone has ever had a right to reproach Stupka at all. Because thanks to the power of his charisma, he managed to turn even such movies into purely Ukrainian ones. After all, he could not just stand aside, waiting for his own country to finally create conditions for Ukrainian cinematography to flourish. Though I think, the absence of such conditions pained him deeply. The profoundness of Stupka’s talent allowed him to make a compromise. His artistic and intellectual courage should not be forgotten either. For example, the time when he agreed to Illienko’s offer to portray Mazepa, the time when Ukraine was not even ready to learn the true facts about Mazepa, not to mention their unpreparedness for him being portrayed in a poetic way. While reproaching Stupka with Taras Bulba and Bohdan Khmelnytsky, people often forget about Ivan Mazepa.

“Maybe, Stupka did make compromises in cinematography issues, but he was unyielding and uncompromising when it came to the most important things. He was already seriously ill when he addressed Viktor Yanukovych with a request not to sign the ‘language law.’ And when Anna Herman announced the president would interrupt his vacation to say goodbye to his friend, I thought that calling himself Stupka’s friend was great responsibility. Such things oblige to keeping to a certain behavior. If all the arguments that have been voiced already will not work, is it possible that the president will listen to his friend’s dying wish?

“Since Stupka was a very generous person, he always helped people to reveal the best in them.

“He was a true and genuine Ukrainian.

“And when I read Vladimir Putin’s condolences on the occasion of Stupka’s death, I thought that these Ukrainian features of his were of such great quality that did not allow anything else save for recognition. That is why anything Ukrainian that strives to occupy leading positions in anything, should be of the highest quality. This is one of the most important lessons Stupka taught us.”