Article by: Anna Lazareyeva
Translated from an article by Anna Lazareyeva for BBC (November 13, 2010) and an article in Ukrainska Pravda (December 2, 2014)
GRAPHIC NOVELS ABOUT THE HOLODOMOR AND OTHER STORIES FROM LIFE IN THE USSR HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED IN FRANCE
“It all started as a project about Chekhov’s home in Yalta. But in Ukraine I was shocked by what I saw and heard. Nothing like that had ever happened to me. I called my publisher to let him know that I want to do a different book…”
Ukrainian Notebooks (Memories of Life in the USSR), a series of graphic novels, has been published in France. The author, the famous Italian artist Igort [Igor Tureri, b. 1958], has already sold 10,000 copies in Italy. His illustrated collection of memories and stories that people in Ukraine have shared with him about their lives in the recent past will soon be coming out in English, German and Spanish.
In reviews both critics and readers describe Igort as one of the most popular Italian artists whose specialty is graphic novels. He is the recipient of many prizes, the founder and owner of a publishing company and an author renowned for his exciting illustrated detective novels.
“This kind of delving into the history of the twentieth century is essential to help us better understand the post-Soviet countries that are now going through many of their own revelations and discoveries,” writes a French reviewer.
“The horrors people experienced in life under the communist dictatorship are well known, but not many of us are familiar with the terrible tragedy that was forced on the Ukrainian people, the Holodomor. Millions starved to death because one person willed that,” writes another reviewer. “Ukrainian Notebooks deserve to be included in school curricula.”
Ukraine was a shock and a revelation
Emmanuel, from the Parisian bookstore “Galérie BD Spirit” that specializes in comic books, is impressed by the scale of the projects the Italian artist likes to take on. He says, “Igort is one of the most popular, if not the most popular Italian master in the art of comics in the last thirty years. He is manager of the best specialty publishing company in Italy, “Coconino Press,” and likes to takes part in those international projects that publish the graphic novels in other languages to have direct sales in the global market.”
Ukrainian Notebooks is in essence a new genre for the author
In an interview conducted by the BBC, Igort said that this was the first time in his life as an artist that he became so interested in a subject that he ended up putting his other projects on hold.
“Going to Ukraine, I had a completely different project in mind. I was interested in the building in Yalta where Chekhov once lived. But upon arriving in Ukraine, what I saw and heard shocked me. It was the first time in my life that I was so shaken up. It was strange; it was as if something inside me exploded. I called my publisher and told him that I want to do a different book.”
The Unknown Holodomor
The information that struck him so hard and that he had never been aware of became the subject of Igort’s new book. He had never heard of the man-made famine engineered by the communist dictatorship in the USSR in which millions of Ukrainians died of starvation.
“I have a three minute film where the faces of my heroes can be seen. One of them, Mykola Vasyliovych, broke into tears right in the street. It was heartbreaking to see that tremendous, still-bottled-up pain he carried after all these years.”
For two years Igort lived in Dnipropetrovsk. For two years he traveled through cities, towns and villages in eastern and southern Ukraine. He noted that even today the Soviet mentality still persists among people in those regions.
“I did watch television. And there were no European or American channels. At that time the United States was holding elections, and Obama had won. The news about Obama winning the election lasted three minutes and the news about Putin’s birthday lasted five-and-a-half minutes. First Putin was shown half naked hunting Siberian tigers and then he was shown handing out watches to poor Russians.”
According to the author, Ukrainian Notebooks is a history book. History with a small “h”… The heroes of the book are ordinary, mostly elderly people talking about their lives. Most of the interviews grew out of conversations that had started in the street.
“Once I noticed an old woman in the street. It was minus nineteen degrees and there she stood in the doorway of a big store leaning on her cane and soliciting folks to step up to get weighed on an old scales she had. Everyone must have weighed two hundred kilograms, what with their warm coats and clothing, and who’d want to get on a scales with all that weight? That granny was the quintessence of helplessness. When just plain survival is so hard.”
The Italian artist said that after finishing the project he was able to understand the symbolism Franz Kafka made use of in his novels much better. He thinks that the absurdity Kafka portrayed “isn’t so fictional after all.”
At the same time Igort noted that coping with difficulties such as he saw in the lives of Ukrainians required a special ability that he doubted he “could find anywhere else in the world.”
In conclusion he said that upon returning to Paris from Ukraine he was disgusted with the excessive affluence he saw everywhere. In Ukraine he saw poverty, but there was a dignity in that poverty. Still, to this day the subject of the Holodomor is taboo – as if the terror that was omnipresent under Stalin is still there. Still today people are reluctant to talk about it.
(Main photo: Igort, holding Ukrainian Notebooks. Photo by Pavlo Solodko)