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Volodymyr Ivasiuk was found dead 43 years ago. Main versions of his death

Fil Puharev
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May 18, 2022, marks 43 years since the death of Ukrainian composer Volodymyr Ivasiuk, the author of the song Chervona Ruta and one of the founders of Ukrainian pop music. According to the official version, Ivasiuk committed suicide. According to the unofficial version, the Soviet special services killed the composer. There are other versions of Volodymyr Ivasiuk’s death.

Music journalist Phil Pukharev, the author of the Telegram channel about the Ukrainian pop stage PLAY, analyzed the main versions of the composer’s death with PRO and CON arguments and tried to understand what happened.

May 18, 1979. Black date for Ukrainian music. On this day, the super-popular composer Volodymyr Ivasiuk was found dead in the Bryukhovytskyi forest in the Lviv region.

Ivasiuk’s death became a turning point for the entire Ukrainian pop scene and its future. This story is still full of mysteries and raises many questions and contradictions even 43 years later.

What do we know about the death of the author of Chervona Ruta

In April 1979, Volodymyr Ivasiuk worked on the Khmelnytskyi contest Young Voices jury. On April 24, at 8:30 in the morning, Ivasiuk returned home to Lviv by train. Shaved, took shower, and went to study. Around 1:00 p.m, he returned home, put the notes in his briefcase, and went to the Conservatory again, promising his mother that he would return in an hour.

He was taken away from the classes by car. Then Volodymyr was last seen alive.

On April 25, a student of the Lviv Conservatory allegedly saw the composer on the road to Vynnyky. A random woman from Rivne told the investigation that she met Ivasiuk at the city’s bus station in early May.

The composer was found dead on May 18. During training, a soldier-radio operator discovered his body, hung by a belt on a beech branch, in the Bryukhovytskyi forest. The investigation determined that the cause of his death was “suicide by hanging.”

Suicide. PROs

In 1972, Ivasiuk moved from Chernivtsi to Lviv. There he enrolled in the medical institute and simultaneously studied at the conservatory. At first, after he moved to the new city, the composer missed Rotaru, Yaremchuk, Zinkevych, Dutkivskyi, and other friends from the Bukovyna music company. His psychological condition worsened because of this.

In 1976, Ivasiuk received treatment in the Lviv psychiatric hospital. Here is what we read in an extract from his medical file,

He tried to work hard, wrote new songs and more serious things, but most often discarded them, considering them to be extremely failures. He became unable and failed several radio rehearsals.

A month before this admission, he stated to his sister, “i am written out, and it’s better to end myself than to live like this.” later, these thoughts came into his head more and more frequently. (ivasiuk) was consulted in the clinics of the medical institute and received outpatient treatment, but without effect. He absolutely stopped sleeping. His mood suddenly dropped.

Tetiana Zhukova, an opera singer, and Ivasiuk’s partner at the time told a similar story. According to her, shortly before the composer’s death, they often watched foreign thrillers about suicide. And Ivasiuk allegedly took her to a park near the house and even showed a tree (!) on which he “would like to hang himself.”

Modern researchers are also convinced of the veracity of the official version of the Soviet investigation. In 2019, historical media talked about the death of Ivasiuk with Elyzaveta Apanasenko, an expert at the Kyiv Bureau of Forensic Medicine. She said,

The available materials lead to the suicide version. There are no characteristic signs of murder. Although some negligence is obvious in the examination process, overall, as in the 1970s, it was done well. Now, these results would be considered incomplete, but at the time, many modern methods, including dna analysis, were not available. I see no reason to consider ivasiuk’s death a murder. However, the materials are insufficient for a unique conclusion.

Suicide. CONs

Volodymyr Ivasiuk’s Lviv friends said he missed his old friends but did not fall into depression. The composer, as before, was in a good mood and worked hard. For example, in 1975, he wrote the soundtrack for the theatre play “The Standard Bearers” based on the novel by Oles Honchar, which the writer himself liked very much.

Given this, the words of Tetiana Zhukova look strange, if not absurd. Is she not lying, giving Ivasiuk’s specific sense of humor at face value?

And how should we perceive the fact that Volodymyr Ivasiuk was really under psychiatric care? There is a logical explanation here. Ivasiuk did not have time to combine classes with work, so in 1976 he was expelled from the conservatory for missing them. However, the composer wanted professional musical education and was looking for an opportunity to return to his studies.

In those days, this could be done with a psychiatric certificate in hand. Ivasiuk could easily fake the symptoms he needed at a doctor’s appointment as a talented artist and a potential doctor. Ultimately, in the fall of 1977, “the patient’s condition improved” (quote from the medical file), so Ivasiuk could return to the conservatory with his mind at peace.

Murder by Soviet special services. PROs

This is the most popular version of Ivasiuk’s death during independent Ukraine. Due to the lack of information and access to official sources, in Soviet times, it was passed over orally among the pro-Ukrainian intelligentsia. However, after the USSR’s collapse, evidence confirming its plausibility came out.

The exact procedure of investigating Ivasiuk’s death raises many uncomfortable questions, and the facts presented in the case often contradict each other.

Why was the case closed on May 11, although the composer’s body was found on the 18th? How could a corpse hang on a tree for so long without visible natural damage? If this is a suicide, why were there no traces of the composer’s shoes left on the bark of the oak, when he climbed the tree to fix the shutter? Where did Ivasiuk’s personal belongings go, including the sheet music of new works that his mother had talked about? If all these moments were hushed up, then from whose submission? At least, the Ukrainians have an obvious answer to the last question.

In 2009, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine renewed the investigation of Ivasiuk’s case. But in 2012, it closed the case again due to a “lack of evidence”. 

In 2014, the investigation was renewed for the second time. Within a year, the ex-prosecutor of the Lviv region, Roman Fedyk, openly stated that the composer was “killed by representatives of the Soviet special services”, but his words went unheeded.

In 2019, the Kyiv Research Institute of Forensic Examinations concluded that Volodymyr Ivasiuk “was physically unable to commit suicide” given the circumstances he was found dead. Finally, in 2021, ex-Deputy Prosecutor General Mykola Golomsha said live on the Right to Power show, “We established that he was hanged being already dead.” Instead of the arguments that should have gone on, there was silence again.

Murder by Soviet special services. CONs

At first, Ivasiuk`s friends and colleagues on the scene discussed the improbability of a KGB trace in the composer’s death. Their public speeches and interviews noted that this simply could not happen because Volodymyr was only engaged in art, stayed out of politics, and did not bear any threat to the Soviet regime or its security.

This point was also emphasized by the poet-songwriter Yurii Rybchynskyi, who wrote many texts to Ivasiuk’s music. Later it turned out that, in reality, everything was different. When Rybchinsky first learned that the composer had died, he clearly and briefly answered the interviewer, “He was killed,” off the record.

For the sake of completeness of information, it is worth dwelling on one of the most significant “sensations” of recent years towards the Ivasiuk case.

In 2009, after the first renewal of the investigation into the composer’s death, an interview with Mykhailo Kryzhanovsky appeared in the newspaper “Bulvar of Gordon”. The editors introduced the interlocutor as a former agent of three special services: the KGB, the SSU (Security Service of Ukraine), and the FBI. Now, for security purposes, Kryzhanovsky allegedly lives in a conspiratorial flat in the USA, apart from his family.

He claims that the KGB did not kill Ivasiuk because… the composer himself was a secret agent of the undercover service. In the mid-70s, he was allegedly recruited by the Lviv branch of the Committee. However, no documents have been found to confirm this fact. According to the stories of the composer’s acquaintances, shortly before his death, he was invited “for a conversation”, but it didn’t work out: Volodymyr hinted to the officials that music was his only interest.

Let’s assume that the KGB workers did not kill Ivasiuk. Then who did?

Crime/love triangle. PROs and CONs

These versions are not sufficiently large-scale to dwell on separately, but it is worth mentioning them.

People close to Ivasiuk say that shortly before his death, he had several street conflicts with aggressive individuals. Once, the composer got into an argument with the drunk wealthy bullies. They were singing Russian songs in a Lviv coffee shop (the story suspiciously reminds us of the circumstances of the death of the composer Ihor Bilozir, head of the Lviv ensemble Vatra). Another time he argued in a tram with persons of “Western Asia appearance” (a person from the Caucasus) who tore off the buttons of his coat.

There are more severe statements about criminal showdowns with the participation of Ivasiuk from the same Kryzhanovskyi. But not in terms of credibility. In the best traditions of Russian propaganda, he provides “irrefutable evidence” that the composer received solid payments (royalties) for his songs, which could become a lure for bandits. Of course, no one saw that money.

Shortly before his death, Volodymyr had an affair with Tetiana Zhukova. And she, according to unconfirmed information, had another relationship – with the son of a respected Lviv party member. The son allegedly found out about the betrayal and staged a vendetta against the composer, accompanied by his friends: the man took Ivasiuk to the forest, wanted to scare him, but “overdid it.” And the case was allegedly covered up to smear the boy.

But if all this is true, why did the investigation have to hide it? At least, after the collapse of the USSR, this version did not make any sense. We would already have the evidence in our hands. The only possible explanation is that influential police officers or high-ranking officials who did not lose their positions after 1991 were involved in the case.

Competitors massacre. PROs

The last, objectively the weakest version – Volodymyr Ivasiuk`s death, was allegedly ordered by one of his colleagues out of envy of the young composer’s talent and popularity. This one can also explain why the notes with new songs disappeared from Ivasiuk`s briefcase without a trace.

In connection with this version, conspiracy theorists in tabloids and forums even mention the now deceased Mykola Mozgovyi, who took over the laurels of the leading pop composer in the 1980s. Allegedly, “Krai” and his other hits of that time were nothing more than the same songs from Ivasiuk’s portfolio, which he did not have time to finish on his own. And the contests in memory of the author of Chervona Ruta and other events initiated by Mykola Mozgov in Ivasiuk`s honor were attempts to “park selective morality” and “atoning for sins.”

Competitors massacre. CONs

Neither Mozgovyi nor any other of his respected colleagues from the Union of Composers are not the sons of the general secretary, not KGB workers, and not policemen. Even in Soviet times, such a person would have already been behind bars, with all due respect to them. And what’s more, this person could have become an excellent reason for a further “witch hunt” among pro-Ukrainian musicians or an object of attack for propagandists in their endless desire to find an “envious hohol” (offensive word aimed at Ukrainian ethnic identity).

Conclusion

In the case of Ivasiuk, there is still not enough information to finally help put everything together. If the official investigation verdict is fake, and any versions of the murder are accurate, most likely, the perpetrators understood the resonance of what was committed. They, therefore, destroyed the primary evidence on the spot.

One way or another, most of the materials in the Ivasiuk case are still under lock and key in Moscow. Will they live to the end of the war?  It’s a complex question. We hope that soon, isolated from the “Russian world”, at least part of the veil will fall from this mystery, and we will learn a lot about the death of the creator of Ukrainian music. And all the guilty – if there are any, and they are still alive – will be punished.

If we can never dot all the “i’s” in Ivasiuk’s death, we still have to fight for his future here and now. To endeavor to make Ukraine as Volodymyr wanted it to be after our victory. He will be pleased.

P.S. Most of the information for this post is taken from Ivan Lepsha’s book The Life and Death of Volodymyr Ivasiuk (1994). The author considers it the most thorough and complete investigation of the composer’s death. However, it is not devoid of journalistic conjectures in places where the facts are silent.

Translator: Alyona Martyniuk

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