News from and about Ukraine & Ukrainians: Ukrainian Community Press Releases
BRAMA, May 23, 2001, 8pm EDT
A conversation with Myroslava Gongadze
Myroslava Gongadze leans towards the East River
Solomiya Gongadze gazes at a family portrait taken with the twins' father about one year ago. "It's us! (Öå ìè!)," they exclaimed in unison when they spied the photograph. The two young girls know only the occasional word in English, and are most comfortable speaking their native Ukrainian. Ms. Gongadze was in the midst of being filmed for a documentary by former Ukraine journalist Suzie Davis.
Myroslava Gongadze speaking at the Ukrainian National Home in New York, May 22. Seated next to her is Mr. Myroslaw Shmigel, head of the NYC branch Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. More than 100 people turned up to meet Ms. Gongadze.
(May 22) Askold Lozynskyj, President of the organization World Congress of Ukrainians, helps out with the children. The flowers were presented to Myroslava Gongadze with a warm greeting from the Ukrainian National Women's League of America.
May 23, 2001, New York - Myroslava Gongadze, widow of slain journalist Heorhiy Gongadze whose death launched a major political scandal in Ukraine, is now living in the United States with their 3-year-old twins. Her husband's mysterious disappearance along with the contentious investigation that followed and the vacillating confirmation of his remains, catapulted Ukraine's political turmoil into the world arena. We were fortunate to get a few moments to speak to Ms. Gongadze in the offices of Freedom House on Wall Street - this, just one interview among many that were scheduled across 4 busy days in New York City.
Although well-grounded and confident, Ms. Gongadze is not without her tender moments. Speaking to the community at the Ukrainian National Home the other day, her eyes filled with tears when explaining that the decision to leave Ukraine was a very difficult one to make. In general, her manner is informal, and displays of affection for and with the children come easily.
The twins, Solomiya and Nana, are in a word - delightful. Unusually reasonable even in a typical child's dark moment - the loss of a balloon evoked no more than a breathless, "Oh, that's alright." It is astonishing to see how quickly they both adjust to new surroundings and the continuous parade of unfamiliar faces around them.
The President of the World Congress of Ukrainians, Askold Lozynskyj, announced at the community meeting in New York that a special fund has been established by the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee (www.uuarc.org) for the benefit of the Gongadze children. The UUARC can be reached at its headquarters in Philadelphia at (215) 728-1630.
Q - When did you finally accept the fact that you will never again see your husband?
To be honest, it was when the body in Tarascha was discovered that I first thought about this. Until this point, I was counting on finding him. It was even difficult to think about any catastrophe that may have befallen him until that time. Then, when the body was first identified, I accepted the fact that I would not be able to see him alive again. Even if I thought there was a 1% doubt about his death, because of course one always has a glimmer of hope, it was dashed when the tape scandal erupted. When I listened to the tapes released by Oleksandr Moroz, it was clear that I would not see him again.
Q - When such a deep and tragic loss takes place, those who remain, the families and loved ones, look for closure, a period at the end of a sentence, so that they can go forward with their lives. Have you had that closure?
I have sought that finality, that period, all along. I thought that once Heorhiy was identified, there would be a funeral and he would be buried. I thought that this would end my search, that there would be no further struggles - I have no more strength left. But this was perhaps a naive idea on my part, because now I fear that there are efforts to discredit Heorhiy and us, his family. I do not want this discreditation. I don't want my children to feel sorry for themselves, nor should they be embarrassed about their country or parents. They should be proud of their father. This is the most important thing - to be able to give an answer to all the questions surrounding this issue. And I believe that I will be able to do this. I don't want Giy's death to be in vain. If it had to happen this way, then let this be the reason why changes must take place in Ukraine.
Q - What can you say about the sensational announcement released by official sources in Ukraine that Heorhiy was killed by ordinary thugs?
I can say only one thing, that this was nothing more than a lie. The entire investigation by the Procurator's office was a chronology of lies. They have once again underscored their lack of professionalism, and pushed themselves into a corner. I have issued a challenge to the General Procurator to appoint an independent investigation of the results obtained by the foreign experts. If the Procurator does not agree to do this, I will hold the President and his retinue personally responsible.
Q - Why didn't you return to Ukraine to bury your husband after the body was finally identified?
You must understand that Giy's mother is also involved. She has not accepted this body as that of her son, and I cannot take the responsibility for this question upon myself without her.
Q - Your husband is regarded as a victim and, to a great extent, a hero among Ukrainians. How can his memory be honored best?
For me, first and foremost, it is to raise [Giy's] children, and to continue his efforts, his aspirations. He wanted free press in Ukraine. He wanted Ukrainians to take pride in their motherland. For him, these words were not trivial, and not too great - he lived by them. He wanted to be free, and that everyone in Ukraine share that freedom. If I can contribute to making changes in Ukraine in this direction, then I will feel that I have succeeded.
Q - Please say a few words about the monument to Heorhiy that members of the opposition movement have built in Kyiv.
I'm grateful and even glad that one consequence of Giy's death was increased awareness and the growth of an opposition movement, a wave of protest. These people who are doing something [protesting] in Kyiv, they are doing for whom? It is not for me, they are doing it instead for themselves - because it is in this way that they are rescuing themselves. Rescuing themselves from bondage.
Q - Why did you decide to move to America?
Because I was seeking protection. I was afraid. There were many dangers for my family, especially my children. As long as the children are still young, until they are on their own feet, I could never be at peace about them in Ukraine. I am at the epicenter of a political scandal, and one can never predict what will hit and from which direction it may come. There were other options, possibilities in other countries, but America came through with the asylum offer. We have both political asylum and refugee status now.
Q - What are your plans for the immediate future?
Well, this is a big question. As for myself, I would not have chosen to come to America because I could have had many opportunities in Ukraine. But, in principle, I can do these things here too. For one thing, I would like to study. I am preparing to research one project about the impact of mass media on the political crisis [in Ukraine], and another project will be a biographical book.
Q - How are your children coping with life in America?
They seem to be handling things quite well, only I fear that they are missing out on their childhood. They are with me and other adults all the time, going to all the meetings. Sometimes, they even begin to sound like adults when they hold a conversation. But they get a lot of attention from everyone, and mama gives them a lot of leeway. They give me great joy.
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