Ukraine has a new official Hero—Borys Bilash, a poet from Donetsk. Never heard of him? Not to worry. You’re not alone. Neither has anyone else. Except for President Viktor Yanukovych, that is. You see, Bilash is apparently his favorite poet.
Yanukovych made Bilash a Hero of Ukraine in Decree No. 834/2011 on August 23rd “for his exceptional personal contribution to enriching the national cultural-artistic heritage and his fruitful creative activity.” Now what would that contribution be, you ask? Journalist Oksana Klymonchuk wondered as well, so she visited Kyiv’s bookstores and couldn’t find any of Bilash’s works. She then went to the offices of the National Writers’ Union of Ukraine and spoke with its head, Volodymyr Yavorivsky, who “didn’t criticize Bilash, saying that he’s known him personally for a long time and was even a guest at his home. In his view, he’s a very average poet.” (By the way, I checked the Writers’ Union website and didn’t find Bilash on its list of members, but that could be because the site appears not to have been updated since 2008.)
Bilash served as People’s Deputy from the Party of Regions in 2006–2007, but if you look at the Regionnaires’ website, you’ll find nothing about him. Take a peek as well at Ukraine’s two leading Russian-language news sites, donbass.ua and segodnya.ua. You’ll find nothing about Bilash there either. It’s only if you look at the website of the Central Electoral Commission that you’ll discover that Bilash “was born in 1941, has no party affiliation, has a higher education, is a pensioner, and lives in the city of Donetsk.” Despite his non-party status, he ran as No. 207 on the Party of Regions’ electoral list in the March 26, 2006 parliamentary elections.
Perhaps he’s an esoteric poet who appeals only to a small circle of cognoscenti? Klymonchuk found two of his Russian-language poems on the Internet. Here’s one, presumably written before he became a Rada deputy. My translation surely doesn’t do virtue to the author’s heroism, but bear with me.
If I become a deputy,
I’ll safeguard my people
with fat, eggs, and bread.
Let them delight their stomach.
Let them eat cream with a spoon
and stuff themselves with caviar,
I won’t object.
That’s the kind of guy I am!
I’ll load them down with pastry and cookies,
You want cakes and truffles—here they are!
If necessary, even with sex
I’ll treat them to the full.
in no circumstances
for money, but just so.
What’s life without fantasies
of a sexual nature?
OK, I can hear you mumbling, “Uh, not exactly Shakespeare.” But remember: Shakespeare was no Regionnaire and that surely detracts from his supposed genius, and besides, Bilash is Yanukovych’s favorite poet and Yanukovych is president. So there.
Naturally, Bilash is “dumbfounded” by the honor. When asked by Klymonchuk just who his heroes are, Bilash said: “I like Viktor Fedorovych [Yanukovych] as a hero. I know he has a big heart and has experienced great suffering. He could really become a reformer. I expect that from him. And he’s true to his word.” Indeed, says Bilash, “he knows me best of all poets, and that’s surely because we’ve known each other a long time. He regards me warmly. Viktor Fedorovych has frequently cited me at critical moments with the appropriate lines. My poems have sometimes helped him find clearer answers to tricky questions. I was and remain proud of that.”
Not bad for a poet who, as he says, used to work as a coal miner and had written many of his poems about coal miners. But things are looking up for Borys: “I’ll probably soon be in Kyiv. At present I’m first on the Party of Regions list. Surely I’ll already be a deputy in the fall”—after the October 2012 elections to the Rada take place.
Damn, this Hero of Ukraine things looks mighty good, doesn’t it? And if Borys can do it, why can’t I? So, here’s my contribution. I’m guessing Yanukovych will love it—and then, who knows?
I love you more than
you can stand.
I love you more
than Luhansk coal,
I love you more
than North Stream oil.
My love is like
My love is like
So sure o’ my love
you can be,
as sure o’ the blackness
of the Black Sea.
O! Sultan Yanuk,
how glad I am
is not Ukraine!
Not to worry. When I become a Hero, I promise to share my caviar and cookies with you.