Immortalised in Lviv Stone
Immortalised in Lviv Stone
Elegant Oksana Kozynkevich is the director of the 16th to 18th century art department at the Lviv Art Gallery (located inside Pototsky Palace). As well as working to protect the West Ukraine’s capital’s unique cultural heritage, she is also the muse who inspired one of Lviv’s most iconic monuments.
Oksana, how did you come to be immortalised with a statue in Lviv’s Strysky Park?
When I was a young lady I used to model for the well-known Lviv sculptor Krvavich, who at the time was training a young and promising student called Yaroslav Motyka. The famous statue in Strysky park was made in 1966 by Mr. Motyka as part of his master’s degree. He was a student at the prestigious Lviv National Academy of Arts and although his specialty was ceramics he chose to explore female sculpture for his diploma work. Initially Motyka worked with a different model who was young and slender, but he found that although she was well-proportioned for her size, she was not quite right for the surroundings, which called for a fuller, more classically feminine figure. Krvavich was responsible for suggesting that Motyka try and use me as his muse and model. The master sculptor obviously thought this was very funny, commenting at the time, “I have married you off without your knowledge!” Today Yaroslav Motyka remains a successful artist responsible for many statues around Lviv including the well-known warrior monument on Stryska Street.
You could from an aristocratic background. Did this make life harder for you under Soviet rule?
Like many Ukrainians, my life story has witnessed many twists and turns. Sometimes I think it would make a great soap opera. Most of my early difficulties are related to my parents and their status as enemies of the Soviet regime. My mother was repressed because she was a descendent of the Kochubey family, which had served generations of the Russin royal family, while my father was a victim of communist repression because he was a patriot from West Ukraine who had been one of the founder members of the Trembita choir. While he was on tour in Kazakhstan all the choir’s musicians were arrested and sent on different tour, this time of the Soviet gulags. Both my parents found themselves sent on barges up the Yenisei river to the dreaded Taimyr peninsula. It was there, in this desperate and bitter place of exile that my parents met and fell in love. When my mother was released, she returned to Kyiv in her native Ukraine, which is where I was born. However, she could not bear to be separated from my father, and within a year we had moved back to beyond the Arctic Circle where he continued to live in forced exile. As a result I spent my early childhood in the Arctic wastes.
How did you finally find your way to Lviv?
Our family moved to Lviv when I was seven years old. I went in school in Lviv, then in Kyiv, then once again in Lviv. We spent our time split between the two cities, and this tradition has stayed with me. I graduated from Kyiv Fine Art Academy, but my first job was at Lviv Art Gallery. Later on I joined the Ukrzahidproekt Institute as an art restorer. In 2005 Lviv Art Gallery director Boris Voznitsky invited me back and I happily accepted his proposal. In-between stints working at Lviv Art Gallery I have been lucky to have been able to participate in a number of fascinating archeological digs around Ukraine that have significantly broadened by knowledge. I have dug for Scythian gold and among ancient Greek ruins. Once a team of movie-makers made a film about our Scythian gold discoveries, and again I was invited to play a starring role! The film director involved said that I would be perfect as I was the epitome of a Scythian beauty, so I gladly accepted the role and donned the Scythian crown. Today this corwn sits in Kyiv in the Pecherska Lavra.
Why is West Ukraine so heavily over-represented in the list of the country’s architectural treasures?
To our great regret it is true that East Ukraine has been plundered and devastated over and over again in the past hundred years. It was one of the main battle grounds of the Russian Empire’s civil war which followed the Bolshevik Revolution, it was at the epicentre of the Stalinist terror and the Great Famine of 1932-33, and it was one of the worst-hit regions during the German invasion of WWII. All these events have combined to deprive the region of its heritage and threatened to create a desert in the souls of the population. However, these setbacks have not succeeded in depriving East Ukraine of its character, as our people have somewhere the fill to live deeply imbedded in their hearts. In this respect West Ukraine has succeeded in keeping our national traditions alive and well while other regions struggled to survive.
Why did you choose to live in Lviv rather than Kyiv?
I think you can find a rewarding life anywhere if you make the right choices, but I found my fate tied to Lviv when I met my husband, who was a footballer for Lviv heroes Karpate. Unfortunately, he passed away fifteen years ago but I have stayed in Lviv with our children.
What does your work involve at the Pototsky Palace?
I am head of the 16th to 18th century art department. Working at the Pototsky Palace is a daily thrill – I see the palace as a huge and magnificent ocean-going liner anchored in the city centre. This is rather apt as the palace is built on te site of the old Poltva river, which used to run through Lviv, and there is even an old anchor behind the palace left over from those times. In the palace we have a wonderful collection of art which consists of over 5000 items. The majority of our exhibits were collected thanks to the efforts of Mr. Voznitsky and his team. Museum employees tend to receive low salaries but we are motivated by our love for what we do and our desire to preserve relics of our culture.
For many years Pototsky Palace was the traditional place for Lviv wedding ceremonies. Isn’t it a shame that this practice has ceased?
From 1975 onwards thousands of Lvivians were married at the Pototsky Palace, including myself. I think that this was a great idea, but I would also like people to think about the palace not only in connection with marriage and love, but also as a place of wonderful art. From time to time we still allow people to hold wedding ceremonies in the palace in order to keep the old tradition alive.
Which aspects of heritage preservation are you focusing on at the moment?
We are working hard to promote the restoration of Pidhirtsi Castle, a world heritage site that is sadly neglected. At present we are danger of losing this treasure as it is literally falling apart. We have secured the support of a lot of influential people to promote the idea of saving the castle, including former Polish president Oleksandr Kwasniewski and Ukrainian actor Bogdan Stupka, who hails from Lviv.