“We live here, our souls remain there…”
[b]In many regions of Ukraine, you can find associations of the All-Ukraine Union of Belarusians — which include 14 amateur performance groups. The ‘People’s’ title is bestowed on only one ensemble, from Sevastopol: Belaya Rus, headed by Gomel-born Alla Gorelikova. For more than ten years, she’s managed the Sevastopol City Belarus Society, which she also founded.[/b]I can easily imagine them dressed in national folk costumes, ascending the ladder of the shining combat ship ‘Ivan Bubnov’, in Sevastopol Bay. With fresh breezes, the sea and seagulls, sailors greet the ensemble with applause.
I can easily imagine them dressed in national folk costumes, ascending the ladder of the shining combat ship ‘Ivan Bubnov’, in Sevastopol Bay. With fresh breezes, the sea and seagulls, sailors greet the ensemble with applause. Naturally, many know Alla Gorelikova as a popular person in Sevastopol; she’s been a municipal council deputy for two convocations. Smiling, she explains that besides being the singing coach of her choir, she dresses in a beautiful costume to sing beside them; she is their founder, conductor, creative director and, sometimes, even composes songs.
To accordion accompaniment by Vladimir Nekrasov, Ms. Gorelikova waves her head and begins singing Belarusian songs over the Black Sea: I Love My Land, Water Song, Belarus, Early Ivan, and Folk Towels… The repertoire includes more than twenty compositions. One, very cordial, which has become the ensemble’s calling card, was written by Ms. Gorelikova herself — both lyrics and music. Especially touching are the words:
Live forever, bloom, Belarus!
You are our happiness, our hope and sadness
We live here but our souls remain there
Where little storks roam the fields…
The song evokes a warm response from the audience: the melody immediately brings to life images of home.
Where little storks roam the fields
While singing, Ms. Gorelikova becomes excited by remembrances of the wonderful fields of her childhood, imagining the little storks evoked by the song. She was born in 1951, in the village of Selivonovka, in Zhlobin District of Gomel Region. Ivan and Yevdokia Rubanovs were a happy family: they were expecting a baby-sister for Alexander and Victor, who were born in the 1930s.
Their father wasn’t drafted into the army, due to disability. The family endured hard times but survived, working hard from dawn until sunset. Later, the older brother became a teacher, while Victor worked as an engineer at Baikonur. Alla graduated from secondary school in Redky Rog village, where her brother taught, and was soon keen to gain independence, wanting to help her parents. She took employment as an electric sewing machine operator at Gomel’s Komintern Enterprise while studying part-time in Vitebsk. She successfully received a degree in manufacturing engineering for the sewing industry while discovering a passion for public service via the Komsomol. She was elected onto the local committee and later headed it at the Elegant Production Association. The experience proved useful when she became a municipal council deputy in the Crimea.
Alla didn’t immediately like the Crimea. “Imagine, Sveta, I wasn’t at all fascinated by Crimean beauties!” she tells me in Minsk. “We were going there to live, not on holiday as most do; I panicked, crying a lot, as I thought I’d never see my native Belarus again…” I decide to tell her that my husband, Yuris, and I experienced similar feelings on emigrating to the USA. We’d cry on hearing Belarusian songs…
Alla and I were chatting at the Victoria Hotel. We were participants of the 4th All-Belarus People’s Assembly. I represented the Belarusian diaspora in the USA while she — the Belarus Society and the All-Ukraine Union of Belarusians.
Sometimes, you see a person for the first time and it seems that you’ve known them your whole life; so it was with us. We began by discussing female topics. She told me how she lived in Bakhchisaray District with her husband and son before moving to Sevastopol, where they built a new flat and had a daughter. Son Andrey is now 35, while daughter Irina is 26, studying to be a designer in London. Sadly, she later separated from her husband, and went to work at a factory making knitted sportswear. After 15 years, she finally retired from her position as head of the shop floor, and then met her new husband — Oleg Chernousov. He is reliable and devoted, and sings in Alla’s ensemble. Together, they run the house and care for Alla’s aged mother, who celebrated her 99th birthday recently and is still a Belarusian citizen.
Room for creativity
At the forum in Minsk, I noticed Alla taking notes and became curious. She explained that she intended to report back to her Belarusian friends in Sevastopol, via the Belarus Society’s News from Home magazine. There are many Belarusians in the Crimea; the last Ukrainian census registered over 275,000. “Our souls are drawn to our native land,” emphasises Alla. “This governed the foundation of the All-Ukraine Union of Belarusians in 2000, which helps us to develop our national culture, defend our rights and strengthen relations with our homeland. We’re supported by the Belarusian Embassy in Ukraine and the Culture Ministry of Belarus.” Belarusian societies currently exist in 15 Ukrainian regions, while the Belarus City Society in Sevastopol was registered on July 5th, 2000.
I was eager to learn more about the lives of our fellow-countrymen at the Black Sea, so we agreed to keep in touch. Back in the USA, on the website of the All-Ukraine Union of Belarusians, I found a page about our Sevastopol compatriots, seeing that they’re on friendly terms with those of other nationalities around the city — of which there are many. In fact, when Ms. Gorelikova was founding the organisation, she was supported by many Sevastopol Belarusians. The society is part of the Crimea Union of Belarusians. Three years ago, she was awarded at the Public Recognition forum, in the nomination ‘I Am Honoured to Live in Sevastopol’. She was awarded with a medal dedicated to the 65th Anniversary of Belarus’ delivery from German Fascist occupation, thanking her for strengthening friendship between the people of Ukraine and Belarus.
Chatting on Skype, we look through Alla’s photos of festivals, folk celebrations and rites, meetings and assemblies… One shows society members at the Dialogue Club, taking part in the Days of Slavonic Written Language and Culture. Some show folk arts festivals, and children’s and youth events. Friendship lessons at the children’s library are organised under their initiative. Others show them visiting memorials, such as the common grave in the northern part of the city. They honour the memory of fellow-countrymen, locating Belarusian settlements in the Crimea and Sevastopol, and gathering materials on Belarusians who participated in the city’s defence during the Crimean War and the Great Patriotic War.
In the centre of Sevastopol, near the Eternal Flame, is the Avenue of Hero-Cities, which includes memorial plaques dedicated to Minsk and Brest Fortress. Sevastopol Belarusians regularly congratulate war veterans on the Victory Day and the Independence Day — such as native-Belarusians Nadezhda Nekrasova and Innesa Davydenko.
Among those who help Ms. Gorelikova is deputy Lyudmila Malko, who graduated from the Belarusian State University and is now a Russian and Belarusian language and literature teacher. She writes sheet music for recitals, dedicated to Belarusian literature. Yelena Yakovenko, who is skilful with her needle, arranges folk arts exhibitions. Other helpers include Vyacheslav Vatchin, Valery Kazyanin and naval captain’s mate Igor Nikitin. Festivals include Belarusian Christmas Celebrations, Early Ivan, Spring Calling, and Maslenitsa, attracting crowds of urbanites keen to enjoy themselves and discover something new about Belarusian culture.
In Minsk, Alla often buys items from the Skarbnitsa folk arts shop. “Folk holidays are my favourite thing in the world,” she confesses. “I write my own sheet music, inspired by Vladimir Mulyavin and Pesnyary. We’ve even arranged several events dedicated to his memory.” She decided to study native Belarusian from scratch (independently) when she realised that it was unethical to represent Belarus without knowing its language. She read extensively and wrote. Once, in Minsk, she was given a whole bag of Belarusian language books — including a three-volume Russian-Belarusian dictionary (essential for her efforts). The language revived in her heart and she now encourages every member of the Society to study similarly.
Founding the ensemble, she decided that all songs should be sung in Belarusian. “Nothing unites people more than a good song; it makes them rejoice and feel nostalgic, brings laughter and tears,” says Alla. “I remember how, in our village, everyone loved singing, especially to accordion accompaniment! My father played the accordion very well, being invited to weddings, birthday parties and village celebrations. My brothers were also musicians, playing wonderful music. I used to sing their Oginski’s Polonaise, and waltzes such as Berezka, Danube Waves and Turkish March. My love for music and singing was born in my native Selivonovka. In the early days of founding the ensemble, many wanted to join us; now, only 20 remain — the most talented! We sing as a full choir, as well as giving solo, trio and quartet performances. We also involve children, to ensure this love for Belarusian music continues.”
Belaya Rus artists received their beautiful stage costumes from the Culture Ministry of Belarus on the fifth birthday of the ensemble. Ms. Gorelikova collected them from Minsk in 2006. “We all love singing and do our best to make our songs help people,” adds Alla’s husband, Oleg Chernousov. “Our ensemble never sits still for too long with such an energetic leader (he laughs). We participate in the Days of Belarusian Culture in the Crimea and in folklore festivals, and give concerts on ships and for military units in Ukraine and Russia. We’ve given dozens, or perhaps, even hundreds of concerts over the past ten years. It’s so wonderful to hear our songs in the city!”
They’ve clearly been lucky in their friends — collecting people of rare spiritual beauty and purity, who complement each other well. Oleg supports his wife in all her efforts, helping her develop her singing creativity.
Wreaths of songs
Recently, Belaya Rus ensemble presented a new programme. In late spring, Alla messaged me to let me know about her numerous ideas, sharing her joy at recent achievements. She also mentioned her recital, which took place in May. “We prepared long and hard, performing twenty of my own compositions (some with my lyrics, too). We sang for two hours, provoking so many congratulations and compliments.” I naturally regretted not having heard the concert, but Alla showed me the photo-reportage. There were beautiful people, a full house at the Sevastopol Business and Recreation Centre, and Alla appearing in an elegant black dress on stage, receiving congratulations and flowers. The event coincided with her 60th birthday. Some photos show her conducting the ensemble and I can see the excited faces of the audience: somebody smiles while somebody secretly wipes away tears…
Alla for the first time presented her own compositions, with lyrics also provided by S. Yesenin, A. Block, P. Brovka, and A. Kuleshov, and Sevastopol poets L. Guselnikov, N. Svitenko, and L. Novikova. Later, Alla sent me recordings of her songs — all tender, lyrical and touching. Listening to them, I recollected my favourite places in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine… They evoked deep feelings and fine images with their words and melodies; some I immediately memorised by heart.
Alla tells me how these songs helped her to overcome a difficult disease. Around five years ago, she was diagnosed with an awful illness but managed to keep her spirits up, finding a renewed passion for life. While in hospital, she wrote her first song, starting with the melody, then adding lyrics. Clearly, her creativity and, of course, the love and support of her husband and family, helped her to successfully overcome the surgery and rejoin her choir. Her inspiration stayed with her, bring more songs, born one after another. Sometimes, the melody appeared immediately and words came later. Several of her verses and the poem Dozhinki were published in the Crimean magazine Kamyshovaya Bukhta. She also loves writing songs using the verses of favourite Belarusian poets like Esenin and Block. This is how she made her wreath of songs.
She has her own secret: despite the fact that Alla was raised in a musical family, she is not able to read musical notation. She records her melodies on her mobile phone. Later, professionals like Sergey Ananiev from Bakhchisaray make the necessary arrangements. He has electronically recorded all her songs and, soon, the collection will see the light. Oleg tells me that his wife wants to dedicate the song collection to Belarus and I’m sure that the motherland will recognise the gift of its talented daughter. In my view, Alla’s songs are worthy of any stage.
Alla dreams about giving her recital in Minsk and these dreams seem likely to soon come true, as others agree. “When you’re abroad, you truly feel your love for your native country!” Sergey Ananiev tells me, speaking of Alla’s efforts. “When people start composing songs, it’s like a thank you to their homeland. I speak as another expatriate, coming from Vladivostok. Alla is a wonderful, honest person who has managed to preserve her purity of soul. It seems that Belarusians are very kind-hearted, tolerant and reliable people. I write this not to flatter you: my grandfather was also a Belarusian by origin. From childhood, I heard his wonderful, musical Belarusian language, and listened to magical Belarusian songs. I believe this gave root to the wonderful melodies of Alla. It is the music of Belarus which comes from her independently! Her unique experience with her choir is also a big inspiration. Such songs were always intended to be simple and easy to sing — giving them sincerity.”
Another person with Belarusian blood has joined the creative ranks of Sevastopol Belarusians thanks to Alla. I admire Sergey Ananiev’s opinion as he clearly has great musical experience, as well as a degree in music. Alla’s way of composing songs — singing them rather than using an instrument — really impresses him. “It’s right that the song should be primarily sung easily!” he asserts. “It should also touch the soul. Alla’s songs largely reflect her personality, as she is easy to get along with.”
My new friends have invited me to Sevastopol! People say that, on warm nights, on Primorsky Boulevard, you can hear wonderful songs sung by various choirs — including the Belaya Rus ensemble. I should definitely go!
By Svetlana Gebeleva