Thousands of mourners in Ivan Franko Theater on July 24 line up to pay their last respects to Bohdan Stupka, who died on July 22 at the age of 70
© Ganna Bernyk
Thousands of people filled the square in front of Ivan Franko Theater on July 24 to say goodbye to Bohdan Stupka, arguably modern Ukraine’s greatest actor.
Stupka, about to turn 71 in August, died of a heart attack on July 22 in a hospital in Kyiv. Stupka suffered from bone cancer and spent the last months of his life hospitalized. Previously he underwent surgery in Germany.
“We [the family] couldn’t talk to him, he wasn’t able to speak in his last days,” his son Ostap Stupka said to Segodnya newspaper. He also noted that Stupka died alone, with no doctors or family with him at the time.
“He deserved another death. He could die on the stage, where he truly belonged,” said Stupka’s fan and friend Hanna Prints, waiting in line to enter the Franko Theater for Stupka’s memorial service, holding two red roses.
She and other admirers of Stupka had to wait. The public ceremony, scheduled to start at 10 a.m., was delayed one hour so that Ukraine’s top officials could bid farewell to Stupka in privacy. Before any of the people in line were let in to the theatre, Stupka’s memorial service was attended by President Viktor Yanukovych, some ministers and top officials.
“I was in the line but then sneaked in by trick, because it would be unreal to wait so long,” says Anna Artemienko, her voice trembling, eyes wet. She was one of the first to get to the memorial service.
The coffin was set on the Franko Theater stage, where Stupka played most of his theatrical roles.
Born in Lviv, Stupka started his career in the local Maria Zankovetska Theater at the age of 20. Seventeen years later, in 1978, he moved to Kyiv. Since then and until his death, Franko Theater became a professional home for him. For the last 11 years Stupka had been its artistic director.
However, it was not theater that made him widely popular, but his movie roles.
A cinema-workaholic, Stupka featured in more than 100 movies, often playing lead parts. His first screen role came at the age of 29 and he didn’t stop until the last year of his life. Stupka’s most famous characters were Bohdan Khmelnytsky in the Polish epic “With Fire and Sword,” a Russian general in “A Driver for Vera” and the lead part in recently released “Taras Bulba.” Among Stupka’s theatrical works were King Lear, Leo Tolstoy, King Oedipus and Jesus.
Being a Ukrainian actor, Stupka often participated in movies produced in Poland and Russia. His role in the Polish film “A Heart on A Palm” won him an award at the International Rome Film Festival in 2008. He had offers to move to Moscow, but preferred to stay in Ukraine.
Even after death, Stupka remains a controversial figure for many because of his political work. At the end of the ‘90s, he spent two years as culture minister in a Cabinet led by then-Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, the former president.
Stupka didn’t support the 2004 Orange Revolution. He even congratulated Viktor Yanukovych for winning the presidential election later declared fraudulent. However, when the scandalous language bill was approved by the Verkhovna Rada earlier this month, Stupka and several other cultural figures sent Yanukovych an official letter criticizing the measure to elevate the official status of the Russian language.
Stupka is buried in the historical Baikove Cemetery in Kyiv.
Kyiv Post staff writer Olga Rudenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.