Bohdan Soroka

Ukrainian Graphic Artist

Bohdan Soroka had great sense of humor, inquisitive intellect, and irresistible energy. He was a leader who always attracted and pulled people towards him. His way of thinking was unique and surprising, and he always generated interesting ideas to implement into action. He was never bored. He worked on his art continuously and tirelessly even during times when his art was banned by the KGB from all exhibits in the Soviet Union. He loved life, and his attitude towards life and his positive exhilarating personality made him impossible to forget.

Bohdan Soroka started his life in unusual way, too. He was born on September 2, 1940 in Brygidky prison, in Lviv, Ukraine. His mother, Kateryna Zarytska, a well-know political activist and Ukrainian freedom fighter was imprisoned by the Soviets while pregnant with her son. Her husband, Mykhailo Soroka, also one of the key figures in Ukrainian liberation movement, was arrested at the same time. Consequently, Soroka’s parents, after four months of marriage, never saw each other again. Together they spent sixty years in Soviet Gulag as political prisoners.

Bohdan Soroka was lucky to escape the fate of political prisoners’ children – to be inserted into orphanage under a changed name, never to be found by the biological parents. He was rescued by his grandparents Myron Zarytsky, a well-known mathematician, and a professor of the Lviv University, and his wife Volodymyra Zarytska. Soroka grew up in the atmosphere of much love, freedom, art and opera. Myron Zarytsky loved opera, and attended Lviv Opera House regularly. Bohdan inherited a love of music and a beautiful tenor voice, and could sing every aria from all the operas staged in Lviv Opera House by memory. Although, he didn’t like school much as a child, he loved reading books and drawing. He also loved to produce of puppet shows with his own hands and present them in single-artist shows to his grandparents, great-grandmother and neighbors. He traveled with his grandparents for vacations, and those travels made a deep impression on his young mind.

Soroka was sent to study in the Children’s Art School, and later he was accepted to the Lviv Institute of Applied Art, ceramics department. The death of his grandfather in 1961 was a big emotional blow. Twenty-year old Bohdan was left to support his grandmother.

After his graduation from the art institute, Soroka, as a child of political prisoners, didn’t have much choice in his employment. The families of the “enemies of the people” were always under the watchful eye of the KGB. The artist found a job in the Lviv Production Company, where he remained working as an artist-monumentalist until 1991 when Ukraine became independent. With a group of 5-6 other artists, the “brigade”, as it was called, he worked on government orders, such as painting murals and making mosaics in different corners of the Soviet Union, which required him to travel extensively. At that time he didn’t work much creatively on his own. As he put it himself, he liked to party, and loved to play bridge. Soroka was one of the founders of the bridge club in Lviv.

Bohdan Soroka met his future wife Lyuba Brykailo at one of the parties, and said with his usual sense of humor, that she, like a good fairy, turned him away from playing bridge, and drew him towards making art. He never played cards again in his life.

They were married on November 19, 1969. This was the year when Soroka became a part of the dissident movement of the sixties which developed in Ukraine after the death of Stalin and included artistic and literary spheres of Ukrainian society. The artists of the sixties, as they are called, used their art as weapon in protest against oppressive Soviet regime.

Soroka was asked to make print-illustrations to a book of poetry by his friend, a dissident poet, Ihor Kalynets. Initially, surprised by this invitation, he excitedly begun to work on the prints. As he later recalled in his memoirs, he became a graphic artist because of this event. The prints and the poetry were smuggled out of the USSR and the book was published in London in 1970. After the book’s publication, the KGB opened a criminal case on Soroka, and accuse him of treason. He was called to the KGB headquarters numerous times for interrogations, and his family was never sure whether he was going to return home. Although Soroka was not imprisoned, he became an “enemy of the people” himself, and his art was banned from every public exhibit in the Soviet Union for the next eleven years, and he was prohibited from joining the Union of Ukrainian Artists, or to teach at any art institutions of Ukraine. The exhibit “Contemporary Prints From Ukraine” that opened in Philadelphia in 1979, then later in New York and Cleveland, and where six of Soroka’s prints were presented, didn’t help his case with Soviet authorities.

Bohdan Soroka

Ukrainian Graphic Artist

With the Brezhniev era came great repressions in Ukraine, and most of Soroka’s friends and comrades were oppressed by the Soviet regine. The artist remembered, that on the occasion of his daughter first birthday on January 13, 1972 he and his wife planned a big party celebration with their friends. It turned out that no one came, as all of them had been arrested on the previous day. Soroka never stopped supporting his friends morally and financially in Siberian exile, as well as their children and wives left behind in Ukraine.

During this difficult time Bohdan Soroka, with no hope for any recognition for his art, kept working in his small apartment, which he shared with his grandmother, wife, and two daughters, Solomia and Ustyna, making new prints in linocut technique. He tended to work in series, and in that period he created such series as “Ukrainian Mythology” 1970, “Kupalo Festival Games, 1974, “Children Games” 1974, “Skovoroda Symbols”1975, “March of Gnomes” (black-and-white) 1980, “Uzbekistan Travels” 1982, “The Architecture of Lviv” 1977-1986.

One of Bohdan Soroka’s fascinations, often implemented in his art, was his love for Ukrainan, specifically Hutsulian (Carpathian Mountain region of Ukraine) folk art. He became one of the first collectors of Hutsulian art, and by traveling on foot from village to village, created the largest collection of uniquely Ukrainian wooden candelabras, which otherwise would have been lost.

During the late 80s, during perestroika times, censorship on Bohdan Soroka and his art was partially lifted, and with all his energy he immersed himself into the cultural life of Ukraine. He exhibited his works in Lviv, Kyiv, and in 1989 received the first prize at the International Ex-libris competition in Vilnius, Lithuania. The genre of ex-libris is an important part of Soroka’s output.

With Ukraine gaining its independence in 1991, Bohdan Soroka for the first time traveled with his art abroad. His first personal exhibits opened in Canada (Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa) in 1991, and in later year the USA followed with shows in New York, Chicago, Washington DC, Detroit, Philadelphia, and other cities. Europe opened for him as well, as he traveled to show his prints in Germany, England, France, and Poland.

In 1993 Bohdan Soroka was invited to teach at the Lviv National Academy of Art, where in 1996 he founded the Industrial Graphic Department and served as its chair until 2006.

In this period of his life he experimented with color and turned to color prints. His well-known series in this technique are “March of Gnomes”, 2001-2004,
“Kupalo Festival Games”, 2005-2009, “Hetmans” (Cossack’s Elders), 2006-2008,
“The Seasons”, 2008-2009, “Musicians”, 2009, “Angels and Music”, 2013, “Nativity”, 2014.

Soroka had always been a person of crystal honesty and highest integrity. Although, he didn’t participate actively in politics of newly independent Ukraine, he mercilessly fought against corruption in art and society, and was known for his notoriously sharp tongue. In 2012 he received the Order for the Intellectual Bravery from the Independent Cultural Magazine “Ї”.

Success followed him everywhere. And at the end of his life he became famous in his native land not only as an artist, but as an author of his Memoirs, which he wrote and published in 2013. The initial idea was to write the truth about himself; as Soroka stated it, no one else knows him better than he himself. In the end, he wrote a book telling the true story of his whole generation and his time. Bohdan Soroka’s Memoirs became one of the bestselling contemporary biographical prose works in Ukraine. Due to readers’ interest, the Memoirs had to be published for the second time after his death.

Bohdan Soroka died unexpectedly during a medical procedure on April 8, 2015 at the age of 74 in Rzeszów, Poland. He is buried in Lechakivske Cemetery in Lviv.