Olha Ilkyv

During our fundraisers and film presentations in the US, when asked about our inspiration making the film, there is one story we liked to tell.

One night, it was about 2am, Olia and I were sitting in a small dark editing room, physically and morally exhausted from working alone on a film that seemed to be going no where at that time. I was actually starting to tell Olia: listen, it looks like this is going no where, it is too hard to make it happen; maybe we should just give up and start all over working on some other project that would be more accessible.

Then, the conversation shifted and I asked her if she had recently been in contact with the people she had filmed in the summer of 2007. She answered: oh, I actually talked to Olha Ilkyv a few days ago; it looks like her cancer is getting much worse. But she said she is doing yoga in order to stay in good shape because she is waiting for us to come and film her next summer. She was actually asking what took me so long to call her; she thought we had forgotten about her.

Upon hearing this story, I gathered all my energy back and we continued to work. The thought that an 88 year old woman dying with cancer was doing yoga every day in order to stay alive and wait for us to come and film her story put a lot of responsibility on our shoulders.

This year, we did come back to film her. Her health is much worse than last year, but her energy is still the same. She is even hard to keep up with.

Olha Ilkyv was a messenger for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during the 1940s and was the secretary of the very controversial Roman Shukhevytch. The latter is considered to be a national hero for Ukrainians while being accused of anti-Semitism by Jews and of terrorism by Poles. Ilkyv had two small children while working with the UPA, and when she was caught by the KGB and about to be sent to the worst political prison in Siberia, her first thought was: what is going to happen to my children at home alone? She was forced to tell the KGB about their existence and thus they were placed in an orphanage under another name.

Years later, we followed Olha and her two children to the doorstep where she was arrested, the orphanage where the children were sent, the café where she met them for the first time after 14 years of prison, etc… (I won’t spoil the rest)

Yesterday, we also went to visit the man who pretended to be Olha’s husband in order to act as a cover for the house where Shukhevytch was hiding. One interesting anecdote is that Olha had to find a “fake” husband in order to justify her pregnancy from her real husband who was also with the UPA. That’s where the fake husband came in, and even managed to create a fake wedding picture, using both their pictures and the 1940s version of photoshop. We thought the result was pretty impressive. He was 21 years old at the time.

the fake wedding picture

In between two wives, the fake and the real one

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