Wednesday 02 August 1995
He was a deputy to the USSR Supreme Council for many years and chairman of the Board of the Union of Ukrainian Writers from 1959 to 1971. He promoted the Communist line in literature and campaigned energetically against fellow writers including Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He was showered with privileges - cars, dachas, flats in Kiev and Moscow. He travelled abroad to court the Ukrainian emigre community, heading delegations of Ukrainian writers and promoting his work. His books were distributed in millions and forced on public libraries. His two-volume Selected Works was published in 1951, reprinted in Kiev in 1959-60 and again in Russia in 1966-67. Articles and books were devoted to him.
He was born Alexander Gonchar in 1918, in Poltava Province, the son of a peasant. Ukraine, under the central Ukrainian Rada (Council) government, was enveloped in the First World War; the civil war soon followed. Gonchar was four years old when Ukraine became a Soviet republic.
As a teenager he witnessed the famine in his country, once a rich agricultural area, caused by enforced collectivisation. Aged 17, he went to Kharkov, the second largest Ukrainian city after Kiev, and enrolled in the School of Journalism, graduating in 1937. In 1938 he became a student at the Dnepropetrovsk University, but did not graduate until 1946. He volunteered for the front in June 1941, when the German armies invaded the Soviet Union.
Gonchar realised that in Stalin's Ukraine he could succeed only by co- operating with the Communist authorities and in 1946 he joined the Communist Party. The three volumes of his novel Znamenostsy ("The Standard-bearers", 1946-48) instantly found publishers - The Alps, The Blue Danube and Golden Prague, depicting the horrors of war. The Blue Danube was awarded the Stalin Prize, which brought its author official recognition.
Gonchar's second novel, Tavria (1952), described pre- revolutionary life and the 1919-22 civil war in Ukraine. Perekop ("Retrenchment", 1958) and Chelovek e Oruzhie ("Man and Arms", 1960) reverted to the subject of war. Tronka (1963), describing modern life in Ukraine, received the 1964 Lenin Prize.
Gonchar enjoyed close friendships with Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, Konstantin Chernenko and Mikhail Gorbachev, all four natives of Ukraine. His books were included as compulsory reading on Ukrainian school curricula and in the literary faculties of Ukrainian universities.
Oles Gonchar lived in a large flat on Lenin Street in Kiev, which is where he died. The Ukrainian President, Leonid Kravchuk, gave him a state funeral and the ceremony was shown on national television.
During Gonchar's last years he complained that the young did not come to see him as they had before and that his books had been removed from school and university programmes.
Alexander Terentyevich (Oles) Gonchar, writer and politician: born Sukhaya, Ukraine 3 April 1918; died Kiev 17 July 1995.
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