Ірина Білик Iryna Bilyk

* 1952

  • "Tell me, how did you start beading?" — "Oh, that was such an interesting story. I was given such a beaded lace, and it broke, and the beads fell down. I picked it up once, and then again, and then I told myself, 'Woman, you have a degree in physics, take scissors, cut it, and then start all over again.' I put that thread back together on a new strong lace, because it was made on a regular bobbin thread, and it captivated me. Then I realised, 'Oh, how interesting, what if i do this, or that?' — and there were no books, there was nothing. That was twenty years ago. And it kind of intrigued me a little bit. How do you do that? I began to draw on a graph paper, and then I thought: 'Listen, it is so simple, you take a squared notebook, chukh-chukh, you draw, and draw' – and I came up with different [schemes] for myself, as well as in order to explain it to someone. How do you draw it to make it look easy? And the idea came, then I did one, two, three things, and I wanted to share it with children, I was interested and they were interested. And then books began to emerge, and I saw that I was on the right track of a purely schematic representation of what was being done. I look at work now — and there is no problem. I draw, make, reconstruct old beadwork and so on. And in this regard... having withdrawn from the director's office at the Center of Children's Creativity in Sykhiv [district], I recruited the children for the beading club. This was on January 17, 2000. Nowadays it is [20]21. And all this time I've been working with kids. It is interesting for me to explore this tradition and pass it on. I have my collection of more than one and a half hundred reconstructed ancient pieces, and I still make new works on a traditional basis, inventing something new and modern that would be pleasant to wear. It seems to me that in the first place it is pleasant to wear... those ancient reconstructions. People were so... naturally sensitive to colour, the composition was beautiful. Well, everything is so extraordinary that as I look at that old work made of the horsehair that is about to scatter, the first desire is to hold your breath and restore it. Restore it, give it a second life. And I set it as a goal in my work with children. We do a lot of things. That is, I have to teach a child various techniques from scratch in a year. Put a thread in the needle, teach them how to pick beads. You spend two months, three months working on your finger — how to handle it with your finger, why your thread is not tight, all nuances of that work."

  • "You know, I was still very young… and about those events in which I was born... In fact, we were actually living in them, you know. I saw my parents, I saw what they were doing, I saw their environment, I saw those people. For me, personally, there was no such drama at that very young age, in childhood, I didn't feel it – we lived the way we lived. And the main thing was that we loved each other. It was very important. We respected each other – I saw it: how to love, how to respect, how to... give some basic help, to do a favour to someone. My parents were like that, you know, and their environment actually consisted of people like them, mostly intellectuals, and the people whom my father (he graduated from a seven-year school) had to cut trees with, were highly educated. This is how their life turned out... the history of the society in which they lived... First of all it is always good, when you are little, when you have parents around you, when you are young and strong, and beautiful. And then, from the height of this bell tower of life, you look back at it as something good because, of course, it makes a huge difference to compare the material benefits of today's society and what we used to have even some twenty years ago. But you have to understand and appreciate that we had such a generation... of really interesting people, the idea-obsessed people. Now I'm more shocked by people's indifference to each other and to what's going on around us. I do have some great hope for young people, for your generation... and that there must come that critical moment when you will understand that you need to rise up and do for yourself what is necessary, you understand."

  • "I already had two brothers. Vasylko was the youngest, and those two children were under my care, because my mother had to cook, wash clothes... Make... make ends meet, however she could. Just imagine, in February, my dad brought twenty-two rubles, even if the bread cost sixteen kopecks at the time, in order for a family of five to live for a month, twenty-two rubles was not enough. That's how much he was paid for his work. Or... in the Khrushchev period of [19]62 to [19]63, when we got up early at six o'clock, we went to take a queue in a bread shop, about eleven or twelve — a truck brought the bread... They would give a loaf of bread in one hand, a loaf of bread in one hand; and there was such a big counter, and such a slit in it, and such a big knife. They cut half of the bread that they were making, but we got only a quarter of it. They gave us a quarter of bread, for the three of us! a quarter! And the inside was clammy, and a crust was on top. Vasyl was a little boy, so skinny and small... He would pinch that skin, Roman would pinch from the other side, and until we reached home there was a little bit of pulp left, you know, the clammy part. You would not even give it to the chickens, not to mention to eat yourself, but my dad had to go to work, and my mom... I don't know how she survived, you know. I can't imagine. Now, coming to Kosiv and finding ourselves in this terrible situation, it was a shock for my mother. My mother said it many times, 'Ivan, why did we leave Siberia? At least we could get some fish from the Biryusa river, or catch an elk, or something, at least you could get something.' We already had our own potatoes there, but here... It is like the time before the harvest when everything is over, you have something available in the orchard, in the garden patch... When we came there, I was eating raw potatoes for three years. There were apples, but I ate raw potatoes, as I used to in Siberia. And there was no job, and there was no food to eat, and at the school, I had to go to first grade, there was no money to buy the school uniform."

  • "I kept asking myself, 'Why in such unusual conditions did my dad survive?' Because he told me about so many adventures from that life that there seemed to be no chance of survival. Well, that's a fact. They walked seventy-five kilometres on foot from Borzovo to Khandalsk to register their marriage, and my birth. So, seventy-five kilometres, my mom and dad took turns carrying me, but they were walking on foot! And on the way back, my mother says she was completely exhausted... [They were wondering] how to get home, [they] did not want to be in that taiga forest, that's it. Dad made a raft... and set it on the water. And he said, 'We are just going with the flow.' And they get into a whirlpool. My dad says, 'I don't know how [to get out]... I had such a long stick, because the river was deep, and we sort of moved along the edge, but we got into such a whirlpool that I only had time... to realise that I had to do something, and a thought struck me: ‘God, save us!’" Do you understand? 'Save us!' And then he says, 'We could have been all dead. You, and your mom, and me.' But we survived."

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    Lviv, 18.10.2021

    duration: 02:01:52
    media recorded in project Voices of Ukraine
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I was born on the third of April. And it was minus fifty-two outside! Can you imagine it?

Iryna Bilyk celebrates the anniversary of Ukrainian independence in Lviv at the Centre for Children's Creativity, 1990s
Iryna Bilyk celebrates the anniversary of Ukrainian independence in Lviv at the Centre for Children's Creativity, 1990s
photo: family archive

Iryna Bilyk (née Kabyn) is a traditional Ukrainian beadwork artist and educator. She was born on April 3, 1952, in the special settlement of Borzovo (Peya), Dolgomostovskiy district, Krasnoyarsk area, Russian SFSR. Both her parents were members of the resistance in their home republics — her father in Ukraine and her mother in Latvia. Iryna’s brothers, Roman and Vasyl, were born in Siberia, where her aunt Pavlyna also lived. She was greatly influenced by her father’s friends, Piotr Buyantsev and Oleksandr Hrynko, who stayed in touch with the family even after they were released from Siberia. After graduating from school, she entered the Faculty of Physics at the Ivan Franko State University of Lviv, but was unable to pursue postgraduate studies because of her past. She worked in the sphere of education, and after Ukraine regained independence, she became the director of a local centre for children’s creativity in Lviv. Her passion for beadwork inspired her to reconstruct traditional Ukrainian women’s jewellery. Since 2000 she has been sharing her experience with her students in the Namystynka beading club. She is active in the public sphere and is an honorary member of the Union of Ukrainian Women.