Ivan Hrechko Іван Гречко

* 1929  

  • "And so, I'd come home from of work, and I started checking, wiping them (the icons) from the dust, removing them from the frame, and I was checking for damages, and also polishing them all. And then, well, then the old, then, you know, they all were damaged. And they were painted with ordinary oil paints, like those used for fence painting. It was necessary to fix it somehow if it had been already cracked if it had been crumbling. And I thought, I thought, I asked the restorers, the restorers, those who restored icons in museums, like Petro Ilnytskyi. He was a good friend of mine, although he was older than me, he and I were good friends. And so I'd bring it to him and say: “Petro, well, look what can I do with it. They were bringing it to me, and it broke into pieces, only pieces are left. " He said, "Leave it to me, I'll do something about it.” He was assembling it back for a year, you know, all those little tiny pieces. Then one day he showed me how to strengthen it, how to fix it so it was on the same plane so that it would not come down like broken glass. And that's how I was learning."

  • "Somehow, by intuition, I... You know, if you have goodwill, and don't want just to make money, then Mr. God will guide you. And one day you hear something like this: “Yeah, wait, I'm going to Holovy now, and, well, maybe I'll go to Horodenshchyna because they said there were others like that.” And then I went, I found there also those who were somewhere in Siberia with (my) mother, and began to speak. “Yes, yes, there are some here, but no one is looking at them, they are in old houses, no one lives there anymore, but let's go.” We went there and we saw the icons, a few of them, so beautiful, but under a pile of dust, cobwebs, you know, covered in all that. But I started... Because I wanted to buy: “no, how can I sell it, it was once bought by a grandfather or great-grandfather. It is sacred, you can't take money for it. Bring me here instead of those new icons that unspeaking people now sell.” In Lviv, on the Krakivskyi market, in that church...The Transfiguration Church, near the Transfiguration Church, there are unspeaking people, those who do not speak. They used to make... From old icons, not on glass, but old icons. They took pictures, painted them a little with some red and black mascara, and sold them. Well, I went to them, took about three pictures, and drove back there. They took those old icons from the wall, put new icons (that I've brought) and that's all. [...] God forbid, how could it... It was necessary to have an agent, he went there, an old man like that, who was with my (relatives) in Siberia, a respectable man, he went to people and asked, and then later I went with him. So I would come and go there to somehow snatch those icons from them, or buy them, or anyhow. Well, there was a policeman in every village, you know: “Who are you, what kind of a man from Lviv are you, and why so unknown?”. The police were waiting at every turn. “Everything's fine, it's fine, he's my acquaintance, he's my friend's son, he is our man.” And then, and then I had, so to speak, identification, the police wouldn't stop me for it. And there I would take about three icons in a bag, I'd drive to Kolomyia, to Kolomyia by train and to Lviv - early in the morning I was already here. I brought them to my house - I took them out to the balcony, and I was afraid, you know, to open the doors. I was thinking there might be some cockroaches or something creepy like them, and it would crawl into my house. So usually I came from work, took the icons one by one, slowly, wipe them, check for cockroaches and bugs, or fleas, or something like that. And so, as a result, I had to learn to restore icons when they were damaged. And then there was no one to ask, there was no restoration (company), so I had to find some old Polish textbooks somewhere, and I was trying to learn by myself. I asked old people how they used to paint, those who, what, what they used for paints - whether they used oil or something else. And the pokost was like oil, only for painting the walls."

  • "Well, there was an underground magazine “Idea and Act”. You know, it wasn't published then, it was published during the German rule, earlier. It was an ideological magazine in the underground movement. It was even illustrated in black and white with some graphics. Well, they talked about it and dreamed. There were no programmatic conversations, you know because no one hoped that the state would rise up one day. I have told you many times that as we once thought about the state, we thought it would happen in two hundred years or so, and that there would be an independent Ukraine, well, and that we would be happy in our graves. And then somehow Mr. God decided that we, that we will see it happen with our own eyes, or our State will see us with its own eyes. It will see old people like me. And we can still observe how hard it (the State) is growing up, my God, well, that's how a person grows. A child also does not... (A child) grows up, it never is that an adult man with a practical mind was born at once, or a great pragmatist - it doesn't work like that. A child trips over, falls down, breaks a nose, injures knees, nose, breaks a mouth, but grows. Both the people and the nation must grow."

  • "(And what did you draw?) Soldiers, Cossacks, Sich Riflemen mostly. The topics, the military topic was interesting, because people were singing about it, people kept talking about it all the time, so I wanted to draw it. I was quite good at drawing, as for a boy, so I even thought of going to some, some painting school, as I grew up, but then everything turned out differently. And I heard a lot about it because as it used to be, you know, late autumn came, and starting from Pokrova holiday there is no work in the field, the masters were gathering at a house in the evening. We had a house, everyone smoked a lot, my mother was cooking something in the kitchen, my sister was around my mother, and I'm sitting on the stove: "Hush, don't bother us, masters are coming so sit there quietly." I sit there and listen, and as they speak, you understand that the main topic was the story of those old people of ours, the former Sich Riflemen from that first war. People talked about how they were going through that with pain, you know, the war had finished a long time ago, the Polish [state] was already established, why did they lose to the war? That's how I look at it now, thinking about how deep patriotism they had because that's all they could talk about. (They were talking) not about mistresses, not about children, not about anything else. They discussed how they fought, why they lost the war, why the one who led them, why he didn't do something in a certain way. It was, you know, it was a great story, it was re-experiencing that story."

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    Lviv, 07.06.2021

    (audio)
    duration: 01:57:58
    media recorded in project Memory of Ukraine
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    Lviv, 30.06.2021

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    duration: 01:57:43
    media recorded in project Memory of Ukraine
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Generations of Ukrainians born between the world wars: “We did not win out Ukraine as much as we talked it out.”

Ivan Hrechko
Ivan Hrechko
photo: witness archive

Ivan Hrechko was born on January 19, 1929, in the village of Rafailov (now named Bystrytsia), Nadvirna County, Stanislaviv Voivodeship (now named Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast), but spent his childhood in Nadvirna. His father, Mykhailo-Konstantyn, and his older brother, Yaroslav, were in the underground movement and died in 1946. His mother, Yevdokiya, and sister Orysia were deported to Siberia in 1947. Ivan managed to avoid arrest. In 1947 he entered the Lviv Polytechnic University, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, where he was arrested at the end of the academic year for being ivolved in student activities. He was in prison on Lontskoho Street. In 1948 he entered the Forestry Technical (University), graduating in 1953 with a degree in engineering. He taught at the Kolomyia Forestry Technical College. In 1954 he returned to Lviv, where he got a job at Teploelectroproekt. He made a collection of Hutsul icons on glass, most of which, in February 2013, he transferred to the Ukrainian Catholic University. Co-founder and chairman of the Club of Greek Catholic Intelligentsia “Obnova”, member of the editorial board of “Yevshan-zillia”, chairman of the commission on freedom of conscience of the People’s Movement of Ukraine. From the mid-1970s he took an active part in the life of the underground Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and its restoration in 1989.