"He lived freely": stars shared personal stories about Vitalii Belonozhko at the farewell ceremony
On Friday, January 12, a farewell ceremony for the People's Artist of Ukraine Vitalii Bilonozhko was held in Kyiv. It took place at the National Philharmonic of Ukraine, where his friends, relatives and numerous fans came.
In a conversation with OBOZ.UA, the performer's relatives recalled very personal stories about him. Taras Petrynenko admitted that his friendship with Bilonozhko was similar to his relationship with another legendary artist, Nazarii Yaremchuk. General Makarenko recalled that Bilonozhko entrusted him with a story about a family tragedy, and legendary football player Oleksii Mykhailychenko said that he was related to the performer. The former Dynamo Kyiv coach is the godfather of Bilonozhko's only granddaughter.
"I can't say that we communicated often, but whenever we had the chance, he would call me to ask how I was doing, and I would call him," People's Artist Taras Petrynenko says, "This relationship reminds me a lot of my friendship with Nazarii Yaremchuk. We might not have seen each other for years, but when we met, it seemed as if we had said goodbye yesterday. We were close in spirit. He is very sincere and upright in every way. There is no one else like him in our circle."
"Our generation is passing away," the singer continues, "What can you do? Another time is coming, we are leaving. But I have a question: who will take our place? Nowadays, the time is very cynical, but complaining about it is like being offended by the bad weather outside. It's just the time has come. In general, the planet Earth has gone completely mad. But there is nothing we can do about it, except to be normal and kind ourselves."
"He was constantly calling me, we last spoke sometime before the New Year, and we corresponded just recently," says the main director of the festival Shluaher Roky Anzhela Norboieva. "I was cleaning my phone and found photos from the next Shliaher, where he was with Olia Sumska and Oleksandr Zlotnyk. I sent him these photos. It seems to me that this was the last concert when he went on stage in 2019. And he wrote to me, "My dear, when will peaceful times return so that you can perform again?"
"We talked a lot with Maryna, his daughter-in-law and Svitlana these days: everyone wanted him to go on stage," Norboieva continues, "But the war had a very strong impact on Vitalii. It turns out that behind such a powerful figure was a very delicate soul. When his land was attacked, it was a terrible blow to him. And it really weakened him. I kept inviting him to perform, and he said, "I can't go on stage and sing when the best are dying. No matter what song comes out of my mouth, I can't perform anything."
"He is the closest to me among artists. We've known each other since the late 80s when he was a radio and television soloist and I worked at the radio station," Anzhela Norboieva adds. He used to say to me, "Since I have no daughter, you are like a daughter to me." He was always very attentive to everyone. On Facebook, he did not ignore any of his friends' posts, he wrote nice things, even to those he knew only on the social network. This is a man of the soul. TV presenter Anton Sereda, who often hosted our concerts, wrote to me yesterday, "If you say goodbye to Uncle Vitalii, tell him that I loved him very much. Tell him he was the only one in Ukrainian pop who had an incredible sense of humor and a kind soul."
"My mother died 16 kilometers from the front line last year before the troops could get there, and I could not break through," says Lieutenant General and former head of the State Customs Service Anatolii Makarenko. "I told him about my trouble, and Vitalii entrusted me with the story of his family. My mother lived in the village of Tarasivka, Zaporizhzhia region. When active hostilities began, she refused to leave, and then the village was surrounded. I was always thinking about how to get there, even tried to break through with the guys on an APC during the offensive but we failed. And then my mom passed away."
"Vitalii wrote to me, "Tolia, I have the same story... we share similar fates. And, unfortunately, all this will deepen with the continuation of this terrible war. As a result of the fighting near Soledar, my father's grave was smashed and you won't find any bones. I recently erected a new monument to him. My sister and her daughter live in Bakhmut. My niece's house burned down completely, the entire entrance is just a concrete box. And all the upper floors fell on the sister's apartment on the ground floor. There is a lot of grief among people now," Makarenko continues.
"He was a good friend, a wonderful singer: there are no such people now," says Ivo Bobul, People's Artist of Ukraine. "We met at concerts. Not over a cup of coffee as he lived in the country and I lived in Kyiv. We often saw each other on tour. I was told that he was a little sick, but I didn't know that he was in the hospital. On the day of his death, my friends called me in the morning and told me that Vitalii was gone. I started calling everyone and writing on Facebook that such a disaster had happened. He left very early... he was seven days older than me."
"For some reason, it happened that since the summer - the day of his anniversary when I congratulated him - we began to write off each other very often," says People's Artist Nadiia Shestak, "we communicated very often before his death. We recalled a lot of things. He lived his life freely. Very sincere, sensitive to other people's pain and injustice."
"I told him, "Vitalii, I can't understand how it is that you are not a young man anymore but your voice is so young. It's even gotten better: thick, velvety," Shestak continues: "No one has a voice like yours." His life is like a song... You know, I understand him perfectly: I didn't have the moral strength to go out and sing too. I went on stage for the first time myself in July 2022, and it was hard for me. You have to fill people up and give them energy, and you have to get it from somewhere. Vitalii left behind so much love. Every song is a story. I was also very impressed by the fact that he was very responsible: if he said something, he kept his word."
"We are relatives, I baptized his granddaughter Svitlana," says Oleksii Mykhailychenko, a famous football player and former coach of Dynamo Kyiv. "We met a long time ago, I don't even remember under what circumstances. Footballers are also creative people to some extent, so we had a lot in common. We were friends with our families. When he asked me to become his granddaughter's godfather, I gladly agreed."
"We haven't seen each other much lately because it's not the time for celebrations. But we called each other and congratulated each other on our birthdays. He often visited my house, and I visited his. He refused to celebrate his 70th birthday in the summer. But I was not lucky enough to spend time with my family either because I was away on a business trip. I regret it very much," Mykhailychenko added.
"He performed my songs," says composer and poet Petro Maha. "He always wanted every word to be sung, to be done perfectly. He was very reverent about his duet songs with Svitlana. He was very demanding about his solo compositions. A man with a big heart. A true Ukrainian and a host. His songs cannot be separated from the land, from his birds. He has pheasants, peacocks, and pigeons. I can't even imagine what Svetlana will do with all this now."
"He called me so many times, "Don't be a jerk, take a couple of peacocks," Maha continues. "Vitalii Vasylovych, where am I going to keep them?" He couldn't imagine his life without animals. And it was still a lot of work because he had to feed and take care of them. Not only people became orphaned but also his wards. There are songs and memories left. Take at least the "Koluskova" (Lullaby) from the "Vechirnia Kazka" (Evening fairytale). I'm very sorry that such things have disappeared from our television programs. I have watched all the lullabies, it is something incredible. Ihor Poklad's music is simply amazing. If we want our children to grow up to be human, they should have such a fairy tale. It's not all about growing up with Transformers."
Petro Maha explains the fact that Vitalii Bilonozhko has hardly been out in public in recent years, "He was frightened by the deaths of his friends related to COVID-19. And the general atmosphere around him was tiring. And any art is made out of a great desire. When you don't have it, you create because someone says you have to, it's self-destruction."