"Svitlana was against it." Friends and relatives talk about Vitalii Bilonozhko's difficult decision a few years before his death
People's Artist of Ukraine Vitalii Bilonozhko, who passed away on January 9, had hardly left his home near Kyiv since the pandemic. The legendary singer decided not to appear in public and categorically rejected invitations to go on stage.
This was told to OBOZ.UA by artists who were friends with the Bilonozhko family and were even related to Vitalii Vasylovych at one time. Friends and family shared their memories of the singer.
People's Artist of Ukraine Alla Kudlai, who worked with Vitalii Bilonozhko as a soloist on radio and television, says it is very difficult for her to talk about him "as he was." "Oh, there are no words to tell... I got a phone call and was informed, and I have been crying ever since. We went through so much together! We worked as soloists for Ukrainian radio and television and went to concerts together. It was hard - three or four performances a day. He never complained. He was an amazing man, sincere, kind, and a true friend."
The Ukrainian composer Oleksandr Zlotnyk was friends with Bilonozhko for many years and lived next door to him: "We were neighbors. Vitalii once found a nice piece of land near Kyiv and, knowing that I also dreamed of such a place (as we joked: so that I could fish from the window), he offered to live next door. And we built two houses. All birthdays and holidays are always together. Over time, we became related, and he is the godfather of my son Ilya. He knew my mom and dad well. He was a great host in his house and yard. He was very fond of birds: he had pheasants, peacocks, pigeons, and decorative chickens. Two shepherds were left without an owner."
Oleksandr Yosypovych says that he met Bilonozhko at work: "We hit it off very quickly, we felt each other somehow. We were young - he was barely in his 20s, and I was five years older. I remember walking down Khreshchatyk, thinking about what to do, and what pieces to write and perform to get noticed. We had our first concerts together. We went to America, and Lilia Sandulescu and Ivo Bobul came with us. Before that, I went there with the Marenychy. We toured a lot in Ukraine."
"Vitalii is a singer with tremendous energy," continues Oleksandr Zlotnyk. "There are very few bass-baritones in nature. Even at an older age, he has retained his vivid vocal qualities. There are about fifty of my compositions in my oeuvre. The latest is 'The Family Gathers at the Table.'
"In recent years, he hardly ever left his yard. The war, the COVID - it all broke him, I think. I convinced him that he needed to relocate and continue working. The same Ivo Bobul is in plain sight, but Vitalii chose this life. During the pandemic, he decided that the less he communicated with people, the better. I did not understand this. He said, 'Look, Vitaliy, I go to work every day, and it's okay - I come home, everything is fine.' And I'm older than him. And he said, 'No, no.'
"He continued to be active on the Internet, communicated on social networks - with humor, brightly," says Zlotnyk. "But he hid himself in his territory - and that was it. I managed to get him to the clinic in the summer. Both he and I were given recreational drips. But later he refused to be treated. And now his heart gave out."
– How did Svitlana feel about this?
– She was against this way of life. She tried to pull him out. The children also persuaded him, and everyone asked him. But he said, 'I don't want to.' Is 70 years old age? I found out about his passing from Svitlana, who called me.
According to Oleksandr Zlotnyk, Bilonozhko last performed on stage in 2019: "I don't see a replacement for him. There is no other singer like him. Now I'm thinking: who could sing my songs instead of him? There are pieces that Zibrov, Bobul, or one of the younger singers can perform well. And there are songs that only Vitalii could sing."
Another famous Ukrainian composer, Ihor Poklad, also remembers Bilonozhko fondly. He says that he also toured a lot with the singer: "If you were to count the number of places we traveled, you could wrap the globe several times. Almost every time on these trips, there were difficult conditions. We lived in some dormitories or hotels that could not be called that at all. We cooked our food... But we did it because people were waiting for us. When Vitalii came out, women would faint. He had such an incredible voice that he simply mesmerized the audience."
"When the song 'Lullaby' was born, I thought for a long time about who to give it to, who could perform it soulfully," continues Poklad. And he said, "How do you imagine it? Me with my heavy voice singing a lullaby to a child?" And I said, "Try it on your children." He agreed. And when they fell asleep to his singing, he said, "Let's record it." More than one generation of Ukrainians grew up with this lullaby because it was played for many years on the Good Night, Children program.
Ihor Dmytrovych's wife adds, "Once I went to visit my friend Alla. We were sitting in the kitchen, and her daughter Katya came running in tears: 'Mom, today there was no 'The Warm Sun is Setting!' And it was replaced some time ago, remember? And the child did not want to go to bed until she heard this song. One day, we put her to sleep, and at home, my husband and I recorded this song on a cassette and gave it to Katia. To be honest, I could not imagine that a person with such a voice tone could sing a lullaby in such a way that it would become a masterpiece. This is a significant song for millions of Ukrainians who have now become adults."
Friends say that they last spoke with Vitaliy Bilonozhko in the fall. They talked about how they had to see each other. They planned to organize a "barbecue meeting" when it got warmer. Svitlana Poklad believes that it was the war that weakened Bilonozhko: "I could feel a very sad mood in our conversations. But he was holding on, actively communicating on the phone, sending photos together, commenting on social media posts."
"I wanted to invite him to a program dedicated to television, but he refused," recalls media professional Mykola Kanishevskyi. "He replied to the offer: 'Kolia, I haven't left the farmstead since the days of the Covid, I'm always here. I don't look very good, I lead a closed life." Svitlana went to performances without him, and Vitalik hadn't been seen in public for a long time. When the invasion began, as far as I know, his family went to Zakarpattia, but he refused to go and stayed at home."
"We shared a warm friendship with Vitalii and the entire Bilonozhko family," says People's Artist of Ukraine Olha Sumska, "Vitalii invited our parents to the Melody of Two Hearts festival. He honored them very much. I remember when they were singing on stage, and he was so moved backstage that he cried—it was so touching."
"Whenever there was a story about our family on TV, he would always call and share his emotions," Olha continues, "When he met my husband and me, he would greet us with a velvety tone of voice and shower us with compliments. He sang: 'I am Vitalik, you are Vitalik, we are both Vitaliks.' He was a very bright man. A true People's Artist of Ukraine. You know, it's unbelievable what happened, because he was, as everyone thought, in great shape."
"We don't know all the circumstances, but sometimes I saw a longing in his eyes," adds Sumska, "primarily because he was not in demand, which he deserves. He is a wonderful singer who could have been invited more often. Perhaps this was a factor. Take any of his songs - only Bilonozhko can sing so movingly."
"He had an unsurpassed sense of humor. As soon as any of my interviews or social media posts came out, he would write me a message," the artist admits. "He was very good at emphasizing something or making a nice joke. He often hummed new songs to me on the phone. He would send me 'Fish' without a backing track, just singing live. He would ask: 'How do you like it, Olya?' He also often called me 'Lyalunia' because my parents called me that. I always thanked him for the honor of being the first listener. You know, we miss such songs now. And we will miss Vitalii Bilonozhko himself even more. This is a great loss."