May 7, 2021

In honor of Marta R. Skorupsky: a recollection of her time with us


Marta R. Skorupsky, a noted Ukrainian American editor, translator and journalist who contributed to the popularization of Ukrainianism in the English world, passed away on April 19, 2021. The following commentary was written by her husband, Bohdan Gerulak.

Marta R. Skorupsky was born during the war years in Morshyn, a spa town in western Ukraine. Her mother died two years afterwards from acute pneumonia and Marta was raised by one of her aunts, whom she came to regard as a mother who cared for her during their long journey escaping from the advancing Red Army. The family wound up in Austria, near Salzburg, when war ended. They emigrated to Edmonton in 1949 where they had relatives. While in high school, Marta also became a sports writer for the local press and attended many games. She completed graduate studies at the University of Toronto and worked for Canadian Facts with Margaret Attwood. In 1967, she moved to New York City to work for Prolog Research and Publishing Corp., a Ukrainian corporation where she edited and worked on publications. In one notable endeavor, she single-handedly published “Digest of the Soviet Ukrainian Press,” translating important articles from Soviet publications into English.

How did I meet Marta? The short answer is in a bar, but here’s how it happened. I left the U.S. in 1960, and, except for short visits, I had been away from the country for 10 years. On one particular Sunday – my second week back in New York City – I decided to go downtown to meet an old friend who took me to the Ukrainan restaurant Orchidea. There was to be a large party in New Jersey, and I knew that an old Chicago friend would be there. I asked around if anyone would be going and Marta volunteered, saying that she would also be going and would find some transportation for us. The party was at the famous painter Yuriy Soloviy’s place. It was a very lively affair, attended by practically every Ukrainian “arts” person in the Western Hemisphere (there were even people from Brazil). When it ended, one poet drove us back to Times Square, which was empty on that very late and rainy night. Afterwards, Marta and I met frequently and she introduced me to many people. I was amazed at how hard she worked, bringing work home with her.

Eventually, Marta became the editor of the journal “Suchasnist,” a popular literary monthly based in Munich, Germany. During the Cold War, Prolog was active in countering Soviet propaganda, and Marta became very active in supporting the dissident movement in Ukraine. One year she travelled to Ukraine and met with notable people in the Ukrainian cultural world. On her return trip she managed to smuggle out important dissident material, including Valentyn Moroz’s “Beria Reservation.” This was a very risky and dangerous move, as she was lucky to evade the KGB.

In New York City, for Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s performance at Madison Square Garden, Marta and her friends prepared handouts that were given to the public to correct propaganda from the Soviet Union, which Yevtushenko represented at the time.

Marta also often organized literary events, usually to support new publications or to introduce a new writer, poet or artist to the general public. The events were held mostly at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York City.

Eventually, Marta and I went to Toronto, where I met her father, a very erudite and cheerful person. She once told me that her father never really paid much attention to her as a student, but he started taking her seriously after she could argue him down. In that house there were endless discussions, with her father’s baritone voice dominating. Later, Marta reminded me that he had written poetry throughout his life. Many of his works were published. I found one titled “Spokonvichni Luny” (Primitive moons), which also had my sister’s illustrations.

After Marta left Prolog, she translated and researched of all the sources in the first volume of Mykhailo Hrushevsky’s “History of Ukraine-Rus,’” which took years to complete. That seminal work received rave reviews from Profs. George Shevelov and Ihor Ševčenko. The success of that effort also helped fund translation of the later editions of Hrushevsky’s seminal work.

Marta also worked closely with the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences (UVAN) and many other organizations on various publications, especially with the Ukrainian Museum in New York City. Beginning in the 1990s, she researched all of the material and wrote program notes for the Ukrainian Institute of America’s “Music at the Institute” series.

When the trial of John Demjanjuk in Jerusalem was announced, the editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian newspaper “Svoboda” requested that Marta attend and represent the Ukrainian press. She submitted articles, a full report, and was on record in front of the world press as protesting when the head of Yad Vashem in his speech referred to all Nazi guards as Ukrainians. The Israeli court completely dismissed all of the charges and acquitted Mr. Demjan­juk, but one U.S. security agency [Ed. note: Office of Special Investiga­tion.] fully accepted Soviet fabrications and pursued charges against Mr. Demjan­juk in Germany. Ultimately, it became a farce when the German court found Mr. Demjanjuk guilty of Nazi atrocities committed by Germans.

There’s also a story about Marta’s father. During the German occupation of Ukraine, he helped to hide the writer Ivan Bahrianyj in an attic in Morshyn, Ukraine. While in hiding, Bahrianyj wrote the novel “Tyhrolovy” (Tiger Hunters), which was subsequently published in Germany after the war ended.

In Marta’s father’s house in Edmonton, and later in Toronto, she grew up in a home that often hosted celebrities such as Ulas Samchuk, Vasyl Stefanyk’s son Yuriy and many other writers and artists. Marta told me how she once managed to shock their guests, including her mother, who was known to be an accomplished, professional-grade cook.

As Marta was in town, she told her mother that she would prepare dinner. She made spaghetti carbonara for the main course, done in a traditional coal-miner’s way.

Everyone was shocked at the audacity of serving pasta (“klusi”) and not meat, but the dinner was a roaring success.

Marta was also very thoughtful. During a business trip to Vienna, she sent home to New York the real Sacher Torte, and its fine wooden box still sits on our book shelf. Marta’s mother, who died at the age of 100, was celebrated by the City of Edmonton Public Library because she had read all of the library’s books (well, almost), and was granted a special commendation with full press coverage.

We were married twice. In Washington we had a civil ceremony, while in Toronto at a Ukrainan church we had a large ceremony with relatives and friends, as Marta had many long-time friends in Canada. In New York City, we lived on the West Side of Manhattan near the river, and every day we walked our dogs in Riverside Park. I took them early in the morning and late at night, and Marta took them during the day, when she met many celebrities and their dogs, among them Sonya Haddad who did all of the musical programs for the Metropolitan Opera. Marta often consulted with Ms. Haddad as she worked on “Music at the Institute” programs.

Later we acquired a house in the Catskill Mountains near Hunter, N.Y. At first we went there only in the summers, but some 15 years ago Marta decided to live there permanently, as she could do all of her work on a computer and stay in touch with everyone and walk the dogs in the forest around the lake.

Marta was an absolute animal lover. She was given a first cat named Rabbit, and soon my friend’s adopted daughter asked if she could leave a cat during her trip. The daughter showed up, handed Marta the box and ran. There were two cats inside, one bright red and another black, a calico. We called them Lel and Polel. Marta’s devotion to these little ones was extreme. When Lel became sick and required insulin and catheterization, Marta kept him alive and well for the next 12 years. Our Japanese Akita dogs were named Kudlai-Khan (from Ukrainian “kudlatyj”), Timur-Khan and Kiku-no-Hime, or “Princess Chrysanthe­mum.” At one time we had two dogs and five cats, which were practically invisible in a large apartment in New York City with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves around all of the walls.

In Manhattan during the 1980s and 1990s, the city was a booklover’s paradise and I really overindulged. Today, the Manhattan apartment and the Catskill house have many thousands of books, many of them Marta’s, mostly Ukrainian literature and history, though the bulk are mine. Marta loved music and especially opera. She sometimes reminded me that she had a degree from the conservatory and I did not. When writing her musical notes for various programs, she loved to do thorough research and hated to see careless mistakes elsewhere. To relax, Marta often did crossword puzzles and worked on them whenever she had time, including during her last days in the hospital. She also had a lifelong passion for detective literature and mystery fiction. She read most of the best authors and also read political spy novels.

In the most important way, the medical profession failed Marta, as all of the routine medical and laboratory tests did not detect a life-threatening condition early enough. The condition wasn’t found until it was too late. Her stubbornness and determination to live at all cost kept her alive for almost two years, but will power alone cannot overcome the inevitable. The last time I saw Marta was in the hospital when she was heavily sedated. I was told that the night before Marta requested that all life-support be disconnected, and so she died a few hours later during the night. Marta now lives in our memories for her unbelievable courage and for her full knowledge of when it is time to live and when it is time to die.

Funeral services for Marta will be held on May 27 at 11 a.m. at the Lexington Cemetery, a scenic mountainside location near Hunter, N.Y. The exact location is near the intersection of Rt. 23A and Rt. 42. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S. located at 206 West 100th St., New York, N.Y., 10025.