A year ago today many lost a good friend, my friend, Iryna, lost a caring husband and companion and two young ladies lost a father. Before that tragic day arrived, my friend Ilko Kucheriv, was waging a battle of a lifetime, which unfortunately he lost. The outpouring of support and positive thoughts and prayers from all over the world was incredible and I know that those closest to Ilko appreciated it at the time. I know personally how thankful he was for my “troubles” about his condition and as a friend I appreciate that he took the moment let me know.
Within hours of his passing I was contacted by a publisher in Kyiv who knew that I had worked closely to Ilko to write a few words about his life. It was an extremely difficult task, but it was one I had to tackle and I believe I did so successfully and am thankful that I was given such an opportunity. It helped me heal.
So now I look back and think what has happened in that year. Shortly after he left us there were others who in word also expressed their feeling of loss. Some had also worked with him in similar or different capacities than I had, while others, those closest to him, his widow and colleagues at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation which he headed until his last days also took a big step. Before last summer was out, a decision was taken by those piloting one of Ukraine’s democratic ship the rocky shoals of a country’s development to create a living memory of our friend and colleague, buy renaming the organization which found, Democratic Initiatives Foundation, the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation.
As I look back I want to share with you some of the things that have been written about Ilko, when people and organizations heard of his passing.
An acquaintance of mine Nadia Diuk of the National Endowment for Democracy, Washington, DC, wrote:
“Ilko had a unique talent in bringing people together—a very special skill in a country where, as the old Ukrainian proverb goes, whenever two Ukrainians get together, invariably three parties will emerge. He brought journalists, specialists, politicians, diplomats and civil society activists, all with different points of view around the same table and took on the burning issues of the day through civilized discussion and debate. He was an “intellectual entrepreneur”; while many people would sit around and complain “What is to be done?” Ilko would be the one come up with a plan and to get up and make it happen. He came to the United States as a Reagan-Fascell Fellow in 2006-7 and spoke often of how the experience dramatically broadened his outlook and made him rethink his approach to his own work and the profile of his organization.”
Friend of mine Mark Rachkevych, originally of Chicago, who now makes Kyiv his home, wrote in the Kyiv Post:
“I recall meeting Kucheriv at the Drum [ed. a Kyiv haunt of journalist and democratically minded Ukrainian youth, and expats.] when he returned from his six-month Reagan-Fascell fellowship in Washington, D.C. in 2006. Like many who come back from stints in the West, full of ambition and fresh ideas, Kucheriv proclaimed that he’d start to engage in public diplomacy, whose practice he said would make Democratic Initiatives the preeminent think-tank in Ukraine, on par with the Cato or Brookings Institute.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he’d been practicing public diplomacy ever since 1992, and successfully at that. That’s the kind of person he was. He was the big, serious teddy bear with a vision.”
The World Movement for Democracy, which also republished a letter from Ilko to their office, which he wrote a day before his death and after he returned to Kyiv from the Sixth Assembly held in Jakarta. It was but about six weeks earlier that I had called Ilko to find the phone number of a common friend, Serhiy Sholokh, who now lives in the Washington, DC area. Ilko said to me when I called him, “Bill, I’ll send you his phone number, I’m in Jakarta right now at the WMD Sixth Assembly. I have to see a doctor when I get back, my back is bothering me a lot. You know what they charge for international roaming! You’ll get his number soon, I’ll email it to you.” Ilko loved his gadgets and technology and within minutes I had Serhiy’s coordinates.
“Mr. Kucheriv was the founder of DIF, a leading think tank that focuses on deepening democracy in Ukraine. Since its founding in 1992, Mr. Kucheriv and his institution engaged in research and debates concerning public attitudes on political, social, and economic issues. They commissioned exit polls for major Ukrainian elections, including the 2004 presidential elections, which helped to expose the massive electoral fraud that led to the Orange Revolution. Widely recognized as one of Ukraine’s most prominent nongovernmental activists, Mr. Kucheriv was active in Ukrainian civil society for almost 30 years.”
May all those who knew and worked with Ilko remember him today and every day, and carry on what he started in his spirit.