REMEMBERING ROMAN KUPCHINSKY
January 19, 2011
By Nataliya Khyzhnyak
Roman Kupchinsky died a year ago, on January 19 2010, after a battle with cancer. He faced death as he savored life, with - in the words of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Jeffrey Gedmin - bravery, charm, and humor.
The word "hero" is overused these days, but that is what Roman was: a decorated Vietnam veteran, Cold War freedom fighter and, toward the end of his life, a sage observer and occasional critic of the new, post-soviet order he did so much to bring about. He regaled us constantly with his gallows humor and unforgettable anecdotes about his incredibly rich experiences. Above all, his love for Ukraine was beyond measure. His dreams for its success never waivered.
Roman spoke and wrote about Ukraine in numerous interviews and articles. Even in his last days, he couldnt stop working and fully expected to continue after he was gone. As he once said, "I hope Internet is in Heaven so I can continue writing"
Roman was also a friend of the the U.S-Ukraine Foundation. We remember him by sharing with you one of his conversations with us:
A YEAR AGO TODAY WE LOST A WARRIOR FOR FREEDOM, AND MORE
By Robert McConnell
I first worked with Roman in September, 1990. Rukh, the vast and diverse reform movement in Ukraine, was sending it’s second in command, Myhailo Horyn to Washington and asking that we set up as many high level meetings with United States Government officials as possible so that Horyn could explain Rukh’s perspectives and intentions. We needed an exceptional Ukrainian speaker for translations – more than a Ukrainian-American who spoke the Ukrainian of the late 1940s when they or their family might have immigrated as World War II ended and Ukraine was sealed off as part of the Soviet Union. By the Fall of 1990 we knew from having been in Ukraine that the Ukrainian spoken by the Diaspora was very different than the Ukrainian that had evolved behind the Iron Curtain in the 40+ years since the end of the war and the Kremlin’s outlawing of the language as part of its onerous Russification efforts. We needed someone fully competent in contemporary Ukrainian and all the subtleties that could be used in comprehensive discussions about the political and social nuances of Rukh and the evolving changes in Ukrainian society. Kupchinsky was recommended, contacted, he agreed and joined in every meeting.
Over five days Horyn met with Cabinet Secretaries including then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Attorney General Richard Thornburg, Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, Senator Bill Bradley, Congressmen Frank Wolf and visited in the White House with the senior staff of Vice President Quayle as well as making presentations to institutions like the American Enterprise Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy and the National Democratic Institute. In describing those extraordinary meetings I later wrote for the Ukrainian-American press that – up to that point – Horyn’s trip was the “high watermark of the United States’ understanding of Ukraine.” Horyn, a humble man of exception intelligence and subtlety, educated and reassured most in official Washington about what was happening in Ukraine. But critical to Horyn’s success was that we had Roman as his translator with his exceptional ability in Washington to catch and accurately translate all of the sophisticated nuances of Horyn’s statements and answers to probing questions and, of course, to make sure Horyn understood exactly the meaning of the questions being asked. Roman’s lifetime of dedicated work studying events hidden from the rest of us made him prefect for that assignment.
Subsequently over the years his writings and reports were “musts” if you wanted to try keep current and try to understand the deviousness of Soviet and post-Soviet politics. His reports regarding the on-going reach of the Kremlin and Russian criminal bosses tentacles manipulating things like the energy sector and the compromising Western governments into being accomplices of Russian thuggery were required reading.
For his efforts he was a constant target of Washington law firms and others hired by Russian “firms” to threaten and intimidate Roman into silence. But Roman would not be silenced by such contemptible forces or their hired guns. No earthly threat could curb Roman’s humor, dim his insights or his willingness and determination to tell it like it was. The only thing that could silence Roman was the call to the next life which came one year ago today.
Below you will find an excellent obituary published last year in The Economist and a link to Roman’s last interview at the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation: http://usukraine.org/events/medvedev_slams_ukraine081309.shtml
The Economist’s obituary concludes, “What will we do without him?” A year later we know that his place has not been filled, a huge vacuum exists, the loss is great but the memories will always be cherished.
SAY NOT STRUGGLE NAUGHT AVAILETH
January 28, 2010
IN THEIR freedom they had no homeland. And in their homeland they had no freedom. Roman Kupchinsky, a warrior in and out of uniform, who died on January 19th aged 65, was one of the most remarkable of those who fought a seemingly hopeless but ultimately triumphant struggle against the Soviet seizure of power in the eastern half of Europe.
Much of what he did in the cold war is still secret. The son of Ukrainian émigrés to the United States, he served as a marine in Vietnam. Then he worked “for the government”. He campaigned for political prisoners and fought hard in the information war against Soviet rule in Ukraine.
But unlike many of his fellow cold-warriors, he did not declare victory and retire in 1991. He turned his fire on a new, more insidious enemy: the overlap between organized crime and ex-Soviet intelligence services, and in particular the staggering corruption of the oil and gas industry. He edited a gripping fortnightly digest on crime and corruption in the ex-Soviet region for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. (For readers who know that outfit only in its pale modern incarnation, a trip into the archives is recommended).
Those who read his reports there, and later for the Jamestown Foundation, a think-tank, found them eye-poppingly well-informed and insightful. Yet they were only dilute versions of what he really knew. Western energy companies and governments took him into their confidence, using him as a consultant to explain the monstrous menagerie of cronyism, spookery and greed that they encountered in the wild east. He kept their secrets.
Many people enjoy the title of a “walking encyclopedia”. Mr. Kupchinsky deserved it. But that was only part of it. His companionship was uproarious; his determination to outwit the bad guys inspirational. Your columnist once needed urgent help against a seemingly unbeatable enemy from that world. “Romko’s” salty humor calmed my nerves; his deep knowledge helped win the battle.
Mr. Kupchinsky was emblematic of a generation that had escaped totalitarianism and found new homes in the west. Others of the same ilk can be found all over the region: Valdas Adamkus and Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former presidents of Lithuania and Latvia respectively, or Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Estonia’s serving head of state. From the past 20 years you could find plenty more, of all ages, in and around public life in the ex-captive nations.
Their great asset was binocular vision. Having lived in the west, they understood far better than most of their compatriots at home how life in the rich, free world, for good or for ill, really works. But they also enjoyed a deep knowledge of their own countries’ history and traditions—more so, in some cases, than those who lived under Soviet rule. It didn’t always work: after 1991 some returning émigrés proved to be patronizing, bombastic and outright flaky. Some of them died too early: Stasys Lozoraitis, Lithuania’s top diplomat in the West, was struck down by liver cancer in 1994, aged 70, robbing his country of his integrity, charm and vision. But the best and luckiest of them have played a huge role in securing their countries’ future after the collapse of communism.
Mr. Kupchinsky was one of the most formidable: equally at home in dealing with troubled bureaucracies such as the FBI and CIA or with Ukraine’s also ill-run intelligence bureaucracies, as well as the private sector, the media and think-tanks. He continued reading, writing and talking — fuelled by a prodigious intake of nicotine and alcohol — right up to his death.
What will we do without him?