Bohdan Stupka (1941–2012)

Bohdan Stupka (1941–2012), born in Kulykiv in the Lviv region of western Ukraine, was an illustrious Ukrainian actor and a Minister of Culture of Ukraine who established a particularly striking presence in the Ukrainian-Jewish encounter.

Stupka became especially known for his brilliant stage rendition of the Tevye the Milkman character (popularized globally by Fiddler on the Roof) from the renowned story "Tevye-Tevel" by Sholem Aleichem. Tevye-tevel, staged by the Ivan Franko National Academic Theatre in Kyiv, premiered in 1989. It was based on a play by Hryhorii Horyn and directed by Serhii Danchenko. The production enjoyed a phenomenal run of sold-out seasons — the play celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2009 — and it was presented widely in Europe and America, with Stupka receiving several awards.

Stupka began his career in experimental theatrical productions in Lviv's Zankovetska Theatre. His talent and charisma carried him to the Kyiv stage and onward into controversial roles in Soviet cinema. Yuri Ilyenko's 1971 period drama The White Bird Marked with Black featured Stupka in an engagingly villainous and politically fraught role of an anti-Communist partisan, which prompted the Soviet authorities to ban the film. After Ukrainian independence, Stupka carved out an international path in the European film community, with high-profile parts in Ukrainian-Polish and Ukrainian-Russian joint film productions, especially in Jerzy Hoffman's lavish Polish historical drama With Fire and Sword, where he memorably played the role of Ukrainian Cossack Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskyi. Stupka went on to play other legendary Ukrainian figures on screen, including Ivan Mazepa and Taras Bulba, which endeared him to audiences and solidified his reputation as a "living treasure" in Ukrainian performing arts.

In remarks to the Ukrainian newspaper The Day, the Polish film director Krzysztof Zanussi characterized Stupka as "an actor of continental fame." He articulated the essence of Stupka's talent by noting, "Nobody else in Eastern Europe can be compared to him, a trilingual actor, as far as language is concerned….Stupka possessed a great talent for reincarnation and had an unchangeable individuality. He was quite organic when he played Tevye the Milkman and looked like a great-power leader in the role of Bohdan Khmelnytskyi. But first of all, Stupka is archetypically Ukrainian. For the post-Soviet nations, Bohdan Stupka personifies Ukraine and its mysterious separateness: it seems to be similar to Poland or Russia but is essentially different owing to its wholehearted gestures, love of freedom, as well as secretness and reticence — a cunning manner of meeting its evil fate."