Victor’s Vignettes: The Music Of My Childhood — 1966-1975

Victor’s Vignettes … Stories about Life in soviet and post-soviet Ukraine.
-by Victor Sergeyev
Mikolayev, Ukraine

The Music Of My Childhood — 1966-1975

When it came to music listening in soviet Ukraine, we always had choices.

We could tune in on radio receivers to hear soundtracks of the two available TV channels, the state-controlled Moscow channel and the pro-Moscow Kiev channel. Or we could create a cultural environment of our own … underground.

Of course, the latter choice was by far the most popular.

Not that it was easy.

In official stores only government-sanctioned goods were available for purchase. So radio receivers came without 19 and 25 meter bands, to block transmissions of Voice of America and BBC channels.

But where there is a will, there is always a way.

There was the black market, occasional trips abroad, and of course we could always build our own radios. As well, there were old WWII trophy German radios around, or you could buy good Japanese tape recorders with built-in radios.

As I said, we had choices.

My home town of Nikolaev is a sea port … and for me, it was a window to the world.

The seamen always brought home plenty of vinyl disks from their trips abroad. So, for as long as I can remember, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Slade and other prominent names in western pop culture have been part of my consciousness.

The all-union company “Melodia” in far away Moscow of course tried to control our musical preferences. It was a useless exercise.

The selection in the Moscow-controlled store numbered in the mere hundreds of discs… all, naturally, carrying the label “Melodia.”

The black market, however, offered thousands upon thousands of discs from all over the world – the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Spain, France. Even socialist countries like Poland, Romania, and the former Yugoslavia.

Our local black market had a name … ‘Skhod’ which means “gathering.” Skhod existed according to its own rules, independent of any authorities. It took place once a week, on Sundays, and it was a ‘sacred dream’ for music collectors like me.

But contraband is never cheap. The cost of just 3 foreign vinyl disks was equal to the monthly salary of an engineer. Therefore we would copy the disks and share the music. We used ordinary tape recorders, as magenetic tapes were relatively inexpensive and easy to come by.

Sometimes we wondered if we were being disloyal to our heritage by embracing foreign culture as we did. But Ukrainian culture was suppressed by Soviet authorities, with only fragments remaining. We knew of some Ukrainian singers and songwriters, but they were loyal to the Soviet regime. And of course, anything or anyone bearing Moscow’s stamp of approval held no interest for us.

In those days I was vaguely aware that in Western Ukraine, in places like Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukrainian culture remained strong. But, unfortunately, those cities were too far away to have any influence on us.

Taras Shevchenko, Mykhailo Kotsiubinsky, Ivan Franko, Ostap Vyshnia, Volodymyr Ivasiuk, Sofia Rotaru and others were of course known names to us. But they were only relics of Ukrainian culture. Ancient history … throwbacks to the past. All meant to be forgotten.

Now every day it becomes more clear just how much of our cultural heritage is lost to us forever… due both to soviet oppressors and the purveyors of western pop culture.

At least young people today have more choices, and better ones. I hope they choose wisely.

These are the words of Victor Sergeyev in Mikolayev, Ukraine.

I’m Sergiy Kaznady in Toronto, Canada.

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