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Vasil Uładzimiravič Bykaŭ (often spelled Vasil Bykov, Belarusian: Васі́ль Уладзі́міравіч Бы́каў, Russian: Василь Быков) (June 19, 1924 – June 22, 2003) was a prolific author of novels and novellas about World War II, is a monumental figure in Belarusian literature and civic thought. The writer's talent and the moral courage that permeates his writings earned him endorsements for the Nobel Prize nomination from, among others, Nobel Prize laureates Joseph Brodsky and Czesław Miłosz.
Life and career
Vasil Bykaŭ was born in the village Byčki, not far from Viciebsk in 1924. In 1941 he was in Ukraine when Germany attacked the USSR. At first seventeen-year-old Bykaŭ dug trenches – then he volunteered for the Red Army. He was arrested and almost shot as a German spy. For years after the war he continued to serve, returning to the USSR only in the mid-1950s. There he started to work as a journalist for the Hrodna Pravda newspaper. In that same decade his first novellas began to come out, of which the most famous are "Sotnikaŭ", "The Obelisk", "To Go and Not Return", and "To Live Till Sunrise". During and after the Perestroika, he participated in pro-reform movement (e.g. Popular Front of Belarus). In October 1993, he signed the Letter of Forty-Two.
Bykaŭ's literary achievement lies in his sternly realistic, albeit touched by lyricism, depictions of World War II battles, typically with a small number of personages. In the ferociousness of encounter they face moral dilemmas both vis-a-vis their enemies and within their own Soviet world burdened by ideological and political constraints. Bykaŭ's novellas that are available in English translation, such as "The Dead Feel No Pain" (1965), "The Ordeal" (1970), "Wolf Pack" (1975) and "Sign of Misfortune", challenged the official version of the war. This brought upon the writer vicious accusations of "false humanism" from some Red Army generals and the Communist Party press. "Vasil Bykov is a very courageous and uncompromising writer, rather of the Solzhenitsyn stamp," wrote Michael Glenny in Partisan Review in 1972. Bykaŭ was one of the most admired writers in the Soviet Union. In 1980 he was awarded the honorific title of People's Writer of the Belarusian SSR.
Outside of his native country, Vasil Bykaŭ is the most widely read Belarusian writer. During the Soviet period, his works were translated into most major languages of the world. However, most of the translations were done on the basis of Russian rendering. Bykaŭ wrote all of his works in his native Belarusian language, and translated several of them into Russian by himself. Vasil Bykaŭ's stature in the life of his country remains enormous. An opponent of Alexander Lukashenko's regime and a supporter of the Belarusian People's Front, he lived abroad for several years (first in Finland, then in Germany and the Czech Republic), but returned to his homeland just a month before his death. The memory of his turbulent life and uncompromising stance on the war have only enhanced his reputation at home and abroad ever since.
- Order of the Red Star (1944)
- Jakub Kolas State Prize of the Belarusian SSR (for the story "The Third Rocket", 1964)
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1974)
- USSR State Prize (for To Live till Sunrise, 1974)
- Jakub Kolas State Prize of the Belarusian SSR (for the story "Wolf Pack", "His battalion", 1978)
- People's Writer of Belarus (1980)
- Hero of Socialist Labour (1984)
- Order of Lenin (1984)
- Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class (1985)
- Lenin Prize (for Sign of Misfortune, 1986)
- People's Writer of the Belarusian SSR (1980)
- Order of Friendship (1994)
- Order of Francisc Skorina (Belarus, 1994)
- San-Valentino International Golden Prize (1998).
- Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
- Jubilee Medal "Twenty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
- Jubilee Medal "Thirty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
- Jubilee Medal "Forty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
- Jubilee Medal "50 Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
- Писатели требуют от правительства решительных действий. Izvestia (in Russian). 5 October 1993. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
- 1960 – "Crane's Cry" ("Жураўліны крык")
- 1960 – "Knight move" ("Ход канём")
- 1962 – "Third Rocket" ("Трэцяя ракета")
- 1964 – "The Alpine Ballad" ("Альпійская балада")
- 1965 – "One Night" ("Адна ноч")
- 1970 – "The Ordeal" ("Сотнікаў")
- 1971 – "The Obelisk" ("Абеліск")
- 1973 – "To Live till Sunrise" ("Дажыць да світання")
- 1974 – "Wolf Pack" ("Воўчая зграя")
- 1975 – "His Battalion" ("Яго батальён")
- 1978 – "To Go and not Return" ("Пайсці і не вярнуцца")
- 1983 – "Sign of Misfortune" ("Знак бяды")
- 1989 – "In the Fog" ("У тумане")
- 1997 – "The Wall" ("Сьцяна")
- 2003 – "The Long Road Home" ("Доўгая дарога да дому")
- Vasil Bykaŭ (in Russian, Belarusian, and English)
- Vasil Bykaŭ's works on-line
- Vasil Bykov at Find-A-Grave
- Vasil Bykov on the Official Website of the Republic of Belarus