By Yuliya Raskevich
It took director Mikhail Illyenko five years to produce the film, and finally it's about to hit the big screen on Jan. 19 in Kyiv's Kinopalats, on 1 Instytutska Street.
A young Ukrainian pilot during World War II called Ivan Dodoka ends up in Stalin's GULAG in Siberia for being captured by the Nazis. His close friend, also an army man, pronounces him dead to pursue his wife.
Although Dodoka escapes from the camp, his former friend turned enemy starts to hunt his as a dangerous criminal all over the USSR. Ivan disappears off his radar, and years later his wife finds out that he lives in Canada as has become chief of a native tribe.
Syomin told that he had known about a strange Indian chief in 1972 when Makhmud Esambaev was on the road in their place. Alexander used to be a deputy director of the local philharmonic at that time so he could spend much time talking to Esambaev. Makhmud told a lot of interesting stories but one of them seemed especially incredible…
In 1967 Makhmud was travelling in Canada and the cultural program included a visit to a North Indians reservation. By the moment they came all the tribe, about 200 Indians, had already gathered and were only waiting for a chief to appear. And finally he did--a high, slender and strong in a bright Indian garment. He was accompanied by a little fragile Indian woman, his spouse. Makhmud said “hello” in Russian and was pretty much surprised to hear the melodious “Zdoroven’ki buly” in Ukranian.
From here on the story forks into two major versions.
In one variant of it, Datsenko did die when his plane exploded; in another—he survived, parachuted to safety, was captured by the Germans, escaped, returned to his unit, but was arrested by SMERSH (the soviet counterespionage agency Smert Shpionam—Death to Spies), was put into a concentration camp, escaped and made his way to Canada where he married a Native American woman, was given the Indian name of The One Who Has Passed Through Fire (also known as Chief Poking Fire), had some children by her, rose to the status of chief in the tribe he had joined, changed his name and died as John MacComber.
On the other, photos apparently exist of John MacComber, a "chief" who doesn't look much like an Indian. If he wasn't a Ukrainian pilot, who was he?
It's possible that a non-Indian could've married into a tribe and become its chief. It's also possible that a Ukrainian could've married an Indian and produced a Native child named John MacComber.
This child wouldn't have needed a fanciful origin. Perhaps his Ukrainian father simply moved to Canada for some reason. If the father was a criminal, for instance, the son might've invented the pilot story because he was ashamed.
Usually the simplest story is the right one. A part-Ukrainian chief who invented a background seems simpler than a Ukrainian pilot who escaped a Siberian gulag, crossed the Pacific, joined a tribe, and became its chief. But you never know.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.