Somewhat Guiltily, Ukrainians Miss Matthew Perry


It was the middle of the night in Ukraine, and Natalia Sosnytska couldn’t sleep. So she opened the Instagram app on her phone — and saw that the actor Matthew Perry had died.

She broke down in tears, she said, then immediately felt embarrassed.

“We need to remember those dying here in Ukraine daily, but maybe also those who inspire us,” she said, trying to come to terms with her layered emotions.

She was hardly alone. Mr. Perry’s death last Saturday resonated with the many Ukrainians who had watched “Friends,” which was shown on broadcast television in the country and was popular especially with younger people.

On the day that Mr. Perry’s death was reported by Ukraine’s mainstream news outlets and discussed on social media, the news in Ukraine was difficult, as usual: Russia had bombed the southern city of Kherson, and nine Ukrainian civilians, including children, had been found shot to death in the occupied town of Volnovakha. Yet Ukrainians found space in their hearts for sadness about the death of an actor who had touched their lives.

“It is almost the same age as Ukrainian independence,” Maryna Synhaivska, the deputy director of the Ukrinform news agency, said of “Friends,” which began in 1994, three years after Ukraine split from the Soviet Union.

“I was growing up with him, same as many Ukrainians,” Ms. Synhaivska said of Mr. Perry and Chandler Bing, his character on the show. “I am senselessly saddened by this news, and I can say that tens of thousands of people read it.”

The series’ success in Ukraine was partly down to the high quality of its translation. It was dubbed into Ukrainian rather than Russian, and linguists have highlighted how well its American slang was rendered. Ukrainian viewers were also able to watch each new episode almost at the same time as viewers in the United States.

Ms. Sosnytska, who is 32, named a community center that she opened in 2017 for young people in her hometown, Kostiantynivka, in eastern Ukraine, after the show.

The space was intended to be a place where like-minded people could get together and have fun, but they struggled to settle on a name they all liked. She had watched every season of “Friends” no less than 10 times, she said, and her friends liked it, too. So they called the center Druzi — “friends” in Ukrainian — and the sign on the building mimicked the show’s title font.

These days, the city is near the front line, where life is highly dangerous, and the community center sits empty, surrounded by bomb craters.

Ms. Sosnytska said that when she heard the news of Mr. Perry’s death, “I understood that I just need to watch one more time.”

The series has been a source of solace for some Ukrainian fans during the many months of war.

Anastasiya Nigmatulina, 28, a beautician in Vinnytsia, a city in central Ukraine, said she had watched the show over and over since the war started. “It helps me to feel better,” she said.

Her husband is a soldier, and she worries about him often. He is home on leave now with her and their 5-year-old daughter, but will return to the front soon. There were many times when Ms. Nigmatulina “felt scared and stressed, but this series supported me,” she said.

“And particularly Chandler Bing, played by Matthew Perry,” she added. “I feel like I lost a close friend.”

“Friends” also helped some in the country learn Ukrainian, just as it has aided people around the world in learning English.

“I talk and hear how I am using the words from specific episodes, from that brilliant Ukrainian translation we had,” said Yulia Po, 38, a Crimea native who grew up in a Russian-speaking environment and said she had learned Ukrainian thanks to “Friends.”

As a 13-year-old coming home after school, she recalled, she would have just enough time to fry herself potatoes and get comfortable with a plate in front of the television before the show aired.

She left Crimea after Russia occupied it in 2014, now refuses to speak Russian on principle, and has not been home or seen her parents since leaving, she said. “So I have a lot of emotions for this show,” Ms. Po said, adding, “Back then, when I escaped Crimea, I was depressed and I watched it and watched it, and it helped.”

Last weekend, when she learned that Mr. Perry had died, she felt a slight sadness.

“This is just a humane emotion to feel sad — there is always a space for it,” Ms. Po said. “He was with me for a long time and gave me many reasons to laugh.”


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