The Sunday Magazine

A friendship forged through Dostoevsky and Leonard Cohen

Mikhail Rykov is a computer engineer who grew up in the Soviet Union, playing banned cassettes and his guitar. After the Soviet Union collapsed, he made his way to Canada and eventually to Jerry Golland's ESL classroom in Ottawa. The two men found a "secret chord" that still connects them. David Gutnick's documentary is called "All of Us Are Sputniks.”
Jerry Golland, left, who teaches English as a second language in Ottawa, and Mikhail Rykov, a Russian immigrant, met in 2001 and connected through the music of Leonard Cohen. (David Gutnick/CBC)

This is a story about two men in Ottawa, about language and music, about Dostoevsky and especially Leonard Cohen.

Mikhail Rykov grew up in Byelorussia—now known as Belarus—playing banned cassettes and his beloved guitar. He became a computer engineer.

He loved his homeland, loved his language. But when the Soviet Union collapsed he — along with millions of others — looked to leave.

Rykov had friends in Ottawa who had already emigrated.

"Come," they said. "Canada will be good. And you can be part of Jerry's class, too."

The "Jerry" Rykov's friends were referring to—Jerry Golland—taught English as a second language, in his own special way, to refugees and immigrants.

Cohen's music has had a profound impact on Rykov, who immigrated from the Soviet Union to Canada in 2001. (David Gutnik/CBC)

In 2001, Rykov made his way to Canada and to Golland's classroom.

Eventually, the two men found a "secret chord" that still connects them today.

David Gutnick's documentary about the two men is called All of Us Are Sputniks.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full documentary.


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