Rostrzelane odrodzenie / Rозстріляне відродження. Almanach ukraińskiej prozy i poezji z lat 1917-1933 ułożony przez Jurija Ławrinenkę. / Sygn. sm00561
FOT. STANISŁAW MANCEWICZ

The Youth of the Fourth Kharkiv


JURIJ SZEWELOW


The beautiful city of Kharkiv – so joyous in character, so extensive in size. How many grand edifices are present here, how many places of worship, palaces, official buildings, schools and academies of varying purpose including those for well-born boys and girls… Witness also the Bishop’s Palace, the post office, and the castle which is a prison. The architecture is of brick or stone, and roofs are painted green.

The buildings of Kharkiv are truly striking and delightful!

And what about the bell tower in the middle of the city! If you want to see its pinnacle looking up, then peel your eyes and you will pinpoint it with its blessed cross atop. Your cap may hold firm but so towering is the structure, you will inadvertently stumble back a few steps!

And then that great number of streets in Kharkiv! Long and straight, and some are cobbled. Nothing will sink on this surface, even on a muddy day when your oxen show a wicked disinclination for exertion. Such is our city!

Indeed, such was the incredible early 19th cent miracle city of Kharkiv.  It elicited both fear and fascination – difficult to know which more so - in the eyes of Hryhori Kvitka-Osnovianenko[1] who eulogized the time-preserved patriarchal villages of Ukraine. In his day, Kharkiv was in fact a small governorate.

It is not known when exactly Kharkiv came into being. At some point in the middle of the 17th century, tiring of Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s wars and at the beginnings of the period known as the Great Ruin, settlers came here. They sought to exchange the tribulations of Cossack life for the quiet idyll of an agrarian existence in the relative tranquillity of an area called Sloboda. However, history does not necessarily preserve idylls.  From the North, slowly but surely, the serene Sloboda becomes overcast by the shadow of a ravenous Muscovy. Open village spaces became urbanised, and artisan neighbourhoods come into being. The poet Hryhori Skorovoda was still offering old Ukrainian wisdom while nearby, above Lopianka village, Tsarist administrative buildings were surfacing, while on the other side of a nearby brook, behind the tranquil roads to Chobotarsky and Kotsarsky and (close to the very quiet Hancharivka road), another symbol of the regime was rising from the ground, a prison. As Kvitka-Osnovianenko called it, a fortress. The old Ukrainian world looks on with incredulity and fear as a monster is being born in its midst - at the expense of the resident community, and on the land that it had worked.

A further forty or fifty years pass, and literature presents us with a new account of Kharkiv. There is nothing surprising in the fact that on this occasion, it comes from the pen of a Russian. Kharkiv has increasingly become the gateway for Moscow’s offensive into Ukraine. Anton Chekhov describes Kharkiv as an unpaved and dirty town inhabited by Russian merchants. The neighbouring Ukrainian villages of Panasivka, Zhuravlivka, Moskalivka, Zaikivka, Osnova, Kholodna Hora have already been consumed by urban sprawl – these are now the names of urban districts. New suburban centres are also built which no longer carry Ukrainian names; factories are concentrated in Petinka; Rashkina Dacha, Tyurina Dacha. Dynastic families of merchants set the tone in the city – the Zverzheevs, the Ponomaryovs, the Ryzhovs, the Utkins, the Seriks, the Ignatovs, the Sokolovs. They have come down from the north beckoned by the richness of the Ukrainian lands. The centre of Kharkiv underwent redevelopment, and Russian, French and Belgian capital set about exploiting the Donbas. The gateway to the North was wide open. To them, Kharkiv seems to be no friend.

But then, after the outburst of the Ukrainian National Revolution in the years 1917-1920, Ukrainians flooded into Kharkiv. They did so in short surges, each time countered by the forces of the North. But they came and forced their adversary, at least nominally, to accept the existence of a Ukrainian State with Kharkiv designated as the Capital - once a gateway south, always a gateway south, it might have been calculated in Moscow. However, once the Ukrainian surges had occurred, it was impossible to chase the new arrivals back into a calm, pastoral and patriarchal existence of the kind described by Kvitka-Osnovianenko. The Ukrainians took up the offer and challenge of statehood! But with Kharkiv as the capital? So be it, they decided, and in their minds the city was to be made into a proper capital, a centre for, and symbol of, the new Ukraine. There would be no going back. Kharkiv would become the Capital of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ukraine.

Hitherto it had been Kharkiv Sloboda, a region of farmsteads and artisan workshops, then an unwelcoming and hopelessly grey provincial town of the Russian Empire. And now Mykola Khvylovy announced the birth of the third Kharkiv, not only an emblem for his rebellious compatriots, but also a symbol of the new Ukrainian urban planning. Indeed, Khvylovy knew the history of his city: ‘...a stinking industrial city, great only in size, and ignorant of its Sloboda origins and of the Russian army regiments drawn from here. No American landscape had been created with buildings reaching for the sky, only lanes and alleys preserving their bloody stories which will be remembered for eternity’. Together with Pavlo Tychyna[2], Khvylovy could well ask:

 

Kharkiv, Kharkiv, where is your face?

Whom do you call?

You are bogged down in a quagmire of words

As dark and black as night itself

But both knew who the new capital beckoned - the Ukrainian people in the steppe, and

Suddenly the call thundered

across the city bridges

It’s already in the steppe

It’s on a turbulent wind

Riding high and low -

a devilish offspring

will no longer be calmed

 

No matter that ‘your Spring is beset by snow and wind, wet snow and April rain’. Let only ‘an enflamed clock burn above you, above your head and mine’. The clock measured the hours of history and history is working to our advantage. The clock continues to burn above, and it is already April. Summer will come soon. Our country will be renewed. And then Khvylovy cries out: ‘I love this city to distraction’ …

A generation of impetuous romantics, young men and women with clear blue eyes, set out to conquer the provincial backwater of Kharkiv. The powers that be had proclaimed the city the Ukrainian capital. Well so be it, they would really make it the capital by imbuing it with Ukrainian content. The third Kharkiv became the city of Khvylovy and the Free Academy of Proletarian Literature (WAPLITE); of the the Berezila Theatre and the exhibitions of the Association of Revolutionary Art of Ukraine (ARMU)[3] presented in the rooms of an old monastery; of the fiery and uncompromising discussions at the V Blakyty House of Literature on Kaplunivsky Street and courses on East European culture. This was now a city of Ukrainian students or students of Ukrainian extraction. The yearnings, aims and the soul of Kharkiv had undergone a change.  Slowly the city was undertaking further urbanisation. The city became a hive of creative activity and displayed great fortitude in pursuing its goals. Essentially all Kharkiv, the third Kharkiv, was a remarkable exercise in rejuvenation.

In the administrative sense, the third Kharkiv was but a capital of a Soviet Republic, but its ideologues and the youthful generation seeking to model the city’s future saw it as something much more – a real capital. In their dreams they even perceived the city as a world centre and that was a perception Moscow could not countenance. The champions of the new Kharkiv had to be destroyed. On 13th May,1933, a gunshot rang out in Khvylovy’s office. Mykola Skrynyk, a leading proponent of Ukrainian cultural independence, was dead. The OGPU (Soviet secret police) was on the move. Hundreds of thousands of Kharkiv citizens were arrested and incarcerated in the prisons on Sovnarkomivsky and Chernishevsky Streets, and then either shot or deported east or north. In mysterious circumstances, at the dead of night, the statue of the poet, writer and politician Vasyl Ellan-Blakytyny disappeared from a Kharkiv square. The experimental Berezil Theatre was renamed the Taras Shevchenko State Theatre and staged folkloristic productions such as Give your heart a will, and it will lead you to enslavement. Adjacent to the Brezil, a new theatre appeared – the Russian Dramatic Theatre, while ‘The Red Banner’, a Russian language daily newspaper, went into circulation. The well-known Ukrainian language ‘Kharkiv Proletarian’ would in time become the ‘The Socialist, Kharkiv Region’. An existing provincial newspaper published in Ukrainian is allowed to continue to appear for time being, it is after all aimed at the peasantry. The city, however, as with all the urban centres of the enteral Russian Empire needed a Russian language press. And no authentic capital, national or regional, could be otherwise! Ukraine is to be Ukraine only in name. Two further repressions on the rebellious city of Kharkiv complete the destruction. The ‘Capital of Ukraine’ was openly transferred to Kyiv, and the graves of Blakytny, Skrypnyk and Khvylovy were levelled once again, at night in secret. This was the funeral of the third Kharkiv, so passionately, proudly and lyrically encapsulated in the writings of Mykola Khvylovy. The funeral occurred without obituaries or graveside speeches, but amidst executions and death induced by hunger.

But one cannot murder every soul in the land. Who, therefore, survived? What constituted the fourth Kharkiv? A small nest of self-aware rebels or a herd of obedient citizens of the new regime? Who populated the lecture halls of academia, access to which, was regulated by a special commission, an affiliate of the NKVD (secret police)? How did young people live? What was the air they now breathed? Thus far, literature born under the Soviets has had had little to say on the subject (by literature I mean authentic writing, not the gibberish of the regime which naturally concerned itself with Stakhanovites and the happy beautiful life that had come to the blossoming cities of the blossoming Ukraine).  Dear God - there are the books, whole libraries in fact, which were now beyond the reach of readers, and therefore, simply did not exist. Of course, there was no mention of all this under the officially sanctioned writings of the fourth Kharkiv, a province of the Soviet Empire. And when the province began to realise it was a province, it was the first step towards realising that it could cease to be such. But should change be sought again, given the situation in the fourth Kharkiv, a situation common to all of Ukraine? How does one start talking about the issue? How does one begin to find out about what others are living through and what they are thinking, in a country where everyone is just striving not to think anything out aloud, where parents are afraid of their children, and children of their parents?

This is a country in which monuments are erected to honour a boy who wanted to destroy his father. It is truly surprising that so little can be gleaned from the Soviet press and the last thing one does is to consign authentic thoughts to a letter. In fact, letters are written as rarely as possible. No memoirs are penned as they would be of singular interest to the NKVD.

I was a lecturer for fifteen years in the Soviet higher education system. I had lively contact with students and friends among them, but political matters were never touched upon. Nor were the adverse aspects of life, though this or that could be inferred from our exchanges. Later, as an émigré, conversations with students who had escaped Ukraine, were also commonplace but different in character to those back home. I came to owe a great deal to a book written by a young political refugee called Leonid Lyman[4]. Its title was A Tale of Kharkiv, but it could well have been ‘A Tale of the Fourth Generation of Kharkiv’.  Lyman belonged to the youngest academic generation of his day. In the Spring of 1941, he was halfway through his university studies. His work is characterised by integrity, a great eye for detail, and he calls a spade a spade. At the same time, it is devoid of any political bias and émigré complexes. The observations and evaluations he offers square with mine. That’s quite something and prompts me to supplementary comment.

So, it is 1941 and we are in a lecture hall at Kharkiv university or that of another place of learning in the city. The students were aged twenty plus. A simple calculation will allow us to understand a great deal – these students were born around 1919. One of many Soviet clichés calls this age group ‘peers of the October Revolution’, but in essence it is much younger. It had had no experience of the ten desperate years of the Ukrainian nation’s fight with the Soviets, with Moscow. It had no knowledge of how tertiary education was ‘proletarianised’. They were only 13-14 years old when the gunshot echoed in Khvylovy’s office - the third Kharkiv passed them by, and after its liquidation, the Soviet authorities put much energy into erasing any memory of it. This generation knew little of the customs of the old Ukrainian villages, the agrarian collectivisation which broke the peasant tradition. It had occurred when they were 10-11 years of age. Nor did they experience the rich renaissance of the Ukrainian sprit in the 1920s, and, understandably, those who were older than them never spoke of that time. They were ignorant of Ukrainian history, even Russian history – brought up as they were solely on the history of the USSR. As for Ukrainian literature, their knowledge was strictly within the prescribed contents of the textbooks written by Novycky[5], Pilhuk[6] and Shahovsky[7] for whom 80% of Ukrainian writers simply did not exist. The works of the remaining 20% were present as excerpts from their works in versions sanitized by the official censor. The ‘the peers of the Revolution’ were eighteen years old when the maelstrom of the Great Terror engulfed them. This was all the more terrifying given they belonged to a generation which could not understand the reasons for it, nor its origins. They were brought up on Communist political propaganda delivered to them during their Komsomol meetings and inducted into a specific way of speaking and behaving without the presence of meaningful discussion. Party slogans were their philosophy, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin their obligatory heroes. No-one else was on offer.

Yes, it was an awful upbringing and education. As a result, young people were, to no mean degree, robbed of their youth. Khvylovy had addressed the youth of Kharkiv with all the enthusiasm of a passionate romantic. But he was juggling with words. His acute perception had told him that the youth of his city was ‘ageing’. He knew that young people were losing their impulse to change the world, (for what are the young worth if they do not aspire to change the world?) and Khvylovy appealed to them to remain young which the authorities were afraid of – they did their utmost to keep the young old and made considerable headway in this pursuit. Traditionally, the young have assailed the world into which they were born. ‘Mount the barricades’ they have often cried! But the aged youth of the fourth Kharkiv largely sought to live life without touching anything. Mostly they are inert and ask no questions of themselves, or of others. They would prefer to know as little of others as possible - it is safer. In fact, many of them have come to dislike people, many are afraid of one another. Outwardly, they are activists pursuing a communal existence, most are, in reality, akin to recluses. Additionally, here also was a generation living in ongoing deprivation – a lack of food, clothes, electric lighting, but most of all, what they lacked was probity. Their refuge was conformity, not to looking different, not being like anyone else, talking with the words of others – essentially one and the same template for all, (…) which also included having an image of Stalin above their beds. Not much could have been expected of life and other than a template served as a safeguard for survival.

Although asceticism was not decreed as a way of life, in practice many came close to practising it. The ideal condition for the Soviet citizen was that of a snail - the snail has a shell which offers instant protection.

However, how to be a snail in one’s early twenties? Not an easy proposition! To be frank and forthright, occasionally to the point of anguish, is sometimes a human necessity. There was little room for such emotional niceties. Sincerity was considered a provocation. Even the idea of love was laced with political considerations and could be the subject of discourse at a Communist Party meeting. However, as feelings are important, the system is ready to assist by fabricating ersatz emotions for its citizens. Artificial happiness is disseminated for the privileged few, as if from a special centralised distribution centre.  In small quantities, but strictly regulated, the state offers its coupons of faux joy. So, it is permissible to take dancing lessons. You could now watch an Austrian film called The Great Waltz. Sentimentality is the order of the day – gypsy ballads, saccharin sweet street songs well-examined by the censor prior to dissemination. There was the heart-rending story of the Red Army soldier who steps aside at the start of a footbridge to allow a ‘liberated’ peasant girl from Galicia to pass by. The stock message from the authorities was that no one loves as intensely as Soviet Man, and nowhere else in the world does happy and harmonious family life flourish as in the Communist state. When the snail can no longer remain within its shell, when a young man is unable to continue replicating his official speeches, a short intermission is available during which he may immerse himself in a pretend world of emotion and feel-good: he can listen to the romantic tearjerking songs of Izabella Yurieva[8] or Vadim Kozin[9], either live or on the gramophone.

The spiritual life of our snail, combined with a fabricated social life, not only promoted synthetic emotion but also a sham reality. Decency, love and friendship became compromised words in a world which offered a dirty, brutal, barrack-like existence - hence the progress of nihilism in Soviet youth. It was commonplace to hide one’s real thoughts and speak and act in contradiction to these. Even among refugees with a Soviet background, we were often struck by the ease with which lying occurs. Lies were often employed without any aim or reason, and it is difficult to accord blame. Under the conditions which prevailed during the upbringing of young people, a lie was not even perceived as a fault. It was simply an inane and comprehensively used device for self-preservation. Lying became second nature in a country where the law solely forbids and never permits anything. Only insincerity was viable. As a result of the incessant repetition of official cliches and the presence of all-embracing deceit, the meaning of words was eroded and came to mean less and less. Life was humdrum and uniform as in workers’ canteens.

I once visited a restaurant in Kherson where everyone was eating the same food. On asking whether I could have something else if I paid a little extra, the manageress responded (not without pride), that in her establishment everybody was offered a one-meal menu. Indeed, words began to lose their meaning, and a complacent selfishness set in. Man had become more than wolf to man, but little was spoken of this. A young person moves towards old age with pace. The concepts of love, nobleness, and patriotism became platitudes and the fodder of cheap demagogy.

A reign of caution, hypocrisy, cynicism and nihilism. A comprehensive sense of unhappiness prevails.  There is no sense of nation or motherland. So, what is there? Only a monumental all-pervading falsehood with one true element – the Self, Me, which can and must be saved in a horrible hostile world.

Nihilism breeds careerists. The sly fox with the capability to adapt awaits his medals, as well as his own car, special provisions, a villa in Sochi and other Stalinist privileges. Such a person will not turn against the system but energetically diverts energy to thwart rivals, advance his or her career and pursue further accommodation with the system (…).

And then, very unexpectedly, the careerist becomes completely apolitical which may seem paradoxical. How therefore, can this be? His or her life is after all, totally ensnared by Politics. Even in moments of intimacy, the careerist will communicate in party slogans and Communist newspaper cliches. But the truth is that the careerist has a loathing for societal engagement so heavily encumbered with the need to resolve continuous ‘political liabilities’, beholden as the careerist is to political masters. Where possible deceit is employed to circumnavigate pay back. If this does not occur the careerist must labour on under an irksome and loathsome yoke (...)

It is June 1941. Outside the borders of the USSR a terrible war has started. Very soon, its flames will engulf the whole of Eastern Europe. But the Soviet press, which has received its instructions, had nothing to say in September 1939. People in Ukraine are now solely concerned with retaining their bearings, avoiding the countryside, avoiding mobilisation which is now in progress, in short, seeking to sidestep the forthcoming hurricane, while somehow preserving their private lives. Ultimately the outbreak of the war comes out of the blue generating no enthusiasm or bravado. Generally, young people are not surprised at the way events are unfolding. This is an atomised apolitical generation. All unto one’s own….

So much for the analysis. We began with the snail and end with the snail – war is coming and humanity crawls into a shell. Nothing wholesome or decent can be found on the outside. There is no light …

If we were to place a full stop here it would signify Finis Ucrainae – desperation and demise.  Very fortunately, it would be premature. Life continues as does the story of life.

No generation, even the most regimented, represents a homogenous whole. Diversity persists. A provincial dweller differs from the urban, the factory worker from a member of the bureaucratic party elite. Even a first year student is unlike his final year counterpart. A generation may well display common characteristics, but it is comprised of individuals. No political system has been able fully to reduce people to a common denominator.  Each individual retains his or her own spirit - the youth of the fourth Kharkiv were not carbon copies of each other despite prescribed uniformity.

There were of course those who felt at home in the Soviet system – these are the ever vigilant, happy to change their views with each swerve of the party line - they revel in forecasting the next change in policy. There are always a few of these.  But there were those who, in greater or smaller measure, with despair or resignation, firmly or weakly, under the influence of alcohol or not, might just occasionally sense that the world which surrounds them was an utter fake. Reactions differed to this realisation. Some wept hysterically without immediate cause. Others thought of suicide. Still others threw themselves into the catastrophe of ‘glorious sincerity’, naively relating some of their inner reservations and misgivings during Komsomol or party meetings at their university or place of work.

Indeed, with few exceptions, the young people in the fourth Kharkiv had managed to protect and preserve their own ideas. The regiment had failed, and would continue to fail, to destroy their true roots. It was of great importance, for perhaps here lay the germ of renewal. However, one should not overstate the level of maturity and the homogeneity of the unrevealed thought patterns of the young. There is a widespread realisation that something is wrong at an internalised level. In the fourth Kharkiv everything is fractured into pieces and enveloped by a soundproof wall of mutual distrust. No sound can get through and understanding the roots of the surrounding evil is very difficult. There are after all, no aces to anything but official writing and thinking. There are those who believe that social and political ills stem from inter-generational discord, others who had learnt to view everything in terms of class conflict, were closed to alternative interpretations. The central issue of the Soviet system as such and the role played in it by Moscow simply did not exist (…). Even those who dreamt of an ideal society, in which all would have equal opportunities (though not achievements), (…) could not comprehend, or failed to ask themselves, crucial questions to reach some understanding of their situation. Anything approaching an ideal solution demanded, as a priority, the destruction of the Soviet system and the break-up of Russia.

Looking at all this from a side line, it is easy to see that behind the dreams associated with leading role of the ‘agrarian class’ or the dream of an equitable society, there stood, in essence, the ideal of an independent Ukraine – in the sense of an alignment of its social order with the national psychology of the country. The fourth generation had no national frame of reference, however, the word Ukraine and a meaning of it was deeply engrained in their souls - to a stronger degree than in the generation which co-created the Revolution of 1917. The word and a meaning of Ukraine had also become second nature to many Russians and Jews who had lived in Ukraine from generation to generation.

Citizens of the fourth Kharkiv were not inducted into a national idiom. Consciousness and subconsciousness do, however, make their way along different paths – yet another cause of spiritual uncertainty (…). Young people had been educated to think solely in class terms. But life itself taught them to think in material terms which often meant thinking with their stomachs. National feeling was stronger in the young than it had been previously but primarily resided in their sub-conscience.

In one of his novels, Lyman mentions the phrase - ‘the trains of my country’. There is no mistake and it contains an important detail. The whole of the Soviet Union appears to be his country, but when he speaks of his love for Kharkiv, the love derives from national Ukrainian sentiment. Intellectually he has for a moment not grasped that Kharkiv is both his and not his. Shevchenko was apt to say ‘on our land, not our land’ (…)

A strong feeling of Ukrainian national separateness and the concept of ‘the one and only Soviet nation’ could converge in the mind because no political programme underpinned the notion - it was just a half-baked idea.  Foreign journalists and observers hypnotised by Soviet propaganda naively believe that separate national issues simply did not exist in the Soviet Union. Well, if they did not, the fiction of separate Soviet republics would have been dispensed with by Moscow a long time ago. National issues were a pronounced worry for the Kremlin and its apprehension in this context manifests itself in a variety of ways be it in ‘linguistic’ discussions, be it in the intensification or abetment of Russification. It is, however, also true that in Ukraine, with the exception of Galicia of the past, national issues did not degenerate into feelings of pedestrian animosity and enmity. Largely, Ukrainians do not perceive other nations as less worthy than themselves - comic expressions were not invented for these. (...) However, the authorities moved the centre of gravity for national issues from a superficial societal level into the realm of official socio-political policy. (...)

Given Soviet realities before the Second World War, the Ukrainian national issue could not be crystallised by Ukrainians into a widely accepted viewpoint. That is why the young generation of the day could not undertake a decisive struggle with the Soviet occupant. Battle could not commence without a battlefield. The only issue which could produce a battlefield was an alignment along national lines. The national instinct was present in the third Kharkiv and largely absent in the fourth.

The regime had taught the young deceit and brutality. Egoism, nihilism, a capacity for a snail-like existence, were in place, as was a keen attentiveness to the needs of the stomach.  Nevertheless, the Soviet education thrust upon young people had not fused organically with one and all of the fourth generation. A sense of falsehood became associated with it, and this had important consequences. The sense of falsehood equated to a loss of faith in the Soviet system which engendered no faith in anything else (there was comprehensive ignorance). This meant that the spiritual and intellectual potential of many members of the fourth generation lay in abeyance.  So, if accommodation with the Soviet system represented one key to the thinking of this generation, a dormant but strong spirit could choose another key to life. The first key opened a wholly negative perspective, the second, a positive vista, with faith in the future – in short, the rebirth of the great traditions of the third Kharkiv.

If an accumulation of unused energy cannot be expended in the public realm, is it not reasonable to expect that it will be utilised towards self-improvement? People may be dispossessed of their wealth or have had the bonds with others dislocated, but the collectivisation of the human brain is not possible, as says the Professor in Fear, a play by Afinogenov[10]. Nothing is of course straightforward. A human being can be placed in total spiritual isolation, but thought processes will not cease, although they may slow down and undergo progressive distortion. But certainly, under such circumstances no clear and independent political system can crystallise (...)

One cannot collectivise human brains. Many of the young in the fourth Kharkiv displayed a passion for life and possessed considerable untapped spiritual energy inherited from the Ukrainian past. These qualities found no purposeful application in the ruptured life designed for them. Despite communist propaganda and the inherent obstructionism of the system, the youth of the fourth Kharkiv set out privately to enrich themselves with knowledge. Never had Ukrainian youth shown such a thirst to learn about both their own world and the outside world. I, myself, have never seen such an intensity of purpose to self-educate – even in places of higher education in the West. Canalised into a life of limitations, thwarted in their development (abstract thinking was discouraged!), young people with their craving for life and knowledge, came to represent a technically competent generation, with a knack for the practical, capable of solving complex issues. Those that took this path were concrete in their thinking and wilful in their activities – a generation not necessarily materialistic in outlook but with its feet very much on the ground. (...) This generation betrayed the characteristics of discoverers, creators and state builders. For the present (which I emphasize), their talents were utilized in industries which did not belong to them. The boundless desire to learn about the world and their untapped spiritual strength resulted in further antipathy towards the constraints under which they lived. In essence, the generation was non-provincial, in a sense ‘imperial’ (not of course in any way as personified by the Soviet Union), but in a psychological sense – it wished to conquer ever new areas of excellence. It would never acquiesce to ethnic limitations in their own context nor live with national isolationism, regimentation and resisted self-gratulation in its own context. It sees such traits in the West as in Germany’s attempt to assail uniformity and a sense of ennui with the tight regulations of middle-class life. But it is not closed to the winds of change blowing in from all the corners of the world. On the contrary, it seeks to absorb what these winds bring in.

Many of this generation feel antipathy towards any form of military-like drill and containment. It grew up in a world which had disposed of the vestiges of feudal times which still burden the youth of the West. Ukrainian youth knows nothing of titles and does not practice the kissing of women’s hands and other worthless social niceties. It treats people as equals. Perhaps the most disconcerting custom for them is German officers slapping their soldiers across their faces – a phenomenon impossible to see in the Soviet Union where the total enslavement of the citizen is coupled with outward respect and where the force of the State bears down on all in equal measure -torture and executions, as well as the system of privileges occurred very much out of public view - the first in the dungeons of the NKVD, the second in closed shops for the party elite.

Many of the young people of Kharkiv wanted honesty and faith in the future. They wanted humanity, friendship, and poetry.  Instinctively they gravitated to versions of their Ukrainian self, open to all that is positive in other nations. These individuals are ready to accept everything other than the narrow, the deceitful and the excessively ceremonial. Their eyes are open towards the future not the past. These members of the fourth generation of Kharkiv will not revert to the old provincialism (…) but its feeling for the world has not yet transformed into a worldview, (…) harnessed as it is to an awful and foreign political system. The fourth generation is the unwitting heir of the third generation of Kharkiv. If it were able to view the world which surrounds at a more granular level and then place the acquired detail in a wider framework, a new flame would ignite in their hearts and minds. Their new faith will then erupt with an intensity directly proportional to the force of oppression which has hitherto comprehensively stifled all belief. The magnitude of the eruption will not be inconsiderable.

A new battleground will reveal itself on which nihilism, egotism and selfishness will be overcome. Young people will no longer age in their youth. The battle which will be initiated by this generation will have every chance of success.

In 1939, Ukrainians in the Soviet Union came to experience the realities of an alternative political system in the ‘liberated’ territories – a system not necessarily better in all its facets, comic and problematic for some of the young servicemen, for others – positive, over and above what they had known. In 1941, young people also experienced the quick disintegration of Soviet power and the general demoralisation during Germany’s offensive into Russia. This was the cruel reality of the Second World War, that of nations setting out to destroy other nations (…). It was also the time of reconstituting the Ukrainian military during and after the war, at a time when Soviet society was fracturing into a caste system. The regime sought to camouflage the fact with expansionism in Europe and Asia, and effusive poignancy at home.

In other words, these are the difficult and painful beginnings of a nascent fifth Kharkiv which sees itself as the capital of the Ukrainian lands and not a provincial urban centre of the Soviet Empire. Other towns and cities of Ukraine hold a similar view. A process is afoot which may well come to falter (…), but there is now tangible evidence about the forces awakening in the Soviet universe which will lead the Empire to ruin and forestall the existence of any form of Russian imperialism. I have spoken of the ‘fifth Kharkiv’ but one could easily have referred to Tbilisi or Tashkent in a similar vein. The ‘fifth Kharkiv’ belongs of course to future history and, therefore, not to this article.

 

 

[Abbreviated from an article published in ‘Kultura’ 1951, no 1]

 

[1] Hryhori Kvitka-Osnovanienko (1778-1843) - Ukrainian writer, playwright, journalist, and literary critic.

 

[2] Pavlo Tychyna (1891-1943) – leading Ukrainian poet. Director of Ukrainian Institute of Literature between 1941-19043; Ukrainian Minister of Education between1941-1948. Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union in the years1953-1959.

 

[3] Association of Revolutionary Art of Ukraine (ARMU) – one of the largest artistic associations in the USSR between 1922- 1932. In the years 1927-1930 which upheld Ukrainian art traditions, and organised exhibitions of the work of its members. Among these:  Mykhailo Boychuk, Vasyl Sedlar, Ivan Padalka, Mykhailo Buirachuk,.Mykhailo Sharanov and Vasyl Kasiyan. The theoretical principles of the organisation were set out by Ivan Vrona. Soviet officialdom criticised ARMU for its ‘formalism’, and as having ‘nationalistic tendencies’.

 

[4] Leonid Lyman (1922- 2003) – Ukrainian poet and writer. Domiciled in USA after the Second World War.

 

[5] Probably Mykhailo Novycky (1892-1964) – philologist (Ukrainian literature). Author of books on Taras Shevchenko including a biography. Deported to Solovki Prison Camp in 1937 from which he returned in the mid 1950s to work for the Taras Shevchenko Museum.

 

[6] Ivan Pilhuk (1889- ?) – historian of Ukrainian Literature and teacher. Author of works on Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Kolarevsky and Stepan Rudnytsky

 

[7] Semen Shahovsky (1909-1984) - philologist (Ukrainian literature) and literary critic. Author of published extracts from works of  Ukrainian literature, author of studies on the writing of Taras Shevchenko, Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, Pavel Tychma and Vasyl Stefanyk.

 

 

 

[8] Izabella Yurieva (1899-2000) - Russian singer popular in the Soviet Union in the inter-war years.

 

[9] Vadim Kozin (1903-1994) - popular Russian tenor.

[10] Aleksander Afinogenov (1904-1941) - Russian dramatist. In the years 1926-29 director of the Proletkult Theatre and in the early thirties, chief dram theoretician of the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP).