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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Oleksandr Pol’s compatriots are in no hurry to pay for his monument

24 October, 2000 - 00:00

Not long ago, the Dnipropetrovsk authorities decided to have a monument cast in bronze, immortalizing the first Honorary Citizen Oleksandr Pol whose name and meritorious accomplishments had long been kept out of the public eye.

A five-meter statue of the man known as the Columbus of the Ukrainian Steppe who discovered ore deposits in the vicinity of Kryvy Rih and who exerted unbelievable energy, helping establish Ukrainian metallurgy, is to be erected in a public garden not far from the mayor’s office, in May 2001 commemorating Dnipropetrovsk’s 225th anniversary.

Another fact that serves as Oleksandr Pol’s historical rehabilitation is that this academic year began at Dnipropetrovsk public schools with a special class lauding the pupils’ prominent compatriot. It was thanks to him that Dnipropetrovsk oblast turned into the industrial heart of Ukraine. His merits deserve separate notice.

Oleksandr Pol was born on August 20, 1832, into a noble family in Malooleksandrivka, a village not far from Verkhniodniprovsk. The family name comes from Cardinal Pole who lived in London and fled England during the terror waged by King Henry VII. One of his descendants, Johann Pole was a Swedish subject and career army officer. Under Catherine II, he joined the Russian Army and made his name in the Russo-Turkish Wars, being promoted to major and given 1,500 desiatynas (land measure equivalent to 2.7 acres) by the Mokra Sura River near Katerynoslav.

His younger son Mykola took part in the Napoleonic War of 1812 and Russian army campaigns in Germany and France. Eventually, he retired and married a noble daughter named Hanna Poletyka, granddaughter of Cossack Hetman Pavlo Polubotko. They had a son, Oleksandr, destined to become the first honorary citizen of Katerynoslav, now Dnipropetrovsk.

It was only natural that Oleksandr, being a descendant of a Ukrainian Hetman, should take an interest in the Zaporozhzhian Cossacks and their wild steppe at an early age. After returning home as a law school graduate from the University of Dorpat (currently Tartu, Estonia), he would go on long trips, walking across Katerynoslav guberniya, exploring local historical sites, burial mounds, ruins, and recording folk narratives in local villages. On one such trip in 1866, Oleksandr Pol reached the Dubova Balka Ravine next to a settlement called Kryvy Rih. Scouting the terrain as an amateur archaeologist, he ran into iron ore deposits practically open to all.

It should be noted that even the first Governor of the territory, the famous Russian Prince Grigory PotСmkin, was informed about the presence of natural wealth in the area, including iron ore, but no one did anything to pursue the subject. Oleksandr Pol, a man with a progressive higher education, was immediately aware of what his discovery meant for the region. In order to assess the quality and deposit range, he hired German Prof. Strippelman, offering him 1,000 francs a month. The reputed German expert assured his employer that here was a place of immense natural wealth.

Without further ado, Oleksandr Pol signed a long-term lease agreement, selecting an area adjoining the Dubrova Balka Ravine, the more so that local peasants had long regarded the land as totally unsuitable for cultivation. Ore extraction arrangements proved considerably more time-consuming and fraying on the nerves. The project called for heavy investment and the local bourgeoisie would have nothing to do with it, regarding it as utterly utopian. His next step was like one made by a prophet knowing he would never be recognized in his own county, not during his lifetime anyway. Oleksandr Pol contacted prospective partners outside Russia. This did not prove easy and it was only fifteen years later that his idea found an interested audience in Paris. Eventually, the Joint Stock Company for the Exploration of Iron Ore Deposits in Kryvy Rih was founded. It started by extracting ore for the Hughes Works in what is currently known as the Donbas (Donetsk Coal Basin), and then output increased, eventually spreading over the entire territory.

But then another problem arose. Developing the iron ore deposits in Kryvy Rih required a lot of bituminous coal. This kind of coal was already being extracted en masse at the Donbas, but delivering it to Kryvy Rih called for the construction of a railway, an extremely difficult task at the time. Oleksandr Pol wrote all kinds of petitions for many years, visiting St. Petersburg, trying to convince officials that the project would benefit the territory and the entire Russian Empire. With time, he won the reputation of a crank in the high official quarters. In fact, a local government clerk, when queried from the then Russian capital, replied in writing that Oleksandr Pol was “a rather abnormal person.”

Eventually, his railroad construction project was officially approved, due to support from local business. In May 1884, the railroad from the Donbas to Kryvy Rih, including a bridge across the Dnipro at Katerynoslav, became operational.

This historic event marked Katerynoslav’s second birth as future Dnipropetrovsk. Rapidly this provincial town in the Ukrainian steppe, the usual place of exile for dissident poets, became a principal industrial venue of Ukraine and the rest of the empire.

The first blast furnace was launched into operation at Briansk steel works, now Petrovsky. And then other steel works started emerging like mushrooms after a warm rain on both banks of the Dnipro, in the Kamenskoe (now Dniprodzerzhynsk) and Kryvy Rih areas.

Evidence of the pace at which this industrial revolution took place is found in Katerynoslav’s increasing population: six times since the railroad started functioning, reaching 180,000, and the municipal budget growing sevenfold. Already in the 1890s the city was flooded by foreign investors. It was forging ahead of the capital. The streets were now lit by electricity, there was a streetcar line, automobiles, and many other attributes attesting to modern civilization.

However, Oleksandr Pol’s enviable record is by no means reduced to his business endeavors. The second half of the nineteenth in Russia marked a period of economic reform and growth of public activity. Representing Katerynoslav guberniya, Oleksandr Pol took an active part in working out the peasant reform of 1861; he was elected a Deputy to the guberniya zemstvo and honorary justice of the peace in the Verkhniodniprovsky okruh. Until 1872, he remained a member of the District School Council. In 1883, he was appointed Honorary Trustee of Katerynoslav Realschule No. 1, to which he donated an excellent collection of minerals from Kryvy Rih.

For as long as he lived, Oleksandr Pol remained interested in local history, archaeology, and ethnography. He spared neither time nor money collecting antiquities, manuscripts, rare coins, and works of art. Practically every year he would venture long trips in various parts of the guberniya.

Finally, he discovered he possessed a tremendous collection boasting some 6,000 items valued by experts at 200,000 gold rubles. Shortly before his death, Oleksandr Pol was badly in need of cash and wanted to sell his collection to the Russian Museum. Interested quarters in Great Britain found out and offered him a large sum for his collection, less the items from Zaporizhzhia. Pol was a patriot and refused. Later, his widow donated the whole collection to Katerynoslav, which laid the foundations of the local history museum named for Oleksandr Pol in 1902.

His compatriots gave the man’s outstanding accomplishments during their due lifetime. On May 9, 1887, he was elected honorary first citizen of Katerynoslav and his name was inscribed on a marble plaque at the City Hall. In 1889, the Council of the Nobility resolved to give his name to one of the halls in the Potemkin Palace and hang his oil portrait there. Two prestigious Russian institutions of learning, the St. Petersburg Mining Institute and Katerynoslav Realschule (currently the National Mining Academy of Ukraine), instituted Oleksandr Pol scholarships. The subject of erecting a lifetime monument was also broached. Eventually, a monument to the Columbus of the steppe was unveiled in Kryvy Rih at the turn of the century, but before World War I local hunters for nonferrous metals (an illicit business still prospering in today’s Ukraine) stole the bust cast in bronze.

Oleksandr Pol died suddenly on July 26, 1890, at 58 years of age. He was buried in a vault on the grounds of St. Lazarus Church at the Sevastopol City Cemetery. After the Russian Revolution, authorities did their best to keep his activities and accomplishment away from the Bolshevik-indoctrinated public, most probably because of his aristocratic origins and business activities running counter to socialist ideology. He was now a “class enemy,” and his name was gradually deleted from the city map. The museum was named for Soviet Academician Yavornytsky and Oleksandr Pol St. was now Julius Fucik St.

Then came perestroika and the local authorities, obviously loath to do any harm to the memory of the Czech communist underground activist, agreed to a compromise, bestowed Pol’s name on a small lane consisting of a handful of buildings — something very few local residents know anything about. And the honorary first citizen’s grave proved the scene of even seamier events. In 1954, the cemetery at Sevastopol was turned into a city park (sic). St. Lazarus Church was torn down and the graves were run over by bulldozers. In place of the church the Soviet authorities built a movie theater and organized a “collective dance site” on the cemetery grounds, along with a tavern locally known as Sivash.

Oleksandr Pol’s grave won public attention only recently. Four years ago the municipal authorities were kind enough to allocate the place as a “spiritual-educational center” to one of the Protestant churches. When digging started the remains of people defending Sevastopol and dying in rear hospitals at Katerynoslav 150 years ago were laid bare. The excavator’s shovel opened yet another burial vault found to contain the remains of a ranking Russian official, maybe a general, as testified to by what was left of the coffin’s rich ornament and uniform. Was it Oleksandr Pol’s remains? The local history museum had the skull examined and identified. The expert findings were negative.

Apparently the event did not pass unnoticed. Oleksandr Pol’s name was picked up by the media and public opinion, demanding that the i’s be dotted and t’s crossed in local history after all. In any case, his bust was restored and reinstalled several years ago. Now, apparently, is Dnipropetrovsk’s turn.

According to Valentyna Boiko, head of the city culture department, the local authorities seem to have pondered the Oleksandr Pol memorial project for quite some time. A contest for the best such project was held two years ago, won by sculptor Volodymyr Nebozhenko and architect Volodymyr Polozhy with their full-length statue of him with pick in hand, leaning on a boulder. And a good site was chosen and the Chief Architectural Administration was commissioned to develop a public garden design, clearing the area of all vending kiosks, adjusting the neighboring houses’ facade to the overall pattern, when, as so often happens in Ukraine these days, everything stopped for want of funds. Repeated appeals to the people (which can by no means be considered Ukraine’s poorest) and potential sponsors proved of no avail. Not a single kopiyka was donated to the project account.

We are preparing letters addressed to the management of the local steel and mining combines, as well as to the Prydniprovia Railroad Administration, says Ms. Boiko. They cannot remain indifferent to such a noble initiative; whatever the circumstances, Dnipropetrovsk, as Ukraine’s leading industrial center, must do its duty, for otherwise it will lose face throughout Ukraine.

By Vadym RYZHKOV, The Day