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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

Ukrainian places in Paris

29 January, 2013 - 10:22

Once a traveler gets to Paris, the treasure of the West, he or she faces the difficulty of planning their time. For there is a host of sights to see here: almost every downtown back street is worthy of being a research object. A part of this kaleidoscope is the Ukrainian heritage associated, above all, with the life of our emigre compatriots. You can sit next to St. Volodymyr’s Church in the Taras Shevchenko Park, visit the Symon Petliura Museum, or travel to the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, where the Encyclopedia of Ukraine Project was conducted for years on end.


The Symon Petliura Library is situated on Rue de Palestine in Paris’s 20th arrondissement. You can reach it by riding a Metro train to the Jourdain station, but it is equally interesting to walk there. Rue de Palestine passes side by side with Rue de Belleville, a street in a neighborhood of the same name. The Parisians jocularly call it Babelville because, since the 1920s, it has been mostly populated by emigrants – first the Armenians, Greeks and Poles, and then the Algerians and Tunisians.

The St. Simon Chapel occupies the ground floor. It is a place for prayers and Sunday schools that teach children the Scriptures, the Ukrainian language and culture. The bulletin board shows a schedule of events, a notice on the exhibit of the Ukrainian sculptor Pinzel at the Louvre, and very down-to-earth notes, such as “a responsible and serious man is looking for a job.”

The Symon Petliura Library and Museum are on the first floor. They are cared for by Jaroslava Josypyszyn, the daughter of Petliura’s comrade-in-arms Petro Josypyszyn who was the library director for 30 years, and Daria Melnykovych who emigrated to Canada during World War II. Both of them work on a voluntary basis, which would be impossible if the women were not paid pensions. Ms. Josypyszyn, the director, is in charge of organizational work, while Ms. Melnykovych is a librarian and deals with books.

The library’s depository comprises about 30,000 book titles. There could be more of them, but the Gestapo seized a considerable part of the collection during the war. Paradoxically, Ms. Josypyszyn claims that the previous director did harm to the library. He believed that all the books should be handed over to Ukraine to strengthen its independence – so he would dish them out to all the library visitors. As a result, a lot of books with the library’s stamp mark found themselves at Kyiv’s Petrivka book marketplace.

Academics usually look here for what they cannot get in Ukraine, such as, for example, the unique 1940s diaspora publications, including perhaps the only copy of Anticommunist. The library’s services are being actively used by students and researchers from Ukraine, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Naturally, no books are loaned here, but the librarian will be very pleased to give you detailed information on or even photocopies of any publication you want.

The Petliura Museum is also unique as far as its exhibits are concerned. A room, where the light is on very seldom because visitors do not come too often, displays the UNR chief otaman’s personal belongings, such as a belt, a buckle, an overcoat, hair, and the shirt he wore when he was fatally wounded. There are also the certificates that permit the otaman’s wife and daughter Lesia to reside in France, the Winter Expedition memorabilia, the Lviv Defense Cross, and a copy of the Symon Petliura Cross.

Symon Petliura received fatal shots on Rue Racine, from where he was rushed to the Charite clinic. Also here is the hospital’s former chapel which was handed over to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church parish in 1942. There are two plaques at the entrance to St. Volodymyr the Great Church with the following words in French and in Ukrainian: “Symon Petliura, Chief Otaman of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, was seriously wounded on Rue Racine in Paris by an enemy of Ukrainian statehood. He was taken to the Charite clinic, which this church was part of, and died here on May 25, 1926.” There is a small niche with a cross inside the church, where there once was the bed on which the otaman died. He is buried in the very center of Paris, at the Montparnasse Cemetery, where a memorial service is annually held on the day of his death.


St. Volodymyr the Great Church is situated on the corner of Rue des Saints Peres and Boulevard Saint Germain. At the bottom of this boulevard, full of cafes and bookstores, is a small Taras Shevchenko Park, where a monument to the poet was erected in 1978. If you sit on a bench under the trees for half an hour, you will immediately note how dynamic Paris is in this place. The boulevard is the main transport thoroughfare on the Seine’s left bank.

The temple’s facade features a figure of Aesculapius, the ancient patron of medicine, for there was a clinical school, the Medical Academy, and the University’s Medical School for a long time on the church’s premises. In 1960, when the Pope established an apostolic exarchate for the Ukrainians in France, St. Volodymyr the Great Church became its center and was granted the status of a cathedral. About 500 families from Paris and its environs belong now to its parish, so the temple is a place of assembly for almost the entire Ukrainian diaspora in the city. The church runs a French language course for the newcomers from Ukraine and Sunday classes for children in the Ukrainian language, history, geography, and customs. Parishioners annually hold a prayer service at the Notre Dame de Paris for the victims of the 1932-33 Holodomor, and in May they go to the Senlis convent founded by the French Queen Anna Yaroslavna.


It will take you 20 minutes to travel by train from Paris via Saint Denis, the town where French kings were buried, to Sarcelles, a 60,000-strong city and municipality. One can also get to it on a bus that rides to the north of Paris. This will take more time, but you will have an opportunity to see the French capital’s outskirts.

Sarcelles, about 20 kilometers from Paris, has long been associated with the European branch of the Shevchenko Scientific Society (SSS). Since the 1950s, Ukrainian emigrants have regarded this center as a symbol of cultural and scientific development outside Ukraine. The premises, in which academics could work undisturbed, were acquired in 1949. The academics lived modestly in one-room facilities. But, as most of them came from DP camps, nobody complained about the living conditions. Compared to camp barracks, the Sarcelles rooms were far more comfortable.

In the past 10 years, the center has been cared for by Anna-Maria Dovhaniuk, the SSS Sarcelles secretary. Now she lives alone in a big three-storey building which was once brimming with academic life. She hospitably receives visitors and accompanies them to all the nooks of the stone structure. She is most willing to show a garden which she cultivates on her own. She grows cucumbers and cabbages, plucks sweet cherries in the summer and walnuts in the fall. “There used to be a large mansion so that academics could not only work, but also come out and take a breath of fresh air. Everybody had a bench of his own to sit and read on. There used to be a lot of flowers here. People worked and relaxed. Some planted carrots, some grew flowers,” Anna-Maria says nostalgically. “Now I can say half-humorously, half-sadly, as Lesia Ukrainka did: I am laughing in order not to cry. Come to my place for cherries.”

Indeed, there is a good reason to shed a tear: as soon as Ukraine gained independence, the SSS moved to Lviv and the building began to dilapidate. The current Sarcelles SSS head, Stefan Dunikovsky, says almost in desperation that he has to care about pipes, walls, and light bulbs, instead of doing research. A lawyer by profession and a French-born citizen, he says he was elected chairman only because there was nobody else to choose: “Holding a high office is an honor for anyone, but for me it is very modest because I can do nothing here.” When he stood at the society’s head, he promised that nobody would ever hear the words “this building is on sale.”

There are cobwebs now in the spacious rooms, library, and corridors. Anna-Maria advises to walk cautiously into the chapel blessed by Patriarch Yosyp Slipyj, for the walls can tumble down at any moment. Some books in the SSS library still remain unread. One of the shelves is full of the really unique proceedings of the scientific society. “If you want to become even a 10-times doctor of sciences and academician, you can easily do so in three months after researching these materials,” Anna-Maria says half-seriously and half-jokingly. There is a typewriter on the table – the one that brought forth the first volume of the encyclopedia, the No.1 exhibit for the future museum.

The work on and the publication of the Encyclopedia of Ukrainian Studies was an unprecedented event not only for the entire diaspora, but also for Ukraine. The encyclopedia editor Volodymyr Kubiiovych looked for resources throughout the world. The Soviet propaganda repeatedly claimed, among other things, that the encyclopedia was published at the US expense. That was in fact true, but, as the SSS member Ivan Koshelivets reminisces in his memoirs, “not at the expense of the money the Russian propagandists hinted at, but at the expense of the voluntary donations from the Ukrainians in the North American States and Canada.” The editor had to personally establish the fund-raising system and, hence, to visit all the Ukrainian centers. It is assumed that the Sarcelles Encyclopedia of Ukrainian Studies prompted the publication of the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia – the idea was that Ukrainians must not read the “emigrants’ hogwash” and should be offered an alternative.

By Khrystyna BONDARIEVA, Lviv – Paris – Lviv. Photos provided by the author