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

The story of a book as the story of a people

Engineer Mykhailo Herets from the US sent to the Oleh Olzhych Foundation in Kyiv a copy of a 1918 edition of Illustrated History of Ukraine by Mykhailo Hrushevsky
4 April, 2018 - 16:00

The book was printed in the printing house of the Petro Barsky JSC, which was located at the following address: 40, Khreshchatyk Street, Kyiv. The back cover carries a stamp reading (in Russian) “Bookstore of M. Goldfein, 43, Bolshaya Vasilkovskaya Street, Kiev.” The title page features interesting information about its print run: “The thirty-eighth thousand.” It also shows the price of the book: “The price is six rubles,” and a caveat: “The publisher advises the buyer against paying above that figure in any Kyiv bookstore, because bookstores are given a 25 percent discount, and anyone selling this book at a higher price will lose the distribution rights.” This is a very telling testimony showing us today how informational and educational public outreach effort was actually done during the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-21. The publishing house is not mentioned, which suggests publication of the book directly by the author in cooperation with the printing house. In a corner of the title page, there is a signature made with violet ink: “Kh. Shtul.”

This book is a contemporary of the Ukrainian Revolution, whose centennial we are still celebrating in 2018. The book looks rather shabby, and from all appearances, it has gone through a lot of trying events. And this is true, because the fate of this book fully reflects the fate of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the dramatic 20th century. But it has survived to this day, just like Ukraine has withstood it all. And this probably makes this copy of Hrushevsky’s Illustrated History of Ukraine especially unique and valuable.

The fate of the book became known from the story told by Iia Kardash-Lahodynska of blessed memory, who was its penultimate owner. This book was purchased in Kyiv in 1918 by her maternal grandmother’s brother Feodosii Shtul, an officer in the army of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. It was intended as a gift for Khrystyna S. Shtul-Ponomarenko. After the defeat of the Ukrainian Revolution, her entire family left Kyiv and Russian Bolshevik-occupied Ukraine and went to Polish-administered Volhynia. Having married, Shtul-Ponomarenko came to a new family and a new household. As her most valuable treasure, she took with her from her home into a new life her uncle’s gift, the book on the history of Ukraine authored by Hrushevsky.

The Second World War affected the lives of many millions of people. It did not spare Shtul-Ponomarenko’s family and her daughter Iia either. Here is how Kardash-Lahodynska briefly described these events: “During the German occupation, they moved our family with all our property and books to my father’s brother’s home. On April 7, 1944, German soldiers told us to pack up and go to some unknown destination. My mother was baking bread, I was packing up my certificates, textbooks, other books... All of this we soon placed on a cart and went to a neighboring village... On the way, SS men stopped us and sent us to a railway station. There we boarded a train which transported us to Lviv, Krakow, and finally Berlin... without a transfer. From Berlin, they took us to the city of Erfurt, while our belongings stayed there. They housed us in the barracks which had no water, no lighting, and no beds... And still, we had to work as soon as the morning came [I leave out the descriptions of the terrible living conditions in the camp. – Author]. With the onset of fall’s cold days, my mom and others asked the Germans for permission to go to Berlin and bring back the belongings we had left there. We obtained the permission and all belongings, including History of Ukraine, were brought to Erfurt. After the war, we moved to a camp for displaced persons in Bamberg. From there, my mother, I and Hrushevsky’s History of Ukraine moved to England in February 1948.”

I write these lines, and feel overwhelmed by pride for these Ukrainians. How can anyone hope to conquer our people when ordinary people, thrown into a whirlwind of liberation struggle and dramatic events of the Second World War, forced to leave their homes repeatedly and wander around the world, brought with them as the most valuable treasure the true history of Ukraine, which was for them the Bible of Freedom and Faith!

I really want this story to be read by Education Minister Lilia Hrynevych, Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Hroisman, people’s deputies of Ukraine and President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko. Here it is – the truth about the role of History in the life of the Nation! And from this example, all our top statespeople should draw conclusions as to what should be a real state policy aiming to affirm the role of history and historical scholarship in the life of the state and society.

Kardash-Lahodynska passed away in the early summer of 2016. Her son, Volodymyr Lahodynsky, in accordance with his mother’s will, sent the book Illustrated History of Ukraine, authored by Hrushevsky, to the engineer Mykhailo Herets in the US. Having traveled to the North American continent, this book returned to Kyiv thanks to the efforts of Herets, having united around itself Ukrainians around the world in the meantime. It happened exactly 100 years after its release! Published in the capital of an independent Ukrainian state, in the city of Kyiv, in 1918, it returned to Kyiv as the capital of independent Ukraine in 2018! Truly, everything returneth again according to its circuits...

By Serhii KOT, Candidate of Historical Sciences. Illustrations courtesy of the author