In a poem dedicated to her sister Izydora in 1895, Lesia Ukrainka writes: “Now farewell, who knows for how long...” Today this manuscript is on display at the Museum of Outstanding Figures of Ukrainian Culture in Kyiv. Researchers in the US sent the museum several items from the Lesia Ukrainka family archives after they were taken abroad by the poet’s sisters during the Second World War. In addition, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S. (UVAN), archival materials that had been preserved by Volodymyr Miiakovsky, the administrator of the Shevchenko House and Museum in Kyiv, have now been returned to Ukraine.
“These things deserve to be called not simply items of material culture but elements of our cultural heritage,” said Natalia Terekhova, the director of the Museum of Outstanding Figure of Ukrainian Culture. “The poet’s niece Olha Serhiiv gave our museum the original of this poem, which was written in 1895, as well as a photograph of the poet taken when the young Lesia Ukrainka was writing a history of the Eastern peoples for her younger sister.
“Our museum now has a necktie once worn by the poet’s father Petro Kosach, Lesia’s sister Olha Kosach-Kryvyniuk’s Ukrainian embroidered runner with white-on-white needlework, Olena Pchilka’s embroidered runner that she bought at a bazaar in Kyiv’s Podil district, several manuscripts written by the poet’s relatives, and an issue of the journal Postup, which contains an article written by Lesia’s sister. The museum has many original photos, but we welcome every new item because it adds to Lesia Ukrainka’s image,” Terekhova said.
Special credit for returning these literary relics to Ukraine is owed to Tamara Skrypka, curator of the UVAN archives in New York City. She modestly emphasizes that all she did was complete a project that was launched 25 years ago by Miiakovsky, who was a founding member of the UVAN. The Ukrainian government recognized Ms. Skrypka’s work, and President Yushchenko awarded her the Order of Princess Olha, 3rd Class.
“My mission is simply to have Lesia Ukrainka and Volodymyr Miiakovsky’s archival items returned to Ukraine,” Skrypka pointed out. During the Nazi occupation of Ukraine the archival materials at the Shevchenko House and Museum, particularly the letters and documents of Valentyn Yakovenko, the publisher and editor of Shevchenko’s works, were brought to the United States, where they were stored in the Miiakovsky family archives. After his death his daughter Oksana initiated the process of returning these items to Ukraine. Their value cannot be overestimated, as neither Lesia Ukrainka nor Taras Shevchenko has been completely understood as writers and personalities, primarily because of the lack of a source base. The newly acquired materials will only enrich the literature on these two distinguished writers.
Over 70 archival items, including Yakovenko’s photographs, letters, and documents have been presented to the Shevchenko House and Museum. According to its director Natalia Klymenko, they will be featured in an exhibit commemorating the museum’s 80th anniversary in a month’s time. The National Museum of Ukrainian History has also received some long-lost cultural artifacts, including archaeological finds dating to the 2nd-7th centuries A.D.: a bronze pectoral, a bell, and a signet ring. These were recently returned to Ukraine from Italy.
Vasyl Vakariuk, chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, says they were discovered accidentally by the Carabinieri during a raid of antique shops. It took Ukrainian experts eight months, including provenance research and paperwork, to prove that these items were from Ukraine.
The process of returning cultural valuables to Ukraine began in the late 1980s. Mykola Zhulynsky, chairman of the National Council on Cultural and Spiritual Affairs under the aegis of the President of Ukraine, pointed out that Ukrainian museums suffered the heaviest losses during the Second World War, when eight museums were totally destroyed, and 300,000 items and more than a million books, archival files, and photo catalogs vanished without a trace. Hundreds of precious items were also taken abroad. The task today is to speed the return to Ukraine of artifacts belonging to our national heritage, which are scattered all over the world.