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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

The “Sixtiers.” Looking into The Past and Future

Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, Pavlo Tychyna, Vasyl Stus, and Borys Antonenko-Davydovych in the life of Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska
1 March, 2005 - 00:00

The representatives of the 1960s generation of Ukrainian writers, the so-called “sixtiers” (shestydesiatnyky) are not simply concerned with the problems that confronted them at the time; these writers have also entered mainstream life in Ukraine. Many of them will obviously withdraw from active work in the face of ongoing social changes, and the public will never learn about their views on the past and present. And that would be a shame. The Day recently invited the literary critic Mykhailyna KOTSIUBYNSKA for an interview. “People who know my life’s “legend” often ask how hard my life was in the Soviet past and how it feels to breathe today,” she said, adding: “Looking back on my life, I must say that my days were not painted in somber hues; quite the contrary. I was destined to witness and take part in the rise of an independent Ukraine, experience feelings of euphoria over the Golden Age of the late 80s and early 90s, and disappointment in our immaturity and the unviable new elites, as well as a constant sense of unrealized accomplishment of the ‘eternally embryonic Ukraine,’ as Vasyl Stus put it. So I welcomed the events on Independence Square with an open heart, since it made us reconsider the established views of our people, whom we disparagingly referred to as the populace.”

Mykhailyna Khomivna Kotsiubynska is the niece of the Ukrainian literary great Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky. Since early childhood she had a unique opportunity to socialize with personalities that had shaped the culture of whole generations. Her family home was frequented by the prominent writers Pavlo Tychyna, Maksym Rylsky, Volodymyr Sosiura, Mykhailo Stelmakh, film director Mark Donskoy, Ginzburg the sculptor, the singer Zoya Haiday, the artists Vasyl Kasiyan and Mykola Burachek, and many others. In the 1960s she participated in a protest against the arrests of Ukrainian intellectuals during the screening of Serhiy Paradzhanov’s film “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” at Kyiv’s Ukrayina movie theater. She used her typewriter to make the first samizdat copy of Ivan Dziuba’s book Internationalism or Russification? She spoke out in defense of numerous Ukrainian dissidents. Yevhen Sverstiuk, Alla Horska, Ivan Dziuba, Vasyl Stus, and Borys Antonenko-Davydovych were her associates, friends, and teachers.

Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska is a literary critic and the compiler of Doroha boliu [The Road of Pain], Vasyl Stus’s first collection of poetry to be published in Ukraine, and the six volumes (nine books) of his literary heritage. She is the editor of four volumes of correspondence with Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, as well as numerous books that were published as part of the “Modern Ukrainian Literature” series. She is the author of the books Obrazne slovo v literaturnomu tvori [Figurative Speech in Literary Works], Etiudy pro poetyku Shevchenka [Studies on Shevchenko’s Poeticism], and the two-volume Moyi obriyi [My Horizons]. The latter has been nominated for the 2005 Shevchenko Prize.


“Would you tell us about your spiritual relationship with your uncle, the Ukrainian literary giant Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky?”

“I recently completed and submitted to the publisher what I think is a very interesting manuscript entitled Nad mamynymy shchodennykamy [Mother’s Diaries]. My mother left six notebooks of diaries spanning the years 1928 to 1963. Reading them was like seeing myself growing up through her eyes. I lived in an atmosphere marked by the omnipresence of Kotsiubynsky. I pictured my uncle as ‘tall, a little stoop-shouldered, spruced up, and worthy of himself.’ This is Tychyna’s description of him, which I like very much. I was born in Vinnytsia, in the same house and room where he was born. It is an old house, some two hundred years old. Fortunately, it has been reinforced, so it will hold together for a lot longer. My parents founded the writer’s museum. We had two tiny rooms, and the rest of the house was used for the exhibition. ‘As I was leaving the room, I spotted Mykhailyna in the room where the tour had just gotten underway. I was about to lead her away, but then changed my mind. She was listening attentively,’ my mother wrote in her memoirs. I grew up in an organic environment that was inseparable from the personality of the classic Ukrainian writer, his work, and the people involved in it. I know that even our critics would carp at us because we didn’t separate the museum property from ours. Indeed, the museums in Vinnytsia and Chernihiv were my parents’ life. I have already mentioned the following revealing incident on several occasions. In 1941, when the Germans were approaching Chernihiv, my father was told to evacuate his wife and daughter and pack only a few suitcases. But he refused to leave without his museum. Somehow he got his way and obtained a freight car onto which he loaded almost all the exhibits, even the bust sculpted by Ginzburg, for which Kotsiubynsky had posed. The manuscripts were packed in a separate metal-plated trunk. On August 23 this freight car was standing at the Chernihiv rail terminal. By that time almost everything around us had been razed to the ground; in September the Germans would enter the city. There was continuous bombardment. I remember during the night debris was hitting the roof with such force that it felt as if there was no place where you could hide from it. My parents sat me on the trunk with the manuscripts and covered me with their bodies on both sides. The manuscripts and I were the most precious things.

“Until recently, I owned an antique turquoise brooch, which I received as a present from Ms. Aplaksina. Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky loved this woman. He brought her this gift from Naples. I donated this jewel to the Chernihiv museum, where it belongs.”

“Did your uncle’s name help you?”

“It both helped and hindered me. During the difficult period when I was hounded from every place — expelled from the party and the Literature Institute, and banned from publishing my literary criticism (this lasted for nearly twenty years) — if it hadn’t been for my last name, I may have shared the tragic lot of Ivan Svitlychny or Vasyl Stus. At the same time it was an impediment. I couldn’t even get a job as a proofreader at a technical magazine. After I was expelled from the Literature Institute in 1968, I was unemployed for almost a year with a five-year-old daughter on my hands. Then I had a stroke of luck. I’m not 100 percent sure that this happened exactly as I was told. I was friends with a Communist from Canada named Maria Skrypnyk, who was known for her English translations of Taras Shevchenko’s poetry. She had graduated from a party school in Kyiv. Hearing about my plight, she approached the secretary of the Communist Party of Canada William Kashtan, with whom she was on friendly terms. They appealed to our party leadership, saying that all this fuss about the niece of the classic Ukrainian writer was harming the Soviet Union’s image. Strings were pulled to get me a job at the Vyshcha Shkola publishing house. Of course, they kept tabs on me there, but at least I could earn a living and had the respect of my colleagues.

“I have always felt a great responsibility for my last name. This is inherent in me. I cannot be somebody I am not. Even though I was hounded and deprived of material wellbeing, to live in keeping with my moral categorical imperative was the only possible way.”


“Who else determined your future direction in life?”

“I grew up in the company of extremely interesting people whose priority was spiritual values. My father was friends with the Russian writer Vladimir Botsianovsky, the director of the Pushkin Museum Matviy Kalaushin, and Ginzburg the sculptor, who used to socialize with Kotsiubynsky on the Isle of Capri. Volodymyr Sosiura, Maksym Rylsky, and Pavlo Tychyna were visitors to our home. The latter played a special role in my spiritual development. On one of my birthdays he sent my parents a telegram: “Mykhailyna knows what she’s about, and is growing big and strong!” I was first introduced to his poetry by my mother, who was a descendant of Crimean Armenians. She graduated from the Bestuzhev Courses of Higher Learning in St. Petersburg, which at the time was the best educational institution for women. Mother was highly educated: she spoke several foreign languages, loved poetry, mostly Russian or Western European poets in Russian translation. Meanwhile, she learned and explored the Ukrainian language and culture primarily through the works of Kotsiubynsky and Tychyna. Enamored of the poetry of Pavlo Hryhorovych Tychyna, she would sing me lullabies based on his “Pastels,” in particular his poem “Nich” [Night]. Tychyna wrote:

Cover me, cover me,
For I am the night, old and weak
And mother rephrased it:
Cover me, cover me,
I am a tiny little one,
My path is rosy in my dreams forever

“A portrait of the young Tychyna hung above my crib: a young, somewhat ascetic, inspired face with delicate features.

“When I grew up, Tychyna insisted that I enroll in the Ukrainian Philology Department of Kyiv University.

“I have written that for me the poems of the early, brilliant Tychyna symbolized spiritual freedom, music, and art. I never bothered to find out why his “clarinets” were “sunny.” I perceived them as holistic, organic images. So the public’s ambiguous, to put it mildly, attitude toward the poet always hurt me, even though there was a certain reason for it. I remember when I was in the tenth grade, my classmates made fun of some of his poems. I started crying: ‘But you don’t know “The Sunny Clarinets”! To appreciate Tychyna, you have to pull away from the ground and look into the sky!’ And I ran out of the classroom. From then on they never said anything bad in my presence. I called my memoirs about Pavlo Tychyna With Love and Pain.

“I have already mentioned my mother, Kateryna Yakivna. One of the chapters in Nad mamynymy shchodennykamy is called “Pouring Myself into the Child.” I will recount one episode. When she was pregnant with me, my mother went to Moscow and Leningrad to visit some literary and memorial museums. Overwhelmed by her impressions of the Tolstoy Museum in Khamovniki and Pushkin’s last apartment on Moika Canal, she wrote in her diary: ‘I’m going to tell everything to Mishenka, so that when he grows up he will come to love this as I do.’ And she did succeed in pouring all of herself, and her interests and everything that she held sacred into me.”


“What is the current state of the Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky museums in Vinnytsia and Chernihiv? Do they get many visitors?”

“The family home in Vinnytsia is precious in that Kotsiubynsky was born there. It is a little pearl of historical memory in the heart of Vinnytsia. The one in Chernihiv is a leading museum with a wealth of valuable archives and manuscripts; it is a hub of research and publishing. I suggest you go to Chernihiv in the summer or fall to see the beautiful garden that is an extension of the exposition. My father was a gifted gardener. He built a greenhouse, which is still standing, to cultivate plants that his brother loved so much and wrote about, for example, agaves. So the garden is a kind of green exhibit. Recalling the Isle of Capri, Kotsiubynsky wrote: ‘I become anxious whenever I see an agave, its gray crown of hard leaves toothed on the sides and pointed at the end, like a hewn stake. They adorn the terraces, crowning the hidden strength of the earth.’ Beside the gorgeous mallows is a tablet with a few words from Gorky’s memoirs: ‘Mikhail Mikhailovich [Kotsiubynsky] loved flowers very much. With his vast botanical knowledge, he spoke about them like a poet. Once, when he spotted pale pink mallows near the whitewashed wall of a fisherman’s house, he stopped, took off his hat, bowed, and spoke to the flowers: “Bless you! How are you faring in a foreign land?”

“My father started the museum, the writer’s daughter Iryna picked it up from him, followed by his grandson Yuliy, and now his great-grandson Ihor is doing a good job of managing the museum in Chernihiv. Unfortunately, the locals do not have much appreciation for culture, and are not helping the museum as they should. When I was awarded the Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky Prize, I tried to explain that the museum is Chernihiv’s mark on the cultural map of the world. In the Soviet period, visits to the museum were a kind of ideological ritual: they were trying to impute socialist realism to Kotsiubynsky. Strangely enough, the museum is no longer included in tourist itineraries. We have to change this. In his lifetime, Kotsiubynsky’s home in Chernihiv was a major cultural hub.

“We are saying that we must integrate into the European cultural space. Meanwhile, letters from Moscow, Petersburg, Krakow, Bucharest, Stockholm, etc. were mailed to this out-of-the-way Chernihiv, beginning in 1891 until 1913, when Kotsiubynsky died. Letters from the writer Volodymyr Vynnychenko, the scientist Volodymyr Hnatiuk, the composer Mykola Leontovych, the public figure and philanthropist Yevhen Chykalenko have all been preserved. They convey what we call culturalism, yet this was culturalism of a high, dignified level. These people lived as one with Ukrainian culture, steering clear of cultural Little-Russianism and provinciality.

“I have said that I am proud to have helped the writer’s great-grandson Ihor edit and publish four volumes of correspondence with Kotsiubynsky. I consider it one of the best epistolary collections released in the past decade.”

“Do you write letters now? How can we preserve this aristocratic tradition in our dynamic times?”

“I do write letters, but I don’t have all that many living friends out there, in Germany, Canada. And all of my relatives are close by. I recently read that one contemporary writer admitted that his computer is his head and hands. So I think that we should not underestimate electronic messages, as they also carry emotions. On the other hand, Ukrainians have a unique, classic epistolary heritage. The letters of Lesia Ukrayinka, Vasyl Stus, and Kateryna Bilokur alone represent epistolarity of the highest order.

“When Vasyl Stus passed away, his son Dmytro and I set about publishing his poetic heritage. Compiling a volume of his letters, I suddenly realized that epistolarity is my calling. This is how I came to write the book Zafiksovane i netlinne. Rozdumy pro epistoliarnu tvorchist [Written Down and Imperishable. Reflections on Epistolarity] (2001).”

“From the contemporary standpoint, what is your assessment of the organic need to have culture in our life and the significance of active citizenship?”

“I’m not a big optimist, but I honestly see the beginnings of a civil society in the social sentiments and changes that I have been observing for the past half-year. I’m always impressed primarily with details, revealing details. During the Orange Revolution, my daughter’s mother-in-law, who is very distant from politics, went to Independence Square every day to help in any way she could, despite her broken arm. She was a changed person, with her head held high and her shoulders squared. And there were many people like her. When I woke up at six in the morning on those worrisome days in November and December, I saw people walking into the darkness from nearby buildings, dressed warmly and wearing the obligatory item of orange clothing or decoration. They gathered in groups and headed for Independence Square. They were no longer a crowd, but something loftier.

“I ended my lecture at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv with these meaningful words by Vasyl Stus:

There is no fault in having a sin
That we inherited from the ape.
It is a sin not to fight for ourselves
And not to straighten our backs.

“To straighten one’s back is the most effective credo I know. One day a young woman, maybe a sophomore, came up to me and said, ‘Mykhailyna Khomivna, I would like to thank you. I was going through a difficult period in my life and didn’t know what to do next. But then I decided to straighten my back.’ I will never forget these words of gratitude.”

“The high standards to which you refer were maintained through the superhuman efforts of gifted individuals. In the Soviet period, there were many excellent people and ideas despite the pervading censorship. There are also individuals with tremendous spiritual experience who are not always ready to resort to radical actions. The point at issue is lustration. It seems that we learned this word a little too late.”

“Lustration is quite an understandable notion, but dangerous at the same time. Some side with Vaclav Havel, who approached lustration with a great deal of caution. In a fit of righteous wrath it is very difficult to refrain from settling scores and to take into account people’s inner transformations. I think this should be done on a case-by-case basis without any universal laws, considering the sacramental question of “Who are the judges?”

“We have witnessed a very sharp polarization and politicization of society. And this is only natural. But this polarization has many hidden dangers. In my articles I often quote Serhiy Averintsev: ‘Not to howl with the wolves in any of the rival packs,’ i.e., we must maintain a civic stance and not turn into a rival pack.”


“Nadia and Ivan Svitlychny, Vasyl Symonenko, Alla Horska, Vasyl Stus, Opanas Zalyvakha, Yevhen Sverstiuk, Ivan Dziuba — all of these people were the chosen ones, so to speak. What brought them together?”

“In my case, my second life began in the 1960s. I never pursued a career in the Komsomol, but remained an ‘ideological virgin,’ and I believed in the ideals of the society in which I was raised. I consciously avoided some aspects of this society and simply didn’t know many things. And when I communicated with these people, I saw a colossal field of knowledge opening up before me, I simply went toward them. Of course, we were living in a difficult period. But I was always surrounded by incredibly interesting and sincere people whom I respected and loved. Even though Saint-Exupery’s saying, ‘The only luxury is the luxury of human communication,’ is overused, it still has a lot of meaning for me. I have always had this luxury. My meeting with Yevhen Sverstiuk was extremely important, even though our experience and upbringing were different. I grew up in a happy, intellectual, and bilingual environment, and absorbed Russian cultural values from my mother. They are still dear to me. He grew up in a different environment with other values. For example, his brother served in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which was then a terra incognita for me.

“Everybody was different, but we were united by the thaw, the renaissance of the 1960s. My students and I quite organically joined the Club of Creative Youth. That is, we were similar at the mental level. Most importantly, we were not afraid of exploring new frontiers and opening our minds to new categorical imperatives.”

“What distinguished the Ukrainian movement of the 1960s from the Russian one?”

“The Ukrainian movement of the 1960s had a definitive, dominant national idea. Recently, one ‘cosmopolitan’ postgraduate student who was quizzing me about that period, called this specialty “national agitation.” Fine, call it that way, but I must say that all extremes and excesses were alien to us: national things were closely linked with things that were common to all mankind.”

“Did you have the sense that Russian intellectuals understood the Ukrainian question?”

“Of course, some of them sympathized with the Ukrainian question, but somehow not fully. For example, they were utterly surprised that we spoke Ukrainian with our children. This is reflected in Svitlana Kyrychenko’s memoirs entitled Liudy ne zi strakhu [People without Fear]. The wife of the prisoner of conscience Yuriy Badzio stayed in close touch with the Moscow circle of dissidents. But in that period there was generally more understanding between the Ukrainian and Russian Shestydesiatnyky than there is now. Obviously, much depends on the general atmosphere and the scale of personalities. I won’t mention the touching relations between Ukrainian and Jewish dissidents of that period. Our literature has no better memoirs about Vasyl Stus than those that were written by Mikhail Heifetz, a Leningrad philologist who was in the same camp as Stus and now lives in Jerusalem. Even back then he called his memoirs “There Is Nothing Better in Ukrainian Literature.” He recalls how Stus taught him how to be a Jew. Their fellow prisoner, Aryiv Vudka, still knows all the poems Stus wrote in that period by heart. They lived an intense intellectual life despite their circumstances. It was no accident that Ivan Svitlychny called the prison camp a Parnassus in his identically titled poem:

Parnassus! Never mind
the shakedowns and questionings!
I have no faith in routine,
monotony, and the grind —
The triviality that pales before plant lice.
Vain anxiety is fading.
And I see God in the skies
And God’s word on Earth


“You have repeatedly mentioned Vasyl Stus. What image of the poet lives on in your soul?”

“Vasyl was a postgraduate student at the Literature Institute and I was a senior researcher. At first we weren’t that close because a six-year age difference is a lot when you’re young. We became closer after he fell out of grace, after the screening of Serhiy Paradzhanov’s film “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” at Kyiv’s Ukrayina cinema. Then Ivan Dziuba told us about the arrests of Ukrainian intellectuals, and people stood up in protest. Vasyl was shouting something desperate in support of Chornovil’s call for ‘all those who oppose tyranny to rise.’ When Stus sat down, I hugged him and felt every cell in him trembling. ‘Poor boy, how will you live in this world?’ I thought then. Two or three days later he was expelled from his postgraduate course. He was ashen when he left the director’s office, saying: ‘I told him everything I thought!’ They wouldn’t hire him to work in the subway because he was too educated. Vasyl got a job as a stoker at the stokehold of the Republican Institute of Gardening in Feofania outside Kyiv. Svitlana Kyrychenko and I would bring him hot soup, because already then he was suffering from stomach disorders.

“Every once in a while we went to the theater and the philharmonic. Stus especially liked Beethoven and Bach. A concert of Robert Shaw’s choir from the US left the most vivid impressions. Once we went to see the satirical comedy “Dion,” an allusion to modern times. On our way home Stus recited poetry. ‘Would you like an autograph?’ he asked me suddenly and handed me a slip of paper. I placed it inside my notebook and forgot about it for many years. When I was preparing his poetry for publication, I came across this slip of paper. It contained seven miniature verses from 1971, which were similar to his cycle “Veselyi tsvyntar” [The Merry Cemetery].

“Our relations were more qualitative than quantitative. Vasyl was friends with his fellow students; he had a girlfriend, and then a wife, Valentyna Popeliukh. But we also had mutual friends: Zina Genyk-Berezovska from Prague, Danylo Shumuk, Alla Horska, the Horyn brothers, Nadia and Ivan Svitlychny, Yevhen Sverstiuk. One of the brightest moments in our life was the so-called Prypyat Republic. We took boats out on the Prypyat River and lived there for several weeks in the summertime. I recall one warm summer night. The camp was preparing for some sort of performance. We fried loads of fish. Everybody was decked out: the women in their best swimsuits and the men in swimming trunks with paper bowties around their necks. Suddenly the kitchen pot orchestra struck up a tune. A boat appeared from behind an island with two mermaids and Neptune covered in water lilies and wearing a crown. So tall and majestic, it was our Vasyl Stus.

“I had to appear as a witness in Vasyl’s trial. It was my first ‘public lecture’ on Stus. I said all the best words that I had in my heart. ‘Are you listening? Then listen! Are you recording it? Go on, record it!’ I said that instead of trying people like him, we had to protect them. Then Stus used his right to address questions to the witness and he asked me rhetorical questions, such as ‘Doesn’t the Universal Declaration of Human Rights grant every person the right to his own views?’

“Our correspondence meant a great deal to me. Incidentally, he never received many of my letters, even though I tried to avoid broaching political issues. In one three-page letter I described my impressions of a symphony concert that I had attended. Vasyl never received that letter. This annoyed me, and I recreated my letter from memory. But it didn’t go through either. In prison Stus was translating Goethe and asked me to send him the metrical scheme of Alexandrine verse. When he didn’t receive my reply again, I re-sent the letter with the inscription: ‘Dear comrade censor. This is a scheme of ancient versification. I earnestly request you to let this letter pass.’ Can you imagine? It did come through!

“I have a memory for events. I remember bright and memorable episodes with all their details, moods, and smells. In the summer of 1966 I was expelled from the party. This saga lasted for eight months. I was very nervous at first, but then let it pass. I even started to speak in aphorisms. It seemed that after a few more visits to different institutions, I would have started speaking in verse. At the regional party committee a man with ‘a human face’ asked me, ‘How do you feel now that you are parting with your party membership card?’ I answered him instantly, saying that I had joined the party at a young age with a sincere belief in ideals. When life requires me to choose between ideals and a card, I choose to keep the ideals and return the card to you.

“As I was leaving that place, I bumped into Stus. We sat on a bench on Volodymyr’s Hill and he recited his translations of Garcia Lorca. I felt so happy and free sitting beside him, even though I was completely aware of what awaited us. In my memoirs I wrote that we met accidentally. But now I’m thinking that perhaps it was no accident. After all, Stus knew everything.”

“When did you begin to collect Stus’s poetic heritage? Is that when you got the idea to publish it?”

“This is unbelievable, but today, many years after Vasyl’s death, I feel a metaphysical connection with him. At first there was this link through correspondence that was so important to me. Stus died in 1985. Around 1989 his son Dmytro and I decided to publish all of his father’s works. Vasyl’s widow gave me all the letters she had collected. In one of his letters to her I discovered a page addressed to me. It read: ‘Harmonize everything that you have ever received and given away — a wonderful exercise for the spirit, I think.’ I was moved to tears. It was literally his voice from the other world.”


“A certain period in your life was connected with the writer and linguist Borys Antonenko-Davydovych. What can you say about him that would make him interesting to people today?”

“As a writer, Borys Dmytrovych was known for his truthfulness and explicit ideological ideas that may perhaps seem somewhat old-fashioned today. On the other hand, his works are filled with existential substance. He experienced and knew from first-hand everything that he wrote about. But, as I’ve said before, he was his own best work. He was an exceptionally pure person, who contributed greatly to our generation’s spiritual development. It was from Antonenko-Davydovych that we first heard about the events that happened in the age of the Ukrainian National Republic — four universals and Day of Unification on January 22. He was our spiritual guru.

“We became very close in the last years of his life. His wife was mentally ill and his son had served three prison terms. The authorities were obviously using the boy. For example, during their crackdowns on drugs the police took his father’s memoirs about his service in the Ukrainian Army, the tumultuous postwar years, and the establishment of the new Ukrainian literature. After his wife died and his son was in prison, I moved in with Borys Dmytrovych, who wanted to marry me. And that’s when the whole saga began to unfold. People went out of their way to prevent us from registering our marriage. Once we received a fake letter, allegedly from the Writers’ Union, which contained a newspaper clipping from Vechirniy Kyiv about a swindler who had cheated an old man out of his apartment. There were lots of libelous rumors, statements from his son, etc. Borys Dmytrovych wanted justice and filed complaints with various courts. I had a whole file of documents that I deposited in an archive. I might publish it someday. In the end, I was forced to leave, and he was found mentally incompetent and placed in the care of his daughter.

“The last time we met was a month before his death. My son-in-law called and invited me over to celebrate Easter. Before that, Borys Dmytrovych was in bad shape, and didn’t always recognize me. But that day he sat at the table with us, had a drink, sang songs, and recited poetry. A remission often occurs shortly before death. I remember him reciting poems by the early twentieth-century salon poet Konstantin Balmont, which ended with the words ‘I’m calling on the dreamers; I’m not calling on you!’ That’s the last thing I heard from Antonenko- Davydovych. He was the biggest optimist of us all. ‘Mykhailyna, one day you will see blue-and-yellow banners rise above Sophia’s Square,’ he kept telling me. I would only smile condescendingly in response. Ever since Ukraine gained its independence, at the first congress of the Rukh People’s Movement, at the founding conference of the Memorial Association, at our literary soirees, and now on Independence Square, I always see the gray head of Borys Antonenko and the thick golden hair of Alla Horska in the crowd.”


“Have you made much progress on collecting the creative heritage of Vyacheslav Chornovil?”

“We have planned a multivolume edition. Two books have already been published. Vyacheslav’s sister Valentyna and I have prepared an absolute hit of the season — two volumes of his correspondence. He sent many letters to his family — his sister, parents, wife Atena. There are letters to his son Taras, whom he tried to educate through letters, much like Stus did with his son. There is a wonderful letter in which Vyacheslav Maksymovych thanks Zynoviy Krasivsky, the famous dissident and Taras Chornovil’s stepfather, for taking care of his son. So, Taras did not grow up without a father’s guidance.

“There are letters to friends and allies. In particular, there is some very interesting correspondence with the German Kristina Bremer, who worked with Ukrainian prisoners of conscience at Amnesty International and also corresponded with Stus and Sverstiuk. The book should be published some time in the spring.”

“Does your two-volume edition Moyi obriyi, which has been nominated for the Shevchenko Prize, include your most recent literary accomplishments?”

“The book Moyi obriyi is very dear to me because it is the first time that I was able to collect my life’s work. I have also included my older works, which of course could not have escaped the seal of those times. Fortunately, there are not many of these politically-colored works. A good friend of mine looked at this publication and said: ‘Well, now you can die in peace.’ I replied that I’m not going to do that just yet.

“I have prepared a new book for publication, entitled Z knyhy spomyniv [From the Book of Memories], and it seems that I already have a publisher. It includes memoirs that were published in the magazine Kur’ier Kryvbasu, the study Nad mamynymy shchodennykamy, as well as published essayistic memoirs about Vasyl Stus, Vira Vovk, Nadia Surovtseva, Alla Horska, and Borys Antonenko-Davydovych, which have already appeared in print. I have an extensive photo archive. For example, I have a priceless photo of my father with Olha Kobylianska. So, I want one-third of the book to be illustrations. God willing, I will please the readers and myself with the new book by the end of the year.”

Interviewed by Larysa IVSHYNA, Klara GUDZYK, Ihor SIUNDUKOV, Nadiya TYSIACHNA, The Day. Photos from the family archives of Mykhailyna KOTSIUBYNSKA