The organizers of the beauty contest at Ostroh Academy National University have adopted a new approach. Every year on the university’s anniversary the female students organize a beauty contest named after Halshka Ostrozka. The five contestants (one from each faculty) must be virtuous, cultured, talented, and beautiful. Most importantly they must feel the spirit of Princess Halshka Ostrozka and know her life story perfectly in order to convey their understanding of the actions and ideas of this historical figure on stage.
Such keen attention to this historical figure on the part of Ostroh students is not coincidental. At one time the destiny of this noblewoman was closely connected with that of Ostroh Academy, Eastern Europe’s first institution of higher learning. The name of this woman is shrouded in mystery and her life is the subject of legends, many of which have become favorite themes for poets and writers, among them the students of the academy.
One of the clauses of Ostrozka’s last will and testament bequeathing 6,000 Lithuanian kopas (roughly 200,000 hryvnias) to Ostroh Academy marked a fateful point in her life story, when she became the founder of Eastern Europe’s first institution of higher education.
Today one of the most important rounds of the beauty contest is writing a will. Students produce entire dramatic performances in an attempt to convey the image of the princess in the last days of her life. “Halshka is an extraordinarily powerful personality; few girls today would have been able to live through what she did,” says second-year student at the Faculty of Romance and Germanic Languages Olha Klymchuk and this year’s winner of Halshka 2006.
To achieve maximum dramatic identification, Olha spent a long time studying the noblewoman’s history and her maidenly moral dictates of the period. The winner was especially surprised to learn that girls in the 16 h century were denied the right of choice in life. Olha tried to incorporate different features in her personification. This year’s Halshka turned out to be a willful girl capable of facing challenges with dignity and finding in every ordeal an opportunity to further temper her character.
“This image of the princess is suited to our century,” says Volodymyr Dehlis, a second-year Political Science student. “Olha Klymchuk as Halshka succeeded in masterfully combining the femininity and tenderness of a 16th — century woman with unprecedented individuality and firmness of character. Everything evolves, so the image of Halshka must also evolve. Only dynamic images are interesting and lasting.”
Klymchuk’s interpretation of Halshka Ostrozka would have been incomplete without her considerable choreographic and vocal skills. “Actually, singing and dancing are two inalienable aspects of my life,” admits the contestant. She has polished these skills since childhood, and today she is a member of the student choir and heads a sports and ballroom dancing club. “Dancing was what helped me express something I couldn’t find words to describe,” Olha said, excitedly explaining the secret of her performance.
This year’s holiday commemorated the 430 th anniversary of the Ostroh Academy. According to Oleksandr Korniichuk, the head of the jury and first deputy mayor of Ostroh, it was “not merely a beauty contest but a holiday of talent and intellect.” How could it be otherwise? Is such inspired beauty not what the great classic had in mind when he prophesied that it would save the world?
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BUST OF PRINCESS HALSHKA OSTROZKA IN THE CENTRAL BUILDING OF OSTROH ACADEMY NATIONAL UNIVERSITY
Elzhbeta-Halshka Ostrozka was born in 1539, on St. Elizabeth’s Day, and according to an old tradition, was named after the saint. However, she entered history under a folk variant of her name. Her father died before she was born, leaving large estates to his wife and unborn child: cities, towns, castles, and mansions of the Ostrozky family, the uncrowned rulers of Volyn.
Later, this property was instrumental in the noblewoman’s tragic lot. At the age of 13 Halshka was the most desirable fiancee for many feudal families that wanted to become related to the wealthy and influential Ostrozky dynasty. Among those who took part in the intrigues surrounding Halshka’s marriage were her uncle Vasyl-Kostiantyn Ostrozky, her mother Beata Kosteletska, and King Sigismund Augustus of Poland. Halshka’s uncle, Vasyl-Kostiantyn Ostrozky, supported the candidacy of the Ostrozkys’ relative Dmytro Sanhushko, who came from the Olgerdovich dynasty and held a post in the administration of the Grand Lithuanian Duchy.
Dmytro Sanhushko and the 13-year-old Halshka were engaged in 1552. At first her mother was in favor of the marriage, but the king was opposed to the union of the two magnate families and persuaded Beata to change her mind. Ostrozky and Sanhushko seized Ostroh and in September 1553 Halshka married the young prince against her mother’s will. The wedding ceremony took place at the Church of the Epiphany.
An offended Beata complained to the king about Sanhushko and Ostrozky, who had acted against her will. The royal court handed down a severe sentence depriving Dmytro of honor, estate, and life. Halshka’s uncle was stripped of his guardianship. Sanhushko and Halshka fled from Ostroh to the Czech lands, heading for Rudicke Castle owned by Vasyl-Kostiantyn’s father-in-law, Jan Tarnavsky. An armed detachment set off after the fugitives, under the command of Martyn Zborovsky, who had also sought Halshka’s hand in marriage.
Sanhushko and his small detachment were captured and brought to the neighboring town of Jaromir, where he was killed. Zborovsky and his son, together with an armed detachment brought the young widow back to her mother. Afterwards, Halshka was married against her will on the king’s orders to a widower, the old Count Lukash Hurka. Her mother, however, disagreed with the king’s choice and had her daughter marry Prince Semen Slutsky, who fled with Halshka to Lviv’s Dominican monastery, where they were married.
Hurka did not abandon his claims to Halshka. He besieged the monastery, captured the young woman, and brought her to his castle in Shamotuly. Halshka did not submit and was severely punished. She was locked in a tower, where she spent 14 years completely isolated from the outer world. People called Halshka the black princess because she was always dressed in mourning attire. After the death of her husband, Halshka moved to Dubno and then to Ostroh, where she spent the rest of her life.