I. THE BOOK OF VELES ON THE ORIGINS OF KYI, SHCHEK, AND KHORYV
It was not until the 1950s that the world learned about the most ancient Slavic chronicle known as the Book of Veles. It is a series of texts written in the 9th century by Novgorod priests (magi). The original Book of Veles consisted of the sacred writings of the ancient Slavs carved on beech planks, which were dedicated to Veles, who was the god of animal husbandry and wisdom as well as a guide to the other world.
The Book of Veles gives a detailed account of the history of the Slavs and their ancestors, other European and Asian peoples from the 2nd millennium BC until the 9th century AD. Thus, this book was written two centuries before Nestor’s well-known Primary Chronicle (The Tale of Bygone Years), which is still considered the main source of information about the history of ancient Rus’.
1. HOW THE BOOK OF VELES WAS DISCOVERED
Yurii Miroliubov (1892-1970) first announced the discovery of the Book of Veles (the original planks) and then kept a photocopy of it in his archive for a long time. According to this writer, the Book of Veles was accidentally found in 1919, during the Civil War, by a White colonel of artillery named Ali Izenbek (known as Fedor Arturovich after his conversion to Christianity) on the estate of Prince Zadonsky near Kharkiv. There was once a large family library on the estate, and the owner Kateryna Zadonska, had inherited many books from her father and her grandfather, who was a member of the Bible Society during the reign of Catherine II.
The library was plundered during the revolution of 1917, and local Red Guards killed the estate owners. When General Denikin’s troops captured the estate, they stationed Izenbek’s unit there. Aware of the value of the relic, he collected the ancient planks and hid them in a sack. Izenbek kept the sack with him at all times, even when the White Army was retreating. In 1924 he ended up in Brussels, where he met the writer Miroliubov, who specialized in history.
2. MIROLIUBOV’S WORK ON THE “IZENBEK PLANKS”
In Brussels Izenbek showed Miroliubov his find, and the writer enthusiastically began working on the planks, to which he devoted almost 15 years of painstaking work. He organized the texts by pasting them together and rewriting them. Later he recalled, “I had a presentiment that I would lose them and never see them again. The texts may be lost, and this would be a great loss to history.”
This is indeed what happened. After Izenbek died on Aug. 13, 1941, the Gestapo seized the planks and 16 of his cards. In Miroliubov’s view, the Book of Veles could only have been found in the Gestapo archives. It is a documented fact that a considerable part of the Nazi archives fell into the hands of the Soviet command. Then they were brought to Moscow, where they remain to this day, and no one is allowed access to them.
3. A SENSATIONAL REPORT IN THE AMERICAN JOURNAL ZHAR-PTITSA
In November 1953 the San Francisco-based Russian emigre journal Zhar-ptitsa carried an editorial announcement headlined “A colossal historical sensation.” It reported that, thanks to the work of the writer and journalist Yurii Miroliubov, several ancient wooden “planks” dating to the 5th century had been found in Europe, on which were engraved extremely valuable historical writings of ancient Rus’ (i.e., Miroliuvov’s texts and photocopies). The journal published the complete texts of each plank between March 1957 and 1959, when it stopped publishing.
In those years a certain Sergei Lesnoi (Paramonov) became interested in the Book of Veles. His comments on this work were published in issues 6-10 of a book series entitled The History of the Rus’ in an Undistorted Form (Paris-Munich, 1959-1960). After Miroliubov and Lesnoi died, the Ukrainian emigre Mykola Skrypnyk began studying the Book of Veles. He published a series of books entitled The Chronicle of Pre-Christian Rus’ (London-The Hague, 1972), in which he reproduced Miroliubov’s archives with his widow’s permission. Miroliubov’s archives contained a few previously unpublished copies of the “Izenbek planks.” Until the 1990s the authenticity and existence of these materials were debated in Soviet scholarly and political literature. The first edition of the The Book of Veles, translated and annotated by Aleksandr Asov, was issued in 1992 by the Manager Publishing House in Moscow.
4. INFORMATION ON KYI, SHCHEK, AND KHORYV IN THE BOOK OF VELES
In the first of the four parts of the Book of Veles, entitled “Patriarchs” (four chapters), Chapters 2 and 3 are devoted to Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv. Chapter 2 tells the story of Arii, the father of Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv, and their exodus from the Seven Rivers region. Arii was the mythical forefather of the Ruthenians, the son of Dazhboh and Zhyva. Dazhboh is one of the best-known of the ancient Slavic gods, the god of the Universe, the sun god, the son of Perun and the mermaid Rosa, and the precursor of the future Kyivan Rus’ nation. Zhyva, the goddess of life and springtime, was Dazhboh’s third wife.
It thus follows from the Book of Veles that Arii had divine parents, and his name may be derived from the word “arii” (tiller). The Book of Veles describes the exodus of the Slavs under the leadership of Arii from the Seven Rivers region (plank 1-2b): “And now Father Arii walked ahead of us, and Kyi led the Ruthenians, and Shchek led his tribes, and Khoryv led his Croats, and they were walking from those lands. And the gods decreed that when Khoryv and Shchek go from here, we are to settle in the Carpathian Mountains.”
Plank 1-96 says that “we came from the green land to the Gothic (Azov. — Author) Sea and trampled upon the Goths, who were hindering our movement. And thus we fought for the land and our life. And before that, our fathers had been on the shores of the sea near the Ra River (Volga. — Author).”
Chapter 3, entitled “Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv: the Founding of Ruksolania, Holun, and Kyiv,” tells us where the tribes led by Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv settled. For instance, Plank II-15 says that Kyi seized Kyiv, which was already populated by sedentary tribes, perhaps the Cimmerians, if this is the 2nd millennium BC, when the Scythians left the Seven Rivers region and were migrating to the Carpathians. So the date of the founding of Kyiv is shifted even further into the past, to the Cimmerian era, and the Book of Veles considers the Cimmerians the ancestors of the Slavs.
Plank II-156 says that “in the times of Kyiv we were where the sun sets and thence we went to the sun as far as the Nepra River (Dnipro. — Author), and Kyi seized a fortified town there.” But they were soon attacked by a new enemy, the Yazes: “And the Yaz tribe attacked us, and there was great carnage. The god Vyshen said to the Slavs, “My children, barricade your towns and fortresses! Follow the example of your fathers in fighting the enemy! May your battles be fierce and strong!” It happened precisely like this, and the Yazes were routed.
Plank II-7s notes that when Shchek and his warriors went towards the sunset and Khoryv took his warriors away, some of Shchek’s fighters settled down and mixed with the Ruthenians, thus forming Ruksolania. Meanwhile, according to the Book of Veles, Kyi settled in Kyiv. “And we bowed to him, and Rus’ rallied around him. And if any other force attacks us, we will resist it because we are with Rus’. She is our mother and we are her children, and we will stay with her to the end.”
Plank III-34 says that when Kyi was marching on the Bulgarians, en route he entered the town of Voronezhets populated by the Polianians, and incorporated the latter into his army. “So he took the people and seized the town of Holun and acquired the Don lands. And so this land became ours from end to end, and it was Ruksolania.” There follows an account of Kyi’s battle against the Gothic tribes in the vicinity of the Duleb Sea (Black Sea. — Author).
“And we fought in the south, we fought against the Hellenes, and then we traded with them, and so our life went on. And we reinforced our ranks when we got together, for we loudly sang praises to the gods.” This plank also describes the causes and consequences of Kyi’s battle with Greece. “So our fathers decided to capture that land and push Hretskolan to the sea. And they advanced and had a great battle, and then Hretskolan appealed for peace to stop its downfall. We thus obtained green pastures and fed our cattle in the winter and extolled the gods.”
Plank II-5 states that 1,500 years before Dyr, Shchek’s clan headed by his forefathers reached the Carpathian Mountains, settled there, and began to live a quiet life. An account of the exodus from the Carpathians to the Dnipro town of Holun, after the enemies attacked Shchek’s warriors, is written on Plank I-5a.
Finally, Plank I-2b recounts that as soon as Shchek and his people approached Kyiv and settled in Holun, Kyi suddenly died. “And Kyi died here after ruling us for thirty years. He was succeeded by his son Lebedian, called Slaver, who lived for twenty years. Then there was Veren from Velykohrad — also for twenty years, then Serezhen for ten years.”
II. THE TALE OF KYI AND HIS BROTHERS IN THE PRIMARY CHRONICLE
The Kyivan chronicler, the monk Nestor, wrote The Primary Chronicle (The Tale of Bygone Years) in approximately 1112 on the instructions of Prince Sviatopolk Iziaslavovych, the grandson of Yaroslav the Wise. The complete title of this work is “This is a tale of bygone years, of where the Rus’ land came from and who the first prince of Kyiv was.”
The chronicler gives a concise account of the first prince Kyi and his brothers Shchek and Khoryv: “The brothers Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv, and their sister Lybid, lived among the Polianians on three mountains, two of which are named after the two younger brothers, Shchekovytsia and Khoryvytsia, while the eldest one lived where Zborychiv Hill is now.” Characterizing the brothers’ personal qualities, the chronicler notes: “They were intelligent and wise men; they would catch beasts in the thick woods near the Dnipro, they built a town, and named it Kyiv after the eldest brother.”
Rejecting conjectures that Kyi was a boatman who ferried people across the Dnipro in a place called Kyiv, the chronicler notes: “But Kyi was the chief of his clan. People say that he traveled to Constantinople and received a great honor from the Greek king.” Then Nestor describes the details of Kyi’s return journey from Constantinople in the following passage: “On the way back he saw the banks of the Danube, grew to love them; he built a wooden town and wanted to live in it, but the Danube inhabitants prevented him from settling there and are still calling this place Kyievets.” The chronicler ends by saying that Kyi died in Kyiv, as did his two brothers and sister.
In comparison with the legend recounted in The Book of Veles, the legend in The Primary Chronicle only gives names from the original genealogical legend. Moreover, Prince Lebedian became sister Lybid, and life in the Carpathians turned into Kyi’s “Danubian expedition.” In addition, Nestor says very little about Kyi’s expedition to Constantinople and nothing at all about the war against Greece.
Nor does Nestor mention who continued Kyi’s lineage in the next century, and for how many years. Nestor says nothing about Kyi’s wars against the Goths, Yazes, and other hostile tribes, and about the expeditions to the Black Sea and the exodus of the ancient Slavs from the Volga River basin.
Therefore, if the Book of Veles is anything to go by, it would be correct to consider the legendary Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv not only as the founders of Kyiv but also the mythical forefathers of the Eastern Slavs, including the Polianians, who had long dwelled on the banks of the Dnipro and its tributaries.