I met Viktoria Skliarova near the Universytet metro station next to the Freedom Square. She was a member of the initiative group for installing the memorial plaque to George (Yurii) Shevelov in Kharkiv and gladly agreed to show us the places associated with the scholar. The Day’s readers are well familiar with this name, however, it is little known in Ukraine. Very few Ukrainians understand the importance of Shevelov’s academic studies, although he is referred to as “the number one Slavist” in the world.
However, during the past week a lot of mass media reported the news connected with the name of the scholar because of the unhealthy, even shameful information cause: the local authorities of Kharkiv by the decision of the deputies of the City Council canceled their own permission for installing the memorial plaque to Shevelov. The plaque, which had been installed by the activists, was dismantled after being brutally smashed to pieces…
Most of the places associated with the name of Shevelov in Kharkiv are located around one of the city’s main streets – Sumska. The Day has already told about some points of the tour route dedicated to Shevelov in an article by Olena Sokolynska “Tracing Yurii Shevelov’s Steps in Kharkiv.” At that time some Kharkiv activists came up with idea to develop such a tour.
We began our tour of Shevelov’s places in Kharkiv near the monument to Taras Shevchenko in the park that also bears his name. One side of the park is adjacent to the Freedom Square, another – to Sumska Street. Right opposite the monument, across the street, a small Hirshmana Lane, former Sorokynsky Lane, begins. Here in the second building to the right Shevelov was born. “Once this four-story building had only two stories,” said Skliarova and quoted memories of Shevelov from his book Ya, Meni, Mene… (i Dovkruhy) (I, Me, and Myself (and Around)): “Later I saw that building on Sorokynsky Lane 4 with the residence apartment on the second floor hundreds of times and remember it from the outside well: two-storied red-brick unadorned building a few steps from Sumska Street, on the other side of which there was an entrance to the University Garden, where there used to be a monument to Karazin, and now there is one to Shevchenko.”
A PORTRAIT OF SHEVELOV PRODUCED BY THE PAINTER VALERII BONDAR WAS USED FOR THE MEMORIAL PLAQUE
The monument itself is also indirectly related to the scholar. According to Skliarova, the prototypes for the characters in Kobzar’s poetry, that surround his figure, were the actors of Les Kurbas Theater “Berezil,” for example, one can easily identify the image of Natalia Uzhvii in role of Shevchenko’s Kateryna in the foreground. Shevelov was friends with Berezil Theater. In general, his friendship with the Theater began in his childhood. “One of Shevelov’s friends was a young boy named Volodymyr, son or grandson of a woman, who was a custodian of several theaters in the past. Her colleagues worked as ticket inspectors at the entrance and let the young Volodymyr and George in for free. They saw all the performances, staged back then in Kharkiv,” said Skliarova. “Since his childhood Shevelov could read between the lines of theatrical performances. Perhaps, that is why he understood Kurbas’ Theater before the rest of the Kharkiv audience.”
Right next to Shevchenko Park there is a building that once was used as premises for Yevhenia Druzhkova’s School, which was considered one of the best in Kharkiv. Shevelov was sent there for his studies. In order to see this small two-storied building we go down Sumska Street, turn left on Radnarkomivska Street and go to the intersection with Chernyshevska. While we pass the Victory Public Garden, Skliarova told us that once there was a great church of Holy Myrrh-Bearing Women in this place. When it was blown up, Shevelov stood among the rest of the Kharkivites, who silently watched the destruction of the temple.
THERE IS A BUILDING THAT ONCE WAS USED AS PREMISES FOR YEVHENIA DRUZHKOVA’S SCHOOL, WHICH WAS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE BEST IN KHARKIV. SHEVELOV WAS SENT THERE FOR HIS STUDIES
“I witnessed the destruction of Holy Myrrh-Bearing Women Church the nearest to us. Prior to that it was surrounded with a board fence and now it had to be blown up. Many people gathered on the square and stood in complete silence there, only the faces showed the pain and horror,” the scholar wrote in his memoirs. “At the appointed hour we heard an explosion and the tall slender belfry shattered, rocked a few times and sagged to the ground, disappeared from sight. Slowly, the crowd dispersed just as quietly. Once Oswald Spengler wrote that the people of the West, of Europe strive up high, building Gothic cathedrals and church belfry, while Asia spreads on one level. The Soviet cities destroyed everything that strived up high. Was it a part of de-Europeanization program?”
“With each passing year Shevelov becomes increasingly relevant,” Skliarova sums up. “We started reading his works in the Kharkiv-based Slobidchyna Club some three years ago. At that time, no one in Kharkiv could understand this step. And then what we considered to be three most important essays were published as a stand-alone book Tryptykh pro pryznachennia Ukrainy (A Triptych about Ukraine’s Mission). A portrait of Shevelov produced for this book by the painter Valerii Bondar was used for the memorial plaque. Incidentally, Skliarova says that the launch of Tryptykh was the starting point for fund raising for the plaque. The launch was carried out during a language-related protest in Kharkiv with the involvement of the “We Are Europeans” movement. The first contributions were made by Kharkiv residents who came out to defend the Ukrainian language. Later, members of the action group appealed to the parishes of Ukrainian churches and students.
“SALAMANDRA” HOUSE IS ASSOCIATED WITH THE NAME OF GEORGE SHEVELOV MORE OFTEN THEN ANY OTHER BUILDINGS IN KHARKIV. HE LIVED HERE FROM 1915 UNTIL 1943. OUR GUIDE TO “SHEVELOV’S” PLACES VIKTORIA SKLIAROVA SHOWED US THE WALL BETWEEN TWO LARGE WINDOWS, WHERE THE ACTIVISTS HAD INSTALLED A MEMORIAL PLAQUE TO THE SCHOLAR. HOWEVER, VIRTUALLY NO SIGNS OF THE FACT THAT IT WAS THERE CAN BE SEEN NOW
We proceeded from the former school of Yevhenia Druzhkova to Gogol Street where Gymnasium No. 3 was located in a spacious, bright building across the street from a Roman Catholic cathedral. The building now houses an office center. Here, a nine-year-old Shevelov continued his education, because the gymnasium was thought to give good education for those wishing to move on to the university. The scholar recollects: “The principal of Gymnasium No. 3 was Husakovsky, who seemed to be a zealous official of the Russian Empire, mainly because he wore a uniform. When it was time for me to move on to the second grade, an unheard-of upheaval took place. Kharkiv became part of the Ukrainian Republic, and a course of Ukrainian was introduced in the gymnasium. To my surprise, Husakovsky, of all people, was the teacher. It turned out that he had a Ukrainian soul hidden under the official uniform.”
The gymnasium is located close to the Salamandra House, 17 Sumska St., in which Shevelov lived together with his mother from 1915 until 1943. It is even known that they lived in apartment 46 on the fourth floor. It was on a wall of this building that Kharkiv activists put up the memorial plaque. It stayed there for just 20 days…
“The Shevelov family rented out two of the five rooms in their apartment: two more families lived in them until 1918. And then the so-called “densifying” began. Centrally located buildings were given to trusts. The Khimvuhillia trust happened to take over the Salamandra House. In order to continue living in their apartment, in a small, eight-square-meter room for the service personnel, Shevelov’s mother, who was raised in a noble family, had to start working as a cleaning lady in this organization,” Skliarova continues. “But the scholar quotes her in the book Ya, Meni, Mene… as saying: No honest work is humiliating to a person.”
Incidentally, the issue of the apartment became a key argument for the local authorities which prohibited the plaque on the pretext that Shevelov moved into the rooms previously occupied by Jews, who were executed. Is it true? Skliarova says that this slanderous accusation was thoroughly rebutted by Pylyp Dykan in his article “George Shevelov: dismantling memory” at mediaport.ua. “First, Shevelov returned to his own apartment, one that belonged to his family since 1915, on October 25. By then, two Jewish families – the Bimbats, who were pharmacists, and the family of an NKVD officer whose last name Shevelov does not remember – had moved out. This means, dear liars, that they had been evacuated from there even before Kharkiv was occupied by the Germans.”
As we were touring places linked to Shevelov, it was impossible to skip two more buildings: the Taras Shevchenko Kharkiv State Academic Drama Theater (formerly Berezil, directed by Les Kurbas) and Gymnasium No. 6 on 11 Rymarska St., which is very close to the theater. Shevelov gave the monetary part of his Shevchenko Prize to the children studying in this school. In a letter to three students, Shevelov wrote: the streets and squares of Kharkiv will tell you the great history of the city and Ukraine; they lead to knowledge and honesty in life and may lead to greatness.
The streets of Kharkiv can also serve as an excellent guide to the Ukrainian period in Shevelov’s life. In November, Kharkiv residents who knew him or have studied his life and scientific activity (most of them are members of the action group to install a memorial plaque) plan to complete the tour around Shevelov-related places in Kharkiv. These people are the “fifth Kharkiv” that Shevelov dreamt about. But they are not alone. Skliarova says that her program “Fifth Kharkiv” on the Nova Khvylia radio often turns into a discussion forum, especially if it deals with topics linked to culture or the Association Agreement with the EU. She believes that the kind of city Shevelov dreamt about showed also during the latest installment of the Shuster Live program when half of the oblast’s residents supported installing the memorial plaque. She is convinced that the majority of those who said “yes” are Kharkiv residents to whom Shevelov is no longer terra incognita. The voting of the City Council shows, on the contrary, that the city has been captured by people who have nothing in common with the community. In her words, if activists do not succeed in restoring the plaque, an identical plaque will appear in Lviv, but it will say that the original plaque in Kharkiv was banned by the Kharkiv authorities.
We ended our tour in a small courtyard on 12 Sumska St. This is where Shevelov lived for a very short time after his family returned from Poland. As we stood in front of the red-brick building, which even in its neglected condition was a reminder of the nice architectural specimens found in the Old Town, we thought that the relations between buildings and streets can indeed historically mirror relationships between people.