Executed Renaissance

Ukrainian language Mykola Khvylovy Enlarge
Mykola Khvylovy
Mykola Kulish
Mykhaylo Semenko
Les Kurbas
Mykola Zerov

The term Executed Renaissance (Ukrainian: Розстріляне відродження, Rozstrilyane vidrodzhennya) is used to describe the generation of Ukrainian writers and artists of 1920s and early 1930s who were performing in the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic and were executed or repressed by Stalin's totalitarian regime. The term was first suggested by Polish publicist Jerzy Giedroyc in his letter to Ukrainian literature researcher Yuriy Lavrinenko, who later used it as a title for the collection of the best literary works of that generation.


The downfall of the Russian Empire after the First World War, the resulting abolition of imperial censorship, the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state, and the relative leniency of the Soviet regime in the 1920s all led to an astonishing renaissance of literary and cultural activity in Ukraine. Scores of new writers and poets appeared and formed dozens of literary groups that changed the face of Ukrainian literature. These processes were supported by politics of nativization (in Ukraine it was called Ukrainization), New Economic Policy (state capitalism) and elimination of illiteracy.


The metaphor of the “Executed Renaissance” belongs to Jerzy Giedroyc. He first used this phrase in a letter to Yurii Lavrinenko dated August 13, 1958, suggesting it as the title of an anthology of Ukrainian literature of 1917-1933, which Lavrinenko had prepared at the request of Gedroyets: "About the name. Could it be better to give it a generic name: “Executed Renaissance. Anthology 1917-1933 etc."The name would then sound spectacular. On the other hand, the humble name "Anthology" can only facilitate penetration by the iron curtain. What do you think?". "So, let it be", - the answer was.

The anthology "The Executed Renaissance: Anthology from 1917–1933: Poetry—prose—drama—essay" appeared with the initiative and expense of Jerzy Giedroyc at the Library of Paris' Culture in 1959 and remains the most important source in the history of Ukrainian literature of that period.[1] It represents the best examples of Ukrainian poetry, prose and essay writing in the 1920s and 1930s.

According to researcher of Ukrainian literature of the 1920s Yarina Tsymbal, "Executed Renaissance" was a good name for anthology, but unsuitable for the whole generation of creative intelligentsia. The "Red Renaissance", in her view, is a more apt metaphor because it is a self-title. It first appeared in 1925, when both the book "Renaissance of Ukrainian Literature" by Olexander Leites and the poem "The Call of the Red Renaissance" by Volodymyr Gadzinskyi[2] were published simultaneously and independently. The same year, the magazine Neo-Lif was published, with a preface to which, also written by Gadzinskyi, it stated: "For us, the past is only a means of cognizing the present and future, a useful experience and important practice in the great structure of the Red Renaissance."[3]

New elite

The main components of the outlook of the new elite were rebellion, independence of thinking and genuine belief in their own ideals. Mostly, it was the intellectuals who bet on the personality, not the mass. Their outward "Sovietness" hid deep searches and queries.

Coming out of the masses of the lower classes (servants, priests, workers, peasants), the new generation of the Ukrainian elite often did not have the opportunity to receive systematic education because of war, famine and the need to earn daily bread. But, working "on the brink of the possible", trying to use every opportunity to get acquainted with the world culture, to spread the wings of creativity, they were imbued with the latest trends and created really topical art.

At this time comes a new generation, with a moral burden of victories and defeats of the struggle for national independence, with an understanding of Ukraine's path in world history, independent in judgments, with diverse ideas about the development of Ukrainian literature, when, according to S. Pavlychko, literature “got a much wider audience than ever before. The level of education of this audience has increased. For the first time, a large number of writers and intellectuals worked in literature. For the first time Ukrainian scientists spoke to the audience of national universities. For the first time different artistic directions, groups, and schools were rapidly differentiated. However, the tendency for the modernization of cultural life coexisted from the outset with a parallel tendency for its subordination to ideology and then to complete destruction.[4]

Literary process

Writers mostly were consolidated into literary organizations with different styles or positions. The period between 1925 and 1928 was characterized by "literature discussion" on the initiative of Mykola Khvylovy. An object of the discussion was ways of development for new Ukrainian Soviet literature and role of writer in society. Khvylovy and his associates were supporting an orientation towards Western European culture instead of Russian, they were rejecting "red graphomania" (though they weren't rejecting Communism as political ideology).

The main literary organizations of that time were:


The prose was divided into two streams: plot (narrative) prose and non-plot prose. In the non-plot works, the main thing was not the sentence or the word, but the subtext, the spirit, the "smell of the word", as Khvylovyi said. The style of strong feelings and penetration of phenomena is called neo-romanticism or expressionism. Mykola Khvylovy, Yuriy Yanovsky, Andriy Golovko, Julian Shpol, Oleksa Vlyko, Les Kurbas, Mykola Kulish and many others worked in this direction.

The main idea of the novel Ya (Romantyka) (I am (romance))[10] by Khvylovy is a disappointment in the revolution, the screaming contradictions and the split of man of that time. The main character is a person without a name, and therefore without personality, without soul. For the sake of revolution, he kills his mother and reprove himself with the question: "Was the revolution worth such a sacrifice?"

For the first time in Ukrainian literature, elements of the philosophy of existentialism emerged in Valeryan Pidmogylny's The City (novel). The main character in pursuit of pleasure goes from satisfying the physical to the highest religious needs. However, even in such complex subject matter, the writer does not turn the novel into a simple narrative of "people's" philosophy, but creatively comprehends it in its application to national worldview.

In poetry, the most interesting is the search for symbolists Olexandr Oles and Pavlo Tychyna. In his collection, The Clarinets of the Sun, Tychyna reflected the breadth of an educated and subtle mind who contemplates the richness of Ukrainian nature, wanting to get to its root causes.

When the Communist Party of the USSR realized its defeat, it began to operate with prohibited methods: repression, silence, crushing criticism, arrests, executions. The writers were faced with the choice of suicide (Khvylovyi), repression and concentration camps (Gulag) (B. Antonenko-Davidovich, Ostap Vyshnya), silence (Ivan Bahrianyi, V. Domontovich), emigration (V. Vynnychenko, Y. Malaniuk), or writing works on glorification of the party (P. Tychyna, Mykola Bazhan). Most of the artists were repressed and shot.

Repression, Arrests and Executions

In late 1920s Stalin abolished the New Economic Policy and returned to forced collectivization. In this context changes in cultural politics occurred as well. An early example was the Union for the Freedom of Ukraine process in 1930, a show trial of 474 people (mostly scientists), 15 of whom were executed and 248 sent to prison.

The beginning of the mass extermination of the Ukrainian intelligentsia is May 1933, when Mykhailo Yalovy was arrested and the suicide of Mykola Khvylovyi took place in the Kharkiv house "Slovo" (word).

The campaign was concentrated in the years from 1934 to 1940, reaching a peak during the Great Purge of 1937-1938. Overall, 223 writers were subjected to harassment, arrest and in a number of cases imprisonment and execution. The culmination of the actions of the Soviet repressive regime was the mass executions of the "counter-revolutionaries" committed on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the October coup. Almost three hundred representatives of the Ukrainian renaissance of the 1920s were shot between 27 October and 4 November at Sandarmokh, a massive killing field in Karelia (northwest Russia).[11]

Some important representatives of this generation survived. They remained in the Soviet Union (Oleksandr Dovzhenko, Pavlo Tychyna, Maksym Rylsky, Borys Antonenko-Davydovych, Ostap Vyshnya, and Mykola Bazhan), or emigrated (Ulas Samchuk, George Shevelov, and Ivan Bahrianyi).

The scale of the tragedy

Exact data on the number of repressed Ukrainian intellectuals during the Stalinist repression of the period are not known. According to some, this number reached 30,000 people.[12] Instead, it is quite simple to determine the approximate number of repressed persons among the writers: the availability of their publications in the early and late 1930s. According to the estimation of the Association of Ukrainian Writers "Slovo" (the organization of Ukrainian writers in emigration), which was sent on December 20, 1954 to the Second All-Union Congress of Writers, in 1930 259 Ukrainian writers were printed, and after 1938 there were printed only 36 (13.9%). According to the organization, 192 of the "missing" 223 writers were repressed (executed or exiled to the camps with possible subsequent execution or death), 16 - disappeared, 8 - committed suicide.[13]

These data are in good agreement with the martyrologist of the Ukrainian writers of the "Altar of Sorrow" (chief compiler - Olexii Musiyenko), who counted 246 writers victims of Stalin's terror.[14]

According to other sources, out of 260 Ukrainian writers, 228 were repressed.[15]


See also


  1. ^ ""Executed Renaissance": today 70 years of beginning of extermination of Ukrainian elite". FrontNews. Retrieved 2019-09-16.
  2. ^ "Ярина Цимбал: "Психологічний роман передував масовим жанрам"". ЛітАкцент - світ сучасної літератури (in Ukrainian). 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2019-09-16.
  3. ^ "100 років українському футуризму / Centennial of Ukrainian Futurism". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2019-09-16.
  4. ^ Павличко С. Дискурс модернізму в українській літературі: [монографія] / С. Павличко. — К.: Либідь, 1997. — C. 170.
  5. ^ Нагорний К.О. Проблема національного самоствердження в публіцистиці лідера літературного угруповання "Гарт" В. Блакитного
  6. ^ Ю. Луцький. Джерела до історії Вапліте
  7. ^ Quote from futurists' manifest in their magazine "Nova Generatsiya".
  8. ^ Neoclassicists
  9. ^ Плуг
  10. ^ Khvylovy, Mykola. I am (romance).
  11. ^ Юрій Лавріненко Розстріляне відродження: Антологія 1917–1933. Archived December 13, 2010, at the Wayback Machine — Київ: Смолоскип, 2004.
  12. ^ Червоний ренесанс. Фільм третій: Безодня (1930—1934). — Кіностудія «Контакт». 2004. — 12:06/51:33.
  13. ^ Юрій Лавріненко. Розстріляне відродження: Антологія 1917—1933. Archived 2010-12-13 at the Wayback Machine — Київ: Смолоскип, 2004.
  14. ^ Іменник мартиролога українського письменства // Микола Жулинський. Безодня української печалі… Archived 2010-10-21 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Червоний ренесанс. Фільм третій: Безодня (1930—1934). — Кіностудія «Контакт». 2004. — 47:01/51:33.
  16. ^ Krys, Svitlana (2016) ‘Book Review: Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska, The Living Grave: A Ukrainian Legend and Klym Polishchuk, Treasure of the Ages: Ukrainian Legends’, EWJUS: East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies, Vol 3, No 2, pp. 213-215