"Soul of Shestydesiatnyky" Ivan Svitlychnyi remembered in D.C.
by Yaro Bihun
Special to The Ukrainian Weekly
WASHINGTON - The Embassy of Ukraine and the Ukrainian American community honored the memory of Ivan Svitlychnyi, the literary historian, critic and poet who was at the center of 1960s "Shestydesiatnyky" national revival movement in Ukraine.
Leading the remembrance on February 24 at the Embassy was Ukrainian Ambassador Yuri Shcherbak, Ivan Svitlychnyi's sister, Nadia Svitlychna, and five actors from the Les Kurbas Theater of Lviv currently on tour in the United States.
In his remarks, Ambassador Shcherbak focused on the meaning and importance of the movement of the young writers and artists of that period who came to be known as the Shestydesiatnyky and of Mr. Svitlychnyi's role in it. Ms. Svitlychna recalled the human, personal side of her brother and his circle of friends. And the Les Kurbas Theater actors - Tetiana Kaspruk, Yuri Mysak, Mariana Podoliak, Natalia Polovynka and Oleh Stefan - recited some 25 poems written by Ivan Svitlychnyi and his close friend, poet Vasyl Stus, singing a few that had been set to music.
The evening was unique in that it did not coincide with any anniversary or particular date relating to the poet, who died in 1992.
"And it is fitting that we need not frame our love and respect for Ivan Svitlychnyi in the context of an anniversary," Ambassador Shcherbak said. "In today's murky, politicized atmosphere, without faith and direction, we have a spiritual need to connect with the source of our rebirth and yearn for a symbol of faith, morality and selflessness."
Ivan Svitlychnyi is that "shining example" of the Shestydesiatnyky, a movement that, the ambassador said, has yet to be adequately researched and fully understood.
In addition to Mr. Svitlychnyi, Ambassador Shcherbak noted the role in the movement of Vasyl Stus, Ivan Dzyuba, Vyacheslav Chornovil, Yevhen Sverstiuk, Ivan Drach, Yevhen Hutsal, Yuri Badzio, Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska and Mykola Vinhranovskyi.
"It was the Shestydesiatnyky who laid the groundwork for the rebirth of Ukraine that came in the 1980s and 1990s," he said. "Without them, the historic break that followed would have been impossible."
At first glance, Dr. Shcherbak said, their efforts - mostly through writings and protests - seem naive when compared to the then-mighty Soviet empire. But truth was on their side, he said, and they shook the empire by undermining its propagandist "Socialist Realism" cultural foundation.
Ivan Svitlychnyi was born in 1929 in the Russianized, southern Luhansk Oblast of Ukraine. He received a degree in Ukrainian philology from the University of Kharkiv in 1952 and worked on the editorial boards of various literary magazines and in the Academy of Sciences until his arrest in 1965, in the KGB's first wave of arrests of the Shestydesiatnyky. Although released in the following year, he was never again allowed to work in his profession.
He was arrested again in January 1972, during the massive crackdown against the Ukrainian intelligentsia, and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment (in Perm labor camps) and five years of exile.
Ambassador Shcherbak said that, even by Soviet standards, Mr. Svitlychnyi's trial and conviction was dubious. He was punished not for anything he did, but simply for being a leading Ukrainian intellectual, the "soul" and hub of the Shestydesiatnyky in Kyiv. He was targeted for destruction - both morally and physically - by the KGB, said Dr. Shcherbak.
And they succeeded, Ambassador Shcherbak underlined. In 1981, while in exile, Mr. Svitlychnyi underwent brain surgery at a regional hospital. Although his life was spared, he remained partially paralyzed, partially blind and never recovered enough to function normally as before. He was allowed to return to Kyiv in 1983, and was politically "rehabilitated" after Ukraine gained its independence in 1991. He died less than a year later, on October 25, 1992.
But his death was not in vain, Ambassador Shcherbak said. "I am convinced that Ivan Svitlychnyi, as the embodiment of the undying Ukrainian ideal, awakened a generation of young Ukrainians to a life of dedication to their country. And that is how he remains among us."
Ambassador Shcherbak, who became acquainted with Mr. Svitlychnyi in 1961, cited himself as an example.
"Thanks to three highly talented Ivans - Svitlychnyi, Dzyuba and Drach - I became Ukrainian," he said. "I completed that 'school of Ukrainian studies,' without which, I am convinced, one cannot become a political and community activist and build an independent Ukrainian nation."
Ms. Svitlychna, who also was imprisoned in the 1970s along with the other Ukrainian activists, recalled some of the tragic, touching and humorous moments of their lives inside and outside of prison.
She read an excerpt from a letter from Mr. Stus, who lamented the fact that Mr. Svitlychnyi was neglecting his own poetic talent for the sake of helping other, younger poets, like himself, develop theirs.
"There must be about 10 years of his life within every one of us so-called youngsters," he wrote. "The best within me came from Ivan; the best of many others also came from Ivan."
Vasyl Stus ended that letter by asking God to let him see Ivan Svitlychnyi and hear Yevhen Sverstiuk just one more time before he dies.
God was not willing, however. Vasyl Stus died in prison.
"They're together now," Nadia Svitlychna added. When her brother died, she said, he was buried in an embroidered shirt, a gift from his "brother" as they referred to Vasyl Stus in their prison correspondence.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, March 15, 1998, No. 11, Vol. LXVI
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