The destruction of Ukraine’s folk singers

Communists then, as today, were obsessed with the destruction of heritage.

In early December 1930, a Congress of the Folk Singers of Soviet Ukraine, with 337 delegates from different oblasts, was held at the Opera Theater in Kharkiv. The stated objective of the congress was to involve the folk singers in the building of socialism and to give them new ideological priorities while distancing them from their traditions.

After adopting relevant resolutions, the kobzars (itinerant Ukrainian bards, often blind, who sang to their own accompaniment on a multi-stringed bandura or kobza instrument — Ed.) were packed into train cars under the pretext of a trip to Moscow for the Congress of Folk Singers of the USSR and taken to the outskirts of the Kozacha Lopan station. Late that night the blind singers were taken from the train cars to the edge of the forest where trenches had already been dug. After lining up the blind kobzars and their young guides in one file, the special NKVD unit (Soviet secret police, predecessor of the KGB — Ed.) began shooting. When everything was over, the bodies of the executed were covered with lime and earth. Their musical instruments were burned… (Note: other references place the tragedy in 1933 – Ed.)

kobzar2It is useless to look for even a cursory mention of the execution of the kobzars in the Soviet press. Researchers cannot even find documentary evidence of this terrible tragedy in the archives of the former NKVD-KGB. The NKVD agents knew how to cover up the traces of their crimes. As early as 1960, Alexander Shelepin, the KGB head at the time, issued a secret directive ordering his agencies “from Moscow to the furthest peripheries” to burn everything that could compromise the “heroic” agencies in the future . Yet the truth about the executed congress of kobzars and lirnyks (itinerant musicians who performed epic songs to the accompaniment of a lira, the Ukrainian version of the hurdy-gurdy — Ed.) stubbornly arises from the ashes of oblivion.

. . . .

Even Ukrainian writers were enlisted to persecute the kobzars. Thus, Yuriy Smolych wrote that “the kobza conceals a real threat because it is too tightly tied to the nationalistic elements of Ukrainian culture and the romanticism of the Cossacks and the Zaporozhian Sich (semi-autonomous Ukrainian Cossack state in the 16th to 18th centuries). The kobzars have tried to resurrect this past by all means. The medieval baggage of zhupan and sharovary (vest and trousers in Ukrainian national costume — Ed.) are pressing on the kobza,” he concluded.
kobzar monument

Mykola Khvylovyi called for an end to this “kobzified” Ukraine, insisting on the need to “punch out this kobzified psyche of the people.” But Mykola Bazhan surpassed everyone in his poem “The Blind,” where he calls the kobzars “whiners,” “smelly riffraff,” and their repertoire of ancient Ukrainian epics “damned songs.”

The destruction of Ukraine’s folk singers


Kobzars were a unique class of musicians in Ukraine, who travelled between towns and sang dumas, a meditative poem-song. Kobzars were usually blind, and required the completion of a three-year apprenticeship in specialized Kobzar guilds, in order to be officially recognized as such. In 1932, on the order of Stalin, the Soviet authorities called on all Ukrainian Kobzars to attend a congress in Kharkiv. Those that arrived were taken outside the city and were all put to death.[citation needed]

Persecution of bandurists and kobzari by the Soviet authorities can be divided up into various periods. These periods differed in the type and length of persecution and punishments were dealt out and also the reason for the punishment. Following is a list of persecuted Bandurists sourced from Music from the shadows Roman Malko[1] and The Voices of the Dead by Kuromiya Hiroaki.

A light in the Sky

To celebrate the return of fresh air, Yulia and I went for a walk. It turned out to be during that magical hour immediately after sun set. That mysterious transitional time between day and night, good and evil, when the light makes everything crisp and beautiful.

The cherry blossoms still scented the air. There were also apple trees blossoming, but they gave no scent.

We saw both ducks and bats in the sky. The ducks flying straight with that frantic beating of wings, the bats chaotically chasing insects in the air.

We saw a part of the woods near the river ravaged by some disease. A few hundred trees stood bare, and at least a dozen had fallen, their roots seemingly withered away.

An old man was grazing cows, and we passed very close to them. I know they are gentle, but I’m cautious around such heavy animals.

We say satellites in the sky. Surprisingly, there was one after the next. A steady flow of minuscule white specs in the dark blue sky. As we were watching, and one of them seemed to turn HUGE. It was probably five time as bright as the brightest star. Then it got small again. I think probably the satellite caught some reflection from the sun at just the right angle.

When we returned home, the day was gone. Night had settled in.

ps – during my morning job, the apple trees were buzzing with honey bees.

Fresh Air

Today there was fresh air and blue skies. A lovely day in small town Ukraine. We smelled the blossoming cherry trees.

For the past couple of weeks, much of central Ukraine was covered in smoke. Apparently, there were fires burning in the woods around Chernobyl. Though some of it may have been from seasonal burns of brush that farmers, big and small, do this time of year to fortify their fields. The Chernobyl fires may in fact have been caused by such burning.

So we had two reasons to stay indoors. One, the Corona Virus, and two, the Chernobyl fires, which were serious enough to have caused an official health warning for poor air quality.

The Native Ukrainian National Faith

The Native Ukrainian National Faith (Ukrainian: Рі́дна Украї́нська Націона́льна Ві́ра, Rídna Ukrayíns’ka Natsionál’na Víra; widely known by the acronym РУНВі́ра, RUNVira) or Sylenkoism is a branch of the Slavic Native Faith (Rodnovery) specifically linked to Ukraine that was founded in the 1960s by Lev Sylenko (born 1921) among the Ukrainian diaspora in North America. The doctrine of this tradition, and of the organisations which develop within it, revolves around a sacred writing composed by Sylenko himself, the Maha Vira (“Mighty Faith”).[1]

The Sylenkoite movement is distinctively monotheistic, and this, together with its early emphasis on the charismatic figure of the founder, has led other Ukrainian Rodnover movements and organisations to define it as not authentically “Rodnover”. Members of Sylenkoite churches, however, consider themselves Rodnovers in all respects. Ivakhiv (2005) defines it as a “reformed” Slavic Native Faith.[2] It may be more accurately defined as pantheistic or panentheistic, since, in the Maha Vira, Dazhbog (“Giving God”, the name that Sylenkoites use to refer to the supreme God) himself proclaims through his prophet: “I am the Giving God, I am in all things and all things are in me”.[3]

According to the definition given by Sylenko himself, his doctrine is that of a solar “absolute monotheism”.[4] Sylenko proclaimed himself a prophet, bringing to the Slavs a new understanding of God that, according to him, corresponds to their own and original understanding of God. By his own words: “God’s grace came upon me, and following the will of God I have proclaimed a new understanding of God”. According to believers, he acquired this knowledge through “breath of his ancestors” being united with them “by divine holiness”.[5]

The movement is split between at least four churches which administer more than one hundred congregations spread throughout Ukraine. These four churches are: the “Association of Sons and Daughters of the Native Ukrainian National Faith” (OSID RUNVira), the “Association of Sons and Daughters of Ukraine of the Native Ukrainian National Faith” (OSIDU RUNVira), Volodymyr Chornyi’s network, and the “Union of Native Ukrainian Faith” (SRUV).[6]

The Netflix series “The Devil Next Door” and the tragic story of John Demjanjuk

Demjanjuk’s U.S. citizenship was voided in 1981, on the grounds that he had failed to disclose upon entering the United States that he was Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka. After a long court battle in the U.S., he was extradited to Israel in February 1986.

The actual criminal trial began in Jerusalem in early 1987 and was held not in a courtroom but in the large auditorium of the International Convention Center. Speaking today, Yoram Sheftel, Demjanjuk’s Israeli attorney, tells us this marked the first and only trial in Israel’s history to be broadcast beginning to end, with some 16 cameras in place to record the drama. It was, quite literally, a “show trial.”

A key witness for the prosecution was Treblinka survivor Gustav Borax, whose testimony was heart-wrenching and horrid. Sheftel raised the point during the trial that the gruesome details of what occurred at Treblinka had no bearing upon the identity of the perpetrator. He offered to stipulate or agree that such horrendous acts had occurred, only to be verbally slammed by Chief Judge Dov Levin and directed to withdraw his words or be held in contempt. One of the other Judges, Dalia Dorner, made the twisted justification that it is only by hearing the grotesque details of Treblinka that you can value the identification of Demjanjuk as Ivan the Terrible. Even the courtroom sketch artist, Joanne Lowe, jumps in with a commentary about how Demjanjuk sat motionless and showed no emotion, “He was just blank,” she said, insinuating that he was cold -blooded. Of course, if he had cried, she may have said it was a sign of remorse and guilt on his part.

At a critical point in his cross examination, Mark O’Connor, Demjanjuk’s American lawyer, asks Borax, the prosecution’s lead witness, how he happened to travel from Poland to Miami, Florida, where his deposition was taken by the OSI. Borax hesitates and replies, “We went by train.” The audience sat stunned. With his mental competency now in question, Borax was asked how old he was and replied, “I was born in 1901.” Later, he was unable to recall the name of his youngest son who was killed at Treblinka. Even Demjanjuk’s own lawyer enters into the Kafkaesque world of the bizarre when the program shows him at the time of the trial taking a lie detector test before a TV audience; and his answer that he does not believe Demjanjuk to be Ivan the Terrible is ruled by the lie detector operator to be “untrue.”

Вербна неділя

This morning my wife and I went for a short walk to the river and back. It was a beautiful, sunny morning. We broke a few willow branches and brought them home. Today is the Sunday before Easter.

“Верба біє не я бю, ніні за тижень буде Великдень.”

(“I’m not hitting you, the willow is hitting you, a week from today will be Easter.”)