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.