War. Stories from Ukraine

Ukrainians tell stories about their life during the war

“The Russians aimed to shoot our Executed Renaissance for the second time, to destroy our memories,” Yaryna Tsymbal, Kharkiv

by | 4 April 2022 | Kharkiv, War. Stories from Ukraine

Photos by Vyacheslav Horbonosov

In the beginning was the Word (Slovo in Ukrainian), and the Word (Slovo) is a House of Writers in Kharkiv. Here, the most outstanding Ukrainian writers and artists of the twentieth century lived and created their art. From here, most of them were sent to their deaths. We call that generation the Executed Renaissance. A hundred years later, Russia tried to shoot even the memory of them.

The Slovo House was cooperative: writers, artists, performers, and composers built it at their own expense. And the name of the house was chosen based on the profession of the majority of its inhabitants and because, from above, it resembled the letter “C,” the initial letter of its name in Cyrillic.

The families began to settle in apartments in the spring of 1930. The house came to life: children made noise, adults called each other, volleyball was played in the yard, and an ice rink was filled for the winter. Hundreds of texts were written here: poems, stories, novels, plays, articles, essays, reportages. Hundreds of paintings were painted: portraits, landscapes, still lifes, graphics. Dozens of roles were rehearsed, theatrical productions and musical compositions were created, and movies were conceived.

On the sunny morning of May 13, 1933, a shot rang out in the Slovo House. The writer Mykola Khvylovy, the ideological and creative leader of the 1920s generation, the author of the Away from Moscow cultural concept, killed himself. The day before, the first arrests took place in the house. The Soviet authorities began the Great Terror. More than half of the residents of the Slovo House were arrested, and their families were evicted from the apartments. This generation is known as the Executed Renaissance in Ukrainian culture.

During World War II, the House was destroyed, but people did not abandon it. The widow of Ivan Dniprovsky, who remained in occupied Kharkiv, packed the archive in her suitcase and put a note on top: “There are very valuable manuscripts in here, the papers of the late writer Dniprovsky. Whoever finds it, please save it.” During the bombings and battles for Kharkiv, the suitcase was taken to a bomb shelter. Thus, the most valuable and the most important was saved—the memory.

The Slovo House is still home to several families, descendants of the writers and artists of the 1920s. But most of them settled there after the war. New people are born and grow up here. Children play in the yard and go to school. Here they fall in love, get married, and have children.

The Slovo House has survived and got through all the trials. In autumn 2020, a residence for writers and artists was created in one of the apartments.

On March 7th, 2022, a Russian missile damaged the Slovo House. The doors were crushed, the windows were knocked out, the walls battered by shell fragments… The Russians aimed to shoot our Executed Renaissance for the second time, to destroy our memory.

But the surviving memorial plaque on the wall—122 names—reminds us that history should not repeat itself. The Slovo House will survive the horde and continue inspiring us to live and create.

Date of recording: April 9, 2022

 Translated by Olesja Yaremchuk

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