125th Anniversary of Klym Polishchuk’s Birth

On 25 November 1891, on a cold clear autumn day, a baby boy was born to a poor village family in northern Ukraine, the Polishchuks. His parents chose the name Klym, or ‘Clemente’ in Latin, which means ‘merciful, mild and gentle’. Klym Polishchuk grew up to be a Ukrainian writer who was exactly that – merciful and gentle – and perhaps naïve, but also extraordinarily brave.

The words of Klym “Oh, just give the nation a chance to rise unified”, in his collection of Gothic tales, represented a serious provocation to the authorities in Soviet-occupied Ukraine.

Klym Polishchuk lived and worked through dangerous times in Ukraine under a ruling Soviet regime that had replaced Tsarism. It was a time of war, of the collectivisation of private property and of Russification. Although not an active member of any political parties in Ukraine, he belonged to the literary and art group Muzahet that supported Ukrainian national literature and which came to the attention of the Soviet authorities.

'Treasure of the Ages: Ukrainian Legends', Book Cover, First Edition, 1921

‘Treasure of the Ages: Ukrainian Legends’, Book Cover, First Edition, 1921

Writing in 1921 in Treasure of the Ages: Ukrainian Legends (in the short story ‘Wandering Jew’) for the Kyiv-Lviv based Rusalka Publishing, Polischuk’s fictional characters gave voice to nationalist sentiments:

“…the Sich Rifleman endured too much during the harsh wartime and, at the end, he took his own life, after leaving behind a note that explained, ‘Under the current living conditions, fighting is worthless.’ Sympathising, the people commented, ‘A man so conscientious died so ingloriously.’ How easy it is to say the word ‘ingloriously’, I thought to myself, but how hard it is to conceive – what is glorious and what is inglorious? Was this act not the strongest protest of a true Sich Rifleman’s soul against multiple rulers and mutually destructive strife, which was so endemic for so long? […] The Sich Rifleman ended his life because he had endured too much, just like the whole Ukrainian nation. Oh, just give the nation a chance to rise unified. Do not crush its unity and it will be able to achieve anything!” (Skarby Vikiv. Ukrainski Lehendy)

In 1929 Klym Polishchuk was arrested. After eight years enduring Siberian concentration camps he was executed in Sandarmokh, on 3 November 1937, along with 289 other representatives of the Ukrainian intelligentsia.

Despite the Soviets’ efforts, Klym Polishchuk’s name and his works have not faded into oblivion. Today (25 November 2016), 125 years since his birth, Klym’s titles continue to be reprinted in Ukraine and some are now available to English-language readers.