Gothic Tales from Stalin’s Enemies in Ukraine

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At Sova Books we love Gothic tales. Some time ago, we published translations of Klym Polishchuk‘s collection of short stories and a legend by Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska. We hope to publish more translations in this genre soon. In the meantime, here is some insight into the lives of talented Ukrainian Gothic authors.

In memory of Klym Polishchuk (1891–1937), Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska (1868–1941), Maik Yohansen (1896–1937), and many other Ukrainians executed by the Russian Stalinist regime .

In memory of all Ukrainians who lost their lives in the current Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Who were Stalin’s enemies in Ukraine?

Monotone photograph of Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska as a young woman
Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska

Over several decades in the 20th century, an enormous number of Ukrainian intellectuals have become victims of the Stalinist regime. After arrests, they faced brutal captivity and eventual execution. Most arrests took place in the 1920s and 1930s in Soviet-occupied Ukraine, peaking in 1933 and then again in 1937. The victims included our beloved artists, writers, and poets.

Parallel to this process of persecuting writers was a campaign to extinguish their voices in society. Individuals and their achievements were discredited during show trials, and their social milieu and readership were also demolished.

Relatives, associates, and supporters faced exile, execution, or the permanent label “relative of the nation’s enemies”. The soviets burned, banned, and tried to erase the works of condemned writers from the nation’s official cultural history. Many writers and their books were not rehabilitated until decades later.

However, the Stalinists, who hoped to obliterate the memory of Ukrainian talented, inquisitive, nation-loving writers failed to do so.

As a tribute to those persecuted Ukrainian intellectuals, now known collectively as ‘The Executed Renaissance’, Sova Books has published a selection of their works in English. English editions of The Living Grave (click here to see a free book preview) and Treasure of the Ages (click here to see a free book preview).

“The Living Grave”, a gothic legend by Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska

Front book cover of "The Living Grave: a Ukrainian Legend' novel

The Ukrainian author Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska wrote her gothic legend, The Living Grave, when she was still a very young woman. The legend made its debut in Kyiv in 1889, early in the career of this talented young woman who wrote poetry, prose, and drama and would become well-known as a theatre critic. In 1919 she was cofounder and deputy president of the National Council of Ukrainian Women.

Condemned for ‘nationalist activities’, Liudmyla Starytska-Cherniakhivska was exiled in 1930. A decade later, the soviets arrested her again. This time, aged in her seventies, the writer was tortured and died on a train headed for imprisonment in Kazakhstan.

The Living Grave is a gothic folk tale that reimagines life on the steppes of Ukraine centuries ago. It describes a romantic union that defies and suffers from barbarism and implacable hatred.

“Treasure of the Ages”, a collection of gothic tales by Klym Polishchuk

Portrait photograph of Klym Polishchuk
Klym Polishchuk

Klym Polishchuk published his Treasure of the Ages in 1921 in Rusalka Publishing, a Kyiv-Lviv-based publishing house. Despite being born into a Ukrainian peasant family, Klym Polischuk established a literary career, publishing poetry, short stories, and historical novels.

He was an active participant in social and literary circles, an editor of Ukrainian Voice (Ykrainskyi Holos), and a member of the editorial staff of The Art (Mystetstvo) magazine. He was first arrested in 1915 but was mobilised to fight during World War One.

Book cover features a silhouette of a monk holding a book

In 1929 the soviets sentenced Polishchuk to exile and ten years of hard labour in concentration camps. In 1937 he was among 1111 Solovki prison camp inmates, including many young and old talented Ukrainian artists, historians, musicians, priests, and writers, who were executed on 3 November 1937.

Treasure of the Ages uses elements of the gothic prose genre adapted to Ukrainian culture and traditions. But although the stories portray ancient places, historical figures, and events, they also echo events in Klym Polishchuk’s contemporary world.

Whether you love gothic works or modern folk tales or simply want to know more about the cultural history of Ukraine, we hope that you enjoy our introduction to these two Ukrainian writers who perished for their country and their love of writing.

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To learn more about Ukrainian gothic literature, please see:
Book Reviews of our First Two Gothic Publications

To find out more about Maik Yohansen, please see:
To the Author of “The Journey of the Learned Doctor Leonardo…”