In Memory of Vasyl Stus


During the night between 3 and 4 September 1985, 22 years ago today, Vasyl Stus, Ukrainian poet, human rights activist and member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, died in a punishment cell in one of the Perm Labour Camps.

There are doubtless many profound and penetrating words still waiting to be spoken about Stus the man and the poet.  In remembering him today, however, in a month when all are preoccupied with the elections, and in Odessa (and throughout Ukraine) there are arguments over the planned erection of a monument to Catherine the Great whose claim to a place in Ukrainians’ heart would be difficult to argue, the following excerpt from an article by Yevhen Sverstyuk seems appropriate.

“However you fight against the temptation to “immortalize in stone”, human nature wins out. Foreigners are amazed at how many famous people there are in Ukraine: a monument here, a bust there, a carved outline from behind a tree.

We’re also amazed. Try to explain now to a child who that stone man is sitting or standing in the park, and what he once meant for us.  If we’re honest, then his name never meant anything, not Petrovsky, not Kosyura, not Manuilsky. The monuments were erected “for unwavering commitment to the Party”.

The monuments to the big leaders inspired lots of anecdotes among the people (it would be interesting to read a book of those imprisoned for such anecdotes.)

And as for heroes – it wasn’t the Brezhnev carnival that broke all records for moral discrediting of “heroes”, but Kuchma’s regime. Here you’d just need to print a list of “heroes of Ukraine”, for people to begin shaking their heads “well, well, well.”

Against this background, for the 20th anniversary of Vasyl Stus’ death they began talking about whether he shouldn’t be made a “Hero” posthumously.

If we’re to touch on this subject, then the question could be put differently: isn’t it time to come to terms with all these monuments which are mutually exclusive? After all, it’s not just surprise that is elicited, but a real neurosis when they place Kosyura before a monument to the victims of Holodomor.

The idea has long been floating around to gather all those monuments to cogs in the machine into a heap, like a museum of weapons from the War:  “Monuments of the totalitarian era”.

And then, after the parks and squares are thus humanized, we could think about erecting a modest monument to the Poet. And that will finally be a symbol reminiscent of the honour and dignity of the Ukrainian people.

Why specifically to Stus? Perhaps it’s because during his lifetime, Kyiv was a place of persecution for him, of dark trials and draconian sentences. It was a city of great love and of great pain. Kyiv was a city where he was the “least” in the eyes of those who determined fates, who hunted people of real stature. The least in fact, because the most. I would like to see a monument to him somewhere opposite the Institute of Literature where without any sense whatsoever at present Petrovsky, the old “All-Ukrainian elder” casts his grey presence. And then finally people will begin bringing flowers.

Stus needs no pedestal at all. He could quietly slip out from between the trees. Once in the middle of the 1960s just such a monument to Lesya Ukrainian was spontaneously erected in the Pershotravnevy Park.

Stus is essentially like this, standing apart, like a soul driven from the world of lies and violence, and ever returning.

Vasyl Stus was not the only person whom Kyiv singed with its flame. One would not want to clutter the air with names which the river of time has carried away. Yet justice demands that we immortalize the lofty soul of the poet, because it is sorely wanted here.



Please see for more information about Vasyl Stus

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