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22 October, 2012  ▪  Svitlana Kravchenko

Ukrainian Paris

Must-sees for every Ukrainian tourist who visits the French capital include the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Musée d'Orsay, the Musée de Cluny, and so on. But Paris also has many places linked to Ukraine…

Ukrainian sites in Paris begin with the Symon Petlura Library, a Ukrainian centre which is the oldest and best-known around the world (especially among intellectuals). It occupies the second floor of a modest and outwardly inconspicuous building on rue de Palestine in east Paris. It has been a centre of Ukrainian political and cultural life in France since it was founded in 1929. The library welcomes the French who are looking for their Ukrainian ancestors, Ukrainians who travel to France and scholars who come to do research. The library was founded after Petlura’s death by his followers. During the Second World War, the Nazis removed its extremely valuable collection gathered in the interwar period and part of it eventually ended up in Moscow. Ukrainians have not been able to obtain any of it back despite many years of negotiations with Russia.

Now the library’s funds include periodicals, books and manuscripts collected after the Second World War through the efforts of numerous people. Because the library was founded as a monument to the Chief Otaman of the UNR army, there is a standing exhibition of Petlura’s works published at different times in various languages.

The library would probably not exist if it were not for two Ukrainian women: library director Jaroslava Josypyszyn and her assistant Daria Melnykovych. The library operates, grows and develops, maintains contacts with scholars, public and cultural figures in Ukraine, France and other countries through the efforts of these two women.

Josypyszyn is the daughter of Petro Josypyzhyn, Petlura’s comrade-in-arms and a UNR army officer who used to head the library and expended tremendous efforts to revive and develop it after the war. Jaroslava is now working to make acquisitions and keep the library’s fund in good order. She engages in scholarly work and is constantly in contact with Ukrainians across the world and French scholars. Melnykovych is a former citizen of Lutsk, the daughter of a political émigré from Volyn who was forced to leave Lutsk together with his family during the Second World War under threat of being shot for his links to the UPA.

The Symon Petlura Museum is located next to the library and houses documents from the period of the national liberation struggle (1917-21), such as the texts of four Universals (the third in Ukrainian, Polish, Russian and Yiddish), awards, certificates, fragments of a Ukrainian flag, and so on. The most valued items are the personal belongings of the Chief Otaman: his cross, awards and decorations from Ukraine and other countries, his belt and pipe and the clothes (a shirt, hat, overcoat and scarf) he wore when he was killed by a Bolshevik-hired hitman on rue Racine in May 1926. One of the acquisitions made in the past decade is a 2004 post stamp showing Petlura.

The Saint Symon Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church occupies the first floor of the same building. It was purchased by the Ukrainian community of Paris for the needs of the library and church which offers services every Sunday. The most precious object in the church is the magnificently decorated iconostasis made by Chernihiv-based painter Andriy Solohub. Jaroslava Josypyszyn says that Soviet agents burst into the museum and church in 1976, trying to damage and plunder the valuables.

LIVING MEMORY

Petlura's grave in Montparnasse, where he is buried next to his wife and daughter, is a symbolic place for Ukrainians in Paris. It is not so easy to find the tombstone and monument with blue-and-yellow ribbons among the ancient graves of French and world celebrities…

Rue Racine became a fatal spot for Petlura, who embodied the idea of Ukrainian statehood in the 1920s. Obviously, there are no memorial plaques or inscriptions about him on this street. Mortally wounded, Petlura was taken to the nearby Hôpital de la Charité where he spent the last minutes of his life. In 1942, the building of the hospital’s chapel was handed over to the Ukrainian community. Now it houses the Saint Volodymyr Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Many people, including Ukrainians who work and live in Paris, attend Sunday services there.

The Taras Shevchenko park is adjacent to the church building from the side of the Boulevard Saint-Germain. A monument with the inscription that reads “Taras Shevchenko, a Ukrainian poet” was erected here in 1964 on the 150th anniversary of the poet’s birth. The park itself was founded by the Paris administration on the occasion of the 155th anniversary of his birth, on 29 March 1969. The park and the church have been an invariable meeting place for our compatriots who visit on weekends.

Naturally, there are also official buildings in Paris with blue-and-yellow flags waving over them: the consulate department of Ukraine’s embassy on avenue de Saxe and the Ukrainian Cultural Information Centre which opened in 2004.


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