Yelyzaveta Skoropadska in art, politics and charity in some of the most tragic years of Ukrainian history
Family and friends called her Lilly. Ukrainians, who during the Second World War were forcibly taken to Germany by the Nazis, called her "our Liza" and "our Yelyzaveta." A talented sculptor, secretary and assistant to her father, Hetman of Ukraine Pavlo Skoropadsky, and the leader of the Ukrainian Hetmanite Movement, Yelyzaveta Kuzhim-Skoropadska is still little known to the general public in Ukraine. She considered herself to be Ukrainian, same as her older sister Maria and brother Danylo. However, her national sentiments, according to her sister Olena Ott-Skoropadska, were stronger: "My sister Lilly... considered everything that was not Ukrainian to be of little value."
The second daughter of Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky, the Hetman of the Ukrainian State in the turbulent 1918, and Oleksandra Skoropadska (nee Durnovo), Yelyzaveta, was born on November 26, 1899 in St. Petersburg. She was named after her father's aunt Yelyzaveta Myloradovych, the principal founder of the Shevchenko Scientific Society and a well-known patron of the Ukrainian educational movement.
"Lilly once told me much later," her younger sister Olena Ott-Skoropadska recalled, "that she always, even as a child, consciously felt herself Ukrainian. When the family moved in the summer months to our Ukrainian estates in Poloshky and Trostyanets, she always perceived it as a kind of a homecoming." Yelyzaveta kept the memories of her life at her great-grandfather's estate of Trostyanets, with its old trees and romantic stories, for the rest of her life "as a wonderful dream."
In fact, in Chernihiv neighborhood, the children of Skoropadskys family immersed in Ukrainian environment, simply and routinely communicated with village children, and later learned the language by reading Ukrainian books. Yelyzaveta Skoropadska began studying Ukrainian as a small child, before even learning to write. She later started a separate notebook, where she would write down words and phrases, and much later, in Berlin, she astonished a famous Ukrainian scientist Zenon Kuzel by her precise knowledge of Poltava region idioms. Yelyzaveta made good friends with village children, and in winter, while in St. Petersburg, she exchanged letters with a few peasant girls, of course, in Ukrainian.
"Once as a child, I read a book about Ukrainian Cossacks, unfortunately I can't remember now what it was," Yelyzaveta wrote in her memoirs. "From this book, I still have one picture kept in my memory. A Cossack spent a long time in jail. The enemies tortured, insulted and mocked him. Then one day, a man came to him from the enemy camp and promised to set him free, if only the Cossack said one word, that he forsakes his God and his homeland... But the Cossack refused..." Yelyzaveta admitted that this Cossack remained for her throughout her lifetime an example of the great heroism and chivalry of Ukrainians. "I often pray to God that He never puts me in such situation," she wrote. "I imagine the terrible burden that would carry the soul of a man who forsook even for an instant the holiest of all... Betrayal for me is something terrible and, conversely, loyalty is one of the highest qualities and signs of human dignity."
The subtle nature of Yelyzaveta Skoropadska sought fulfillment in philosophical ideas and artistic images. History has preserved for us only some of her memoirs and notes about the world around her. Most of her personal archive was destroyed during the Second World War, but some of her memoirs and essays have survived. "The soul must be spacious, so that thoughts can whirl in it like a wind in an open field," she wrote in her memoirs in 1932. "People open windows in their houses to let in fresh air and sunshine. Similarly, the soul must be opened to air and sunshine, and it should have no sickly, closed places. For it is a poison to the soul that brings death."
Another vivid memory is related to her choice of profession. Since childhood, Yelyzaveta dreamt of becoming a sculptor. "When we were young and lived in our estate in Poloshky near the town of Glukhov, we went with great enthusiasm to watch clay mines near the village of Poloshky... I cannot forget how good it was to see girls sitting and breaking off lumps of clay. Even better was to hear them sing Ukrainian songs. They sang in several voices. Their songs and the white clay..." Hence the desire to embody images in clay. "...As a child, I liked to mold all sorts of shapes," Yelyzaveta Skoropadska wrote. "My mother often said that when I grow up, they would have to find a sculptor to teach me. She drew very well and was an art connoisseur. She had many good books on art, and my sister Maria and I often looked inside when we were small. Parents always told us that when we grow up, we would go to Italy to see for ourselves the great works of the old masters."
Yelyzaveta Skoropadska, after getting home education, graduated from the state high school for girls with a gold medal. She got her vocational training when she studied sculpture at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts under Maria Dillon, and resumed her studies in Berlin and Florence under the famous engraver Federico Andreotti in 1925. Her very first pieces of art promised a great success. In Berlin, the young sculptor had many orders for portraits. Her works in plaster and bronze appeared in exhibitions, and the German press gave them a good critique, stressing in the review the artist's talent. Yelyzaveta made sculptures commissioned in the Netherlands and Finland.
A lifetime project
But the true calling of Yelyzaveta Skoropadska was the service of her homeland. Her spontaneously formed Ukrainian identity was beneficially influenced by her acquaintance, during her last year at high school in the city of Orel, with a young teacher, who was a convinced Ukrainian. Under her influence, Yelyzaveta learned about the Ukrainian liberation movement, and started a serious study of the Ukrainian history. She later wrote: "Only the sense of the accomplished duty and clear conscience have a value. Probably it is easier to lay down one's life at the time of a great excitement, to rush in delight into a battle or into a fire, than to live a life without waiting for glory, with joy and without complaints, to bear the cross that we must bear in everyday life." It is easy to see that these words were addressed to her father, Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky.
In her memoirs of the years 1917-1918, Yelyzaveta writes that for her family, the election of her father as the Hetman of Ukraine came as a great surprise. "During the revolution, we lived in St. Petersburg, and for a long time we did not hear anything from the father," she recalls. "There were no letters for several months. On Good Friday before Easter 1918, at the Gostiny Dvor there was a crowd and newsboys shouted the news. We heard something about a coup, Kyiv, some names, something about Skoropadsky. But we were so far from thinking about a coup associated with the father that we paid no attention... The next day, we actually read about Skoropadsky's coup, and were terribly surprised and worried... We bought all the magazines we could find, and all accounts were different, the details were controversial, but there was no longer doubt that a coup really took place. But no one knew what happened in reality..."
"The beginning of her father's Hetmanate in 1918 became a decisive event in Lilly's life," Olena Ott-Skoropadska recalled. "Her dear, adored father was the Hetman of Ukraine! She was full of romantic ideas – she was then 18 years old – and she saw in him the embodiment of her ideals." According to her sister, Yelyzaveta "happily jumped on the general mood of enthusiasm prevalent in Ukraine at that time to build a new Ukrainian Hetman state. The glorious past of the ancient times and the old hetmans again came alive for her in her father's person. Young and older gentlemen from her father's entourage admired Lilly: a young and beautiful Hetman's daughter and, besides, a true Ukrainian patriot. Lilly, from the beginning, became for the Hetman's supporters a kind of an icon and, in any case, the most beloved member of our family."
The fall of the Hetmanate in 1918 was perceived by Yelyzaveta as a personal catastrophe. Her family noticed that she looked detached and dry. But her ostentatious inner loneliness disappeared completely at Ukrainian festivals that took place in the Skoropadskys family or at the official Ukrainian events in Berlin, where Yelyzaveta could show her real charms. In everyday life, though, she was very modest, "as a thin gray mouse." According to her younger sister Olena, "she did not give any importance to dresses." Usually, she wore skirts sewn with her own hands and knitted pullovers.
Yelyzaveta, with her "delicate features and Madonna-like hair", Olena recalls, was considered "the beauty of the family." In fact, she took after her mother, who was usually kind and restrained, all loved for her tenderness. At the same time, Lilly felt herself to be a privileged daughter, since she was the only child to inherit her father's gray eyes, and sometimes he gently called her "my gray-eyed girl."
Yelyzaveta started to take part in her father's activities in 1928, after her brother Danylo graduated from the Higher Technical Institute of Berlin and started working as an engineer. Lilly took over the work that was previously done by her brother, primarily, the Hetman's personal correspondence. Besides, she assisted him with the publication of political articles, some of which were printed in Skoropadskys' apartment on a handpress. At that time, by her own admission, she was really happy, since she worked for the Ukrainian cause, for which she had a "real inclination."
From 1923, she worked at the Ukrainian Red Cross Assistance, which was also called the Ukrainian Refugee Assistance and was headed by her mother, Oleksandra Skoropadska. The main purpose of the organization was to assist the refugees who kept arriving in Germany. In 1929, Yelyzaveta headed a charitable organization, the Committee for Famine Relief in Ukraine. The Committee deliberately restricted its functions to material assistance to the starving, trying to provide to the whole of Ukraine. "Immediate material aid to the starving in the USSR is only possible if we completely separate the relief campaign from any political activity," a statement of the Hetman's government said. Yelyzaveta organized extensive correspondence, trying to involve more people in raising funds to help Ukrainians before and during the famine of 1932-1933. The fact that these charitable organizations were headed by the ladies from the Hetman's family encouraged women to take part in the Ukrainian charitable movement.
During the Soviet-German war, the Hetman's daughter Yelyzaveta took care of the Ukrainian women deported to Germany for forced labor, visited their camps and tried to provide them with food and clothing. At the same time, Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky tried to improve their living conditions, using his connections in German political circles. A close friend of Yelyzaveta, a well-known historian Natalya Polonska-Vasylenko, who during the Second World War moved from Ukraine to Germany with her husband and escaped Soviet claws, wrote: "Our Liza" and "our Lyzaveta" is what the girls from Ukraine called her, and they waited for her visit as if it were a great holiday. They were so surprised to learn who she was... The fate of most of them was dark and terrible: they had to wash away their unwitting guilt of finding themselves in Germany in remote camps of Siberia... There they took with them the memory of "their Liza" as a ray of light that shined to them during their hard forced labor.
In 1945, on the eve of the Soviet troops' attack on Berlin, Yelyzaveta, along with her father, moved to Oberstdorf, where her mother Oleksandra already lived at that time, with her sister Maria and brother Petro. Yelyzaveta was the only witness to the tragic death of Pavlo Skoropadsky on April 26, 1945 due to a serious injury obtained during an air raid. After a long search for a Ukrainian priest, she managed to find a Greek Catholic confessor (Father Hryhoriy Onufriv), who held a service over the body of the Hetman in Bavaria, which had already been occupied by the Americans.
Later in her memoirs, recounting the hard circumstances of Pavlo Skoropadsky's funeral during the harsh times of war, his daughter Yelyzaveta recalled: "Who could have thought that my father, one of the greatest Ukrainian patriots, would be buried like this? Everything was so unfriendly, alien, and hopeless. Yet in those harsh times I had some comfort, and my heart became lighter. At the last minute, when the coffin was brought, a priest was found. I had a feeling that it was God Himself who sent him. Although he was not an Orthodox priest, he was a Ukrainian. I had a feeling that my father and I were not disengaged from Ukraine, and would never lose touch with it, no matter what happens. It was as if Father Onufriv expressed the sympathies and condolences of the Ukrainian people."
Later Yelyzaveta recalled that "all the work of my father in exile was focused on maintaining, developing and implementing, when time comes, the idea of the great independent Ukrainian state." Her thoughts are the most convincing manifestation of the deep national feelings that the Hetman instilled in his daughter and the rest of the family. At the same time, they are an irrefutable proof of the falsity of Pavlo Skoropadsky's accusations of "being Russian," since they demonstrate that he was among the most prominent figures of patriotic statesmen in the modern Ukrainian history.
"When I think of my father, what I value the most is what he did in exile," wrote Yelyzaveta in 1945. "Some would say that it was a heroic act to go to St. Sofia Square in 1918 and to consciously take the burden of power and responsibility. This is true, but I would say that even more heroism, willpower and patience were required in order to not lose courage in exile and to keep the Ukrainian cause in clean hands."The Virus of Rebellion
At the head of the Hetmanite Movement
From June 1945, Yelyzaveta Skoropadska resided in Oberstdorf. She was actively involved in political activities, contributed to the development of the Hetmanite movement among Ukrainian immigrants in Germany, and earned significant popularity in this path. In 1949, she married Vasyl Kuzhima, one of the active leaders of the United Hetman Organization and an ally to Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky, who was close to his family. Lawyer by profession, in 1918 he was appointed Ukrainian consul in the Caucasus. After the establishment of the Bolsheviks regime in Ukraine, Vasyl Kuzhim immigrated to Germany. In Berlin, among Ukrainian émigrés, he was a welcome and respected figure. Along with Ivan Mirchuk, Dmytro Doroshenko, Oleksandr Skoropys-Yoltukhovsky and Volodymyr Korostovets, he belonged to the circle of political figures who often visited the Skoropadskys family in Wannsee.
The marriage of Yelyzaveta Skoropadsky, which lasted for only nine years, was a happy one. Besides the fact that she and Kuzhim were kindred spirits and found solace in Ukrainian social and political life, both loved to work. Vasyl performed accounting orders for German firms, while Yelyzaveta embroidered national ornaments on blouses for a Hungarian company. In summer, the couple traveled to the mountains and gathered berries and mushrooms, which they supplied to the best hotel in Oberstdorf.
In February 1959, after the death of her older sister Maria Skoropadska-Montrezor, according to the "Acts of heirdom of the Hetman power and the order of succession in our family based on the principle of seniority," Yelyzaveta Skoropadska took over the leadership of the Ukrainian monarchist United Hetman Organization. At the end of her life, she gave Skoropadskys' family archive, which was kept in her private quarters, to the Lypynsky East European Research Institute in Philadelphia (USA).
Yelyzaveta Skoropadska-Kuzhim died on February 16, 1976 in Oberstdorf (Bavaria).