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27 February, 2012  ▪  Volodymyr Panchenko

“I am an apostle of bloody ways”

Yevhen Malaniuk as the Ukrainian Freud

The name of émigré poet Yevhen Malaniuk (1897-1968) rose from oblivion in Ukraine in late 1989 when the Ukraina weekly published a selection of his poetry with commentary by Slovak Professor Mykola Nevrly, marking the beginning of Malaniuk’s rehabilitation. In late 1920, Captain Malaniuk, 24, experienced the tragedy of the UNR army: defeat, the surrender of arms and withdrawal from Ukrainian lands. He found himself in Poland with thousands of other interned soldiers. His literary biography that continued for almost half a century began in the Szczypiorno camp near Kalisz (Poland).

Malaniuk lived the typical life of a refugee – one laced with zigzags covering a wide geographical area. In 1923, he moved to Czechoslovakia and studied at the Ukrainian Economics Academy in Podebrady. He married Zoya Ravych, a medical student at Charles University, published his first two collections of poetry, returned to Poland, actively cooperated with literary periodicals, divorced and remarried. His son Bohdan was born in 1934, and 10 years later, in 1944, he again found himself in camps, this time in Germany. In 1949, Malaniuk, now 52, left Europe where Soviet special services were after him and spent the last 19 years of his life in the USA, a country that was very foreign to him.


Malaniuk’s name was familiar to a mere handful of people in the Soviet Union: members of the “executed Renaissance” in Ukrainian literature (Mykola Bazhan, Maksym Rylsky and Pavlo Tychyna), the Sixties' Generation and “literature scholars” in the KGB who were tasked with monitoring journals such as Suchasnist (Munich) where Malaniuk’s works were published. His name was meant to disappear without a trace — a fate even worse than the curses heaped on him in Soviet periodicals in the 1920s and the 1930s.

Paradoxically, Malaniuk maintained an active presence in literary circles in the Ukrainian SSR at the time. In 1926 in Zhyttia i revolutsia (Life and Revolution), Mykola Zerov published a review of Malaniuk's first collection of poetry, Stylet i stylos (The Stiletto and the Stylus, 1925), in which he called him “the most talented young poet of the Ukrainian emigration.” It turns out that Zerov, who lived in Bolshevik-ruled Kyiv, knew about the Kalisz camp journal Veselka (The Rainbow), which Malaniuk edited, and the Ozymyna (Winter Crop) almanac (Kalisz, 1923) in which he made his debut. Zerov read his critical articles, including those about the young Pavlo Tychyna. Zerov’s judgments were quite reserved: Malaniuk’s invectives were prompted by Russian poetry or Panteleimon Kulish. Moreover, he believed Malaniuk's stylistic devices were “somewhat archaic” and found the overall tonality of his poetry “affected and declamatory.” Zerov also noted the politically engaged nature of the Stiletto and Stylus collection: “There is no other poetry that would be more ideologically contrary to our sentiments and topics than Malaniuk’s. … Our Soviet reality has, of course, a great foe in Malaniuk.”

When he found himself in an internment camp, Malaniuk quickly grasped that from then on, the fight for the sovereignty of the Ukrainian nation would have to be continued through art rather than with arms. The exceedingly intensive artistic life in the Ukrainian camp republics in the early 1920s was a desperate act of defiance against discouragement and hopelessness. Malaniuk published political writings and poetry which look up to Dmytro Dontsov and his Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk (Literary Scholarly Herald) and Pidstavy nashoi polityky (The Foundations of Our Policy) – the “Gospel of our generation,” as Malaniuk described it.  Malaniuk looked at Dontsov, the creator of integral nationalism, as an opinion leader.

“I am an apostle of bloody ways” – this bold self-description appeared in Malaniuk’s first collection. Likening a writer’s pen to a dagger, to him, stiletto and stylus were both related and synonymous.

The Stiletto and the Stylus and Herbarii (Herbarium, 1926) were close to the expressionism which was popular in Europe at the time. Dontsov urged young writers in the Kalisz camp to adopt “the strong-willed worldview of expressionists” in his article “On the Young” (Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk, 1923, Is. 7/8). He mercilessly criticised Veselka authors for their “sparrow-like lightness,” the “blue-and-yellow carefree gentleness” of their poetry and excessive admiration for their “spiritual father” – Pavlo Tychyna. Instead, Dontsov energetically pointed to an aesthetic alternative – “the disturbing, worrying, electrifying and powerful poetry of expressionism.” It was characterized by strong will, a pro-active attitude, the voluntarism of self, irrationalism and a “new language” filled with the energy of action. Malaniuk heeded Dontsov’s urging, finding that it fit with his own instinctive search for meaning and the traits of his poetic temperament.

Malaniuk the poet quickly found his tone. He assumed the onerous duty of studying the nature of national complexes as a Ukrainian Freud. He concluded that the main cause behind Ukraine's defeats was “the cancer of mentality”. Opposed to materialism, Malaniuk believed in the Spirit and the Will, and so he undertook the incredibly difficult task of “recoding” the Ukrainian character, forming a new Ukrainian citizen and eradicating the complex of the enslaved Little Russian from his soul.


Malaniuk’s first collections of poetry were published at a time when an increasingly acute literary discussion caused by Mykola Khvylovy was gaining momentum. In 1926, Khvylovy issued his radical slogans: “Away from Moscow!” and “A psychological Europe for us!” Malaniuk, 29 at the time, could not stand aside when sabres were rattling and responded with “The Epistle” (1926).

Ironically imitating the narrative style of Maksym Rylsky’s poems and taking him to task for his carefree “fisherman” escapism at a time of great upheaval, Maliuk eventually went beyond a debate with one addressee, joining in a discussion about ways Ukrainian culture could and should develop and about the choice between East and West, Europe, its state and future. He defended a pro-European choice and defied those who already saw its dimming or believed it was doomed to “rot away.” His European orientation was clearly anti-Bolshevik: he was sharply opposed to “left” intellectuals enchanted with “light from the East” (Henri Barbusse, Bernard Shaw, Romain Rolland, Anatole France, Oswald Spengler and others). To Malaniuk, “ex oriente lux” was nothing else but new – red – imperialism coupled with Russian messianism and its ideas of “Holy Rus'” and Moscow as the Third Rome. Thus, “The Epistle” is filled with the fiery spirit of invectives hurled at several enemies at once: European leftists, Russian messianic Bolsheviks and their Ukrainian yes-men. Malaniuk’s political writings and poetry are impossible to imagine without unsparing national self-criticism and lamentation. “The Epistle” is a case in point.

He also reproaches himself for having been (together with Rylsky) keen on Alexander Blok’s poetry in his young years. In the mid-1920s, his mission becomes more militaristic. It is an absolutely conscious choice which is borne out by the revealing opposition of the singing Hellas and the cast-iron Rome. Malaniuk believed that a kind of laid-back Hellas-style attitude was adversely affecting Ukraine and dragging it down. Thus, he longs for Rome with its power and “stately bronze.”

It leads him to visions of the future in “The Epistle”: Malaniuk urges the time to come when “a son of a powerful nation” will emerge. Here the poet mentions Taras Shevchenko's prophetic spirit and the “Christian renaissance” that will come and save Europe and, thus, Ukraine. This is Malaniuk’s alternative to the hostile atheism of the Bolsheviks and, at the same time, a correction of Khvylovy’s thesis about an “Asian renaissance.” Khvylovy was searching for a formula for Ukrainian messianism. Malaniuk found it equally important to offer a formula for Ukraine’s renaissance based on Western experience. The idea of a “Christian renaissance” reflected Malaniuk’s sceptical attitude to the faith in the decisive role of material, technical and economic factors – “machines have not saved people,” he writes. “The Epistle” emphasises Christian values, the tremendous potential of the individual and national spirit and the mystique of history. It also includes some caustic remarks on the “sugary stench of humanism.”

Top officials in the Ukrainian SSR were infuriated with “The Epistle” and unleashed a torrent of abuse. Malaniuk was stigmatized as a Ukrainian Fascist. But in the late 1920s Fascism was perceived differently than it would be a decade later when the Second World War broke out. A national communist in Kharkiv, just like a nationalist in Lviv or Podebrady, could view young Italian Fascism as a force able to revive nations.

Party bosses apparently demanded an angry response to Malaniuk from Soviet Ukrainian poets. Volodymyr Sosiura wrote the most memorable piece – “Answer”:

Dear Mr. Malaniuk,

We will see you in a battle!

You are not a fascist – just a fascist youngling!

We will remind you of your “Epistle”

When you stand against the wall.

Mykola Nevrly said that Sosiura later “regretted for speaking out so sharply against (Malaniuk). He said that he knew nearly nothing about Malaniuk, had not read a single poem and naively believed critic Andriy Khvylia who attacked Malaniuk at the time. … Sosiura was enthralled by Malaniuk’s poems which I briskly quoted off the top of my head. (It was, as I remember, around 1956-57.) He especially liked ‘The Varangian Ballad’ which he called brilliant.”


Nevertheless, we should not think that Malaniuk was solely “an emperor of cast-iron stanzas,” as he put it. He also revealed himself as a Ukrainian gentleman, especially in his romantic and later philosophical lyric poetry, which was often imbued with nostalgic recollections of the Syniukha River and his native Novoarkhanhelsk. It was now time for him, an old man, to say farewell. He chose the words of Rainer Maria Rilke “Herr, es ist Zeit!” (God, it is time!) as the epigraph to one of his most touching poems “Serpen” (August). He had seen an overabundance of the human and worldly things and turned his gaze inwards.

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