Ukrainian Cultural Renaissance of the 1920s

The downfall of the Russian Empire after the First World War, the resulting abolition of imperial censorship, the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state (even if only for a very short time), and the relative leniency of the Soviet regime in the 1920s all led to an astonishing renaissance of literary and cultural activity in Ukraine. Scores of new writers and poets appeared and formed dozens of literary groups that changed the face of Ukrainian literature. These processes were supported by the politics of Ukrainization and the elimination of illiteracy.

Realism, with a distinctly decadent strain, was the most notable characteristic of Volodymyr Vynnychenko’s prose, while Pavlo Tychyna was the leading Symbolist poet. Neoclassicism produced the poet Mykola Zerov, and Futurism was initiated by Mykhail Semenko. The prose of Mykola Khvyliovy, with its erratic telegraphic style, and his pamphlets, with their turbulent exhortations and rhetorical questions, were part and symptom of the prevalent spirit of national vitality. Khvyliovy’s pamphlets, which provoked the Literary Discussion, and his attempt to group writers into organizations — VAPLITE and Prolitfront — and to create a new proletarian Ukrainian culture make him the most important single author of the period not only from a literary and cultural, but also from a political point of view. Khvyliovy and his associates supported an orientation toward Western Europe rather than Russia, rejecting "Red graphomania". Although Khvyliovy at first extolled the revolution, he later became increasingly critical of Soviet policies, and ended his life by suicide, as a form of protest.

Ukrainian prose was enriched by the lyrically romantic works of Yuri Yanovsky and Valerian Pidmohylny, who gave Ukrainian literature its first modern novel in the neorealistic tradition. Ukrainian drama reached its apogee in the works of Mykola Kulish, especially during his collaboration with Les Kurbas and the Berezil Theater. Other prose writers of note were Mykhailo Ivchenko, Klym Polishchuk, Andriy Holovko, Ivan Senchenko, Hryhoriy Epik, Volodymyr Gzhytsky, Arkadiy Liubchenko, Borys Antonenko-Davydovych, Oleksa Slisarenko, the lyrical impressionist Hryhoriy Kosynka, the humorist Ostap Vyshnia, and the essayist and parodist Kost Bureviy. All of them were soon to be repressed.

In many respects the 1920s and early 1930s were a time of experimentation in the arts. The government tolerated a variety of trends in these fields, provided they were not overtly hostile to the regime. In art and literature, numerous schools proliferated, some traditional and others radically experimental.

Most writers were consolidated into literary organizations, each with different styles or positions. The main literary organizations of the time were:

• "Hart" (meaning “tempering” in Ukrainian) existed 1923-25. Its main goal was to unite all proletarian writers to further develop proletarian culture. One of the requirements of the membership of "Hart" was the use of the Ukrainian language. The organization ceased to exist after its leader Vasyl Ellan-Blakytny died. Members included Volodymyr Sosiura, Ivan Kulyk, Valerian Polishchuk, Mike Yohansen, Pavlo Tychyna, Oleksandr Dovzhenko, Mykola Khvyliovy, Oles Dosvitniy.

• VAPLITE (in Ukrainian an abbreviation of Free Academy of Proletarian Literature) was created in 1926 by Mykola Khvyliovy after “Hart” ceased to exist. Its goal was to create a new Ukrainian literature by adopting the best aspects of Western European culture. Although VAPLITE accepted Communism as a political ideology, it rejected the need for literature to contain ideological content. Members of VAPLITE included Oleksandr Dovzhenko, Mykola Kulish, Les Kurbas, Mike Yohansen, Pavlo Tychyna, Oleksa Slisarenko, Mykola Bazhan, Yuri Smolych, Arkadiy Liubchenko.

• MARS (in Ukrainian an abbreviation of Workshop of the Revolutionary Word) existed 1924-29. It was originally called "Lanka" in 1924 and then renamed MARS in 1926. The main postulate of MARS was to honestly and artistically describe the times. Its members included Valerian Pidmohylny, Hryhoriy Kosynka, Yevhen Pluzhnyk, Borys Antonenko-Davydovych, Todos Osmachka, Ivan Bahriany.

• "Aspanfut" (Association of Pan-Futurists), 1921-1924, later renamed Komunkult (Communist Culture) was an organization of Ukrainian pan-futurists. Their values were "Communism, internationalism, industrialism, rationalization, inventions, quality". Its members included Mykola Bazhan, Myroslav Irchan, Mykhail Semenko, Geo Shkurupiy, Oleksa Slisarenko, Oleksa Vlyzko, Yuri Yanovsky, Volodymyr Yaroshenko.

• “Neoclassicists” was a literary movement in the 1920s of modernists among whose followers were Mykola Zerov, Pavlo Fylypovych, Mykhailo Drai-Khmara, Oswald Burghardt, Maksym Rylsky. They never established a formal organization or program, but they shared cultural and aesthetic interests. They were concerned with the creation of high art and had a disdain for "popular art", didactic and propagandist writing.

• "Pluh" (meaning “plough” in Ukrainian) existed 1922-1932 and was an organization of rural writers. Their main postulate was "to struggle against proprietary ideology among peasants and the promotion of proletarian revolutionary ideals". Members included Serhiy Pylypenko, Andriy Holovko, Petro Panch, Dokiya Humenna, Andriy Holovko, Ivan Senchenko, Hryhoriy Epik, Volodymyr Gzhytsky, Pavlo Usenko, Yuri Vukhnal.
But in 1932 the Communist Party began enforcing Socialist Realism as the required literary style. Stalin’s great purges of 1933–38 decimated the ranks of Ukrainian writers, many of whom were imprisoned or executed, or fled abroad into exile.

[Sources: Encyclopedia of Ukraine & Wikipedia]