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¹7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.


Ukrainian Culture

Philosopher and Nomad Grygoriy Skovoroda

Grygoriy Skovoroda is probably the most mystical and mysterious figure in Ukrainian history and literature – a smiling travelling teacher and a freak rebel, all rolled into one. Yet Skovoroda remains an outstanding Ukrainian philosopher. Given his approaching birthday, What’s On decided to take a look at the legends and the facts about Skovoroda.
Back when I was in high school, Skovoroda always seemed to me a boring and incomprehensible thinker. Later, at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, I got a different view of him. At the university I had to undergo the traditional hazing: cleaning the statue of the man on Kontraktova Pl. Students armed with rags descend on the philosopher’s form on 15 October every year in celebration of the academy’s founding. Those most devoted to Skovoroda climb a huge ladder brought from the library and shine the statue’s head.

 After that, Grygoriy Skovoroda seemed closer to me, almost like a roommate at the academy. I decided to take a fresh look at his life and thoughts.

The Man Himself
Skovoroda was born on 3 December 1722 in the village Chornukhy in Poltava region. He came from a Cossack family and got his primary education at the church school in the same village. From an early age he demonstrated an outstanding musical talent and became a soloist in the choir.
At age 16, Skovoroda came to Kyiv to study at Kyiv-Mohyla. At the time, as it is now, it was one of the most respected institutions of higher learning in Eastern Europe. Students of all backgrounds were allowed entrance; even the most indigent received basic accommodations. The academy taught Latin, Greek and Polish as well as ancient Slavic languages. Skovoroda excelled in the sciences and music, becoming a soloist in the academy’s choir. Later, his charming alto voice led to a place as soloist in Empress Elizaveta’s court chapel. Moreover, Skovoroda eventually became a member of the so-called ‘intimate’ chapel choir, the one she would listen to while falling asleep. Within two years, Skovoroda was head of the chapel. The rapid rate of advancement seemed to promise a life of ease and comfort, but the future philosopher longed for freedom. On a tour of Kyiv with the empress, he absconded, never to return to the court in Petersburg.
Grygoriy joined the academy again and soon was invited on a diplomatic tour to Hungary. In Europe, he spent nearly five years studying French and Italian, listening to Kant’s lectures and travelling. In 1751, Skovoroda got fed up with Europe and came back to Ukraine, returning again to Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, then working as a private teacher at the house of a wealthy landowner. He also taught at Pereyaslav College. From both posts he was dismissed. Apparently, Skovoroda told the landowner’s son that the landowner thought ‘like a pig’, which naturally led to his dismissal. And he was fired from Pereyaslav College for teaching unorthodox verse: he taught the students to write in rhyme. After his second dismissal, Skovoroda all but disappeared from the historical record until his death in 1794. Just before he died, he made a trip to his former student and close friend Mykhaylo Kovalynsky and handed over all his writing on philosophy.

The Legend
We have Kovalynsky to thank for much of what we know of Skovoroda today. Apart from preserving his works, the student also wrote a biography of his teacher, though today’s historians say Kovalynsky greatly embroidered the facts. So far we’ve dealt mostly with facts. Now to the legends.
Legend #1: Skovoroda was a travelling teacher-philosopher. Well, nobody knows for sure whether he wandered Ukraine sharing wisdom or not. Nineteenth-century historians invented the tale, and it’s remained prevalent up to today. Legend #2: Skovoroda built a tomb for himself, lay down in it and died. There’s no evidence of this, but the story has its charm and so persists. Legend #3: Skovoroda was an 18th century hippy, bumming around Ukraine and breaking rules and otherwise resisting the Man. The Communists played their part in this story, claiming Skovoroda was an atheist and his perambulations were a precursor to revolution, or at least revolutionary thoughts. These legends are common, but they’re far from the truth. Skovoroda was a faithful Christian, studying the Bible deeply in its original languages.
The best and probably only accurate understanding of Skovoroda comes from reading his works. His philosophical and literary heritage contains dialogues, fables (not for children but for adults), parable-like poems and academic works. Most of his writing concerns interpretations of Christian dogma. Skovoroda was trying to explain how God meant people to live. His lessons were basic: Happiness does not depend on place or time. Every human being can reach true happiness. True happiness lies not in the gloss of material things, but in the talent within each of us. Once a person has discovered his own unique talent, he knows his way. The way for which a person is destined is always easy, because each step comes easily. If you don’t get something easily, you don’t need it. According to Skovoroda, if everyone followed these dicta, the world would be harmonious and kind.
The legends about Skovoroda mean that he still holds people’s interest, that there is something persistently new in his ideas. Reflecting on his biography, one is impressed by his drive for freedom. This drive is why he left the empress’ palace, why he never got this diploma from Kyiv-Mohyla, why he was dismissed from his teaching posts, and why he never accepted numerous offers for positions in the church or as a monk. He simply did not want to be constrained by any formalities or outward rules, and instead followed his own principle – have peace with yourself and never betray your ideas. One of Skovoroda’s famous sayings goes: ‘The world is like a theatre, and in order not to lose one’s self, one must remember: it’s not the flesh, but the thoughts that make the person’.

Kateryna Kyselyova

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didn’t Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Univer­sal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they don’t understand the meaning of these words.

    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street – the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades – children’s favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. What’s On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.


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