Culture News Society, 16/07/2017

Cult Building Stories Stir Up Kharkivites

Kharkiv bookstore Knyharnya Ye was overcrowded on July 12 during the ardent discussion of web project ProSlovo dedicated to the famous Slovo House residents.

Slovo House was a scary place in the 1930s when 40 out of 66 its residents, mostly Ukrainian Soviet writers, were persecuted and killed. The memory of them and their works was erased for many years since.

A programmer and mother of two little children Anastasiya Kovalyova, who has lived in the cult five-storied building since she was a child (her apartment formerly belonged to Ukrainian writer Natalia Zabila) took a great interest in the house residents’ life stories and decided to collect them into a website in autumn 2016. According to Kovalyova, she was spurred by GaliciaKult culture project which gathered and presented the information about the House residents in August to October 2016.

What started as a passion and a volunteer initiative of one person has now grown into a professional hard work in archives and correspondence with scientists. Moreover, the idea attracted many people. The activist says the project now takes all her free time and a huge effort, she still works for free and with enthusiasm hoping to launch the project this October – symbolically a year after GaliciaKult delivered their project results last year. The site will provide a 3D model of the house with the residents’ profiles including formal and informal details about their personality and their works and quotes.

At the presentation Kovalyova specified that she wanted to present not only sad and dreadful stories of killed writers but to commemorate all other former residents of the house of different years – there also lived translators, artists, actresses, journalists, scientists, engineers and a composer.

What was unexpected for the volunteer that she found similarities between the history of the cult house and today’s events and expectations in Ukraine. “Slovo House started to be built in 1927. And it is symbolic that 90 years later, in 2017, we are again experiencing times of hope and talking about “going to Europe,” Kovalyova argues. “Now and then our people have the same yearning for changes, expectations to build a better world. Now we have similar thrive of Ukrainian culture as in the 1920s, the nationalist ideas have gained popularity too and we are contrasting patriots and average people daily.”

The activist noted that since May 2017 several volunteers joined her to help process photos, make parts of the site and search for information. Many scientists and writers like Yaryna Tsymbal and Rostyslav Melnykiv help the project by providing their research and archives materials. Also, during the discussion, many people offered their volunteer assistance to Kovalyova. “I did not think there would be so many people interested in the issue and wishing to help,” says the volunteer in surprise. The project has united many people wishing to bring back the lost Slovo House history.

In addition to developing the website, the author is working on some supplementary projects like publishing sets of postcards for the libraries and bookstores, installing an information board near the house, delivering presentations, tours and quests for students and school pupils.

Anastasiya Kovalyova believes that the Slovo House can become Kharkiv national landmark which will attract tourists from other cities and countries.

Text: Olena Sokolynska

Photo: Olena Sokolynska, Tetyana Zemerova, archive by Rostyslav Melnykiv