Culture In Depth Society, 11/12/2016

Kharkiv-Born World Famous Slavist George Shevelov’s Hard Way Back Home

On the eve of his 108th anniversary Ukrainian-American Slavist George Shevelov is a symbol of Ukraine’s European choice and freedom of thought. To understand his role in modern Ukrainian history it is enough to look at Shevelov’s uneasy relationship with Kharkiv even after his death.  We talk about this with Taras Danko who is one of the local promoters of Shevelov’s intellectual heritage.

Question: Who is Yurii Shevelov for Kharkiv?

Taras Danko: First of all, he is well-known internationally as George Yurii Shevelov. In Ukraine we know him as Yurii. And this is part of the answer to your question. George Shevelov is Kharkivite who became known internationally for his scientific work as philologist. But, besides been scientist he became Ukrainian visionist. And he was also a visionist for Kharkiv. I am not going into detail. It is useless to try to describe everything he did. Simply said, he was a great Kharkivite who did everything he could to make Kharkiv great.

Q: Who and what were forcing him to confess that he had been a collaborator during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine?

TD: He never was a collaborator. Before becoming professor of Columbia University he was cleared of any such accusation. So what was his sin in the eyes of our domestic persecutors? He just had courage to survive. And for both Bolsheviks and Nazis life of any Ukrainian was worth nothing. They had that in common. Surviving was his crime that Bolsheviks would never pardon. And there was one more crime. He dared to have opinion different from communists’ position. Do you remember famous Stalin’s formula “you’re either with us, or against us”? Shevelov survived and “was not with” Bolsheviks. Silly as it might look now, but this was enough to “label” him. Even after the collapse of Soviet Union this type of Bolshevik’s thinking is widespread among those who are heavily intoxicated by Soviet propaganda.

Q: Why did the destruction of the memorial plaque for him that occurred in September 2013 had quite the opposite effect to what plotters expected?

TD: It’s not clear what they have expected. Looks like they wanted to demonstrate that Kharkiv is still “Soviet”. So it was a signal that Bolshevism is aggressively re-emerging in Kharkiv. It signaled to those who value freedom that it’s time to mobilise to oppose efforts to reanimate USSR. Now when Kharkiv have got rid of Soviet-era propaganda names and symbols, it’s clear their plan failed.

Q: Why did Yurii Shevelev come to the unprecedented popularity in modern Ukraine?

TD: I think that it is his name that became popular as a symbol of resistance to Bolshevism. I believe that his works are yet to be discovered by many Ukrainians. Shevelov was one of the greatest Ukrainian thinkers in my opinion. You know, real thinkers always have narrow audience.

Q: Why Shevelov image became one of the symbols of the Euromaidan?

TD: Euromaidan stood up for freedom of Ukrainians to decide their future. Ukraine has chosen the European path. As Shevelov did once. For those who still are loyal to non existing USSR that was a crime. Russian propaganda pictured Ukrainians as nazis for the same reasons as Shevelov was accused of collaborationism earlier. But Ukrainians’ crime was even harder. They dared to defend their choices, their freedom, their future.


Interview by Victoria Sklyarova

Photo: Nadiya Li