Vasyl Stus Collection
Vasyl Stus was an iconic figure of the human rights movement in Soviet Ukraine and one of the leading Ukrainian poets of his generation. Volumes of his poetry circulated widely through samizdat in the 1960s-1980s. While conducting searches, the KGB would find his works in the homes of every writer, artist, chemist, and human rights activist, whose activities were cause for concern. As with many writers, Stus’s struggle with the Soviet regime, particularly his brutal incarceration and torture in a Soviet prison camp, which led to his death in 1985, have in many ways overshadowed his human and artistic legacy. The Vasyl Stus Collection at the T. H. Shevchenko Institute of Literature in Kyiv was donated by the Stus family after Ukrainian independence in 1991, with the aim of popularizing and making more accessible his writings. These materials include previously unknown works, volumes of Stus’s vast correspondence, as well as fragments of writings that survived his imprisonment in strict-regime hard labor camps in Mordovia and Perm.
Kyiv, 4 Hrushevskoho St., 01001, Ukraine
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Name of collection
- Vasyl Stus Collection
Provenance and cultural activities
The transfer of Vasyl Stus’s papers to the T. H. Shevchenko Institute of Literature happened fairly organically. According to Mykhailyna Khomivna Kotsiubynska, she and Dmytro Stus had decided in 1989 to publish all of his father’s works. To support the project Vasyl Stus’ widow, Valentyna Popeliukh, gave Kotsiubynska all the letters she had collected. Dmytro was finishing his studies in philology at Shevchenko University in Kyiv, right around that time. During his time there, he had met many of his father’s old colleagues and friends, and they were able to tell him a lot of the positive things that happened at the Institute of Literature, where his father had been a student, and describe the relationships forged there, perhaps changing his perspective on an institution toward which he, quite reasonably, might have born some ill will. Vasyl Stus had been expelled from the institute and mercilessly surveilled by the Soviet authorities. It seems that Kostiubynska’s connection to Stus, and his own relationship to the Institute of Literature made its archive a natural home for Stus’s materials, which the family began transferring in stages after Ukraine declared independence in 1991.
Stus’s collection is vast, containing more than 2,000 items, drafts of poems and prose, his private correspondence and his letters to the authorities, his diaries among other things. This archive does not include private letters sent to his wife and son, as the Stus family holds them in their family archive, although they were copied and published as part of Stus’s collected works. Not only are his letters interesting and informative on their own, Stus also interspersed poems and translations, which were included later in his collected works.
This collection consists predominantly of by-products of a creative literary mind and poet, but as Stus’s works circulated only through samizdat, the authorities most certainly prohibited its contents. Stus’s works were confiscated in apartment searches and most of what he wrote while imprisoned in Soviet hard labor camps was also destroyed. This collection has immense value precisely because the letters and the materials that remain capture the life and times of this generation, especially those involved in the sixtiers movement. As with other accounts, Galyna Burlaka, head of the Institute of Literature’s Department of Manuscripts and Textual Studies, notes that it is because the Soviet authorities suppressed any and all manifestations of Ukrainian nationalism that they ended up provoking nationalist sentiments from the poet Stus.
The arrival of Valentyn Malanchuk in Kyiv in October 1972 marked a turning point for the sixtiers movement. As chief ideologist of the Ukrainian party, Malanchuk spearheaded a massive campaign against Stus, Yevhen Sverstiuk, Opanas Zalyvakha, and many others who were arrested that year. Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska was fired from the Institute of Literature in Kyiv and could not find work for nearly a year. She was also called into court to testify at Stus trial and was under continuous psychological pressure from the authorities. As these were creative individuals, the Soviet regime forbid them from publishing, which was painful for them.
Neither the family, nor the archivists working with these materials, were prepared for breadth of Stus’s personal papers. The printed and card catalogues describing the collection’s content was drafted alongside the manuscripts for publication. Given the rapidity of the work, there were some mistakes in attribution (for instance mistakenly identifying a poem by Mykhailo Vinhranovsky as one written by Vasyl Stus), which were later corrected in appendices in the second edition, published in 2000. The collection is open for use, requiring a letter explaining the nature and purpose of one’s research to gain access to the institute’s archives.
Description of content
All roads in the archives of Ukrainian dissidents seem to lead to Vasyl Stus, indicating that he was a central figure to the movement even though his works were very much out of public view. Vasyl Stus figures prominently in samizdat materials circulating among dissidents during the 1960s and 1970s, as his poetry challenged state-sanctioned socialist realism in form, content, and style. Rather than employing preferred Soviet themes—that the union was a place where everyone was “happy, safe and cared for”—these poems drew instead on national motifs, mythology, individualism and religion, all of which were forbidden. Stus works were also of high artistic quality, reflective of dominant European trends from that time, despite the Iron Curtain and the union’s isolation. While at the Institute of Literature in Kyiv, Stus translated poems of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Rainer Maria Rilke, Kipling, and Charles Baudelaire into Ukrainian, which broadened his horizons and made his “poetic world” more “complex.”
Due to his own personal history and the mythologization of his struggle with the Soviet regime, literary scholar Alessandro Achilli argues that his “intrinsically European, modernist, intellectual poetry is still awaiting fully deserved recognition by international scholars.” It was “the private rebellion of Stus’s conscience,” rather than the political implications of his words and deeds, that constituted the greater threat to the “homogenizing fury of Soviet ideology,” Achilli adds. This collection helps to explain how “Stus the poet, Stus the political prisoner, and Stus the citizen and patriot” formed a “single nexus,” in the words of fellow activist Nadia Svitlychna, allowing us to think more deeply about the motivations behind Stus political and personal intransigence. These materials also allow us to reexamine the “complexity and multifacetedness” of his oeuvre. In doing so, this collection deepens considerably our understanding of the contours of cultural opposition in Soviet Ukraine and the union writ large.
Drafts of his poems, often rewritten and reworked from memory during his lengthy periods of incarceration, also reveal a great deal about the larger historical forces shaping the worldview of Stus and his larger social and professional circles. Galyna Burlaka, head of the Institute of Literature’s Department of Manuscripts and Textual Studies, references linguistic cues and clues in Stus’ poetry and that of his contemporaries, which reveal the profound intergenerational impact of the collectivization in Soviet Ukraine, and the resultant famine-genocide on the sixtiers generation. In one poem, Stus refers to “matorzhanyky,” which were incorrectly described by one literary scholar as cookies made out of poppies. What Stus was, in fact, referring to were small cakes made out of saltbushes and other edible plants because there was no grain, or food, to eat. These kinds of nuances come through in the second published edition in the appendices. These are glimpses of deeply traumatic past that has faded from view, but is captured in the poems of Stus and his contemporaries, like Mykola Vinhranovsky, who wrote about a generation born, miraculously, from “thin women in orchards that had been razed.” These kinds of insights into the circumstances out of which the sixtiers movement was born, and Stus’s perspective in particular, would not have been possible without the involvement of literary scholars at the Institute of Literature in Kyiv and a group of student volunteers, many of whom were Dmytro Stus’s classmates, who worked tirelessly on the card catalogue for this collection.
This context certainly informed one of his most famous collection of poems “Veselyj Tsvyntar,” (The Merry Graveyard), in which he wrote critically about the conditions in which Soviet people lived, about socialist democracy and also “made defamatory remarks about the events organized by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the birth of the founder of the Soviet State,” according to his biography in the Kharkiv Human Rights Group's virtual museum. Stus’s letters also talk about several volumes of poetry written during his incarceration, which were either destroyed or lost. Burlaka notes that his experiences in the Soviet prison and GULag systems pushed Stus to seek out new poetic forms, which he found both frustrating and fruitful, as indicated in the letters he wrote to his family and close friends. These works were among his most groundbreaking, beautiful poems that came to him “like summer rains falling into his soul.”
Despite all that was preserved in his private archives, some of Stus’s most important works—written under tremendous duress in the hard labor camps in Perm, were confiscated by the authorities and appear to be irrevocably lost. For instance, he wrote a collection of poems titled “Ptakh Dushi” (“Bird of the Soul”), discussed in letters sent during September-December 1983, which contained 40 poems and appears to have been either lost or destroyed by the camp authorities. Dmytro Stus traveled to Russia to try and recover this volume, and others on which Stus said he had been working on (including a translation of “Elegies” by Rainer Maria Rilke). One of his contemporaries Vasyl Ovsienko views this destruction of Stus’s poetry and translation “a crime of Russian imperialism,” because from his five years in Kuchino only 45 letters, 6 poems and a text referred to as “From the camp notebook” survived.
This collection includes Stus’s official correspondence with the Soviet authorities. Figuring prominently among those are letters to the head of the Ukrainian Communist Party Volodymyr Shcherbitsky, the Politburo, the Central Committee, as well as his personal correspondence, which had not been examined closely until the transference of his papers to the Institute of Literature after 1991.
His letters, published in two volumes—one to family, and one to friends and colleagues—are considered by Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska to fall into the genre of epistolary literature. In her summation at the end of the second volume, Kotsiubynska observed that Stus himself was a great admirer of epistolary literature, advising his son to read the letters of Gustave Flaubert, which he had discovered while a graduate student at the Institute of Literature in Kyiv. The fact that almost all of these letters were written while Stus was imprisoned and in isolation is significant. The list of his correspondents spans the entirety of his life in the “large zone,” which is how Soviet prisoners referred to the world outside the GULag, but this “biographical-informative” layer just scratches the surface. In truth, these letters are a “biography of the soul” as they show Stus (who was never egotistical according to Kotsiubynska) working through existential questions and finding meaning in his circumstances. In his correspondence, his dear friend Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska notes that Stus wrote himself, his family and his friends “into history... quietly and with dignity.”
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 10-99
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 1000-
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 100-499
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
- Stus, Vasyl and Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska. Letters to Friends and Acquaintances, in Ukrainian, 1997. Book.
- Stus, Vasyl and Oksana Dvorko, Letters to Family, in Ukrainian, 1997. Book.
- Stus, Vasyl. "A star shone just for me this morning," Time of Creativity (Chas Tvorchosti), in Ukrainian, 1972. Poem.
- Stus, Vasyl. "How good it is that I’ve no fear of dying," Time of Creativity (Chas Tvorchosti), in Ukrainian, 1972. Poem. Trans. by Marco Carynnyk.
- Stus, Vasyl. Container of poetry smuggled out of Siberian hard labor camps, 1970s.
- Stus, Vasyl. Time of Creativity (Chas Tvorchosti), in Ukrainian, 1972. Manuscript.
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Kulick, Orysia Maria
Achilli, Alessandro. "Vasyl' Stus and Death: On the Thirtieth Anniversary of his Death." Krytyka, no. 7-8 (August 2015), 10-12. https://krytyka.com/en/articles/vasyl-stus-and-death-thirtieth-anniversary-his-death.
Achilli, Alessandro. "Vasyl’ Stus and Russian Culture: A Complex Issue." Australian and New Zealand Journal of European Studies 5, no. 2 (2013).
Burlaka, Galyna, editor. Putivnyk po Fondakh Viddilu Rukopysiv. Kyiv: T.H. Shevchenko Institute of Literature: Vydavnychy Tsentr "Spadshchyna", 1999.
Dziuba, Ivan. Internationalism or Russification: A Study in the Soviet Nationalities Problem [By] I. Dzyuba. Pref.by M.I. Holubenko.[Transl.from the Ukrainian. 3d Ed.]. New York: Monad Press, 1974.
Dziuba, Serhiy. "Vnutrishnia svoboda Mykhailyny Kotsiubynskoyi." Khvylia Desny: Pohliad iz Chernihova (Chernihiv), January 3, 2013. http://www.hvilya.com/news/vnutrishnja_svoboda_mikhajlini_kocjubinskoji/2013-01-03-1697-987.
Dziuba, Ivan. Internatsionalizm chy rusyfikatsiia?. München: Suchasnistʹ, 1968.
Karasyk, S., and V. Ovsienko. "СТУС ВАСИЛЬ СЕМЕНОВИЧ - Український національний рух - Дисидентський рух в Україні." Ukr - Дисидентський рух в Україні. Last modified April 20, 2005. http://museum.khpg.org/index.php?id=1114000126.
Kotsiubynsʹka, Mykhaĭlyna. Lysty i liudy: rozdumy pro epistoliarnu tvorchistʹ. Kyïv: Dukh i Litera, 2009.
Kotsiubynsʹka, Mykhaĭlyna. Moï obriï. Kyïv: Dukh i Litera, 2004.
Lavrinenko, Oleksandra. "Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska: "Lehshe zhytty todi, koly znayesh, shcho ye-taky u sviti shchos spravzhnye." Gazeta Den' (Kyiv), August 23, 2000. https://day.kyiv.ua/uk/article/osobistist/mihaylina-kocyubinska-legshe-zhiti-todi-koli-znaiesh-shcho-ie-taki-u-sviti-shchos.
Ovsiyenko, Vasylʹ. Svitlo ljudej: Spohady-Narysy pro Vasylia Stusa, Yuriya Lytvyna, Oksany Meshko. Kyïv: Biblioteka Zhurnalu YRP "Respublika": Seriya: Politychni Portrety, No 4, 1996.
Ovsiyenko, Vasyl. "Death of Vasyl Stus." The Kharkiv Human Rights Group. Last modified September 2, 2015. http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1441192456.
Rapp, Iryna, and Vasyl Ovsiyenko. "Померла Михайлина Коцюбинська – Українська Гельсінська спілка з прав людини." Українська Гельсінська спілка з прав людини. Last modified January 8, 2011. https://helsinki.org.ua/articles/pomerla-myhajlyna-kotsyubynska/.
Steffen, James. The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov. Madison: the University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.
Stus, Vasylʹ Semenovyč, Halyna Burlaka, and Dmytro Vasylʹovyč Stus. Čas tvorčosti = Dichtenszeit. Kyïv: Vydavn. Fakt, 2008.
Stus, Vasylʹ, and Oksana Dvorko. Lysty do ridnych. Lʹviv: Prosvita, 1997.
Stus, Vasylʹ, and Mykhaĭlyna Kotsiubynsʹka. Lysty do druziv ta znaĭomykh. Lʹviv: Vydavnycha spilka "Prosvita", 1997.
Siundukov, Ihor. "The “Sixtiers.” Looking into The Past and Future: Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, Pavlo Tychyna, Vasyl Stus, and Borys Antonenko-Davydovych in the life of Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska,” Den’, Issue: №7, (2005). https://day.kyiv.ua/en/article/personality/sixtiers-looking-past-and-future.
Svitlychna, Nadia. "The Death of Vasyl Stus." Index on Censorship 15, no. 2 (February 1986), 34-37. doi:10.1080/03064228608534045.
TROMLY, BENJAMIN. "An Unlikely National Revival: Soviet Higher Learning and the Ukrainian “Sixtiers,” 1953-65." The Russian Review 68, no. 4 (2009), 607-622. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9434.2009.00541.x.
Yekelchyk, Serhy. "The early 1960s as a cultural space: a microhistory of Ukraine's generation of cultural rebels." Nationalities Papers 43, no. 1 (2014), 45-62. doi:10.1080/00905992.2014.954103.
Zinkevych, Osyp, editor. "Stus, Vasyl." In Rukh oporu v Ukraïni 1960-1990: entsyklopedychnyĭ dovidnyk, 2nd ed., 714-719. Kyiv: Smoloskyp, 2012.
Yezerska, Iryna, interview by Kulick, Orysia Maria, March 24, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Burlaka, Galyna M., interview by Kulick, Orysia Maria, March 21, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection