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Alla Horska. The Windhover Bird

“Alla Horska. The Windhover Bird” is the artist’s first retrospective exhibition, it features over one hundred of her works, including paintings, graphic art, and sketches to monumentalist artworks on loan from museums and private collections.

Horska’s tragic life story sadly reflects the country’s contemporary history: her life as an artist was thwarted by censorship, her work destroyed, she was officially barred from working as an artist and terrorised by the KGB – all of which culminated in Horska’s heinous murder. Today we still see Horska’s monumentalist work being destroyed by the Russian army in occupied Mariupol. The evil forces behind Horska’s murder were left unpunished following the collapse of the Soviet Union and now after lying dormant for decades they have reared their ugly head to ignite a new war in Europe.

Nonetheless, the artist has emerged victorious from the fight – Horska’s name is a symbol of civil dignity and artistic freedom. The artist’s brazen murder has solidified the Ukrainian dissident movement and strengthened the artistic community. Horska’s larger than life personality, her immense artistic talent, and leadership qualities continue to inspire Ukrainians today the same way over fifty years ago the artist inspired the people around her to fight for freedom.

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The mosaics of Mariupol

Mariupol is a large, industrial city. The city’s rapid urban development began following the end of WW2. The soviet cultural censorship was much more laxed in Mariupol compared to the stringent policies in Kyiv, the country’s capital. As a result, the Ukrainian monumentalists have flocked to Mariupol. Before Russia’s large-scale invasion on Feb 24, 2022 the city boasted one of the largest collections of monumental mosaics in the country, which included 19 murals and bar-reliefs.


In early 1967 a team of artists lead by Alla Horska were commissioned to work on the interior of the Ukraina restaurant and create two large monumental murals in the distinctive style of emerging sixtiers movement. At the time Mariupol was known as Zhdanov, named after Andrey Zhdanov, a close associate of Stalin and communist party functionary who had been born there.


For almost two months the team of artists which included Alla Horska, Viktor Zaretsky, Halyna Zubchenko, Borys Plaksiy, Hryhoriy Pryshedko, Vasyl’ Parakhin, and Nadiya Svitlychna worked on the mosaics titled the Tree of Life and the Windhover bird. At first the team completed the Tree of Life mosaic, an ancient symbol of the axis mundi. The mosaic has extensively utilised Ukrainian ancient imagery which ran directly against the grain of the cultural policies of the time. The work was broadly criticised even before its completion. Following Horska’s death the mural was boarded up and spent the next forty years in obscurity. In 2008 the artwork was rediscovered by a determined art researcher Ludmyla Ognieva, and revealed to the public.


In the process of development, the initial concept of the Windhover bird mural was altered to include more suitable seaside imagery to balance the artwork with the view which opens from the restaurant window – the artists have created a lightweight composition combining such atypical materials like slag glass ceramics, metal, and recycled metal spoons.


In the spring of 2022, both the Tree of Life and the Windhover bird mural were heavily damaged by artillery fire and the Russian occupation of the city.


In 1967 Hryhoriy Pryshedko in cooperation with Halyna Zubchenko created a mural titled Prosperous Ukraine based on a sketch by Alla Horska, the mural is located at the Kyiv food hall which is on the first floor of the same building as the Ukraina restaurant. Nobody knows what came of it.


Now, practivally all of Horska’s monumentalist legacy is lost. The artist was mostly active in the east of the country and many of her works have been outside of Ukraine’s control as far back as 2014 during the initial stages of Russian occupation. Now, the Ukrainian authorities have access to two of her works, namely the Wind mural on the wall of the Windmill restaurant in Kyiv and the Bird mosaic on the front of the Supii restaurant in Helmyaziv in the Cherkasy region.

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Monumental art

Alla Horska is by far a leading monumentalist of her generation. Horska together with her husband Viktor Zaretsky and a closeknit group of fellow artists which includes Hryhoriy Synytsia, Halyna Zubchenko, Hryhoriy Pryshedko, Borys Plaksiy, and others, has created a series of monumentalist works across Ukraine. The artists worked on the exterior of the Windmill and Poltava restaurants in Kyiv, murals for the experimental school #5 and jewellery store in Donetsk, mosaics titled the Tree of Life, Windhover, and Prosperous Ukraine for the Ukraina restaurant and the Kyiv food hall in Zhdanov city, present name Mariupol, murals for the Young Guard museum and the Krasnodinvuhilliya production mills located in Sorokyne, former name Krasnodon, and the Bird mosaic on the front of the Supii restaurant in the Helmyaziv township (Cherkasy region).

The works created by the Horska group are in balance with the surrounding architecture and landscape, they are characterised by clean-cut bold colours, and dynamic geometric forms. In Donetsk the artists went beyond such traditional materials used in mosaic art like tesserae and ceramic tiles, and used byproducts from the Azovsteel steel mills, glass, and broken china instead.

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The Windmill

The mosaic panel titled the Wind on the facade of the former Windmill restaurant, which is located in Kyiv at 11 Academic Hlushkov st. is the only surviving monumental artwork by Alla Horska in the capital. The team of artists was determined to find balance between modern urban architecture and the new perspectives on the artistic tradition. The artists were inspired by Ukrainian folk-art, namely the iconography developed by Hanna Sobachko-Shostak, and the end-result was a virtually abstract composition where the intricate lines actively engage with the bright spots of colour.

The Windmill commission was especially difficult and hard. Any other woman artist would have given up. It was in the late autumn. First, we had to apply superhuman effort to find the materials like glass and tesserae, by placing orders with the glasswork factory. All of it required superhuman effort and energy. By the time we got hold of the materials, it was late autumn, and the weather has turned bitter. It started with heavy rain and progressed to bitter frost and strong wind. The fingers go numb in the first thirty minutes of working with the cement mixture. Also, the windmill is off the beaten track. At the time, it was an empty plot of land and we had to walk by foot from the Windmill to the Exhibition trolleybus stop. When the team moved on to the interior, the work was finished in no time at all.

Borys Plaksiy, 1991

Please meet our team of three. It is me, together with my fellow artists – Viktor Zaretsky and Borys Plaksiy. Our most recent commission includes the two restaurants in Kyiv – the Poltava, and the Windmill. They are done in folk style in combination with modern elements. ….Meaning, that the architecture is between the past and the present. Closer to the past. We were determined to use modern colours, contemporary form, and composition but what we really wanted to achieve is to look through the eyes of Svetovit and see the four directions of the world. Perhaps, we have managed the two.

From Alla Horska’s letter to Luboslav Hutsaliuk, 1968

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The Donetsk mosaics

In Donetsk Alla Horska has teamed up with Viktor Zaretsky, Hryhoriy Synytsia, Halyna Zubchenko, Hennadiy Marchenko, Oleksandr Korovai, Ivan Kulyk, and Vasyl’ Parakhin. In 1965–1966 in Donetsk the team designed the exterior of the experimental school #5. The school followed a special curriculum: during the school day students systematically moved around the school building, where each pavilion was dedicated to a specific theme, like science and technology, sporting events and so on. The school’s façade boasts a large Promethius mosaic. The eight themed mosaics on the sides of the building are celebrating the life-giving forces of nature, and include the Cosmos panel, Water, Earth, Fire, Wind, and so on. Donetsk is also home to the Bird Woman mosaic located in the interior of the Ruby jewellery store which was completed by Alla Horska in cooperation with Viktor Zaretsky and Hryhoriy Synytsia in 1967.

Synytsia’s art is profound, it’s a fusion of Boychukism and the naïve art tradition. The artworks which came out as a result of collaboration between Synytsia and Horska’s creative team are highly decorative and characterised by exquisite symbolic detail.

Zhdanov (Mariupol)

Sixty meters of the front wall of the Kyiv food hall in Zhdanov – present name Mariupol, a city temporarily under Russian occupation, are decorated with the Prosperous Ukraine mosaic. The panel was created by Hryhoriy Pryshedko and Halyna Zubchenko based on a sketch by Alla Horska . Several versions of the studies for the panel signed by Horska have survived in private collections and museums. She has developed the imagery for the school #5 in Donetsk where Horska’s team of artists worked in 1965–1966 but the project did not come to fruition. Perhaps, in the summer of 1967 after completing the Hoverbird and Tree of Life mosaics at the Ukraina restaurant Zubchenko and Pryshedko stayed behind in Zhdanov to complete the Prosperous Ukraine mosaic on the first floor of the same building.

In the spring of 2022 during the siege of Mariupol by the Russian forces the food hall building was severely damaged but the mosaic was intact. Unfortunately, there is no new information on its condition.

Krasnodon

Horska began working on the murals for the Young Guard museum in Krasnodon, now known as Sorokyne, a city temporarily controlled by Russia in the Luhansk region at one of the lowest points in her life. At the time she was in open opposition to the regime. Together with 139 of other opinion makers Horska signed an open letter protesting against human rights violations in the country titled the 139 Letter or the Kyiv petition. Horska was barred from the Artists’ Union and could not claim authorship on the project as a result.

The museum mosaics is the last monumental project by Horska. The museum tells the story of the Young Guard antifascist resistance movement which operated in the Nazi occupied Krasnodon. The mosaic panel titled the Victory flag which is located in the museum hall is central to the composition. The panel was developed by Alla Horska and Viktor Zaretsky with input from Anatoly Lymarev and Borys Plaksiy; and architectural design by Volodymyr Smyrnov. The artwork is done in the style of Mexican muralism and includes elements of Byzantian sacral iconography.

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…We are working on the studies for the frieze (in Krasnodon). The second draft. We have landed on the Earth. That is, the Earth as an acting entity. Good. We aim to generalise. The first variant is too illustrative, so it’s gone. Zaretsky is working to his full potential, now he sees things whole. This commission is doing wonders for his development. Now, he works on the whole wall at its vast expense and not just the character’s nose.

From Alla Horska’s letter to Opanas Zalyvakha, [1970]

…We are working our tails off; I am so tired I am ready to drop. I spent yesterday jumping up and down on the scaffolding: the head of the Fallen, to be precise his lips, would not come out. But somehow, I managed – his lips are done, and I am done as well.

From Alla Horska’s letter to Nadiya Svitlychna, 1969

…I can claim authorship only as part of a deal: “authorship in exchange for repentance”. I can work but I cannot sign my name. I am an illegal alien. “Long live the resistance movement in monumental art!”

When it comes to us, we are just pawns in someone’s game. If they want to erase your name – they do it, if they want to cut off your head – they do it, and if they want to take mercy – they do it. All depends on the interests of certain people and what benefits them, and our lives mean nothing to them, it’s not worth their attention. I find it tiring, though, wish my soul would not grow old.

From Alla Horska’s letter to Opanas Zalyvakha, 1969

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Theatre

Horska plays an active part in the Contemporary youth club, which was active in Kyiv in 1960–1964. The club supports five studios, specially designed to cater for writers, artists, musicians, theatre and cinema professionals. Due to the efforts of the club’s young and energetic leader Les’ Taniuk, the theatre studio develops into the nation’s unofficial theatre which works to revive the 1920’s stage productions by bringing together some of the greatest living authorities of Ukrainian avant-garde and young aspiring artists. The club supports events organised to commemorate such leading Ukrainian artists who fell victim to Stalin’s purges like stage director Les’ Kurbas (1887–1937) and playwright Mykola Kulish (1892–1937).

Horska is the studio’s stage designer and the Taniuk-Horska team are working in tandem since the day the theatre department was first established. In 1961–1963 Horska is working on stage design for five theatre productions. Her stage designs were largely inspired by the Ukrainian avant-garde movement and especially the work of Anatol’ Petrytsky. Horska was eager to start work but she never progressed beyond developing sketches for Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, Knife in the sun based on a poem by Ivan Drach, and Sonata Pathetique by Mykola Kulish. Also, That's How Huska Perished a comedy play by Mykola Kulish and the Truth and Untruth based on a novel by Mykhailo Stelmakh were ready for the big stage: one play was fully complete and the other one was at the final stages of production. However, both plays had been banned.

Horska’s ideas would have undoubtedly revolutionised Ukrainian theatre, but it was never meant to be.

“In her theatre work Alla had a keen eye for detail. She was a true master of stage production. “Look! – she would shout excitedly during a dress rehearsal, - Here we can paint with light, see? Paint using twilight, rain, and the clouds! Searching for dimension in movement is pure genius! To hell with sculpture – it’s so basic! What about the colours? They are so much richer than in real life!” – I am absolutely convinced that Alla Horska would have become a leading authority on stage design in the country”.

Les’ Taniuk

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The soviet antireligious propaganda was an integral part of the state ideology. A nation-wide ban was placed on celebrating religious holidays, the authorities organised anti-Christmas and anti-Easter campaigns, schools taught atheism, and in the spring time the teachers regularly checked the students’ hands for paints from making pysanky, Ukrainian traditional decorated eggs. But the ancient traditions lived on alongside the secular red-letter days, and religious holidays were celebrated in secret.

So far, the soviet authorities have failed in eliminating the religious tradition so the state wants to at least exercise control over it. Formally, the authorities loosen the grip on the antireligious policies after a suggestion made by composer Pylyp Kozytsky to the Ukrainian communist party, in which he proposed to lift the ban on traditional Christmas celebrations if some of the religious terminology be removed. The sixtiers artists quickly jumped at the opportunity and revived some of the most significant traditions in ancient Ukrainian carol singing to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. The Contemporary youth club has quickly organised several groups dedicated to reviving Ukrainian carols, and one of the groups was coordinated by Alla Horska. Svitlana Kyrychenko, a dissident artist writes: “In the early 1960 the carol singing traditions were revived, refined, and promoted – to me and her circle of friends, from her apartment at Repin st. Alla was a leading screenwriter for the Christmas performances, she designed some of the key masquerade costumes – she was the life and soul of the koliada singing.”

A year after Alla Horska’s murder there was a massive crackdown on dissidents known as the Prosecuted koliada. On Jan 12th, 1972 a total of nineteen people were arrested in Lviv and Kyiv as part of a sweep on carol singing. The searchers produced a collection of banned books and some of the leaders of Ukrainian dissident movement were sentenced to time in prison, including Ivan Svitlychny, Vasyl’ Stus, Evhen Sverstiuk, Zynovia Franko, Leonid Selezenko, Leonid Plusch, and many others.

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Alla Horska’s father was a leading soviet studio executive Oleksandr Horsky. He famously headed the country’s large film companies like Lenfilm, the Yalta film studio, Kyiv and Odesa film studios. During WW2 young Alla together with her mom has survived two harsh winters in sieged Leningrad.

In 1943 the family moved to Kyiv. Young Alla graduates with honours from the Kyiv Shevchenko art school and enters the Kyiv state art university where she studies under Serhiy Hryhoriev. In 1952 she marries Viktor Zaretsky, a fellow artist. Now, Horska is an accomplished artist, she specialises in easel painting and monumental art.

In 1961 Horska makes a conscious decision to make Ukrainian her native language. The artist never had any basic language training in Ukrainian and before used Russian as her primary language. So, she starts from scratch with support from Nadiya Svitlychna, her language tutor.

In the early 1960s Horska together with Viktor Zaretsky, Vasyl’ Stus, Vasyl’ Symonenko, and Ivan Svitlychny launch the Contemporary, a social club for young aspiring artists, which was a hub for the revival of Ukrainian culture in the capital. Horska is the head of the theatre studio, she organises artistic and literary soirees, exhibitions, and the annual Shevchenko celebrations. The couple’s flat on Repin st. and their studio on Filatov st. become the meeting places of the sixtirers dissident movement. Horska paints portraits of many of her fellow dissident artists.

In the mid-1960s Khruschev’s “thaw” is followed by Brezhnev’s policy of repression. It manifests in increased pressure from the authorities, increased surveillance by the secret service, and soon a wave of arrests of Ukrainian intellectuals follows. Horska is profoundly affected by the arrests, so much so in 1965 she files a complaint with the General Prosecutor’s office. She openly corresponds with her friends in prison, provides emotional and financial support to the families left behind, attends court hearings – like when she supported Vyacheslav Chornovol during his 1967 court proceedings in Lviv, fundraises for the families of political prisoners, and provides support for the post-released inmates.

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Once upon a time we had a meeting at the institute’s great hall: fifty to sixty people got together. Suddenly, the door swings open and a group of young trendy people enters the hall. The artists have arrived! Alla Horska is the group’s leader. She is tall, with wavy hair, wearing a white sweater with blue sporty trousers. She is loud and vivacious, her presence is overwhelming – she immediately changes the subject of our conversation to the need to develop the national theatre poster art by going back to the roots and the national traditions, how we should be more inclined to pay homage to our own national authorities on art like Boychuk and Kurbas, and the need to celebrate our contemporary poets who already enjoyed quite a bit of popularity… And such was the launch of the youth club for the aspiring artists. The revolutionary young artists have brought the spirit of rebellion, they wanted to do away with dogma and outdated ideas. And Alla stood at the helm of this large and significant community of over two hundred people! The group included both young aspiring art students and such accomplished artists like Hryhoriy Lohvyn and Serhiy Otroschenko…Within a couple of years the club became an active player in the cultural development of the country. The club was bursting with activities: soirees, discussions, trips all over Ukraine to study and preserve architectural heritage sites, stage productions, and a myriad of other projects… So, starting from March-April of 1960 the club’s name has resounded throughout Ukraine. The club hosted six [o1] studios, and Alla Horska was the head of the art studio, which was the most popular. Alla was the club’s life and soul, she was the driving force behind it, and its leader…. She was a rebel at heart, her emotions were always sincere; she was independent and a force to be reckoned with in her loves, friendships, and disappointments; she was gracious and upbeat, pensive and thoughtful; her investigative mind was both childlike and profound. She possessed extraordinary intuitive powers.

Les’ Taniuk

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We were not as grounded and rooted, we were too impulsive. So, we began to self-improve. To our advantage several jubilee soirees went hand in hand: we have rediscovered Shevchenko and Lesya Ukrainka, Franko’s literature was lighting our path. The keynote speakers: Vasyl’ Symonenko, Lina Kostenko, Ivan Druch, Mykola Vinhranovsky, Ivan Svitlychny, Vasyl’ Stus, Evhen Sverstiuk, and Mykhailyna Kotsiubinska! After such burst of energy, I would instruct myself: I need to know this, I need to know that, and so…my endless journey of discovery has begun.

Ludmyla Semykina

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Was she a true Ukrainian at heart? Undoubtedly so. Her national awakening or as she calls it – her second birth, has most likely started by Horska’s visit to the Ivan Honchar private ethnographic museum. The experience was absolutely life-changing.

 Every time we would visit the rural cottage again, she would point out that this is where she was born again.

So, in 1961 Alla began using Ukrainian in personal communications. She was part of the Russian speaking community who decided to make Ukrainian their primary language. Horska was not alone on her journey: Ludmyla Semykina, Halyna Zubchenko, Halyna Sevruk, and Larysa Ivanova accompanied her.

 

Nadiya Svitlychna, 1990

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So, the flood gates have opened: Bandera sympathisers, subversives, a secret plan, organised network. We are ordered to face the wall: we are barred from the union, publishing houses and foundations are banned from working with us, otherwise we risk losing the studio.

From Alla Horska’s letter to Opanas Zalyvakha, 1968

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We knew nothing about Ukraine. Our training and thoughtful development began in earnest after our graduation, especially after joining the youth club. It gave us a new outlook on life, we became born again, and ready to start life anew.

Halyna Sevruk, 1990

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THE DIALOGUES

Horska’s diaries reflect her intellectual search and her personal journey in art. In her correspondence she touches upon a wide range of topics like Brazilian contemporary architecture, the ancient Greek, Arabic, and Egyptian traditions, post impressionism, surrealism and most importantly Latin-American muralism. 

Horska is also keen to know about the innovative art techniques applied in the 1920–1930s, especially avant-garde stage designs by Anatol’ Petrytsky. Horska copies his scenic design sketches but her studies go beyond the original – they are bursting with expression and dynamism.

In the early 1960s the Contemporary youth club often welcomes Serhiy Kolos, Ivan Vrona, and Oleksandr Sayenko – the students of Mykhailo Boychuk. Horska was profoundly impacted by the artists and expanded her artistic search. Now, her personal mission is to support the development of new Ukrainian national art in communication with the artists of the Executed Renaissance and the folk tradition. Horska comes up with her own formula – she believes that the generalised plastic form developed by the Boychukists should be combined with the folk colour scheme, which is absolutely pivotal in the traditional Ukrainian art. “Colour is the object’s essence and not just mere decoration, – writes Horska. An artist truly belongs to a nation when they adhere to the folk aesthetic of traditional art and apply their art to develop the aesthetic.” The artist was guided by the art of Hanna Sobachko-Shostak, Maria Prymachenko, and Hryhoriy Synytsia. Besides, at the youth club Horska together with her colleague Zubchenko was officially responsible for communications with the Ukrainian folk artists.

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History of art – history of form – national history. The history of art is not a jumble of events but methodical development. Art goes beyond a collection of components; it finds unity in development…The birth of new Ukrainian art tradition is an accomplished fact.

From Alla Horska’s letter to Opanas Zalyvakha, 1965

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Sobachko’s art reflects the history of Ukrainian people, their true nature like the acute need for colour, elaborate colour compositions, and all the colours of the universe.

Through the art mediums like colours, composition, and lines she paints the life of Ukrainian people. The picture is complex. She sings an ode to the people. It’s a symphony of colour.

Alla Horska, [1965]

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He takes a contemporary look at the historical heritage of the nation. Sayenko’s art is revolutionary.

Alla Horska, [1967]

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Folk art has preserved a democratic approach to the show of human dignity.

A colour becomes national only when it is in harmony with all of the following elements, including composition, lines, and blocks.

Alla Horska, 1965

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SHEVCHENKO. THE STAINED-GLASS WINDOW

“Shvets, the president of the Kyiv national university – hammer in hand is smashing at a stained-glass window. He acts on the instruction from Boichenko, secretary the city’s division of the communist party on ideology”, – Mykhailyna Kotsiubinska, a sixtiers dissident artist, describes the events which unfolded in the spring of 1964 at the entry hall to the Red Building of the Kyiv national university. The stained-glass window was commissioned by the university from a team of artists to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko. Alla Horska has engaged her fellow colleagues like Halyna Sevruk, Opanas Zalyvakha, Halyna Zubchenko, and Ludmyla Semykina. Based on the approved sketches the team has created a life-size copy of the artwork. It’s a powerful image with Shevchenko in the middle of the composition – his appearance is wrathful, with one hand the Bard shields mother-Ukraine, in another he holds a book. “I'm on guard round them, those of my slaves will put the word” – the quote on the picture says.

The day before the unveiling the image was destroyed by the university’s management on the instructions from the communist party officials. An ad hoc commission has classified the image as subversive and alien to the principles of socialist realism: “Why does mother-Ukraine look so miserable? What is Shevchenko guarding against and who does he want to protect? Anyhow, why Ukraine is depicted behind bars?”

 

As a consequence, Horska and Semykina were barred from the Artists’ Union. Soon, Opanas Zalyvakha, a close friend of the artist will be sentenced to five years in prison for anti-soviet propaganda and agitation.

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Bykivnya township

 In Aug 1962 Horska together with Les’ Taniuk and Vasyl’ Symonenko as part of the youth club commission on “investigating the crimes of the Stalinist regime committed during the period of collapse of the justice system” visited NKVD’s mass burials in the Bykivnya forest. They were tipped off about the mass graves by a local woman who approached Taniuk during the Les’ Kurbas commemorative evening.

At the official level it was said that the killing fields were set up by the Nazis. But in 1937–1941, long before the German occupation of Kyiv, the locals began to notice in the forested area multiple covered trucks which arrived at night to dump the bodies of “enemies of the people” collected from the Kyiv prisons. The bodies were piled up in newly dug graves, sprinkled with quicklime and covered with earth. The victims were buried fully dressed with small private possessions intact and small change in their pockets. The medical examiners who studied the remails say that the majority of the victims received a fatal shot through the back of the skull.

Some estimates of the number killed in the Bykivnya forest by the NKVD are as high as thirty to fifty thousand. As of now 18,5 thousand victims have been identified. Undoubtedly, the tragic events in Bykivnya should be viewed in the same light as such crimes against humanity that took place in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Babyn Yar, Katyn, and Sandarmokh.

After the visit to Bykivnya Horska and her fellow artists were overwhelmed with emotions. “We stumbled upon those horrible signs of crime, like washed out skulls with bullet holes. Also, there are scattered bones of children, their ribcages, and parts of decomposed clothes. Based on their findings, the group will file an official appeal to the Kyiv city council, calling them to reconstruct the burials and identify the graves. There is no response from the authorities. Instead, Symonenko is badly beaten at a police station, Taniuk is jumped by a group of thugs in Odesa, and Horska is put under surveillance. Still, the information about the Bykivnya burials spreads by word of mouth among the community of Ukrainian intellectuals. In the late 1980s a memorial complex is erected as part of a grassroots initiative to commemorate the Bykivnya victims.

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Vasyl Symonenko

The Prophecy of 1917

The granite obelisks, grizzly medusas,
Crawl on and fall.
On the graveyard of executed illusions
There is no room for more.

Millions of faiths are burrowed into the black earth,
Millions of joys are burned and scattered,
The soul burns, the angered minds aflame,
The hatred’s fanned in the roaring wind.

f all the deceived could but see
And all the executed arise,
The heaven, leadened by the cries,
Would burst from shame and blasphemy.

Tremble, killers; contemplate, you lackeys:
Life simply doesn’t fit your last.
You hear? On the graveyard of illusions
There is no room for more.

The people are already a single running wound,
The land is wild from blood.
Now every hangman and every tyrant
Awaits the hangman’s hood.

The dead, the hounded and the torn
Arise and go to form a court.
Their curses, angry and yet untold
Fall on the mouldy, satiated souls.

And the wind rocks the trees,
The last props of the apostles
of crime and swindle.
On earth both truth and love shall reign
And honest work will stand on guard for truth.

Translator: M. Bohachevsky-Chomiak

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…The local pine trees grow through the human skeletons; I am convinced, quicklime and blood would show up in high quantities in the soil samples – quicklime was used to hide the odours of decomposition. All of us, including Alla, Vasyl’, and I have felt the breath of death…. the dead earth purges itself of it all, and on the surface – washed out skulls and bones. I found an old button from a military coat and the old man – our guide, gave us a set of keys with an NKVD stamp attached to it.…

<...>

But let’s hear the whole story. During a commemorative evening dedicated to Les’ Kurbas I was approached by an emotionally charged woman – she looked like she had been crying. So, she began talking about the Stalin’s purges and the victims; she must be one of the victims – I assumed – or she must know something about Kurbas, but no. We continue our conversation, she suddenly says: “You keep talking about what happened on the Solovky island in Russia – the executions… But in greater Kyiv we have our own killing fields. And the number of victims is as great as on the Solovky, but nobody says anything. But these people need a proper Christian burial ….”

We have agreed that she will take us to this horrible place, where “half of Kyiv is buried” – it’s a forested area close to the Bykivnya township. Then she has changed her mind and decided not to go. Instead, she introduced us to a man who “knows it well and will show the killing fields and burial sites if need be.”

<…> The man is a local, as a young boy he was recruited by the Germans to excavate the grave sites – we’ll be talking to an eye witness. <…>

He told us that before the war a plot of land of up to two acres in size was transferred to the NKVD together with a newly paved road which led deep into the forest… A tall fence – almost three meters high, was erected around the plot which was located deep in the forest. The green overlapping planks prevented from peering inside. The bodies of executed prisoners, labelled as “politicheski”, were transported to here from Kyiv – inside lorries, five to six trucks a night. There was a tram line as well, a special covered cargo tram was used. The victims were shot at the Lukyanivka central jail and on Korolenko st, some of the later victims were killed in the basement of what is now known as the October palace.

— Perhaps, it was the Germans? —  Alla asked.

— The Germans had nothing to do with it! Their killing grounds were at the concentration camp, about seven kilometres from here, here it was done by our side. <…>

… Before the war the ongoing events were an open secret for the Bykivnya locals.

— Executed?

— No way. We would have heard it. They were already deceased; the executions were carried out inside the prisons. Here they kept barrels of quicklime. In a large grave the bodies were piled up on top of each other, sprinkled with quicklime and covered with dirt. The graves are too shallow, the victims were hurriedly buried, so sometimes the bones wash out. <…>

— When most of the digging was done?

— Throughout 1937 and all the way into 1938. A noticed decreased occurred just before the war. So, during that period it was only three to four trucks a night. And no tram. <…>

— Please note – all of the victims have a single bullet hole through the back of the skull. The Germans would usually line up the victims and mown them down with bursts of machine-gun fire. Evidently, our folk were trying to conserve the bullets, and put a single shot in the back of the head. If someone wasn’t quite dead, they were finished off on the spot with a spade. <…>

Our contact is convinced that the forest holds more bodies than Babyn Yar.

I inquire again about the numbers …

— Well, the covered area is one-and-a-half to two acres in size. It also includes the Rybne district; you can hardly walk a few paces without stepping on someone’s grave. In mass graves the corpses were piled up on top of other corpses in layers of four and five. <…>

We have walked around the green fence. The area is absolutely huge!

The morning weather was damp and misty with some light drizzle. We felt the earth give in under our feet and walking on someone’s grave gave us an eerie feeling.

Vasyl’ touched me on the shoulder:

— Look…

A team of five boys were playing football. Their sixth companion was manning the sticks. He was unnaturally overweight and not much of running.

— It’s just a bunch of boys, – says I. – Playing some footie.

— Look at what they are playing with …

I took a closer look. The boys were playing with a human skull with a bullet hole in the back. I reached out for the skull. I thought that it belonged to a child. It was tiny.

A group of children were playing football with a child’s skull stuffed with straw. There were more skulls closer to the football posts, but larger ones. They were washed out from the ground and polished by time.

We looked around. The area around us was covered with skulls … <…>

We walked back in silence, seems we have regained our senses. Back in the forest we had a shot of alcohol too keep up going – it really helped.

Alla was swearing her head off, and I can understand her. Suddenly, she went quiet. As we were approaching Kyiv Vasyl’ has suggested:

— Let’s have a rest stop.

We sat down on the side of the road not far from the pioneer camp in a forested area. I wish the pine trees could talk!

— Here:

 

The many skulls lay useless,

We trample on our friend and foe.

On the graveyard of executed illusions

There is no room for more.

 

This is what has impressed him the most – the “friend and foe”. When the Germans were excavating the mass graves, they have discovered a burial containing skeletal remains exclusively of NKVD officers: they were killing their own. <…>

And there are more killing grounds like this one in Kyiv! Before 1936 there were mass burials at the Lukyankivka cemetery and Baikove cemetery – on the outskirts, closer to the ravine.

Executions were carried out on the prison grounds at 15 Korolenko st. and in the basement of the Mekhlis building.

There is a rumour that the executed victims in the Kirov’s case were secretly buried at night under the paved pathways at the Lukyankivka cemetery…

 

Les’ Taniuk, 1962

24

Horska’s murder

In April 1968 Horska signed an open letter addressed to the soviet leadership protesting against human rights violations in the country titled the 139 Letter. In Aug of the same year the soviet army occupied Czechoslovakia. In the mind of the communist leadership the Prague spring was directly linked to the ongoing liberal reform in the country. And to prevent the same happening inside the country they believed it was absolutely necessary to escalate the level of repression against the soviet dissidents.

Horska was summoned by the KGB for questioning, she was pressured to withdraw her signature from the letter – and many signatories have already crumbled under the pressure. When she refused, the KGB threatened her with prison. When the threats failed, the authorities came up with a different plan on how to make her suffer. Alla Horska and her husband Viktor Zaretsky were put under surveillance.

It all came to a tragic conclusion in the autumn of 1970. On Nov 28th Horska has exited her Kyiv apartment and headed for the Vasylkiv township to visit her father-in-law and collect a Singer sewing machine. It was the last her husband and 16-year-old son saw of her. Alla Horska’s lifeless body was discovered three days later in a cellar on the property belonging to Ivan Zaretsky, her father-in-law. The next day Zaretsky’s decapitated body was found on the railway tracks close to the Fastiv-2 railway station.

Alla Horska’s funeral was scheduled for Dec 4th on the Baikove cemetery but the investigating police officers repeatedly refused to give permission. The artist was buried on Dec 7th at a different location on the Berkivtsy cemetery. Horska was buried in a closed casket. All of Horska’s friends who spoke at her funeral were later arrested.

Quote

Opanas! My beautiful swallow bird! We will never work on a panel together. But it’s better to fall victim to a brutal murder than to betray your own kind and not be afforded a proper Christian burial as a victim of suicide.

From Alla Horska’s letter to Opanas Zalyvakha, April 1968

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