The Executed Renaissance: a creative generation which was tortured by the totalitarian Stalinist state
Ukrainian history is one full of inspirational stories of resistance, but it, too, is one riddled with decades of repressions at the hands of colonial powers. With our language, customs, traditions, and all other elements composing our national identity historically as target, many of those who were at the forefront of the construction of a Ukrainian national identity – our intelligentsia – were oppressed, tortured, and killed. We recognise that to know our own history is to remember how hard-won our existence today is. That is why it’s important to remember the story of the Ukrainian generation of creatives tortured by the totalitarian Stalinist state in the 1920-30s, the Executed Renaissance.
Ukraine’s literary and creative generation of the 1920s and early 1930s destroyed and tortured by the totalitarian Stalinist state.
The generation of creatives that came to be known as the Executed Renaissance emerged in the aftermath of the Soviet indigenisation (korenizatsiya) policies which provided a temporary relief from centuries of repressive language policies imposed on the Ukrainian language by the Russian Empire. For the regime to attempt to reverse imperial Russification policies which frequently explicitly targeted the national identities of the Empire’s national minorities meant the creation of a sense of freedom to live and create on a level not encouraged or allowed before. Such a historical context provides justification for the use of the term ‘Renaissance’ in reference to the Ukrainian intelligentsia of that time. When previously in 1863 Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Empire Pyotr Valuev proclaimed that the Ukrainian language “never existed, does not exist, and shall not exist”, now, Ukrainian was freely being used in poetry, prose, painting, music, and theater – but not for long.
The start of the mass extermination of the Ukrainian intelligentsia is considered to be May 12-13, 1933. Two crucial events took place then: namely, the arrest of the head of the Vaplite writer’s organization Mykhailo Yalovy and writer Mykola Khvylovy’s suicide — he shot himself in protest against the mass repressions of Ukrainian intellectuals.