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Hryhorii Skovoroda / Ivan Kotliarevsky / Taras Shevchenko /Panteleimon Kulish / Ivan Franko / Lesya Ukrainka / Volodymyr Vynnychenko / Pavlo Tychyna / Mykola Khvylovy / Mykola Kulish / Mykola Bazhan / Olena Teliha / Lina Kostenko

Kulish, Mykola b 18 December 1892 in Chaplynka, Tavriia gubernia, d (shot) 3 November 1937. (Photo: Mykola Kulish.) Renowned playwright. Kulish began writing satirical poetry and plays as a gymnasium student in Oleshky. Conscripted into the Russian Army during the First World War, he was wounded at the front and discharged from military service in 1917. He took an active part in the Ukrainian Struggle for Independence (1917–20) by organizing a guerilla regiment to fight Anton Denikin’s forces in Southern Ukraine and distinguishing himself as its commanding officer. In 1922 he was appointed school inspector for the Odesa region. In 1924 he joined the proletarian writers' group Hart, and in 1925 moved to Kharkiv where he met its other members; one of them, Mykola Khvylovy, thereafter had a great impact on his writing and views. In 1925 he was elected a member of the presidium of the writers' group Vaplite; from November 1926 to its forced dissolution in January 1928 he was its president. In 1926 he founded and headed the Ukrainian Society of Dramatists and Composers. In 1927–8 he was also a member of the editorial board of the prominent cultural journal Chervonyi shliakh. In late 1929 he became a member of the presidium of the new writers' organization Prolitfront. After its forced dissolution in January 1931, he was not allowed to join the only regime-sanctioned writers' organization, the All-Ukrainian Association of Proletarian Writers. Prevented from publishing, he made his living as a film scenarist. In June 1934 his plays were condemned as nationalist and harmful and he was purged

 

from the Party as a ‘counterrevolutionary.’ In December 1934 he was arrested by the NKVD, tried as a member of an ‘All-Ukrainian Borotbist Terrorist Center,’ and sentenced to 10 years in an isolation cell in a concentration camp on the Solovets Islands. He was last heard from in 1937.

Kulish wrote 13 plays, of which 6 were published during his lifetime: 97 (1925), Khulii Khuryna (1926), Myna Mazailo (1929), Narodnii Malakhii (The People's Malakhii, in Literaturnyi iarmarok, no. 9 [1929]), Komuna v stepakh

(Commune in the Steppes, 1931), and Povorot Marka (Marko's Return, 1934; original title Proshchai, selo [Farewell Village]). The first five as well as two others— Patetychna sonata (Sonata Pathétique, 1930) and Maklena Grassa (1932)—were staged and received critical acclaim. Most of them were staged by the Berezil theater in Kharkiv under the direction of Les Kurbas. Forbidden to be staged in Ukraine by the censors, Patetychna sonata was translated into Russian and staged at the Moscow Kamernyi Theater by A. Tairov and at the Leningrad Bolshoi Drama Theater by K. Tverskoi simultaneously from December 1931 to March 1932.

Kulish became famous after the stage success in 1924 of his first play 97, a portrayal of peasant life after the Revolution. It was, however, in what some critics termed his ‘national’ trilogy— Narodnii Malakhii, Myna Mazailo, and Patetychna sonata, written while Kulish was a close associate of Les Kurbas—that his exceptional talent and originality as a dramatist became evident. In Narodnii Malakhii Kulish satirized the contradictions between Ukrainian national aspirations and Soviet reality. In Myna Mazailo he satirized the political and social impact of the policy of Ukrainization. In Patetychna sonata he depicted, using elements of both modern experimental theater and traditional Ukrainian puppet theater (vertep), the chaos and political conflicts of the revolutionary period in Ukraine. The content of the trilogy was subject to a great deal of Stalinist invective, and it was for writing those plays and his close association with Mykola Khvylovy that Kulish became a victim of the terror.

Kulish was posthumously ‘rehabilitated’ in 1956, and editions of his selected plays—including the previously unpublished Patetychna sonata, Otak zahynuv Huska (That's How Huska Died), and Maklena Grassa—appeared in Kyiv (1960, 1969) and in Russian in Moscow (1964, 1980). The first edition of his collected plays (in two volumes) was edited by Les Taniuk and published in Kyiv in 1990. Apart from the above-mentioned plays, it also included Zoná (Ergot, 1926) and one of his most avant-garde works Vichnyi bunt (The Eternal Rebellion, 1932).

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