Authentic stories: symbol of Ukrainian immortality – Olena Teliha – KyivPost


The heroine of my story was described by one of her contemporaries as “the greatest female figure in Ukrainian literature after Lesia Ukrainka”. Another considered that: “with her creative life and her heroic death, she has become a new symbol of the immortality of the Ukrainian nation.”

The story is about Olena Teliha, a Ukrainian poet and activist who defied the Nazi authorities in German-occupied Kyiv in the 1940s and paid for it with her life.

She was born 115 years ago in July 1907, in a village near Moscow, to Ukrainian parents. The family moved to Kyiv in 1918.

His father was a professor at the Polytechnic Institute, then in May 1920 he was appointed director of the Department of Water and Road Management of the Ministry of Roads of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. In November of the same year, he went into exile. Later he became rector of the Ukrainian Academy of Economics in the city of Podebrady.

Teliha left Soviet-ruled Ukraine with her mother and brother Serhiy in 1922. She lived in Poland, then Czechoslovakia. Eventually, she then graduated from the historical and philological department of the Ukrainian Pedagogical Institute in Prague. She met the engineer and bandurist Mykhailo Teliha there, and they married in 1926.

In Czechoslovakia, Teliha flourished professionally as a Ukrainian poet, publicist and literary critic. After the death of her mother in 1929, she and her husband settled in Warsaw where she continued her literary path.

Teliha’s life became more dramatic at the start of World War II. According to some reports, in order to earn a living, in Warsaw, Teliha was forced to sing in night cabarets, work as a model and as a teacher.

In December 1939, in Krakow, Teliha met Oleh Olzhych (Kandyba), a leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement. Under his influence, she joined the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). She was in the faction of Andrii Melnyk (opposed by the Bandera faction) and worked in the cultural and educational spheres.

In October 1941, after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Teliha was back in Kyiv. She headed the Union of Ukrainian Writers, opened a catering outlet for her associates and collaborated with the newspaper Ukrainian Slovo, edited by Ivan Rohach, which was located on Bulvarno-Kudryavska street. In addition, she organized the publication of the literary and artistic weekly “Litavry.

After many years of Bolshevik dictatorship, the people of Kyiv began to speak publicly about the revival of the Ukrainian state. National symbols appeared and churches held masses in the Ukrainian language. However, the Nazis were hostile to these expressions of patriotism and began to suppress Ukrainian nationalists.

After Rohach’s arrest, Teliha defiantly ignored the Germans’ instructions. “Litavry” was banned. On February 7, 1942, the arrests began. Her friends warned her that the Gestapo was preparing an ambush on Triochsvyatitelsky Street, where the Union of Ukrainian Writers was located. She made her choice. She wasn’t going to run away. In a private conversation, she said: “I will not leave Kyiv to emigrate again! I can not do that.

In her last letter from Kyiv she said: “We took a walk last night near the snowy university. We were white and so frozen we couldn’t move our mouths. We walked from the cold Union building to the cold house… But behind the snow and the winds, we can already feel a bright sun and a green spring.

In one of her poems, she asked God to give her the greatest gift: “A warm death, not a cold extinction”.

Later that month, Teliha and her husband were arrested. In prison, she meets Lesia Ukrainka’s sister and manages to exchange a few words with her.

Teliha is said to have left his last autograph on the gray wall of the Gestapo. It was a drawn trident bearing the inscription: “Here was imprisoned and from here passes the firing squad Olena Teliha.”

She and her husband were shot in a place now known to the world – Babyn Yar, the site where the Jews of Kyiv were executed by the Nazis in September 1941, followed by representatives of other nations and groups, including Ukrainian nationalists.

In 1992, Teliha’s poems were first published in Ukraine. And in 2017, a remarkable monument of this amazing woman was erected in Babyn Yar.

Her contemporary ideologue, publicist and nationalist, Dmytro Dontsov, wrote of her: “She is extraordinary in her images and ideas, complete as rarely anyone else and elegant in her poetry. In her ‘strong-legged Diana’ physique, she’s a master of all things… proud of her guidance for life. She left us the image of an intelligent poetry in the best sense of the term. This poetry is devoid of all that is vulgar and simple.

Another famous Ukrainian writer, Yevhen Malaniuk, claimed that Teliha’s personality was far greater than her literary heritage: “As an entity, she was a kind of protest against the greyness, the colorlessness, the nausea of life… He was a person who wanted joy in royal life. meaning of this word. »

American writer Ernest Miller Hemingway once wrote, “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” These words are perhaps a perfectly poignant epitaph to the biography of Olena Teliha.


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