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Desperate Times Trilogy of Selected Prose Fiction - Volume III
The stories in the Desperate Times trilogy explore the human impact of the social, political and economic upheaval in Ukraine from the tumultuous opening days of the 20th century, through World War I, the 1917 Russian Revolution, and the early 1920s under Soviet rule.
Selected Prose Fiction by
Soft cover, 416 pp; ISBN 978-0-9735982-9-2
Borys Antonenko-Davydovych (1899-1984)
Hryhoriy Epik (1901-1937?)
Vasyl Grendzha-Donsky (1897-1974)
Pylyp Kapelhorodsky (1882-1942)
Bohdan Lepky (1872-1941)
Valeriyan Pidmohylny (1901-1937)
Oleksa Slisarenko (1891-1937)
Stepan Vasylchenko (1879-1932)
Glossary p. 399
Biographical Notes p. 405
The trilogy, Desperate Times, with its volumes Brother against Brother, Between the Trenches, and Conflict and Chaos, focuses on stories written during the 1900 to 1930 period that encompasses the slide of the imperial Russian Empire into chaos, the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, World War I, and the subsequent upheaval in Eastern Europe fomented by the Russian Revolution. Some of these works are not for the faint-hearted, for they depict truly desperate times of revolution, war, and social upheaval, along with enormous human emotional and physical costs.
As of the early 20th century, Ukraine had long been divided by other empires––with Russia controlling eastern Ukraine, and various European powers including Lithuania-Poland, Austria-Hungary, and the Hapsburg Empire dominating western portions. In both regions the Ukrainian language, culture and distinctive Ukrainian forms of Orthodox and Catholic rites were at times severely controlled, or completely banned, and conditions for ethnic Ukrainians were harsh. There was little opportunity for education and advancement for Ukrainians, and the rising revolutionary tide that began sweeping Europe in the 19th century, with its concepts of nationalism, democracy, and freedom, soon found fertile ground in traditional Ukrainian territory.
The stories in this trilogy depict attempts at reform and political activism, peasant uprisings, revolutionary and terrorist acts, and the flowering of the Ukrainian independence movement. This blossoming of culture, language and political idealism was soon trampled however, with empires being rent asunder resulting in the redrawing of borders, the First World War sweeping millions to death, and the brutal consolidation of power by communists in the former Russian Empire.
These stories are written from multiple points of view, as is only fitting, for they are all part of the spectrum of beliefs that drove the variously motivated protagonists of those times. Thus we read about Soviet revolutionary heroes––and disillusionment with the new communist regime. We read about atrocities perpetrated by imperial forces, and the complete collapse of morality in areas controlled by anarchist groups. We experience the power of fiction that enables us to put ourselves into others’ shoes, to witness events through their eyes, to feel their emotions. The results often are not pretty, but stories such as these actually happened, time and again, shaping real people.
While it is difficult to divide the stories into precise chronological order, we have attempted to begin with ones dating to the Russian Revolution of 1905 that revealed the rotten state of the empire. At the time, Russia was shocked by repeated defeats in the Russo-Japanese War, and revolutionaries of various political stripes––though mostly socialists and communists––realized that collapse was a matter of time.
The Russian Empire had suppressed ethnic and religious groups, and had attempted to impose the Russian language and church upon all within its territory. As the bureaucracy weakened and military disasters in the Far East undermined discipline and pride, the empire was faced with the steady rise of ethnically based national aspirations in many of its regions. The overwhelming human and economic cost of WWI piled on stresses that the ossified and increasingly fractious empire could not withstand.
For Ukrainians, WWI was really a time of brother against brother, and not by choice. Several of the stories in this trilogy depict the anguish as families were divided between empires, with Ukrainians conscripted into both the Russian army, and opposing Germanic-Austrian forces.
By 1917, an exhausted, demoralized and near-destitute Russian Empire was ripe for revolution, and two of them exploded that year. The first, the February Revolution, saw the abdication of the tsar and the establishment of a provisional government. The second, the October Revolution, saw the Bolsheviks under Lenin sweep into power and begin the consolidation of a new, communist, empire that became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or, more simply, the Soviet Union.
The great tragedy of this revolutionary era is that idealism fell by the wayside, devolving into horrific years of civil war in which combatants of all political stripes plunged into an escalating cycle of atrocities. It didn’t matter right wing or left wing, all met in extremism, mass murder, rape, torture, looting––and for extended periods––total anarchy. There was complete social, political and economic collapse, with the only authority being the barrel of a gun.
The modern Western reader has little concept of such chaos, terror, and utter helplessness. We have no sense of such ingrained hatred––hatred of the oppressive aristocracy and bureaucracy––followed by hatred of the perversion of Marxism and Communism into a new, even harsher dictatorship that placed no value on human life and blindly espoused totalitarian ends that justified the foulest means.
Yet we see in these stories that amidst the chaos created by the breakdown of the political and social order there were flickers of humanity, of ethical, moral behaviour. Within that chaos, people still loved, dreamed, and hoped. It is heartening to find that within that chaos some people still adhered to humane and principled codes of behaviour, even sacrificing their own lives to save those of others.
The issues central to these volumes of revolutionary stories are still relevant and some are yet unresolved. The short-lived Ukrainian governments of the confusing revolutionary period planted the seeds of independence, and some partisans fought on for decades against the Soviets. The reverberations from those times still impact the ongoing development of a nascent democracy in a free Ukraine in the face of still widely entrenched authoritarian values and practices in modern Russia and its resurgent imperialistic ambitions.
We have tried to strike a balance in assisting those readers who may be embarking into unfamiliar territory by providing glossaries including some of the main parties, armies, and military and political leaders, without overly interrupting the narrative flow.
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Language Lanterns Publications began its mission of adding to the treasury of Ukrainian literature accessible to the English-reading world in 1998 with the six-volume series Women’s Voices in Ukrainian Literature which included translations of selected literary works written by eight Ukrainian female authors between 1880 and 1920. In 2004, two companion volumes were published, Passion’s Bitter Cup and Riddles of the Heart, with stories by Ukrainian male authors in the same period.
To date, Language Lanterns has produced 20 volumes of translations including several by Ukraine’s leading man of letters, Ivan Franko, and two volumes called From Days Gone By and Down Country Lanes that added stories written in the second half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th by sixteen Ukrainian male authors.
These diverse stories from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries give modern readers a window into societal, political, religious and economic conditions in Ukrainian ethnic lands, and the gradual revival of the Ukrainian language, culture and political spirit following centuries of external domination.
The volume taken most to heart by the public thus far is A Hunger Most Cruel that graphically depicts through short fiction the horrendous impact upon Ukraine of the famine artificially created by Soviet authorities in the 1930s in an attempt to break the Ukrainian peasantry. This terror-famine, or Holodomor, that resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent victims, has come to be internationally recognized as genocide.
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Sonia Morris, my mother and the editor of the Language Lanterns Publications team, passed away in April 2007; however, she and her sister Roma Franko, the translator, had begun work on many of these stories. Therefore Sonia’s name remains as editor to recognize her passion for her cultural heritage, her historical knowledge and literary skills.
Roma and I dedicate this trilogy to her memory.
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