2017 12 23 borys5




      In the frame of the project at the University of Geneva, entitled “Divided memories, shared memories. Ukraine / Russia / Poland (20th-21st centuries): an entangled history,”1 I conducted a first series of interviews with the following Ukrainian historians in December 2016: Vladyslav Verstiuk, Leonid Zashkilniak and Stanislav Kulchytsky. All selected historians were born in Soviet Ukraine and had careers in official institutions: Verstiuk and Kulchytsky at the Institute of History in Kyiv, and Zashkilniak at Lviv State University. Their careers allow us to see how social the social upward mobility worked in Soviet Ukraine, why they chose the career of the historian, what restrictions they faced and what privileges they enjoyed.
Dealing with history in the Soviet Union is extremely complex from a psychological perspective. History, like all other fields of study in the USSR, is the preserve of the Communist Party and the state. The state, as virtually the only employer in the country, subsidizes historical studies. Every scholar is therefore simultaneously a state official; he must constantly keep this duality in mind, and construct his work in such a way as to provide a useful service to the state. Archives, oral testimonies and interviews are valuable assets when approaching this topic, as they allow one to get behind the “unspoken dry academic reports” and know more about motivations, trips abroad, restrictions and obligations, the place of the KGB and collaboration during the communist period, as well as many other questions. As archives do not mention these aspects, oral testimonies shed light on new and interesting foci, often neglected by local and foreign scholars, particularly the academic exchange of scholars, trips abroad by historians and the involvement of Ukrainian historians in international and local conferences.
      The chronological focus of my project is the “long rule of Leonid Brezhnev,” which all interviewed historians experienced. It was a distinctly contradictory period when compared with the preceding Khrushchev period. As Robert English mentions, in part the Brezhnev period was a time of great hopes, of the maturation and actualization of reformist thought in foreign (and domestic) affairs, boosted by an extensive new thaw in East-West relations, but at the same time Brezhnev’s “thaw” was notably more limited than Khrushchev’s. From the outset, ideological controls remained much tighter. The Party enforced stricter orthodoxy in intellectual life. Dissidence was harshly repressed and periodic conservative attacks kept reformist-Westernizing thought on the defensive2. As Aleksandr Nekrich, a Soviet historian from the Institute of History in Moscow, recalls, “there were, of course, significant differences: people were not sent to prison for mistakes, they were dismissed from work less frequently, and when they were fired, a legal basis was sought, and sometimes new employment was provided, and campaigns to attach labels such as “bourgeois objectivist,” “cosmopolitan,” and the like were no longer carried out, although essentially any deviation was subject to severe criticism and punishment in the form of public dishonor in the press, forced repentance and so on”3.
      All three historians were asked the same questions. One of the first interesting topics is to know more about the motivations of young graduates in choosing history as their major during their studies. What motivated their decision? What kind of privileges did they have? These questions include the period of the study at university, protection and so-called “survival strategies” while at University.
      Another interesting focus was to compare two historians from Kyiv with Zashkilniak from Lviv. The regional aspect matters, as it shows the difference in the discourse and the degree of freedom. Particularly in relation to questions about going abroad and attending conferences in Poland, some historians from Lviv (in our case, Zashkilniak) used information channels when going to Poland, took risks trying to correspond with Polish colleagues and could read Polish literature in Lviv’s libraries.
      The second set of questions includes daily work and reports. Daily work and numerous reports were part of the routine of Ukrainian historians. The Soviet system produced a huge amount of reports, and each period of a historian’s working hours was carefully reported: how many pages he (or she) wrote for 1 week (or 1 month or year) or what he (or she) did and said during his (or her) participation at a conference. Reports and activity tracking were part of the overall system.
      My special focus within the project was on the interactions between Polish and Ukrainian historians, their contacts and conferences. Polish culture and history has played a special part in Ukrainian history and among historians because of its historical ties, its proximity and its linguistic closeness, particularly in Western Ukraine. Questions related to Polish influence and appeal on Ukrainian Soviet historians were therefore an important part of my project. Polish historians were the first allies of Ukrainian historians in helping them with archival materials and advice, mostly in informal ways4 . Moreover, trips to Poland and other socialist countries were usually the first trips taken by Soviet citizens, particularly for Soviet historians. Poland was close and rather “easy” to go to 5.
      Other important questions included the relationship between Moscow and provincial centers (such as Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities), the discrimination of Ukrainian scholars by both foreign and Moscow historians, such as “envy of Moscow”6, the choice and freedom to write about one’s selected topic, and the ability to participate in international conferences. One of the main questions was whether Ukrainian historians felt provincial or discriminated against. Scholars from Soviet provincial centers had restrictions on their travels to Soviet and particularly international conferences because of limitations in the centralized distribution of available places within a given conference. Ukrainian historians had to fight strongly in order to secure 1-2 places in important conferences, and often they failed to do so.


      In order to better understand the interviews, it is important to mention briefly the biographies and academic careers of the interviewed historians.


2017 12 23 borys verstiuk


Vladyslav Verstiuk was born in 1949 in Hostomel, Kyiv region. In 1975 he graduated from the History department at Kyiv State University (KNU), and in 1979 he defended his kandidatskaia dissertatsia7 at the Institute of History on “The class struggle in the countryside in Left-Bank Ukraine in 1919” (under the supervision of the professor of the Academy of Science, M. Suprunenko). In 1983–1986 he worked as the head of the editorial publishing house Naukova dumka. Since 1986, he has been a senior researcher at the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. In 1992, he received his doktor istorychnykh nauk (PhD) degree at the Institute of History with his work “Makhnovshchyna: peasant insurgency in Ukraine during the civil war (1918–1921)”. Since 1986, he has been the head of the department of the history of the Ukrainian revolution of 1917-1921 (previously the department of the History of the Great October Socialist Revolution and the Civil War) at the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.


2017 12 23 borys zashkilniak


Leonid Zashkilniak was born in 1949 in Lviv, however his family was from Central Ukraine. His father, Opanas Zashkilniak (1913-1999), was the head of the department of the History of the CPSU (the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) at Lviv State University. In 1975 Leonid Zashkilniak defended his kandidatskaia dissertatsia in history with the topic of “The struggle of the Polish Workers’ Party for the establishment and strengthening of the people's democratic system in Poland (1944-1948),” under the academic supervision of I. Bielyakevych, who offered him the research topic. In 1971–1974, he was a junior researcher, in 1974–1976 an assistant, during 1976–1978 a senior lecturer and in 1978–1992 an associate professor of history, all at the Department of Southern and Western Slavic History at Lviv State University. In 1993, he received his doktor istorychnykh nauk with the topic: “Polish historiography during the 1940–60s (methodological and organizational questions).” From 2007 until 2010, he worked as the research vice-director at the Krypiakevych Institute of Ukrainian Studies of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, and since 2010 he has also been the co-director of the department of archeology and historical sciences at Lviv State University.


2017 12 23 borys rulch


Stanislav Kulchytsky, a well-known Ukrainian historian, was born in 1937 in Odessa and graduated from the history department of Odessa State University. In 1963 he defended his kandidatskaia dissertatsia in economic history entitled “Development of railway transport in pre-revolutionary Ukraine” in the department of Social Sciences at the Institute of Economy at the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (under the academic supervision of professor D. Virnyk). In 1976 he defended his doktor istorychnykh nauk with his work “Internal resources of the socialist industrialization of the USSR (1925-1937)” at the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Since 1972, he has been working in the Institute of History, Department of Ukrainian history, at the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine as a senior scholar, professor, and specialist of the Holodomor.


      Privileges and social prestige being a historian in the Soviet period (since 1945)

      How prestigious was it to work as a historian? Which were their main motivations to work as a historian: wages, publications, prestige, or privileges? What kinds of privileges did Soviet historians have?

      L. Zashkilniak: There were no privileges. I remember when we moved to Kutuzov street (Lviv) in 1954, I played with other children in the street in muddy puddles. I did not have any advantages; however my father...my father has always been such an egalitarian person: he wanted to be like other people around us. However, I must admit, we were privileged, as I understood it later, since we lived in a big flat compared to our neighbors. Our neighbors lived in a communal apartment sharing commodities while my family lived alone in one big apartment, the only ones on the whole floor. This privilege I realized much later at the University.

      V. Verstiuk: Which privileges? Money? Our salaries were not that high. Career, not money, gave access to privileges. However, teachers and historians were better paid than ordinary workers. It is particularly striking in comparison with peasants, who did not get any salary until the reform in the 1960s. My mother, who worked as a teacher, has always helped her parents in the countryside and my father helped them with money. My parents even started building a house! So teachers were better paid.
      Before the reform of 1965, historians had also been well paid: a senior researcher received a monthly 300 rubles salary, a professor around 500 rubles monthly, while the head of the department and academician, Mykola Ivanovych, had a monthly salary of 800 rubles. He could easily give you 25 rubles and invite all others to a restaurant. We added some more money and could spend a good time at Dynamo restaurant with alcohol. Imagine the salary of 850 rubles while an ordinary worker received 90-100 rubles per month! It was a very comfortable salary8! There was another case, I remember, once a woman from our Institute was pickpocketed at the market, and her savings had been stolen. She was so upset about it as she could not go for planned holidays. So Mykola Ivanovych gave 150 or 200 rubles to her. If even she planned to give him back 10 rubles per month, it would have taken 2 years to give it back to him!

      S. Kulchytsky: We had neither particular privileges nor apartments. We lived as other Soviet people. Our house was a good house, built in 1971, at Akademmistechko. In Soviet times, people could get an apartment for free, but you would be on the waiting list for it: first you get a bunk-place in the dormitory, and then a room for junior researchers. I lived with my wife and two children in a small apartment of 14 m2 for a few years. Only much later did I receive a 3-room apartment in which I live now. This system did not depend on whether you were a historian or not; this was a Soviet system of housing distribution. We did not have any privileges. Or rather, privileges existed for people who worked in the Party or the KGB. These people had decent living conditions, but I have never been interested in collaboration with them.
      If talking about career privileges, everything is the same: in the 1920s or in the 1970s or even now. People are everywhere the same regardless of social conditions; some of them adapt to the system, others just cannot9.
      Admission and study at the university, personal protection and survival strategies

      Did anyone help you in being admitted to university? When and how did the idea to continue the study of the come to you? Which exams did you have to pass in order to be enrolled at university? What topics were allowed and which were prohibited?

      V. Verstiuk: At this time there was an acceptance ratio of 2-4 persons per 1 available place at universities, so it was highly competitive. School-leavers awarded with a gold or silver medal10 were exempted from the entrance examinations at university in the 1950s11. Most pupils, particularly boys, knew that they could not continue to study further because of their parents’ limited possibilities, so they applied for professional secondary education. I was convinced that the blat did not exist, however I realized it in the 1970s when the children of the privileged elite studied at privileged faculties. But in the 1950-1960s, ordinary people still could study at university. Nevertheless, I must admit that a hierarchy existed among students: if you were a member of the Communist Party, you had a better chance and could enjoy a wider choice of disciplines. For ordinary students from workers’ families, special “robfak” faculty had to be created, as they had not been as well prepared as children from privileged families.
      Why did the highly competitive entry exist for the Faculty of History? There was a specialization in the “History of the Communist Party,” and with such diploma a graduate could easily find a job, particularly in teaching the history of the Communist Party”. At this time this discipline was being taught everywhere in all universities. It was a good professional investment, while some specializations such as the history of Ukraine did not offer such possibilities to you. At this department there have always been a lot of girls who could not succeed in other departments. Historians working in the Department of the History of Socialist Countries could at least travel to the People’s Republics in Europe, so it was prestigious working there. The most boring and relatively calm department was the Research Section of the Great Patriotic War. They did not have a big choice; they always did research about fascists and partisans. There was a joke about this department that in the end partisans destroyed more Nazi wagons than had existed at the time.

      L. Zashkilniak: Clearly, I was a privileged one. Why go to study to Kyiv when there is the University of Lviv in my city, and my father works there? Lviv University had a good reputation: it was prestigious, reliable and a trustworthy establishment. Why? Because everyone knew and understood that a graduate from Lviv University had already been checked by many verification institutions and passed through many tests. Obviously I was a lucky person in my life, partly due to my father. As he taught there, his name was well known at the university.
      This is probably my subjective opinion, but the university diploma gave you many possibilities to get an executive position. University education in the 1950-60s, and even in the 1970s, really gave you good chances to succeed in your life despite Soviet restrictions and particularities.
      Daily work and report writing

      What kind of reports did you write each day? What part of your daily work did you hate the most, and which did you like?

      L. Zashkilniak: Nowadays reporting is even worse.... All these reports, it is a great profanity and waste of time for both faculty members and graduate students. Well, they have been created in order to discipline the historians, and while sometimes they are useful, in general they are a waste of time. For instance, graduate students had to write a 35-page report about their writing per semester. But few were able to do it. I personally wrote my thesis over two months during nights. So I lied in the reports about the “planned and executed” number of written pages.
      I would say that 70% just pretended to write the planned quantity of pages. It was a tribute to Soviet formality. We were asked to write a planned number of pages from the first year of research. I forbade my students to do it, to split their dissertation. In my opinion, they should first collect the material, read sources and literature, and work with original documents in order to have an idea of the whole picture. How can you write if you still know nothing? This was a formality, a copy from the Soviet exact science planning, but in the social sciences it does not work like this. You should first read a lot, work with archival sources, and there are thousands and thousands of pages to work with. This is why I forbade my students to write before reading. They had to invent their work in these reports and I confirmed it by signing.
      As for the distribution of topics, it was absolutely useless to protest. I did not really want to write about the problem of socialism, but…we could not even imagine that we could rebel. Topics were distributed and the rule was the following one: “the Party told you to do that; you should thank them for it.”

      V. Verstiuk: Were people constantly writing reports? It was and is still the case. We still write the annual report about our research activity. In reality it is horrible, because it requires a lot of papers to prepare: the report about the choice of the research topic, then the report about the writing, and finally the report about the closure of the topic. Writing these reports ask for more time than writing about your topic.
      I also wrote these reports. You cannot imagine how wasteful it was to coordinate your research plan with your superiors and validate it! Our department, the History of the Revolution (1917), was created in 1961 and every three years there was a new research topic. So we picked different aspects, chronologically and thematically, and then we analyzed the peasantry and the working class. Every time we had to come up with a new topic as people had been working on the same topic for many years. Once your topic, the peasantry, had been allocated to you, you had to work on it all your life until the change. This was a kind of work, a way of life. People who did not want to work seriously could pretend to work and do nothing all their life. When the academic management, the scientific secretary and the head of department had to handle a lot of red type papers and reports, simple researchers were less troubled by this work. Ordinary historians, however, had to write about the pertinence of their topics, the new aspects of their research and the ideological part of their research. We had to fill pages of mandatory ideological filling12. If you were asked to write about the struggle of the Communist Party somewhere, so you did it. Or the struggle of the peasantry. Everything was about the struggle. However, many used  prepared sets of quotes to fill the pages of “ideological context.”

      S. Kulchytsky: We have been used to such a mode of life from the beginning, and had no idea about different work. Our Academy of Sciences was established in 1918 with people who were used to working freely. From 1929 the total planning and reporting process started and people became used to reporting and to plans. We formulated our topics and then approved them by all instances, so we had this impression that everything was working and was fine. But in reality, those who wanted to work seriously, they did so, while more lazy people could do nothing. This system created a distorted structure: some could pretend to work and be paid anyway, while others had to work more to keep to their plan.  
      Polish-Soviet Ukrainian interactions

      How can you describe the influence of Polish culture and history? Which Polish press outlets did you read? Were you listening to Polish radio? Could you work freely on Polish themes?

      L. Zashkilniak: Poland had a great influence on me through music. Actually, all Western music came through Poland and it was relatively easy to procure it. The first Western radio station was radio “Warszawa,” but there were not so many radios to listen to. Entertainment radio stations appeared later. Besides Polish radio stations, we could also buy Polish magazines quite freely until 1968-1969, including women’s and other entertainment magazines.
      I worked on Polish research topic. However, the University department decided to allocate me another topic by force. I was assigned a new academic supervisor, Bielyakevych, who wrote about Polish-Russian relations, while my previous supervisor was declared “unreliable” to work on such a topic. So, I had to write about “the struggle of the Polish working party for the establishment of the national-democratic system in Poland.” I started reading Polish literature, as there was no Ukrainian literature about the topic. I did not learn Polish, I just started reading in Polish without any courses or preparation. In Lviv, there was still some literature in Polish.

      V. Verstiuk: There was a certain dichotomy towards Poland. On Khreshchatyk Street there was a bookstore called “Friendship,” where we could buy Polish books, whatever their quality. We all learned Polish a bit. I had an opportunity to read the books of Polish historians, everything was so different: kings, biographies…I read them with great pleasure! But when you come to work, you become a Soviet historian and write something completely different. I have also read the books of French historians, for instance, and I remember how the book of Marc Bloch made a big impression on me! But how and where could I use this book? Nowhere. We could still discuss it privately in the kitchen or in a coffee shop, but not at work. We could only use only one methodology: class struggle, communism….

      S. Kulchytsky: Polish newspapers were much more interesting and you could learn more about international events. At this time, Polish newspapers and the press from other People’s Democracies in the Soviet Bloc were sold freely. I regularly bought Polish newspapers, including Trybuna Ludu. In order to read it in Polish, I bought a Polish language textbook and learned Polish by myself. I wanted to know more about world events, and the Polish press was one of the ways to do it.

      Trips to Poland and other countries abroad

      Have you ever had a chance to go abroad for a conference or for a private trip? Who of your colleagues could travel abroad? Why were some of your colleagues unable to travel abroad? Was a trip to Poland considered as something extraordinary?

      L. Zashkilniak: Many people worked with topics in Polish history, I was not the only one. My academic supervisor was privileged as he was involved in Polish topics and he had a lot of Polish friends. Due to his protection, I could go there. Once I took an official research trip via the Ministry of Education, but it was a very complicated procedure You would apply for it, and your application would be approved in many instances. After so many efforts and papers, my application was approved and I was allowed to go to Warsaw via Moscow. Everything was connected to Moscow and was strictly regulated. You received a letter that you are allowed to go to Moscow, but you would go first to Moscow to collect your visa, tickets and coupons of exchange (exchanging rubles to zlotys at fixed rate). Once everything was collected, you could take a train from Moscow to Warsaw via Brest.
      Later, I travelled privately to Poland to work in the archives, as the official trip was not sufficient for me. How could I work only for one month in the archives? So I used my wife’s aunt, who sent me an invitation, to travel to Poland. My wife’s aunt lived in Opole, but I came to Warsaw. She arranged with her friend in Warsaw that I could stay there. I worked unofficially in Polish archives. My supervisor arranged with his friends in the Party to official permissions for me to work in the archives. There was no problem with the libraries; I could go there freely without any permission. I liked to work The National Library of Poland. I was the first to arrive when it opened and stayed there until it closed.

      S. Kulchytsky: Nobody forbade me to travel. I had only to get permission from the head of the department, so that he could arrange himself with the workload. Viyizdni13 and neviyizdni 14, you say? Maybe they existed, but then it was not my case, as I was viyizdnyi. It was a complicated procedure; you even had to get a medical confirmation that you were in good health to travel. Because who should pay for your medical expenses once abroad? Our trips were paid by authorities: by the Institute, or by the Ministry, or by the Academy of Sciences. Moreover, it was financially profitable to go abroad, as you could exchange your rubles against the foreign currency at a fixed rate. 1 ruble was exchanged as 1 dollar, which was clearly a very good fixed rate, as in reality the ruble had a lower value. We were not paid for our conferences abroad, but our expenses were paid. Furthermore, I used these trips to buy some consumer goods that I could not find in Soviet Ukraine, such as a tape recorder, such missing goods! And a pair of jeans for my son.
      As for Poland, there was a popular saying that “Kuritsa nie ptitza, Polsha ne zagranitza” (a chicken is not a bird, Poland is not a foreign country). I have been to Poland many times. This country was our “closest” country and yet at the same time a “foreign” country. Foreign, as religion and personal liberties had always existed there.
      Center–periphery relations from the Ukrainian perspective

      What was your attitude towards Soviet Russian historians? Do you think that historians from Moscow had more privileges than Ukrainian historians? Were the historians from Moscow more intellectually original or daring?

      V. Verstiuk: Moscow has always been the real cultural and intellectual center of the Soviet Union. I remember the exhibition of Impressionists in Moscow sometime in 1971. For me it was such as shock, a “cultural explosion,” so many original French expressionists exposed in one place. Also, when I did my military service in Moscow and Leningrad, in my free time I visited all the museums there. Militiamen and students could access museums for so little money! I was so impressed by these museums, that this cultural shock was one of the reasons why I decided to be a historian.
      Moreover, in Moscow, people were more intellectually advanced, as they could read more and had more access to the foreign press than the provincials. Almost all Western historians came to Moscow, as all the main archives were there. In Ukraine, foreign historians and intellectuals could not come until the late 1980s. Furthermore, Soviet conferences were also so boring. As a rule, there were also officials from the local party present. For us, it was much more interesting to listen to Moscow’s historians, as they thought more broadly even within the frame of the Soviet paradigm.

      S. Kulchytsky: Some historians from Moscow were quite intellectually challenging, because in Moscow the academic competition was stronger. As a rule, if the competition is stronger, weaker elements cannot sneak in.

      These interviews offer interesting material for thinking in terms of privileges, academic exchanges, career opportunities, restrictions and others aspects of the life of the Ukrainian Soviet historian. Being a historian was undeniably a social and a financial privilege in comparison with other “intellectual” professions and particularly with workers. It was a sign of relatively high social status obtained by hard work (Kulchytsky), by chance or protection (Verstiuk) or by family network (Zashkilniak). Compared to the heavy teaching requirements and service obligations at the provincial schools, historians at the Institute of History or at universities still had a better workload; they were better paid than other teachers at professional colleges, and particularly better than ordinary workers15. There were two official “show-up days” (yavochniye dni) at the Institute of History when all historians had to be at the Institute, while on other days they were supposed to work at the library. There was a special registration book to sign when arriving to the Institute. However, as Kulchytsky confirms, people also abused their situation, and many just pretended to work. Higher up the Nomenklatura ladder, professors and academics were even better paid and could afford many things. Moreover, working with the Party or with the KGB could accelerate one’s career and provide even more privileges16. Academicians or corresponding members of the Academy of Science had the best financial and social position, and it was a fierce competition to access these positions17.
      All interviewees, except Kulchytsky, agreed that writing reports was a waste of time and even “a great profanity.” Most historians usually used premade templates to write reports about their work’s progress that had nothing to do with reality. However, it was useless to protest against the practice of writing countless reports, and most historians just complied. Verstiuk noted that the habit of writing numerous reports still goes on in the contemporary Institute of History, where one’s daily work includes reports about research and publications, which is obviously a continuing waste of time for him. Only Kulchytsky enjoyed and still likes writing reports as something good and disciplining for him, even if he also admits that this structure creates a distorted system in which “lazy” people produce these reports and simulate working.
      All interviewers emphasized that the social upward mobility did not work well in the 1960s when children of the privileged elite appeared. Despite efforts to get working class into the “prestigious” faculties of universities18, the elite’s children started occupying these high-status institutions19. In the 1960s, systems of networks and having the “right” pedigree defined the distribution of positions20. Scholars from western parts of Ukraine were considered particularly potentially unreliable21.
      It was prestigious to work as a historian, particularly if you chose the highly selective “History of the Communist Party” specialization, as this course was taught everywhere. Other history departments were considered as less prestigious, except for the department of the history of countries from the Soviet Bloc, and for the Department of International Relations, as people could enjoy travel within those departments. However, it was hard to get accepted there, and knowledge of foreign languages was required.
      Repressions, intellectual restrictions on Ukrainian historians and the heavy all-encompassing bureaucracy created a conservative atmosphere in Ukraine. Contrary to Moscow (and Leningrad), where some historians could still work and travel more or less freely, Ukrainian historians, after purges and insinuations, practiced self-censorship in order to comply with the existing rules22. Each publication passed through a few levels of censorship in different institutions. In Moscow, there were internationally acknowledged historians of the medieval period and of cultural history, but this was not the case in Ukraine. Ukrainian historians considered their Moscow colleagues as more advanced and intellectually stimulating. One of the reasons, as Verstyuk claims, is that Moscow historians had easier access to the foreign press (spetzfond), literature, and international conferences, and could meet foreign scholars. Rarely were foreign scholars accepted to the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, and only a few from capitalist countries23.
      Moreover, we must not forget that historians were not equal at work depending on where they belonged. As Sergei Zhuk claims, a “normal” teaching load for a professor of history at Moscow State University (MGU) was two or three courses per semester, while the average teaching load at the provincial Soviet universities in Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa was four to six courses per semester24. All these factors created an “envy of Moscow,” a psychological complex of tensions which had existed between the Soviet provincial population and Muscovites since the Stalin era. According to Zhuk, this “envy” became the most important factor in shaping the entire intellectual history of the Soviet Union, including its academic life and, to some extent, affecting the development of historical studies as well25.
      Polish culture and history played a privileged part among Soviet Ukrainian historians because of its historical ties, its proximity and its linguistic closeness. Its appeal was the strongest of the socialist countries through its music, radio, press and books26. As Zashkilniak from Lviv remembers, his first cultural shock was listening to jazz and classical music via Polish radio. Neighboring regions had a privileged access to Polish cultural and book markets through the press and through trips there27. Historians from Kyiv were less exposed to Polish influence, however they could buy Polish newspapers and books in Kyiv. All managed to learn to read Polish books on their own28.
      “Abroad! How attractive the word sounds, what secrets it exudes, what dangers it harbors, what joys, disappointments, fears, and, yes, intrigues!” wrote Nekrich in his memoirs29. As a rule, Ukrainians were not allowed to visit a capitalist or developing country except for those working at international organizations. Poland was in most cases the first foreign destination for Ukrainian historians as well as for Ukrainian tourists. Any travel abroad also required the special recommendation of the Komsomol, Communist Party, and any trade union organizations of which a potential tourist had to be a member. It usually took at least a couple of months for the Soviet travel agency to check all of the documents of a candidate for travel abroad. Once all documents were checked and approved, Ukrainian historians could start their first visit abroad via the “window of the West,” Poland. The same process applies to Ukrainian historians who were invited to Poland to work in the archives or to participate in conferences. However, the application procedure was even more complicated and required a lot of documents, as well as clearance from the KGB30. A denial or refusal could occur in any part of this cumbersome and mostly secretive pyramid31. Historians from Lviv, as Zashkilniak recalls, used links with Polish historians to arrange “private” trips to Poland to work in the archives and libraries without as much state control32. Though Zashkilniak could manage such trips, historians from Kyiv were more obedient. Regardless, all also used their trips to Poland to buy consumer goods missing in Soviet Ukraine. As Kulchytsky smartly described regarding the relationship between Soviet Ukraine and Poland, Poland was at the same time the “closest” Soviet-friendly country and easy to go, but also very different from Soviet Ukraine. It was a real “foreign” country where there was still liberty to travel, freedom of religion and more pluralism.
      These interviews and testimonies represent valuable witness accounts of the process of academic history writing and life during the late Khrushchev and Brezhnev era. The interviews not only complete the material contained within archival documents, but also offer a comparative narrative alongside the contemporary viewpoints of the interviewees. They allow us to have a different look at the diverse attitudes—conformist, orthodox, or non-conformist—of these historians towards the official requirements of their institutions. Some of them complied, some of them did not, but most of them used different strategies to avoid open confrontation with the state and to make use of their advantages within their restricted situations. It is also undeniable that in most of cases, after the first trip abroad (even if going to the “socialist camp”), these historians faced a different reality that changed their perception. As Vladislav Zubok mentions, selective access to the outside world transformed Soviet and East European visitors into impromptu merchants: “those Marco Polos brought back home the trophies of their travel, which generated a new powerful status hierarchy in their societies, a renegotiation of the division between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” In the USSR of the 1970s and 1980s, this dependence grew phenomenally among the elites, particularly cultural elites”33.



      English, Robert. Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
      Nekrich, Aleksandr. Forsake fear: memoirs of an historian. Boston ; London [etc.]: Unwin Hyman, 1991.
      Portnov, Andriy. «Soviétisation et dèsoviétisation de l’histoire en Ukraine. Aspects institutionnels et méthodologiques» Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest 02, Volume 45 (2014) : 95-127
      Shlapentokh, Vladimir. Soviet intellectuals and political power: the post-Stalin era. London ; New York : I.B. Tauris, 1990.
      Zhuk, Sergei. “1968: One Year in the Life of a Soviet Americanist, or American Influence at Home and Abroad during the Cold War.” Quaestio Rossica 2 (2016): 15-42.
      Zhuk, Sergei. “Between Moscow and the West. Constructing the Soviet self in the American Studies in Soviet Russia and Ukraine during Late Socialism (1956-1991)”, in Russian/Soviet Studies in the United States, Amerikanistika in Russia: Mutual Representations in Academic Projects, edited by Ivan Kurilla and Victoria Zhuravleva, Lexington Press, 2015.
      Zhuk, Sergei. Interview (in Ukrainian) by Nataliya Borys, May 22, 2017, accessed June 22, 2017 http://www.historians.in.ua/index.php/en/intervyu/2193-interv-yu-z-sergiem-zhukom-pro-privileji-ukrajinskikh-i-moskovskikh-radyanskikh-istorikiv-pro-dnipropetrovsk-pro-istoriyu-brezhnevskogo-periodu-i-pro-te-chomu-ukrajinski-istoriki-ne-stali-radyanskimi-revizionistami
      Zubok, Vladislav, David-Fox, Michael, Rutter, Nick, et al. Cold War Crossings: International Travel and Exchange Across the Soviet Bloc, 1940s-1960s. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014.

1.In my research I focus on the writing of Polish/Ukrainian history in post-war Soviet Ukraine, using a wide range of archive materials (NAIIU, The Scholarly Archive of the Institute of Ukrainian history of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine; TsDAVOV, The Ukrainian Central State Archive of the Highest Bodies of Power and Administration, Kiev, Ukraine; the Archival Institute (IA) of the Academy of Sciences), as well as interviews and oral testimonies. My main chronological focus is the 1960s-1980s, so-called the late Khrushchev and Brezhnev periods. However, I track changes in official historiography from 1945 until the 1990s, while focusing on the following research topics: the academic and daily lives of Ukrainian historians after World War II, the privileges and financial incentives of academic careers in the field of history, scholarly contacts with foreign historians, admissions and research projects in history departments, trips abroad, international conferences, PhD dissertations in Polish and international history, academic trips and exchanges, and the impact of foreign history and literature on Ukrainian historians[0].
2. Robert English, Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 118.
3. Aleksandr Nekrich, Forsake fear: memoirs of an historian (Boston; London, etc.: Unwin Hyman, 1991), 104.
4. Unpublished parts of the interviews of Zashkilniak, Kalakura and Verstyuk.
5. The Soviet regime erected what Michael David-Fox calls the “semipermeable membrane,” i.e., regulated exchanges and contacts with the West. The membrane was double: one valve allowed exit to East European members of the Soviet bloc, and only the next valve regulated access to the “capitalist world.” Vladislav Zubok, Introduction to Cold War Crossings: International Travel and Exchange Across the Soviet Bloc, 1940s-1960s, eds. Patryk Babiracki and Kenyon Zimmer (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014), 2.
6. As the psychological complex of tensions, which had existed between the Soviet provincial population and Muscovites since the Stalin era. See Sergei Zhuk, “Between Moscow and the West. Constructing the Soviet Self in the American Studies in Soviet Russia and Ukraine during Late Socialism (1956-1991),” in Russian/Soviet Studies in the United States, Amerikanistika in Russia: Mutual Representations in Academic Projects, ed. Ivan Kurilla and Victoria Zhuravleva (Lexington Press, 2015), 92.
7. Kandidatskia dissertatsia is the academic work required in order to get the degree of the Candidate of Sciences (Ukrainian: Kandydat nauk), a Soviet post-graduate scientific degree at the level of the first doctoral degree.
8. Nekrich also notes for the Institute of History in Moscow that the salary earned at the academic institutes was fairly high (350 to 400 rubles a month for a doctor of sciences senior researcher, 250 to 300 rubles for a candidate of sciences senior researcher, 175 to 200 rubles for a candidate of sciences junior researcher). The humanitarian institutes thus received a flow of retired officers, former diplomatic officials, and former state security officers. As a rule, they all immediately received a position at the acting senior researcher level (they could not claim full status, since they had little or no published work to their credit), and this automatically meant a salary of 300 rubles. Nekrich, Forsake fear: memoirs of an historian, 106.
9. Nekrich wrote in his memoirs, “the Academy graduates who ended up on our department were also thirsty, not for knowledge, but for jobs, positions and privilege. They were interested little, if at all, in history as a field of study, seeing it merely as one way to achieve a comfortable existence”. Nekrich, Forsake fear: memoirs of an historian, 49.
10.   A gold medal was awarded to pupils who received a “5” (American “A”) mark for the principal subjects and for conduct.
11.  On 21 June 1944, Stalin introduced a system of gold and silver medals for ten-year school-leavers who did well, or exceptionally well, in their final examinations. Holders of such medals had the right of admittance to VUZy without taking the entry exams, and gold medalists had a priority over silver medalists.
12.  Andriy Portnov mentions that the model of the Soviet academic world, centralized and state-controlled, took on a lesser scale of the structure of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Major questions were settled by an all-powerful Presidium, which was the equivalent of the Politburo. Each institute was subject to a division, which validated the research themes, and each section or department of an institute was totally subordinate to its management. In this system, independence, autonomy and individual initiative were reduced to the bare minimum. Andriy Portnov, « Soviètisation et désoviètisation de l’histoire en Ukraine Aspects institutionnels et mèthodologiques, » Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest 45 (2014), 100.
13.  Those who were allowed to travel abroad.
14.  Those who were not allowed to travel abroad.
15. However, as Vladimir Shlapentokh argues, in response to rising discontent within the working class, the difference in living standards between the intelligentsia and the workers was decreased in the 1970s. These developments contributed to the erosion of the relative privileges of intellectuals, and an increasing number of occupations began to yield incomes equal to or greater than those of the intelligentsia. Between 1967 and 1975, the difference between the income of the creative intelligentsia and that of the working class shrank significantly. See Vladimir Shlapentokh, Soviet intellectuals and political power: the post-Stalin era (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 1990), 12.
16.     As Shlapentokh confirms, despite the filters at previous stages of the selection process, the final action appointment as a fellow in a scientific institute or a professor in a university was the most essential stage. Since the late 1960s, the political elite had essentially established a new mode of appointing scientists and of awarding degrees and titles. Never had the role of party committees and the KGB been as crucial in this last stage of the selection process as during that time period. Every official public document adopted by the elite emphasized the role of the party in the selection of scholarly cadres. Shlapentokh, Soviet intellectuals and political power: the post-Stalin era, 27.
17.Shlapentokh reveals the significant role of material incentives in the activities of scientists, although other factors such as creativity and social recognition remained more important. Some studies of Soviet scientists suggest that a proportion of them considered material incentives very important to their activity and no less than half were dissatisfied with the material rewards of scholars. Ibid., 32.
18. Such as the faculty of international relations or the history of the “socialist” or “capitalist” bloc.
19. Many just couldn’t pass the exam in foreign languages, as the foreign language level was low in provincial schools and in poor families. Interview with Pyrig Ruslan, May 22, 2017, Kyiv. See also how Vydniansky was prepared in speed for language exam (English) entry in Kyiv  Interview with Vidniansky Stepan, May 13, 2017, Kyiv.
20. The policy adopted in the 1960s involved a quota system formally oriented toward encouraging the admission to universities of children of workers and peasants. Moreover, the Brezhnev leadership introduced a rule that required all applicants to present to university admissions committees a reference signed by the administration and Komsomol party secretary of the applicant’s secondary school (or last place of work). A direct political evaluation of each applicant was mandatory, and the importance accorded these references increased with the status of the institution. The importance of the reference was minimal (if it did not contain a negative political evaluation of an individual) if a boy or girl entered a provincial, less prestigious institute, but it was of crucial importance if he or she applied to Moscow or Kyiv University. Shlapentokh, Soviet intellectuals and political power: the post-Stalin era, 26.
21.  Interview with Kalakura Yaroslav, June 20, 2017, Kyiv.
22. Nekrich also notes that “we were simply unable to rid ourselves of the self-censorship still ingrained in our subconscious,” in Nekrich, Forsake fear: memoirs of an historian, 8.
23. Sergei Zhuk mentions Frank Sysyn, who applied a few times to go to Soviet Ukraine, but had always been refused. See his interview (in Ukrainian), May 22, 2017, published at http://www.historians.in.ua/index.php/en/intervyu/2193-interv-yu-z-sergiem-zhukom-pro-privileji-ukrajinskikh-i-moskovskikh-radyanskikh-istorikiv-pro-dnipropetrovsk-pro-istoriyu-brezhnevskogo-periodu-i-pro-te-chomu-ukrajinski-istoriki-ne-stali-radyanskimi-revizionistami
24.  Zhuk, “1968: One Year in the Life of a Soviet Americanist, or American Influence at Home and Abroad during the Cold War,” Quaestio Rossica 2 (2016): 20.
25. Zhuk, “Between Moscow and the West. Constructing the Soviet Self in the American Studies in Soviet Russia and Ukraine during Late Socialism (1956-1991), 92.
26. As Vladislav Zubok mentions, the cross-border traffic of peasants to promote collectivization in Poland was bound to fail. Instead, another type of cross-border traffic between Poland and the Soviet Union succeeded remarkably: the traffic of Western ideas and consumer goods to Soviet society via the Polish press, cinema and tourists. This Polish-Soviet traffic was destabilizing enough for Soviet authorities to close the membrane valve twice, after the Polish October of 1956 and during the Solidarity heyday of 1980-81. See Zubok, Introduction to Cold War Crossings: International Travel and Exchange Across the Soviet Bloc, 1940s-1960s, 7.
27. Numerous reports note that the habitants of the Lviv region corresponded extensively with Polish friends and relatives. Authorities worried in 1978 that most letters to the region came from Poland, that in 1977 habitants received 78,564 letters, and that this quantity increased the next year. Moreover, authorities worried that the Polish press was the most read press in the Lviv region. Speculation also flourished in the area. See TsDAVOV, fond 1, op. 22, s. 607, ar. 32.
28. Shlapentokh mentions an interesting fact. During the 1950s, the process of de-Stalinization was occurring much more rapidly in Poland than in the USSR. In an effort to reduce the gap between Polish and Western culture, Polish publishing houses and periodicals began to publish the works of authors who had previously been unknown east of the Elbe, such as Albert Camus, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, and Jean-Paul Sartre. At the same time, the Polish press became substantially more diverse and colorful than its Soviet counterpart, featuring far broader and more objective coverage of the West. Given this situation, Soviet intellectuals began to study Polish so as to be equipped to read the books and news still prohibited in the USSR. Knowledge of Polish became a key indicator of interest in Western culture and information. Thousands of intellectuals quickly became subscribers to such Polish periodicals as Polityka and Przekrog. Shlapentokh, Soviet intellectuals and political power: the post-Stalin era, 71.
29.Nekrich, Forsake fear: memoirs of an historian, 123.
30. Even Ukrainian bureaucrats and party functionaries complained that it was extremely long and complicated to get all documents ready and cleared by Moscow. TsDAVOV, fond 1, op. 22, s. 3, ar. 19.
31. Zubok, Introduction to Cold War Crossings: International Travel and Exchange Across the Soviet Bloc, 1940s-1960s, 2.
32. Nekrich also recalls that he used private links with Polish historians to work at Polish archives: “In 1966, my Polish friend sent me an invitation, and in September of that year I set out for Warsaw. It was a marvelous trip in many respects. Thanks to the kindness of the director of the Polish Institute of Marxism-Leninism, Tadeusz Daniszewski, I managed to work in the Polish archives and in the Institute of International Relations, from which I brought home photocopies and microfilms of unique documents for my work (the same work that would never be published). Nekrich, Forsake fear: memoirs of an historian, 132.
33. Zubok, Introduction to Cold War Crossings: International Travel and Exchange Across the Soviet Bloc, 1940s-1960s, 3.