A Man Much Missed: Remembering Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky

November 2014
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Ivan was not much politically engaged during the war. He wrote two little pieces for the newspaper Krakivs'ki visti, of which he was later ashamed - sins of his youth, he told me, sins he genuinely regretted. I would say Ivan had a rather fastidious conscience, since many of his contemporaries published much worse articles in that same periodical as well as in others that came out under the Nazi occupation. It was a difficult era to emerge clean from. His beloved Professor Winter, for example, a scholar whose works are still well worth reading, started life as a devout Catholic, later joined the Nazi party and even the SS, and after the war chose to live and work as a scholar in the German Democratic Republic, whose communist ideology he by that time actively supported.

Immersed in his studies and far from the front, Ivan was rather isolated from the war, to the extent that he never knew much about what was happening back home in Galicia. For instance, he told me that for a long time he did not believe that there was such a thing as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army; he supposed it was just a tale told by the Banderites.

Reading his wartime correspondence, I obtained the impression that Ivan was most of all concerned with student politics in Berlin and with his stormy relations with the Hetmanite movement headed by Pavlo Skoropadsky (another "sin of his youth," Ivan used to tell me - he later much preferred the conservatism of Viacheslav Lypynsky). Personalities from that era made a deep impression on him, particularly the student leader Wassyl Rudko. (Rudko’s most notable publication was a pamphlet he published in 1949, Rozlam v OUN, under the pseudonym R. Lisovy. He worked for some years after the war as a librarian at Yale University and outlived Ivan.)

I am a little unsure of Ivan's exact movements and chronology in the immediate postwar period. His mother Milena had developed, as a result of her prominence in the women's movement before the war, a network of international contacts, including peace activists who were closely associated with the feminist movement. Using these contacts, she ended up in Geneva after the war, and Ivan went with her. I think he took up some studies there, but I am not sure. The most important result of his sojourn in Switzerland was that he met a woman he fell in love with and married, a Quaker, i.e., a member of an old American religious group that, among other things, espoused pacifism. He had two children from that marriage: Betsy, whom Ivan described to me as an outdoorsy girl who loved horses above all else; and Peter, who followed Ivan's footsteps into the academy, eventually becoming a professor of English at the University of Florida as well as an interpreter and practitioner of psychoanalysis. (After the break-up of his marriage with his Quaker wife, which he took very hard, Ivan himself underwent psychoanalysis. While his son Peter is more of a Freudian, Ivan was a devotee of Jung, and he reread Jung's texts at regular intervals until the end of his life.)

In 1951 Ivan immigrated to the United States. He worked on a doctorate at Columbia University, with the intention of writing a dissertation on Transcarpathia. He never wrote the thesis, however, and did not receive his degree. Later in the 1950s he ended up in Philadelphia. For a year and a half he worked there as a bus inspector. There is an interesting episode in Ivan's life connected with a Philadelphia bus. In 1964 there was an incident between Ivan and a woman passenger who was playing her radio without earphones on the bus. When the woman refused to turn it off, Ivan took her radio. He may have hit thewoman with the radio – I am not sure of the details. The incident resulted in considerable press coverage and in charges laid against Ivan, but he managed to defend himself in court and was exonerated. Ivan was very proud of this, because he said it was a test of his civil courage, his willingness to stand up for what he considered right. The details of the case are also among Ivan's papers in the university archives. Although ultimately a trivial incident, it was important to Ivan primarily because the virtue he exercized during it - civil courage - was one he cherished, cultivated, and more than once exemplified. He was to exercize that virtue in a number of other cases as well, of more import for the Ukrainian intellectual community: his activity as one of the realitetnyky, i.e., those who argued that in spite of everything Ukrainians in the diaspora should try to maintain contact with the existing Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Ukrainians; his defense of freedom of speech within the nationalist-dominated Ukrainian community (his article "V oboroni intelektu," which appeared in Suchasnist' in 1971); and his sharp repudiation of attempts to whitewash the past of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists.

Ivan did not have to work as a bus conductor for long. He received a teaching position at La Salle University in Philadelphia and taught there from 1956 to 1967. He managed to write some important texts in those years, but he did so in difficult circumstances. His teaching duties were exhausting. He said that at the end of the day he would come home and turn on the television, and he and little Peter would watch the absolutely mindless antics of the Three Stooges. (Readers who are unfamiliar with this comedy team should watch some episodes on YouTube to appreciate how mentally exhausted Ivan must have been.) He liked to say to me: "Let's get organized!"  And then he would explain that this is what the Stooges' leader Moe would say just before they were about to unleash total chaos and mayhem. Ivan was a man who liked to smile. There was often a twinkle in his eye.

Ivan's life improved immensely in 1967, when he received a tenure-track position at the American University in Washington, DC. At last he had a manageable teaching load. His research and writing intensified. He received tenure, i.e., a permanent position at the university. He also began work with a doctoral student, a man his own age, John Basarab. Basarab's dissertation, begun under Ivan's guidance, was eventually reworked and published as a book by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) in 1982 (Pereiaslav 1654: A Historiographical Study). Of course, it was Ivan who promoted the book to the CIUS press. And the topic of the thesis and book - interpretations of the Pereiaslav agreement between the Cossacks and Muscovy - reflected Ivan's strong commitment to legal norms and the rule of law as well as his immersion in the Ukrainian conservative political tradition. But when Basarab defended his thesis in 1975, Ivan had already left Washington, DC, and had moved to Edmonton, Alberta, where our paths were to cross.

Ivan took a tremendous risk in leaving his job at the American University in 1971. He had just received tenure there, and he was now moving into an entirely uncertain situation at the University of Alberta. Responding to lobbying efforts by the Ukrainian community, the University of Alberta had hired Ivan to teach a course in Ukrainian history. But there was not even a guarantee that this course would be continued, let alone any provision for a permanent appointment for Ivan. So why did Ivan leave a good job in the capital of the United States of America for a risky situation in the Canadian prairies, in a city with six months of winter and, at that time, without access to major newspapers?

There were two reasons. One was that he had an opportunity in Edmonton, Alberta, to teach Ukrainian history as such, as an independent course of study, not as a small part of Russian or East European history. Although Ivan's knowledge of universal history was impressive, his true love was Ukrainian history. The other reason also had to do with true love. In 1968 he married Alexandra Chernenko after a whirlwind romance at the conference of the Canadian Association of Slavists in June of that year. The conference had been held in Calgary, and Ms. Chernenko lived in Edmonton. They had entered into a long-distance marriage, and neither of them could afford to travel much, so teaching in Edmonton was a risk Ivan was ready to take in order to construct a normal matrimonial life. He was very happy with Alexandra. She was an excellent cook, a dogged defender of her husband, a clever household manager, and an intellectual. She was a poet herself and a literaturoznavets'. Later she earned a doctorate from the Ukrainian Free University in Munich. During her studies, she read a great deal also in psychonalytical theory. Ivan found in her someone with whom he could talk about things that interested and mattered to him.


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Originally Published in This Issue of Krytyka