Saturday, September 22, 2018 - 04:40

Source: Krytyka Magazine, Print Edition, Year XVIII, Issue 1-2 (195-196), pages 4-8

A Man Much Missed: Remembering Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky

November 2014

Thirty years ago, on 25 April 1984, I lost a dear friend and mentor, Professor Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky. I had seen him a day or two before his death, visiting him in the University of Alberta Hospital, where he seemed to be recovering successfully from a heart attack. He had at his bedside a volume of ancient Chinese stories in German translation. He had loved belles lettres his whole life. And his interest in Oriental literature had been sparked by lectures on the subject he had heard as a student in wartime Berlin. He often told me that his professor of Orientalistik used to lecture about Eastern despotisms, while actually voicing a critique of the Nazi regime. He thought this exposed the difference between national socialist and communist totalitarianism. No such Aesopian lectures would have been possible to deliver at a university under Stalin; in the Soviet Union the space for intellectual independence was much more restricted.

At the hospital we talked about two unfinished projects, which I promised, in the event that anything happened to him, I would carry on. I did not fulfill either of these promises. One was that I would bring to completion a large collection of the autobiographical writings of Mykhailo Drahomanov in English translation. Ivan had made the selection. My job was "just" to make sure the translation was accurate. This was our usual division of labor. I still have all these texts. Although much progress has been made on editing the translations, I have been diverted from the project by my own original scholarly research and publications. Perhaps I will yet pay my debt to my friend, and to Drahomanov, the great Ukrainian political thinker. Ivan and I both admired Drahomanov's highly rational and pragmatic, yet principled, argumentation, his detailed exposition of his ideas, and his profound familiarity with the leading international scholarship of his time. Drahomanov’s texts remain ever fresh and ever necessary. The second promise I did not keep was to raise funds for a chair of Ukrainian history at the University of Alberta. There was nothing either of us could do about this. We both lacked the political skill and the interior motivation for this kind of work.

Ivan was just under sixty-five years old when he died. Until his heart attack, he seemed to be doing quite well. Just days before he ended up in the hospital, Ivan and his wife Alexandra Chernenko attended the party my wife and I put on in the Orthodox church hall to celebrate the baptism of our son Mykhailo. Ivan was in a gay mood and wished all three of us the very best. He presented me with baby booties for little Mykhailyk that Alexandra had knitted. His heart attack came as a shock. It was all the more unexpected in that Ivan had taken a number of steps over the past year precisely to improve the condition of his heart and of his health in general. For one thing, he had begun to exercise, taking evening walks around the neighborhood with his wife. He lived in a quiet residential neighborhood not far from St. Martin's Ukrainian bilingual elementary school. A much more fundamental step was that he quit smoking six months before he died. Until then Ivan had smoked a pipe when circumstances permitted, such as in his office at the university or in his home. In other situations he smoked cigarettes.

As late as the 1980s professors were still permitted to smoke cigarettes in the classroom as they lectured, and Ivan did so. In fact, he used his cigarettes as a prop to build suspense in his lectures. When he was telling an interesting story - and Ivan's lectures were full of interesting stories - he would suddenly stop what he was saying and fiddle with his cigarettes to build up the drama of his narratives. The students waited in rapt attention until he lit up, inhaled and exhaled, and only then brought his story to a close. I borrowed this and other techniques from Ivan in my own lectures.


Here I will end this stream of consciousness and present a more ordered accounting of what I remember of my late friend. I will proceed as follows: In the first part I will tell what I know of Ivan's life before I got to know him intellectually and personally in the 1970s. This account will be based on what Ivan himself told me, with some supplemental information obtained from his correspondence (preserved in the University of Alberta archives). Then, in the second part, I will say what I know from my first-hand experience with this wonderful personality.

Ivan's lineage was mainly Ukrainian, but partially Jewish. His father, Pavlo Lysiak, was a member of the secular Ukrainian intelligentsia. Ivan never said much about him. He gravitated much more to his mother's side of the family, the Rudnytskys. His increasing identification with the Rudnytskys can be traced in the various versions of his name. He was born as Ivan Lysiak and later added his mother's last name as well: Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky. By the end of his life he signed his name in English simply as Ivan L. Rudnytsky, his father's presence reduced to an initial. His attraction to the Rudnytskys is not hard to explain. His mother was the outstanding Ukrainian women's activist and UNDO politician Milena Rudnytska. His maternal uncles included a brilliant literary critic, Mykhailo Rudnytsky, and a prominent journalist for Dilo, also an UNDO politician, Ivan Kedryn Rudnytsky. Moreover, the marriage between his mother and his father did not last, and Ivan was raised in his mother's house. He remained emotionally close to his mother always, even during a brief estrangement near the end of her life. Colleagues who remembered him from the 1930s, such as Borys Lewytzkyj and Omeljan Pritsak, often referred to him - although not to his face - as a "mother's boy" (mamyn syn). Ivan's maternal grandfather came from a Ukrainian intelligentsia family with its origins in the clergy, and his maternal grandmother was born Jewish, but converted to Greek Catholicism to marry Ivan's grandfather.

Ivan was born on 27 October 1919 in Vienna. Because his father served in the Petrushevych government in exile, his birth certificate was issued by the West Ukrainian National Republic. This accident of history, to be born a Ukrainian citizen, gave Ivan considerable pleasure, because once this was a rare occurrence, with deep significance for patriots of a long stateless nation.

Ivan told me little of his childhood, but I do remember one story. He told me that he had rejected socialism already as a child. He had heard the word mentioned and asked his nanny what it meant. She explained to him that socialists believed that if he had a warm coat and some poor man did not have one, he should give his coat to the poor man. Ivan realized that he would then be left without a coat himself, so he concluded that socialism was bad. Of his adolescence I also know little, except that he had an intense and secret friendship with a Jewish boy, Piotr Rawicz - such interethnic friendships were frowned upon at the time. (Rawicz survived the Holocaust, and there is some postwar correspondence between the old friends in the Ivan L. Rudnytsky collection at the archives of the University of Alberta.)

When the Second World War broke out, Ivan was twenty. He and his mother first moved to Kraków, and then Ivan went off to Berlin (1940-43) to finish his university studies, begun already in Lviv. He earned a doctorate in Prague in 1945, under the supervision of the brilliant, colorful, and controversial historian Eduard Winter, of whom he thought very highly. It is my understanding, though I may be mistaken, that Ivan did not have time to finish his doctoral dissertation on Drahomanov before the degree was actually awarded. He was always a slow, careful worker. It seems that Professor Winter arranged the doctorate before the completion of the thesis in light of the uncertainty of the postwar situation, in order to give his remarkable student a better start. Ivan once mentioned to me that his important collection on Drahomanov published by the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the United States in 1952 was the payment of a certain debt he owed. In that collection, Ivan published a study of Drahomanov's political thought that was as long as many European doctoral theses of that era and of exceptionally high quality.


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.



This brings us to the third part of this memoir, which is my personal encounter with Ivan. I did not meet Ivan in person until 1977, but I was very aware of him from 1970. Two people directed me to his writings. One was the friend of my youth, also a mentor, Roman Solchanyk. He introduced me to the journal Suchasnist', which I loved to read, and pointed out to me the occasional essays that would appear there under Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky's signature. We both thought they were super, and I can recall to this day how excited I was when an entire collection of Ivan's essays was published by Suchasnist' press in 1973 (Mizh istoriieiu i politykoiu). My only disappointment was that some of the chapters were reprints of texts I had already read. I just could not get enough of Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky. My doctoral supervisor, Professor Roman Szporluk, was also a great fan of Rudnytsky. He had spent a summer with Ivan at Stanford University and frequently reminisced about how wonderful it was to converse with this man of extraordinary intellect. Professor Szporluk, referring to Ivan's predilection for the smaller genres of scholarly discourse - essays and reviews rather than book-length monographs, rightly said that Ivan Rudnytsky could say more in one book review than certain other scholars in whole books. And as Professor Szporluk guided me towards my doctoral thesis topic, which would concern the origins of the socialist movement in Galicia, it was apparent that Rudnytsky had authored the seminal works for my project, particularly his unsurpassed survey of the history of Ukrainian Galicia under Austrian rule and his exposition of Drahomanov's political thought.

I first met Ivan in the flesh in 1977, at a conference on Galicia held at Harvard, at the Ukrainian Research Institute. I was just finishing up my thesis at the time. Not long before the conference I had applied for a job at CIUS, of which Ivan was then associate director, and the job was to help Dr. Rudnytsky with teaching and historical research. So when I met Ivan for this first time, I also felt I was being informally interviewed. I was totally surprised by Ivan's appearance and manners. I had known him only through his writings. I had imagined a man of pure intellect, not of flesh, surely an ascetic. Instead, I found this somewhat portly, very friendly gentleman, who talked and moved at an unhurried pace. He was very nice to me, and I do not know how, honestly, but somehow I made a decent impression on him. In the end, in July of that year, I was hired on by the University of Alberta on a one-year contract.

From my arrival in Alberta in fall of 1977 until Ivan's death in April 1984, we were close friends. We had one stormy moment (when Ivan vetoed my proposal to teach a course on Marxism in the History Department) and I sometimes groaned under my work load, but mainly we were the best of friends. Surely in Edmonton in those years, I was Ivan's closest friend apart from his wife. He liked to talk to me. Most days we would spend an hour or so in conversation. Sometimes I tried to avoid this because I had so much work to finish.

What were our conversations like? I will mention first that we conversed exclusively in Ukrainian. Since my first language was English and I only learned Ukrainian as a teenager, and since I have always found it easy to read but hard to speak foreign languages, our regular conversations did wonders to improve my Ukrainian. The setting was his office (the very room in which I am composing these memoirs). He would sit behind his desk smoking his pipe, and I would be in the chair opposite him, across his desk. He always led the conversations. We often talked about Ukrainian history. We had some different perspectives, since he was a conservative and I was a Marxist, but we also had a lot of common ground in our assessments, values, and standards. I of course learned a great deal from his reflections. He also told me many interesting anecdotes or details about the past. Perhaps in an allusion to our own friendship in spite of political differences, he used to remark that one of his intellectual heroes, Osyp Nazaruk, who started as a radical in his youth but then converted to conservative monarchism, used to play chess regularly in a Lviv café with Liudvik ("Chornyi") Rozenberg, a culturally Ukrainianized Jew who had fought with the Ukrainian Galician Army, became an activist in the Communist Party of Western Ukraine, and later led the (minuscule) Ukrainian Trotskyist opposition in Lviv. (He was murdered by the NKVD in 1940.) Such tidbits were a regular feature of his conversations.

But we probably spent even more time on general cultural matters. Ivan would ask something like "Have you ever read Iris Murdoch?" And if I hadn't (and I usually hadn't), then he would bring me a book the next day, which I would read and we would later discuss. I had been lucky to have a very good education prior to arriving in Alberta, but Ivan was able to identify many gaps in it and to show me new and interesting things. I read much under his influence. His tastes were wide ranging. He might one day give me a novel about a detective in Tang dynasty China (Judge Dee) and another day Robert Graves' historical novel of ancient Rome, I, Claudius. He gave me I, Claudius and its sequel in connection with a BBC television series based on the novels. He also urged me to watch the television series, which I did. Ivan had a genuine interest in television. If belonging to the Skoropadsky movement was a sin of his youth, watching the TV series Dynasty with his wife was a sin of his old age. But one time when I visited him at his house, I found him sitting in his study listening intently to Bach, who moved him profoundly. (A highly cultivated gentleman, Ivan also had an earthy humor. I think his two favorite Ukrainian sayings, judging by how frequently he used them, were "х.єм маку не втреш" and "на безптиччі і срака соловій". He was certainly not a crusty, dried-up old man. He enjoyed life in its every aspect, high and low.)

In our conversations he would also outline what he was working on at the moment. This was always interesting to me, since he accompanied every project he undertook in cognizance of its wider context. He would discuss his approach to a subject, the significance of the subject, the previous discourse on the subject, and his understanding of it. I read his drafts with pleasure. He also discussed with me his administrative responsibilities and challenges. He was associate director of CIUS from 1976 to 1979. In the latter year he had a falling out with the director, Manoly Lupul. It was a very difficult time for him. The crux of the disagreement was that Ivan felt he needed more time to work on his projects and Manoly felt that he wasn't working fast and effectively enough. Each was at least partially right. But if Ivan was not working fast enough, there were good reasons. He was a careful thinker and careful writer. He mulled over his work. The result, of course, was that he produced texts that stand the test of time, that are still relevant and instructive decades later. And there is another aspect to Ivan's slow production methods that is important to underscore. If Ivan had not read as widely and voraciously as he did  in English, several Slavic languages, German, and sometimes French, he would not have had the ability that he did have to understand the moments he studied in Ukrainian history within a wider European and indeed universal human context. That breadth of vision differentiated Ivan's texts from many others produced within the context of Ukrainian studies. He was not a production-line historian - he was a serious thinker.

Ivan was warm and sociable. He and Alexandra often hosted evening parties at their home. I believe I was invited to all his social gatherings. Good food, moderate drink, intelligent and lively conversation - it was like a salon. I have many pleasant memories from these events. Ivan invited interesting people, mainly scholars and the more educated community activists. I actually first met the couple who were to become my father-in-law and mother-in-law (Michael and Alexandra Chomiak) at the Rudnytskys. I remember some heated arguments too, for example between the historians Janusz Radziejowski and Paweł Korzec. Always, however, the presiding presence was Ivan’s - gentle, convivial, cultured.

Composing these recollections has been a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, I have remembered with pleasure a good and loyal friend of days gone by. On the other hand, this remembering opens a wound, recalls a painful loss. I at least hope my efforts help to bring to life the personality of this distinguished historian of Ukraine. He taught me a great deal. I admired him very much. I loved him very much. I miss him very much.