Horska, Alla. Vasyl Symonenko, 1963. Painting.
Vasyl Symonenko was a well-known Ukrainian poet, journalist, and human rights activist. Like many of his contemporaries, he was emboldened by Khrushchev's Thaw and became much more politically active in the early 1960s, working with Horska and Les Taniuk to find mass graves of NKVD victims outside Kyiv. After locating one grave site near Bykivnia, this trio wrote the Kyiv City Council of its location in “Memorandum No. 2.” As a consequence, Symonenko was severely beaten by police, which exacerbated his kidney disease and resulted in his untimely death at 28 in 1963.
This placard was created by Alla Horska after the death of Symonenko, which both rocked and emboldened this community of activists. Included in the painting were Soviet symbols: the hammer and sickle, overlain with a bayonet and other weapons pointed at the individual, killing him and drawing blood. The droplets of blood were rendered here as berries of the guelder-rose, one of the national symbols of Ukraine. Symonenko's death marked the beginning of a decade of repression against Ukrainian artists, intellectuals, human rights activists, and citizens. Implicit in Horska's imagery is the squelching of another national cultural revival in Ukraine by the Soviet state.
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