June 23 – Anna Akhmatova’s birthday, this year’s it is 130th one.
A woman of hard luck, a world-class poet, an honorary doctor of Oxford University, a nominee for the Nobel Prize for Literature, her works were translated into many languages, a woman, who was painted in Paris by Modigliani himself. She was born in the Odesa region and lived for many years in Ukraine, where her ancestors came from (real surname of poetess is Gorenko). Although most of her life is connected to St. Petersburg and Moscow, she studied at the Fundukleev Gymnasium in Kyiv, then at Women’s Courses, and also married Nikolay Gumilyov, though she did not really like this city, where she lived through difficult years.
However, few people know that young Anna visited the house of her aunt Anna Vakar in Khmelnytsky region, where mother of the poet Inna Stogova had lived the last years of her life. Anna Akhmatova is buried in the suburbs of St. Petersburg, but the graves of her mother and aunt are at the old village cemetery of Slobidka-Shelekhivska that’s in Khmelnytsky region, so Anna visited these very graves in 1939.
At the moment Anna Vakar’s house hosts the Literary-Memorial Museum of Anna Akhmatova, founded thirty years ago prior to the celebration of the 100th birthday of the poetess. It’s in the distant from the main road small village where they have no school, and several schooolchildren from there are picked up by bus to the neighboring village every day. On your way there you see amazing landscapes – space, juicy colors, fields, meadows, hills, immense – as for the eye of a city resident – sky, and on the spot – an incredible silence and air that you want to drink, eat, save, in order to take it with you…
Grandfather of the poetess on the mother’s side Erasmus Stogov was the head of the office of Kyiv Governor-General D. Bibikov. Subsequently, he bought the Snіtivka estate in the Letychiv district, where he settled down. He married the daughters to local landlords from neighboring villages, providing each with a dowry. The fate of Anna’s mother was not easy, her husband committed suicide, she left Podilia and subsequently married engineer-mechanic of the Black Sea Fleet Andrii Gorenko. However, she often returned to these lands, visited her sister, and the Vakar family hospitably accomodated her in their village of Shelekhove (now Slobidka-Shelekhivska).
At the moment, it’s not only the museum house but also a protected object of the Shelekhiv Park around it. Here you can find an old fruit garden, old-timer bitter chestnuts, hornbeams, spruces. Right behind the gate starts the alley that leads to the house. It is unlikely to be characterized as a magnificent estate, this one-story long building on the hill, to which the wide red stairs with railing lead. In front of it stands small circular flower bed, and on the left – the first in Ukraine monument to Anna Akhmatova. It’s made in the form of a bust on a column (sculptor – an artist from St. Petersburg Victor Zayko). In front of the monument, there are two benches, copies of the same ones in Tsarskoe Selo, and on the left, a lantern – they were handed over to the museum from St. Petersburg.
Tour guides say that the creation of the museum was initiated by a simple teacher of Ukrainian language and literature from Khmelnytsky Maria Skorbatyuk, who more than thirty years ago brought her students to Slobidka-Shelekhivska. It was she who provided scholars with archival documents, which became the prerequisite for the founding of a museum in the village. Ms. Maria worked as the director of the new museum from its opening until her death in 2010.
Actually, first, it was planned, to install only a memorial plaque on the Vakars’ house for they lacked exhibits. However, as it turned out, many residents of the village saved a lot of things from the house, from which two elderly sisters (mother and aunt of Anna Akhmatova) were “asked” to leave after the 1917 revolution. Women were forced to move into a small cottage house next to the woods, where they drew their last breath. They say that local peasants did not mistreat them, they behaved respectfully, but had to execute the order “from above”. Probably, the fact that one of the younger relatives of the Vakar family had joined the revolutionaries helped, so they weren’t destroyed as “class enemies”. Moving from the “luxurious” house, women gave away many of their belongings to people who worked for them for years – maids, a gardener. Their photos are also in the museum. This year the granddaughter of the gardener came to commemorate the poetess and also shared memories of how her grandfather cherished the garden here. She said that then in the master’s house there was an elementary school, where she also studied.
When they began to discuss the possibility of creating a museum, the villagers willingly shared not only memories but also interior items, passed on by their former owners. This way the house regained a clock, a table, a metal bed, a samovar, two icons… Some of the exhibits (paintings, copies of documents, personal belongings) were handed over from St. Petersburg and Moscow to the newly created the museum in the memory of the poetess.
The museum is visited by guests from Ukraine and abroad. My French friend who has been in love with Anna Akhmatova’s poetry for many years came here ten years ago by her car. She had found a house, by asking locals the way, she talked with guides and local residents. My friend still sends her regards to all of them and rejoices in the fact that the museum lives and attracts people.
At the 130th anniversary, the museum was crowded. Writers from Vinnytsia and Khmelnytsky, guests from the library of Anna Akhmatova in Kyiv, local poets met here. They put flowers on the graves of Anna Akhmatova’s mother and aunt at the old cemetery, returned to the house, read poetry, listened to ballads of Akhmatova accompanied by guitar, shared their memories and impressions, listening to the guide, took pictures on the red stairs and near the monument… In the meantime, the fish soup was boiling in the pot, and the long table was covered with more and more dishes – big-hearted museum workers tried to lavish everybody not only with spiritual food.
The communication was ongoing, the sun moved across the sky, changing the light and shadows on the monument to the poet, and at some point, it seemed that the expression of her face shifted from the proudly-serious to restrained-ironic: “Everything passes…”
I did not want to leave and go to the far-away Kyiv. I took a deep breath of that delicious air, once again glanced at the red stairs to the house, then at the gate at the end of the alley and suddenly recalled:
My hands clasped under a veil, dim and hazy…
“Why are you so pale and upset?”
That’s because I today made him crazy
With the sour wine of regret.
Can’t forget! He got out, astound,
With his mouth distorted by pain…
I, not touching the railing, ran down,
I was running to him till the lane.
Fully choked, I cried, “That’s a joke –
All that was. You get out, I’ll die.”
And he smiled very calmly, like stroke:
“It is windy right here – pass by.”
Anna Akhmatova, Jan. 08, 1911, Kyiv.
Translation by Yevgeny Bonver
Those who will go from Vinnytsia to Khmelnytsky or vice versa – turn from the main road, spend some time, experience this point of tranquility, the beauty of nature and a bunch of memory. Or just go there for the sake of this museum and the old garden around it…
By Mila Ivantsova