Ruska Besida in Bukovyna

Image - A statute of the Ruska Besida society in Bukovyna. Image - A calendar published by the Ruska Besida in Bukovyna.

Ruska Besida in Bukovyna [Руська Бесіда]. A Ukrainian community cultural-educational society which existed in Bukovyna in 1869–1940. Formed through the initiative of Yevhen Hakman, Ruska Besida was the first and (until 1918) the most active Ukrainian civic organization in Bukovyna. The organization was started as a club for the Ukrainian intelligentsia of Bukovyna, with a membership of approximately 150. The group was initially headed (1869–78) by Vasyl Prodan and dominated by Russophiles. In 1870–1 it published the first Ukrainian newspaper in Bukovyna, Bukovynskaia zoria (in yazychiie).

During the 1880s Ruska Besida was transformed into a community-oriented educational body whose express aim was ‘to spread knowledge and improve the lot of the Ruthenian [Ukrainian] people in Bukovyna.’ Working through a network of village-based reading rooms (chytalni), Ruska Besida became a regional counterpart to the Galician-based Prosvita society. The watershed date in this process was 1884, when the organization's leadership was assumed by Ukrainian national populists (narodovtsi), and the group's scope of activity expanded substantially. By 1906 the Ruska Besida structure included a central office in Chernivtsi, seven regional branches, 83 village reading rooms, and a total membership of approximately 6,800. By 1914 it included nine regional branches, 150 reading rooms, and a membership of approximately 13,000. From 1885 Ruska Besida published the newspaper Bukovyna and a series of popular monthly books under the name Biblioteka dlia molodezhy, selian, i mishchanstva (with a total run of 120 titles before the undertaking ceased in 1895). Other publications issued by the society included Lastivka (1894–6), Chytalnia (1911–14), Bukovynskyi pravoslavnyi kalendar (1874–1918), and individual books by authors such as Yurii Fedkovych, Sydir Vorobkevych, and Myron Korduba. By 1918 the group had printed 270 titles.

Ruska Besida also served as the spawning ground for a host of Ukrainian institutions and organizations in Bukovyna. The first of these was the Ruska Rada society, formed as a political body in 1870 with a membership that paralleled that of Ruska Besida. In 1875 the society was instrumental in establishing a chair of Ukrainian language and literature at the newly formed Chernivtsi University, and in 1899, a Ukrainian-language chair in the theology department of the same institution. Other groups which emerged out of Ruska Besida included Mishchanska Chytalnia (1880), the Ruthenian Dramatic and Literary Society (1884), the Chernivtsi People's Home (1884), Ukrainska Shkola (1887), Bukovynskyi Boian (1895), Ruska Kasa (1896), and the Women's Hromada in Bukovyna (1906). These specialized affiliate organizations addressed particular sociocultural concerns while Ruska Besida took charge of its many branches and reading rooms.

The activities of reading rooms were banned in 1918, after the Romanian occupation of Bukovyna, a development which effectively limited the activities of Ruska Besida to the city of Chernivtsi. Even there the local People's Home and Ukrainska Shkola society had taken on much of Ruska Besida's former activities. Only in 1938, with the banning of the Ukrainian National party by the Romanian government, did Ruska Besida again come to life, this time as the de facto spokesbody of Ukrainian interests in Bukovyna. With the Soviet occupation of Bukovyna in 1940, Ruska Besida (along with all other Ukrainian organizations) was prohibited.

Dmytriv, Ie. Iliustrovana istoryia prosvitnoho tovarystva Rus’ka Besida v Chernivtsiakh, 1869–1909 (Chernivtsi 1909)

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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