Southwestern Branch of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society

Southwestern Branch of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society (Russian: Yugo-zapadnyi otdel Imperatorskogo russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva). A virtually independent learned association established in Kyiv on 13 February 1873 to conduct geographic, ethnographic, economic, and statistical research in Ukraine. Unlike other regional branches of the imperial Russian society, such as the East Siberian, West Siberian, and Caucasian, the Southwestern branch left archeological and historical research to other, already-established learned societies in Kyiv. Most of the founders and key members of the association were members of the Hromada of Kyiv, including Volodymyr Antonovych, Viliam Berenshtam, Fedir Vovk, Mykhailo Drahomanov, Pavlo Zhytetsky, Oleksander Lashkevych, Mykola Lysenko, and Oleksander Rusov. The first president was Hryhorii Galagan, and the managing director was Pavlo Chubynsky.

The scholarly output of the association over the brief period of its existence is impressive. It published two volumes of Zapiski (1874–5) containing studies by Oleksander Klosovsky, Mykola Yasnopolsky, Opanas Rohovych, and Mykhailo Levchenko as well as the aforementioned members. As supplements to the periodical, it published a collection of Ostap Veresai's dumas and songs, Rohovych's bibliography of naturalist studies of the Kyiv school district (1874), Hryhorii Kupchanko's materials on Bukovyna, and a folk-song collection. It supported the publication of Ivan Rudchenko's collection of chumak songs (1874), Mykhailo Drahomanov and Volodymyr Antonovych's collection of historical songs (1874–5), and the preparation for print of Drahomanov's collection of folk legends and stories (1876) and of Mykhailo Maksymovych's collected works (1876–80). The society conducted a voluntary census of Kyiv in March 1874 and published an analysis with its results (1875). In August 1874 it participated in the Third Archeological Congress, which it had helped organize in Kyiv, and in March 1875, in a geographic congress and exhibition in Paris. The society set up a library and museum that displayed artifacts collected during field expeditions by its members and sponsored a public lecture series on various aspects of Ukrainian life. Finally, some of its members gained editorial control over the newspaper Kievskii telegraf and often ran articles on Ukrainian themes.

The accomplishments of the society and its success in generating interest in Ukrainian studies aroused the suspicion of Russian chauvinists. Starting in 1874, denunciations of the society arrived in the Third Section of the police in Saint Petersburg. The denunciations became more numerous and extreme when Antonovych was elected president and Pavlo Chubynsky vice-president of the society, in May 1875. In his memorandum the curator of the Kyiv school district, Mikhail Yuzefovich, who at first had been a strong supporter and an influential member of the association, accused the members of the society of political sedition and separatism. As a result an imperial commission was established in September 1875 to study the whole Ukrainian situation. Its recommendation of further repressive measures was approved by Alexander II and is known as the Ems Ukase. The Southwestern Branch was dissolved in June 1876, and Chubynsky was forced to leave Kyiv. According to the secret ukase, the society could be renewed if all the former members were excluded from it.

In spite of its short life the Southwestern Branch made an important contribution to the Ukrainian national revival. Not only did it publish some valuable scholarly works and monuments of the oral tradition, it also brought together a group of Ukrainian scholars and civic leaders who spearheaded the national movement until the end of the century.

Zhytets’kyi, I. ‘Pivdenno-zakhidnyi viddil Heohrafichnoho tovarystva u Kyievi,’ Ukraïna, 5 (1927, no. 5)
Savchenko, F. Zaborona ukraïnstva 1876 (Kyiv–Kharkiv 1930; repr, Munich 1970)

Bohdan Kravtsiv

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

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