Biletsky, Leonid

Image - Leonid Biletsky (1936 photo).

Biletsky, Leonid [Білецький, Леонід; Bilec'kyj], b 5 May 1882 in Lytvynivka, Kyiv gubernia, d 5 February 1955 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Ukrainian literary scholar and literary critic, specialist on the life and works of Taras Shevchenko. After graduating from the Kyiv Gymnasium No. 2 in 1907, Biletsky enrolled at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Kyiv University. In 1908 he transferred to the Faculty of History and Philology, and in 1909 joined the seminar of the renown philologist and literary scholar Volodymyr Peretts. Under Peretts’ guidance, Biletsky studied Russian language and literature, Ukrainian language and literature, and dialectology. In 1910–12 he also studied new Russian and Ukrainian literature and poetry at the seminar of another Ukrainian literary scholar and ethnographer, Andrii Loboda. In 1913 Biletsky completed his studies, defended his dissertation on the story of Merkurii of Smolensk, and was offered a scholarly position at the university.

Having gained his master’s degree in 1918, Biletsky began working as privat-docent at the Department of the History of Ukrainian Literature and Folklore at Kamianets-Podilskyi Ukrainian State University. At that time, he published volume 1 of his Istoriia ukraïs'koï literatury (The History of Ukrainian Literature); the final version of this book appeared in 1947 in the displaced persons camp in 1947 in Augsburg, Germany. When the Bolsheviks attacked Kamianets-Podilskyi in 1919, Biletsky was forced to abandon the university and move to Lviv. There he lectured for two years on Ukrainian literature and folklore at Lviv (Underground) Ukrainian University.

In 1923 the founders of the Prague-based Ukrainian Civic Committee in Czechoslovakia, Mykyta Shapoval and Nykyfor Hryhoriiv, invited Biletsky to head the Ukrainian Higher Pedagogical Institute, which they organized with the financial support of the Czechoslovak government. Initially, this educational institution was planned as a two-year school for teachers of elementary schools and extramural education; after 1925, it also trained teachers for secondary schools. Biletsky was simultaneously the director (rector) and professor at the institute—first from 1923 to 1926, and later from 1935 to 1939. He lectured primarily on the history of Ukrainian literature.

In addition to his work at the Ukrainian Higher Pedagogical Institute, Biletsky also taught a course of Ukrainian literature at the Ukrainian Husbandry Academy in Poděbrady, a course on the interpretation of the ancient monuments of Ukrainian law at the Ukrainian Free University, and he lectured at the Ukrainian Gymnasium in Czechoslovakia and the Ukrainian Institute of Sociology. In 1938 he defended his doctoral dissertation at Prague’s Charles University. During this Prague period, Biletsky published such monographs as Perspektyvy literaturno-naukovoï krytyky (Perspectives of Literary and Scholarly Criticism, 1924) and Osnovy ukraïns'koï literaturno-naukovoï krytyky (Fundamentals of the Ukrainian Literary and Scholarly Criticism, 1925), as well as collections of lectures Pryntsypy v literaturnomu doslidzhenni i krytytsi (Principles of Literary Research and Criticism, 1927) and Ukraïns'ka narodna poeziia (Ukrainian Folk Poetry, 1927). In addition, he frequently contributed to Ukrainian periodicals Nova Ukraïna (Prague), Students’kyi visnyk, Samostiina dumka, Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk, Zapysky Naukovoho tovarystva im. Shevchenka, and others.

In 1945, following the German defeat in the Second World War, Biletsky fled Czechoslovakia before the advancing Soviet Army to avoid arrest and repatriation to the USSR. As a displaced person, he lived in Ulm in the British occupation zone in Germany. While in Germany, Biletsky joined the department of culture and education of the Central Representation of the Ukrainian Emigration in Germany, where he worked under Dmytro Doroshenko as a consultant for secondary and popular schools, and after some time as a consultant for higher education and scholarly affairs. In this capacity he developed curricula for public schools, gymnasiums, and special university courses. He also served as director of the Ukrainian gymnasium in Ulm, where he taught Ukrainian literature.

In 1949 Biletsky and his family left Germany and settled in Canada. He lived in Winnipeg where he worked in the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre and as editor of the newspaper Ukraïns’kyi holos. He also taught at Saint Andrew's College. Biletsky was a member of the Shevchenko Scientific Society and president (1951–4) of the Ukrainian Free Academy of Sciences in Canada. His main scholarly project at the time was the preparation of an academic edition of Taras Shevchenko’s works, based on their original variants. Four volumes of this Kobzar were published by the Ukrainian Free Academy of Sciences and Trident Press between 1952 and 1955. In Winnipeg, he also published Try syl'vetky (Three Silhouettes, on Marko Vovchok, Olha Kobylianska, and Lesia Ukrainka, 1951) as well as numerous articles.

Mandryka, M. Leonid Bilets'kyі (Winnipeg 1957)
Il'nyts'kyi, M. Krytyky i kryteriï: Literaturno-krytychna dumka v Zahidnii Ukraïni 20–30 rr. XX st. (Lviv 1998)
Biletsky, L. Moï spomyny (1917–1926), comp. V. Adams'kyi (Kamianets-Podilskyi 2013)

Julia Gorbatsch

[This article was updated in 2022.]

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