Karavansky, Sviatoslav

Image - Sviatoslav Karavansky Image - Nina Strokata and Sviatoslav Karavansky

Karavansky, Sviatoslav [Караванський, Святослав; Karavans'kyj, Svjatoslav], b 24 December 1920 in Odesa, d 17 December 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Linguist, writer, translator, journalist, and political dissident; husband of Nina Strokata. A political prisoner detained in Soviet labor camps and prisons for 31 years, Karavansky was best known for his great and tireless dedication, over many decades, to the study and preservation of the Ukrainian language.

Karavansky was born into a family of Ukrainian intelligentsia, which left politically turbulent Kyiv during the Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21, in the hope that Odesa would provide for a safe life in a stable environment. In 1938 Karavansky began studies at the Odesa Industrial Institute, but he soon began part-time studies focusing on his true passions—literature and linguistics. In 1940 Karavansky enlisted into the Soviet Army. His unit was surrounded by German forces in July 1941, but in March 1942 Karavansky managed to return to Odesa. Here he continued his linguistic and literary pursuits, became involved in a youth group linked with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), established a Ukrainian bookstore, and joined the OUN in January 1943. In 1944 Karavansky briefly left Odesa for Romania, and soon after he returned to Odesa in July of the same year he was arrested after he tried to re-establish ties with his former OUN associates. On 7 February 1945 the Military Tribunal of the Odesa Military District sentenced Karavansky, in accordance with Articles 54-16 and 54-11 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR, to 25 years of imprisonment. He served his sentence in several different labor camps.

On 19 December 1960, after 16 years and 6 months of imprisonment, Karavansky was released on the basis of an administrative decree of the Dubravlag labor camp. In accordance with Art. 2 of the All-Union Amnesty Decree of 17 September 1955, Karavansky’s sentence was officially halved—reduced by 12 years and 6 months. Karavansky returned to Odesa, where he worked at various blue-collar jobs. He also continued his literary endeavors as a writer, translator, and journalist, and in 1962 he enrolled as a part-time student of linguistics at Odesa University. Karavansky soon became actively involved in preparing and circulating samvydav materials; in particular, he wrote numerous articles and letters complaining about state-sponsored Russification and its impact on the status and everyday use of the Ukrainian language.

On 13 November 1965 Karavansky was again arrested. In the absence of a formal basis for a new court case, and without an investigation and trial, at the request of the USSR’s Prosecutor-General Roman Rudenko Karavansky was sent to complete the remainder (8 years and 7 months) of his previous 25-year sentence in a strict-regime labor camp (his release from imprisonment in 1960 was deemed a ‘mistake’). While imprisoned Karavansky engaged in numerous protests and hunger strikes, and as a result he was transferred to Vladimir prison in 1967. Here he continued his protests, and some of the texts he prepared while imprisoned were smuggled out of prison and circulated as samvydav. He wrote, for example, an article about the Katyn massacre of Polish officers detained in 1939 and executed by Soviet security forces (NKVD) in 1940. The text was based on the testimony of fellow prisoners who had a detailed knowledge of this event.

Karavansky’s activities led to a new charge of ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda,’ and on 23 April 1970 Karavansky was tried in prison, in a closed-court proceeding, and sentenced to an additional 3 years of prison and 7 years of imprisonment in a special-regime concentration camp as an ‘especially dangerous recidivist.’ After 6 years in Vladimir prison he was transferred to the Sosnovka labor camp in the Mordovian Autonomous Republic, where he continued his protest activities and engaged in several hunger strikes. In February 1979, while still imprisoned, Karavansky prepared a statement announcing that he was joining the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. On 13 September 1979 Karavansky was released from imprisonment, and he lived briefly in Tarusa, Kaluga oblast, RSFSR together with his wife Nina Strokata, also a former political prisoner. On 30 November 1979 they left the USSR for the United States of America after being deprived of their Soviet citizenship.

In the United States Karavansky continued his literary and linguistic work until his death at the age of 95. He was a prolific poet and journalist, but he is best known and remembered as the author of a number of dictionaries and popular linguistic works. They include, among others: Praktychnyi slovnyk synonimiv ukraïns'koi movy (Practical Dictionary of Ukrainian-language Synonyms, 1995, 2000, 2008, 2012, 2014); Sekrety ukraïns'koi movy : Naukova-populiarna rozvidka (Secrets of the Ukrainian Language : An Academic-Popular Study, 1994, 2009); Rosiis'ko-ukraïns'kyi slovnyk skladnoi leksyky (A Russian-Ukrainian Dictionary of Complex Vocabulary, 1998, 2006, 2016); and Slovnyk rym ukraïns'koi movy (A Dictionary of Ukrainian-language Rhymes, 2004).

Chornovil, Viacheslav, comp. The Chornovil Papers (New York and Toronto 1968)
Bazhan, Oleh. ‘Na storozhi ukraïns'koi movy (pam’iati Sviatoslava Karavans'koho),’ in Pivdennyi zakhid. Odesyka: istoryko-kraieznavchyi naukovyi al'manakh, vyp. 22 (Odesa 2017)

Ivan Jaworsky

[This article was written in 2021.]

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