Ahatanhel Krymsky: A Fascinating Life

Ahatanhel Krymsky was a famous Ukrainian linguist who reputedly spoke 60 languages. I don’t know about 60 but he did teach every Middle Eastern language, translated from every major European language, and spoke Turkish so well that he translated Ukrainian poetry into it.

Ahatanhel was born to a Crimean Tatar family. He also had Belarusian and Polish ancestors. Krymsky had zero Ukrainian ancestors but he was completely Ukrainian not by “blood” (which isn’t a real thing anyway) but by language, culture, and worldview. It’s not my conclusion. It’s what Ahatanhel Krymsky said about himself. In today’s parlance, he “identified as” a Ukrainian.

Krymsky was born in 1871 and murdered by Stalin in the 1940s for “bourgeois Ukrainian nationalism.” The accusation wasn’t untrue. Ahatanhel was both bourgeois and a Ukrainian nationalist in the best sense of these words.

Throughout his career as a linguist, Krymsky published over 500 scholarly books and articles. He was one of the founders of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and worked as a director of the Ukrainian Scientific Language Institute. His family had converted to Orthodox Christianity, and before the USSR came, Krymsky was very active in the church.

But wait, there’s more. Besides being a college professor and publishing like crazy, Ahatanhel Krymsky was a prolific literary translator. And he wrote poetry and novels – really good ones. He was also a friend and correspondent of every major Ukrainian writer of the time.

How is it possible to squeeze all this into a single life? Well, Krymsky didn’t have much of a personal life. He was rumored to have been madly in love with Lesia Ukrainka, a famous poet. (She was my father’s favorite writer, by the way). Ukrainka didn’t return Ahatanhel’s feelings, and they remained friends but he never found anybody else, giving rise to rumors that he was gay. In reality, there’s no evidence he ever had any sexual relationship with a woman or a man.

Krymsky did have an adoptive son but the young man was arrested and murdered by Stalin’s regime, leaving behind a pregnant widow. Krymsky contracted a fake marriage with her to spare the baby the danger of having the same last name as an executed “enemy of the people.” Which didn’t help much because 15 years later, Krymsky himself was killed by Stalin.

A fascinating life, an incredible talent. It’s particularly curious that Ahatanhel was always physically very weak and suffered from a variety of health conditions since childhood (which might explain his lack of a personal life). But still, look how much he achieved. It would be a full-time job just to compile his list of publications. And he lived through terrible historic events. World War I, the Bolshevik revolution, the destruction of the Ukrainian Republic, the USSR, Stalinism, purges, terror, World War II.

Krymsky was the epitome of a scholar, a man of letters, and an academic in the best possible meaning of the word.

Christ Is Risen!