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.


12 thoughts on “Ahatanhel Krymsky: A Fascinating Life

  1. There is a book I’ve been meaning to read called “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” by Timothy D. Snyder.

    It’s incredible the bloody history of those bloodlands keeps getting repeated to this day. What a real shame.


      1. I will.

        Will be interesting to see how those lands look in the future once demographic collapse has really hit.
        I think if I lived in that area I would want to leave, regardless of the current situation.


        1. The renewal of the world has begun there. There’s an enormous political, intellectual and spiritual revival happening. Whether it will be successful or not, I don’t know. But at least, people are trying while we over here are pouting and feeling sorry for ourselves.


          1. Great struggle does forge great strong people. Can definitely see that happening in Ukraine.

            Happened in the US after WWII. That generation built most of what we have today. They focused on addressing real problems.


        2. “if I lived in that area I would want to leave”

          Where to? Poland is fine now and nothing in the US looks very appealing (from my viewpoint in Europe at least).

          I’m not saying I’d never move but if I did it would almost certainly be to somewhere else in Europe…


        3. In places where that’s a repeating pattern, one does wonder if the geography simply houses nastier local gods than other places, which re-assert themselves whenever they aren’t adequately suppressed. One shudders a little when the “native cultures are always better” crowd gets into the evils of Christianity and its suppression of indigenous religions. They can only say that because they believe, deep in their hearts, that the indigenous religions are harmless fantasy. I don’t want to see anything ruled again by whatever they were worshipping at Cahokia… but I kind of wonder if failing to keep it under wraps explains St. Louis.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. …and frankly, I can think of few things more disrespectful of indigenous religions than operating (entirely without examination!) on the assumption that Christianity is an all-powerful conquering force, and native religions were just dumb stories the primitives told each other around the campfire.


              1. This idea is interesting and occurs in some horror and supernatural books that I have read. I think that some native cultures would not be so appealing if the Spanish had not destroyed some of their worst aspects.


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