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Mykola Zerov

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Mykola Zerov

(1890, Zinkiv, Poltava Governorate – 1937, Sandarmokh, Karelia)

There’s a street in Kyiv named after the Zerov brothers. The family was prolific for talent: Dmytro was a botanist, Kostiantyn a hydrobiologist, and Mykhailo and Mykola were writers. One became famous as the emigrant poet Mykhailo Orest, and the other one is considered the leading figure in the Neoclassicist movement of the 1920s.

Zerov was in the First Gymnasium of Kyiv and then studied history and languages in the University of Kyiv, which he graduated from in 1914. After teaching in a number of village schools near Kyiv for a few years, Zerov became a lecturer in the University of Kyiv. As Maksym Rylskyii reminisced, often during the evening lectures electricity would fail, and Zerov would continue to lecture in the dark, quoting extensive pieces from memory.

Zerov was an all-round intellectual, his debut book of 1920 being an anthology of Ancient Roman poetry he translated into Ukrainian (and the cover was designed by famous Heorgii Narbut). In 1923, Zerov compiled Word. An Elocutionist, a reading book for public reciting, and though he claimed that customary Ukrainian writers like Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, Lesia Ukrainka and Pavlo Tychyna were central to the book, the first texts of it were excerpts from Iliad and Odyssey.

Mykola Zerov was the leader of the Neoclassicist movement, a group of poets and critics who were lovers of European culture and used strict classical forms in their own work. In this vein Zerov wrote the poems for his main book, Camena (1924).

Being a scholar and a critic, Zerov saw the necessity for Ukrainians to absorb the most renowned pieces of the world culture. When the famous dispute about the future of Ukrainian culture was taking place in 1925-1928, Zerov stood with Mykola Khvyliovyi and his pro-European course.

Even though ninety years have passed, Zerov’s works on the history of literature and critical essays are still of importance. Namely, his Ukrainian Writers of the 19th Century (1924) and New Ukrainian Literature (1928) are classic textbooks for university students of the Ukrainian language and literature.

Zerov was executed in 1937 in Sandarmokh, Karelia.


Other locations in Kyiv related to Mykola Zerov: the building of the First Gymnasium of Kyiv is now Kyiv Philology Institute, and the Department of theory and practice of translation of Roman languages is named after Mykola Zerov. In 1990, a memorial plate was installed on the building in Khmelnytskyi Street 82, where the Zerov family once lived. However, it was gone after the renovation works and is not yet restored.

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