Turning the pages back...
June 17, 1911
The renowned Russian author, editor, dissident and émigré Viktor Nekrasov was born in Kyiv on June 17, 1911. Nekrasov initially studied to be an architect at the Kyiv Construction Institute, graduating in 1936. Restless, a year later he joined the actors's studio at the Kyiv Russian Drama Theater, subsequently appearing in its productions and working as a set designer.
He served in the Red Army in 1941-1944, and fought in the Battle of Stalingrad. After the war, he returned to Kyiv and worked as a journalist, and in 1946 published a novel based on his wartime experiences, "In the Trenches of Stalingrad," for which he was awarded the Stalin Prize and elected a member of the Presidium of the Ukrainian Writers' Union. However, Nekrasov was no mediocre Soviet hack. His short stories about the effects of war and the novel "In the Home Town" (1954) were among the earliest examples of the non-dogmatic writing that emerged in the post-Stalinist thaw. In 1957 still trusted by the regime, he took his first trip to Western Europe, and then, in 1960 he spent a fortnight in New York City and on the Eastern Seaboard.
"Both Sides of the Ocean" (1962) was the result - a collection of spirited essays in which he provides an exuberant take on American culture, and in which he compares and contrasts the architectural styles of his beloved Kyiv with the soaring skyscrapers of Manhattan. Nekrasov even included a sympathetic vignette about his encounter with a Ukrainian immigrant in the U.S. Nekrasov's unwillingness to condemn the West without reservation attracted harsh denunciations from official critics. His refusal to be cowed led to a personal attack by Nikita Khrushchev in 1963.
As far as the apparat was concerned, things went rapidly downhill from there. In February 1966 Nekrasov joined 25 other cultural figures in writing to ascendant stalwart Leonid Brezhnev about the dangers of reverting to Stalinism. Later that year he sent off a protest to the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR, in which he declared that the newly adopted statutes proscribing "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" were unconstitutional.
In April 1968 Nekrasov signed a petition sent to Brezhnev protesting the trials of young intellectuals in Ukraine and in Russia. In July he signed a joint letter to Literaturna Ukraina in defense of Vyacheslav Chornovil. After four years of such activity, the regime tired of its high-profile pest, and a campaign of home searches, confiscations of samizdat and round-the-clock harassment began in earnest. He was expelled from the Communist Party in 1973.
Nekrasov began petitioning for permission to leave the USSR, and when his wish was granted in September 1974, he left with his wife to settle in Paris. There he joined the staff of the émigré journal of politics and culture, Kontinent, as associate editor. He died in Paris on September 3, 1987.
Sources: "Nekrasov, Viktor," Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Vol. 3 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993); "Nekrasov, Viktor Platonovic," Biographical Dictionary of Dissidents in the Soviet Union (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1982); Viktor Nekrasov, "Both Sides of the Ocean," (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964).
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, June 15, 1997, No. 24, Vol. LXV
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