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A trip through Ukraine's past

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May 18, 2000, 5 p.m. |
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Man's passion for postcards, long suppressed by the Soviets, culminates llecting postcards would one day help tell the story of his country's history. But as he grew older, his passion became much more than a hobby. For the past three years Zabochen and two other Ukrainians – Oleksandr Polishchuk, also a postcard collector, and Volodymyr Yatsiuk, an artist – have been working on a book that portrays the recent history of Ukraine through postcards. The 500-page book, “Ukraine in Old Cards,” was just published with an initial circulation of 1,000. A unique catalogue of more than 7,000 postcards depicting Ukraine and its people, the book is divided into four categories. The first, “Ukraine and Ukrainians,” contains postcards of Ukrainian villages and cities of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The second part of the book is devoted to Ukraine's struggle for independence throughout the centuries, while the third part is about famous Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. The final section covers Ukrainian culture, from theater to cinema. Although nearly two dozen collectors contributed their cards to the book, the bulk of it is based on Zabochen's own collection, the world's largest Ukrainian collection. “Sometimes I feel that they [my postcards] crowd me out of my room,” the 75-year-old Zabochen said of his collection, which numbers some 100,000 to 140,000 postcards. “Ukraine in Old Cards” came into being with the help of American collector and businessman Morgan Williams. An admirer of Ukrainian folk art, Williams was impressed when he saw the work Zabochen had collected throughout his life. It was he who introduced the project to the Kyiv office of the United Nations Development Program. UNDP provided money to print the book and staged a presentation on May 11, soon after the edition came out. “This is an investment not only in the book, but also in the history of Ukraine,” UN Resident Coordinator for Ukraine Pedro Pablo Villanueva said during the presentation. Collecting Uk-raine's graphic history was no easy task in Soviet times, and gathering cards related to Ukraine's fight for independence was especially difficult, Zabochen said. Until the 1960s, strict censorship of printed material made it almost impossible to find cards depicting Ukrainian culture and historical characters. In fact, collecting such cards at all was illegal until the late 1960s. “There was not even a magazine or any printed source for collectors,” Zabochen said. The Communist Party lifted the ban on card-collecting publications after the Soviet World Youth Festival in 1967, when the authorities were embarrassed to find that there was virtually no literature on stamp and postcard collecting. “It was decided to arrange a publication on postcard collecting as soon as possible so as not to raise suspicion among foreign philatelists and postcard collectors participating in the festival,” Zabochen said. Since organizers of the project could not immediately find any experts in the field, they assigned two KGB agents to do the book. The two agents were responsible for censoring the mail, and, being used to working with cards and postage stamps, did manage to put some material together on postcard collecting, Zabochen said. It was not until the third edition in the early 1970s that the editors of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia solicited a real expert – Zabochen – to write a brief article about postcard collecting. Collecting postcards is not only about buying and storing them. Zabochen has also collected information on where each card in his collection was produced and published. Publication of “Ukraine in Old Cards” does not mean the work of Zabochen and his colleagues is finished. After the initial 1,000 copies are sold, they hope to find a sponsor to help all major Ukrainian regional and city libraries and museums obtain copies of the book free of charge. Currently, the hefty volume costs $75, but the authors hope the price will go down if the plan to do a second, larger circulation run pans out. Zabochen said the book would be invaluable in helping future generations of Ukrainians learn more about their country. “There is no other book like this in Ukraine,” Zabochen said. “And it will remain the only one for many years to come.”
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