Often, to experience a spiritual awakening, we need inspiration from outside ourselves. Recently, I gained food for thought on meeting Kiryl Sokol, a historian and collector from Moscow.
He often visits Vladimir Likhodedov’s exhibitions in Minsk and has written many books, including the unique catalogue ‘Monuments of the Russian Empire’. Sadly, no researchers have responded to this creative work, rich in data and photos from the late 19th — early 20th century. They reveal much about Kamenets: “There was a monument in the town of Kamenets, in the Brest District of the Grodno Region, which stood instead of a church. It had a cross on the pedestal decorated with an icon and a stone arbor on four pillars over the monument…” The text is accompanied by a detailed photo.
The monument testifies to the grandeur of Kamenets’ history and its many outstanding people. There was a time when few knew of them. If we left Kamenets and set off in the direction of Kameniuki, we’d pass Razhanovka. Long ago, it was called Razhanka and belonged to the father of Ipaty Patey, a writer born there in 1541. Ipaty’s father died when the boy was still quite young, leaving him to become Nicholas Radziwill’s ward. Ipaty received an excellent education and began working as his guardian’s secretary. Further, he became a Calvinist, at a time when most magnates were Protestants. In 1574, he converted to the Orthodox faith and helped compose the Union of Lublin. He founded the Berestje fraternity and, being a talented author, wrote many stories — such as ‘Union’ and ‘Harmony’. He passed away in 1613 and was buried in Vladimir-Volynsky.
The village of Radost (previously Elinsky Bor) near Kamenets was the home of Martin Matushevich — enlightener, publicist and writer. He was educated in Jesuit institutions in Kamenets, Brest, Drogichin and Warsaw and rose through the ranks successfully — from clerk to judge. From 1765, he oversaw Brest and its surrounding districts. Rasna village, which belonged to the Sapegas, became Matushevich property and his family moved there.
Memoirs comprise the main part of his literary works and they were translated into Belarusian. ‘The Diary of My Life’ was published in ‘Spadchyna’ magazine — in three issues from 1996 and 1997. Why are memoirs from 1714–1764 interesting? They describe the activity of Great Duchy of Lithuania magnates, with clear portraits of Ludvik Patey, Mikhail Chartorysky and others. His words portray the famous masters and authoritative figures as brawlers, drunkards and adventurers. Ludvik Patey’s motto was: “If somebody throws a stone at me, I will hide it. I will do the same with the second. When the time comes, I will throw three stones at once and beat them.” Matushevich is also known as a translator of ancient poet Horatio’s satires.
Mikhail Karpovich, an enlightened politician, was born in Kamenets in 1744. His views were radically democratic, being one of the first in Belarus to criticise the oppression of rural people. He offered them support in improving their housing conditions and is known as the author of two volumes of ‘Stories’ (1776–1778).
Kamenets’ literary and novelised biography includes Platsid Yankovsky (born in 1810), Edvard Puzyna (1878), Vsevolod Ignatovsky (1881), Vladimir Stelmakh (1910) and Vladimir Gnilomedov, an academician of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (1937 in the small hamlet of Krugel). The latter wrote a prose trilogy entitled ‘Family Chronicle in the Spirit of Baroque’; ‘Ulysses from Pruska’ was followed by ‘Uprisal’ and ‘Return’ — inspired by the life of his grandfather, Leonty Mikhailovich Stepaniuk. The ‘Chronicle’ relates events in Pruska village during World War I, including residents’ escape to the east. We learn not only about Kamenets but about the Brest Region and Belarus. Mr Gnilomedov, who was awarded the order of Francisco Skorina, continues his creative journey in time and unbounded space.
Looking at old postcards, I dream of one day gathering the masters of Kamenets, whose paintings depict the architectural and landscape beauty of settlements large and small of the Puscha. General Ronuald Travgut (born in 1826 in the village of Shestakovo) defended the region in days gone by while Vasily Zhukovich (born in 1939 on a farm in Zabolotje) wrote of its beauty: ‘I come from a forested place, where the river is called the Lesnaya, where there are birches and pines, and clouds in the sky’.
I’d like to see a museum dedicated to Vladimir Leontievich Bedulja, who was twice awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labour. An outstanding collective farm director, he wanted to make Kamenets and the village of Rasna the centre of cultural life in the Brest Region. He organised creative evenings featuring Bella Akhmadulina, Andrey Voznesensky and Andrey Dementjev: poetry recitals by famous Russian poets in a quiet village. He was named an Honoured Worker of Culture of Belarus, which motivated him still further.
Let’s hope the tradition will be continued not only in Rasna but in the neighbouring ‘Belavezhski’, under the guidance of Yuri Moroz, a member of the Council of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. During reconstruction of the Palace of Culture’s central farm, village residents ordered a tapestry costing several hundred thousand US Dollars… it was money well spent, on everlasting art.
Kiryl Sokol and I recall Kamenets’ famous auroch — marking Alexander II’s hunting days in the Belovezhskaya Puscha (erected in October 1860) and another, honouring the hunting seat of Polish King August II. Kiryl restores the traces of those monuments with the help of old postcards, as once did his colleague Vladimir Likhodedov.
Ales Karliukevich. Postcards from the collection of Vladimir Likhodedov