Plunging into depths of talent

[b]It’s always interesting to explore the roots of our talented countrymen, since many turn out to be descended from ancient noble families[/b] For more than 20 years, writer Anatoly Statkevich-Cheboganov has been conducting such studies: collecting, organising and studying documents on over forty ancient Belarusian lineages. His three volume series entitled I’m Your Son: Annals of the Belarusian Gentry is the result.
It’s always interesting to explore the roots of our talented countrymen, since many turn out to be descended from ancient noble families
For more than 20 years, writer Anatoly Statkevich-Cheboganov has been conducting such studies: collecting, organising and studying documents on over forty ancient Belarusian lineages. His three volume series entitled I’m Your Son: Annals of the Belarusian Gentry is the result.

Among the relatives of Mr. Statkevich-Cheboganov is the first vice-president of the Academy of Sciences of Belarus, Stepan Nekrаshevich. What has he found out about the famous scientist and linguist, whose books and dictionaries are still in demand? Where did he live and how did his spiritual and cultural talent develop?
Last year, you gave a report on behalf of the Academy of Sciences, at a conference entitled Belarusian Culture and the Emergence of Science in Belarus, coinciding with the 90th anniversary of the Institute of Belarusian Culture (or Inbelkult) — from which the Belarusian Academy was born. You spoke about the family roots of its first director, Stepan Nekrаshevich.
I presented research on the whole Nekrаshevich family (Lubich coat of arms) which is featured in the third volume of the series ‘I’m Your Son’ — published this year. Of course, family histories are continuous, and are interlinked. At certain moments, a family may fall on hard times but the ‘family tree’ usually revives through other branches.
Tell us about the publication. Why is it special?
I dare to say that it is unique among Belarusian history books. Three volumes are already published, with a fourth being printed. These have the blessing of the Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, Filaret. Two publishing houses are involved, sharing a single design: the Belarusian Orthodox Church Printing House (in Russian) and Rodnoe Slovo Publishing House (in Belarusian). Doctor of Historical Sciences Georgy Golenchenko is the editor.
Each is richly illustrated, including reproductions of historical documents, photographs and other materials. At the end of each volume, the bibliography provides links to primary sources. There is a glossary of terms, and a list of names and geographical locations. The books present a description of each family, alongside individual stories from the lives of their members and diagrams of family trees. Compatriots from other countries are sure to find their relatives within the series, so it’s valuable to anyone interested in their family tree.
In 1971, you graduated from Leningrad Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics, working for the defence industry and then the agricultural complex. Now, you’re an entrepreneur. How did you begin researching genealogies?
Family circumstances guided me. Many of my relatives suffered the tragedy of repression, being deported from Belarus in the Stalin era. My grandfather, Mikhail Statkevich, a noble man, was shot in 1930. My work is my tribute to the memory of those killed guiltlessly. Exploring my ancestors’ past, I set the high and patriotic goal of showing the history of the Fatherland through the history of a particular family. First, I had to establish a relationship between people, looking at where they lived. I began to study ancient source materials, looking for as much information on each member of the family as possible, covering the last five hundred years or more.
Did you work alone? I’ve tried to research my own family a little so I can imagine how much work was involved.
As soon as I began digging deeper into the archives, I realised that I couldn’t work alone. Considerable assistance was rendered by leading historians and genealogists from Russia and Belarus and further abroad. For twenty years, thanks to collaboration with the archives of Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, I’ve studied more than forty well-known noble families of Belarus: most are my ancestors. Some are of particular interest: Statkevich, Karafa-Korbut, Nekrаshevich, Rudinsky, Tychina, Zhdanovich-Gurynovich, Sytsko, Lipsky, Zabelo, Tatura, Glinsky-Lihodievsky, Reut, Korybut-Dashkevich, Kernozhitsky, Mastvilovich, Getalty and Tyszkiewicz (from the Kalenikavich family). There are many historical figures and some famous people, such as dukes Lihodievsky, Glinsky and Ostrozhsky. Additionally, there are well-known figures of Belarusian science and culture, such as archaeologist Genrik Tatur and academician Stepan Nekrаshevich.

When did your family of Statkevich-Stsytskevich become related to the Nekrаshevichs?
You can read about this in the third book of the series. The noble families of Karaf-Korbut, Rudinsky and Tychyna have enjoyed numerous family ties with the Nekrаshevichs since the 18th century — as evident from the genealogical lists. Exploring the past, I found out that some branches of my family have a common ancestor: Pavel Nekrаshevich. His sons brought forth my great-grandmother Aryna and academician Stepan Mikhailovich Nekrаshevich (1883-1937). All three of my great-grandmothers are his close relatives. The academician himself also has ancestors in the Karafa-Korbut family, to which my grandmother Maria Alksandrovna belongs.
After Soviet times, we left behind class divides and noble pedigrees but some probably still appreciate ‘noble qualities’.
You’re right. We know that many members of the Nekrаshevich family had ties with prominent Belarusian intelligentsia. Alena Mikhailovna Nekrаshevich, the daughter of Alena Rygorievna and cousin of the academician, married People’s Poet of the BSSR Petrus Brovka. Meanwhile, Zarina Vladimirovna Kulevskaya, a second cousin once removed of Stepan Mikhailovich, married Danila Mickiewicz, son of Yakub Kolas.
The Nekrаshevich family seems to abound in outstanding people.
Apparently so, although their Fate featured both glory and greatness, ups and downs. Documents give evidence of their noble origin and their diligence and dedication to duty. I found no example of dishonesty, personal gain, betrayal or jealousy. Even the coat of arms of Lubich — used by the Nekrаshevich family — illustrates their great military merits, rendered to the Fatherland since ancient times. It shows a shield and helmet, a horseshoe and a bachelor’s cross.
One ancient document shows that Polish King Sigismund III allowed cornet Semion Nekrаshevich ‘to buy the land of Lopotse from Vasily Segenya’. Semion’s son, Pavel, according to his last will and testament in 1639, gave the Nikifar family estate to his children: ‘Nekroshchevizna or Lopotse estate, acquired by my father, Semion, is left to my two sons’. The descendants of Semion were not neglected by high officials, being respected and landed, as confirmed by the Minsk Noble Deputies Assembly of March 9th, 1854. It recognised the family representatives of Lyavon, Anton and Lovrenty as ‘noble dignity’.

You mention an estate owned by the Nekrаshevich family.
Yes, the family estate was in Slutsk and its vicinity: Lopotse; the estate of Nekroshchevizna; and a number of neighbouring villages. Some remain populated today. Over time, the family grew, with each son being given his own piece of land, so the Nekrаshevich family had to open up other places. Someone went to Mozyr or Bobruisk. The ancestors of the future academician Stepan Nekrаshevich moved to Parichi, with the Karafa-Korbut and Rudinsky clans, to whom they were closely related. They lived near Viktaryny, Drazhnya, Moiseevka and Danilovka.
Archival documents show the reasons for and time of moving, data on how the family was growing, and how young families left family estates to reside in new places. The ‘cradle of the family’ includes Samuil Nekrashevich, who moved to Parichi, married and then returned to Slutsk. His wife was Irina Semenovna, the future great-grandmother of the academician Nekrаshevich (from the Ivashkevich family). Their wedding took place in Pogost Church on Candlemas Day in 1822: January 8th.
At the end of the 19th century, some of the Nekrаshevich family were living on a small estate in Bobruisk District. Others owned small enterprises. Rygor Nekrаshevich was an innkeeper in the village of Zakalnoe, on land owned by Duchess Gagenloe. Many Nekrаshevichs owned land around Mozyr and in Bobruisk District.
Tell us more about academician Nekrаshevich…
In the village of Danilovka, a few miles from Parichi (Bobruisk District, Mogilev Region), Mikhail Nekroshevish settled on an estate of about 350 hectares. On April 26th, 1883, his son, Stepan, was born, becoming a scholar and linguist, and known for writing numerous scientific papers, books and dictionaries. He often returned to his homeland, recording its linguistic wealth. Parichi is famous for its history and interesting people. It was first mentioned in written sources in 1639, as a town with a large Jewish community, a school, a hospital, a winery, rope and sugar factories, a quay on the Berezina river (the largest in the district at the time), and profitable timber trade. There were several Orthodox churches, a Roman Catholic Church and a synagogue. In the centre of the settlement was a market square with grocery, hardware and small wares stores, surrounded by an inn and merchants’ houses. In Parichi, old people still remember the lively fairs at which tobacco, kitchen utensils, soap, candles, field and forest fare, manufactured goods, fish, horses and many other things were bought and sold.
Did the place belong to someone else previously?
After Belarusian lands became part of the Russian Empire, Emperor Pavel the First gave the land to his favourite court nobleman, Admiral Piotr Pushchin. The family was famous not only on the battlefield, but for the famous Decembrist brothers Ivan and Mikhail. Ivan Pushchin was one of the officers who went to the Senate Square on December 14th, 1825. He was a friend of Pushkin from their days at the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum, and Alexander Sergeevich wrote of him, ‘My first friend, my priceless friend’.
Their father, Lieutenant-General and Senator Ivan Petrovich Pushchin, built a church in honour of the Holy Spirit in Parichi, where several generations of Nekrаshevichs were parishioners. On January 2nd, 1850, Mikhail Pavlovich, the father academician, was christened and, on July 7th, 1915, the funeral of his mother, Eva Dmitrievna, took place.
Did the Pushchins leave any other legacy apart from the church?
Yes, they did much for Parichi, especially Maria Yakavlevna, the wife of Mikhail Pushchin. She organised a girls’ choir at the local Orthodox church and launched the first women’s college of St. Mary Magdalene. Among its students was Alena Nekrаshevich, a cousin of the academic, as well as other representatives of the family.

In and around Parichi, cultural life was rich. How would you describe the life of Stepan Nekrаshevich?
He received his primary education in the village of Danilovtsy from the village ‘director’. Later, he attended the Panevezy Teachers Seminary and Vilnius Pedagogical Institute but didn’t work as a teacher for a long time, as the First War began, which took him to the army. In 1917, after the February Revolution, this educated, thoughtful soldier was elected a member of the Army Committee of the 6th Army of the Romanian Front, which led him to Odessa for a conference.
Nekrаshevich stayed in the seaside town for several years, working for the benefit of Belarus. Under his leadership, the Belarusian National Commission was established to help Belarusian soldiers. When in 1918 the Belarusian People’s Republic was proclaimed, Nekrаshevich became its representative in that region and managed to open ‘30 primary schools and Belarusian mixed schools in the first four classes’ around Odessa. The numbers are incredible, especially if you remember the time and place.
So far from home, Stepan Mikhailovich seems to have become nostalgic, realising that national identity is lost without language, gradually dissolving among more powerful ethnic groups. Interestingly for that revolutionary time, when so much was being ‘reworked’ he did not care about the bigger picture, preferring to concentrate on Belarusian-language schools...
Perhaps, in key moments of history, we should remember our own small significance in guiding social processes. The war and the revolution helped Stepan Nekrаshevich to understand his mission in life. When he returned to his homeland in 1920, he began enthusiastically promoting national culture, creating a literary language. It was a fruitful time for scientific and social work and he was several times elected deputy of the All-Belarusian Congress of Soviets and a member of the Central Executive Committee of the BSSR. He also became chairman of the first multidisciplinary research institution in the country: the Institute of Belarusian Culture.
On December 26th, 1928, Stepan Nekrаshevich was approved as an eligible member and the vice-president of the Academy of Sciences of Belarus. A year later, he headed the Institute of Linguistics. It seems a huge responsibility but the young academician found time to write books and dictionaries and conduct research. In particular, in 1929, he published his work on Belarusian dialects in Parichi District, having travelled extensively across the region. His main purpose was to revive the Belarusian language and, in this direction, he worked with such well-known cultural figures as Yanka Kupala, Yakub Kolas, Zmitrok Byadulya and Kondrat Krapiva. Many of them appear at his side in photos of the time. However, society was on the eve of a great disaster: Stalinist repression. The first ripples had begun.
Do you think that the Academy felt that they would ‘come for him’?
Probably; unfortunately, many documents of the time have been lost. In the summer of 1930, he joined his colleague, academician Vaclav Lastovsky, on a research trip to the distant Tomsk Region of Siberia, where they planned to study the way of life of Belarusian immigrants. However, such long distances did not deter the work of Stalin; on the morning of July 21st, 1930, on board the ‘Tobolsk’ steamboat on the Ob River, they were arrested.
In the archive of the Committee of State Security, I found documents relating to the arrest and interrogation of Stepan Nekrаshevich, as well as the accusations against him. I did wonder what charges were brought against him in 1930, since Nekrаshevich was a former member of the Revolutionary Party and Consul of the Belarusian People’s Republic to Odessa. According to the NKVD, from 1921, he had helped lead the counterrevolutionary organisation ‘Belarus Revival Union — Belarus Liberation Union’, using his trips abroad to establish and maintain contacts.
Stepan Nekrаshevich was condemned and exiled to the city of Sarapulsk in Udmurts ASSR for five years, where he worked as a planner, economist and accountant. He must have lived in continual fear of being arrested for a second time. When they came again for him, he was accused of being a spy for the Polish intelligence service since 1920, committing espionage in the USSR and recruiting others. They also accused him of being a member of the National Fascist organisation since 1917, and, ironically, of doing a disservice to the public education system of Belarus.
The final chapter of his story is typical for that time. On December 19th, 1937, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR sentenced him to death, while confiscating all his personal property. The sentence was executed the next day, leaving his wife, Maria Sergeevna Tsimankova, bereft; she died soon afterwards. For just over half a century, the noble Nekrаshevich family were marked by the decision; it was only in 1988, on June 10th, that the Supreme Court of the BSSR revoked the accusations.
Did you learn anything about the fate of his relatives?
Yes, I’ve written about this. His brother, Osip, did not recognise the new Soviet regime, becoming an officer voluntarily in Denikin’s Army, supporting the monarchy and Orthodoxy (as Stepan had been accused of). He left home after the Revolution, moving to the Don and telling his relatives that ‘all my friends are there’. According to some reports, Osip later joined the Reds and was shot. The sister of Stepan, Anna Akanovich, moved to Germany during the Second World War and then, after her husband’s death in 1950, moved to the USA, teaching in New York at the famous school of Michelson, alongside other representatives of the Belarusian intelligentsia: the brother of Yakub Kolas, Mikhail Mickiewicz, Mikhail Tuleyko and other.
Anatoly, does your work continue on the unknown pages of noble families?
I have a sense of duty as every good man has the right to be well remembered. Stepan Nekrаshevich is the perfect example. His descendants still give him his due.

By Ivan Zhdanovich
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