If you have been following the recent chronicles of the Russian terrorist attacks on peaceful Ukrainian civilians, you surely have heard of Vinnytsia. But of course, all over the world, people who wouldn’t be able to locate it on the map have learned the geography of Ukraine by heart. There are no more unaffected regions left. I often think of Vinnytsia as the heart of Ukraine — it is situated just in the center of the country, a little to the west, stretching along the banks of the beautiful river Pivdennyi Buh.
So, as you know, on July 14, 2022, three Russian missiles hit the city. Its downtown. The heart of the heart. The Russians claimed they hit the Officer’s House, some kind of a military headquarters. But in fact, that building has been used solely for cultural purposes. Luckily, the dance collective of fifty people didn’t have their rehearsal there that morning. But more than twenty people lost their lives, and more than 160 were injured. Three little children became angels. The pain will never go away. Think of the morning of 9/11.
Just a five-minute walk from this site of tragedy, there is another place where I would like to virtually take you. It is a manor-museum of the classic Ukrainian writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynskyi (1864–1913). There is his old house next to the administrative building with a small venue hall and an apple orchard, where he spent a lot of time and even planted some apple trees himself.
If you asked me to tell you one thing about Vinnytsia, I would be definitely telling you about this writer, the city’s cultural patron, and I’ll quote my favorite short stories of his with great excitement.
And so, eight years ago, I arrived in Vinnytsia as a total stranger experienced in organizing literary festivals, and I immediately found allies among independent activists and local authorities who agreed to help me organize the Intermezzo Short Story Festival. A year later, we did the first edition on a delightful, sunny weekend in late May. The main stage was located in Kotsiubynskyi’s apple orchard, shady during the day and shimmering with colorful lights in the evening. Emerging and well-established writers read their stories, shared their thoughts, talked to the audience, gave lectures on literature, and ran workshops for children in the courtyard of a library just across the street. There was a mass screening of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, a movie by the legendary Armenian director Sergei Parajanow (an adaptation of the eponymous short story by Kotsiubynskyi) on the main square of Vinnytsia. There were also a couple of extraordinary literary readings onboard a ferry sailing along the waters of Pivdennyi Buh. A real paradise for the lovers of literature, cinema, nature, and being together with like-minded ones. A real escape from the busy life, an intermezzo, as Kotsiubynskyi himself put it in his short story that gave its name to the festival.
Oh, trust me, this guy knew very well how to enjoy life and indulge himself in its pleasures! Especially he adored the sun, good food, and the beauty of nature. Between 1909 and 1911, Kotsiubyskyi spent a lot of time in Italy, in particular, on the island of Capri. He was vigorously taking notes of all his experiences there. Be it a description of an Italian town devastated by a major earthquake or stunning images from his visit to the Blue Grotto, Mykhailo Kotsiubynskyi was a true master of the impressionistic vision. And he was born in Vinnytsia.