Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal ArtsNomina
7 minutes for reading

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ahatanhel Krymsky from Volyn region – one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ahatanhel Krymsky from Volyn region - one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Share material

Ahatanhel Yukhymovych Krymsky (1871-1942) – was born in Volodymyr-Volynskyi – Ukrainian historian, orientalist, Arabist, Islamic scholar, Turkologist and Iranist, linguist, writer and translator, polyglot, one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine under Hetman P. P. Skoropadsky.




We all know at least one language – the one we acquired as kids. Even the mentally retarded (though they may know it very badly). But almost everywhere they think that it is not enough. In the Soviet school, I learned three languages ​​— I speak two of them fluently, the third, German, somehow I can explain what I want. It is also not enough.

When I first went abroad, to Belgium, I saw that the average number of languages ​​that a Belgian decently speaks is four: Dutch, French, German and English. Many inscriptions in public places are duplicated in these four languages, and everyone understands them.

When I was filming a culinary program in Bratislava, local guides explained to me that a true Pressburger (Bratislava was called Pressburg or Presporek until 1919) speaks at least four languages ​​- Czech, Slovak, German and Hungarian.

And they are not professional linguists! Hungarian translator Kato Lomb knew 16 languages, Friedrich Engels spoke and was able to write fluently in 20 European languages, including Russian, George Roerich, the artist’s son, spoke 30 languages ​​naturally, mostly Eastern.

And people like Cardinal Mezzofanti, curator of the Vatican Library, of course, are rare – his nephew made a list of the languages ​​that he knew, and there were 114 of them! Researchers confirmed that he was fluent in 28 languages ​​and was introduced to 9 more – but he might have known others…

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ahatanhel Krymsky from Volyn region - one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Cardinal Mezzofanti




Are there unique polyglots among our fellow countrymen? Today I will tell you about one of them. He is not only a polyglot, but also a prominent scientist who practically created Ukrainian oriental studies and made a significant contribution to the study of the Ukrainian language.

How many languages ​​he knew – you can’t say for sure. The minimum score that I found in the literature is 16, which is already a lot, but almost all other sources indicate that there were much more of them. The overwhelming majority adds up that at least 60.

There is no need to doubt these numbers that much. As an orientalist, he simply had to know the three main languages ​​of the Near and Middle East – Arabic, Persian and Turkish. And there are at least several dozens of Turkic languages, and he was fluent in almost all of them.

In addition, he actively used classical ancient languages ​​such as Latin and Ancient Greek, and was fluent in all major European languages. For example, he spoke German so well that he also made notes on the margins of German books in the language of origin.

When he was asked how many languages ​​he knew, he usually joked, answering that it was easier for him to list those that he did not know — there were fewer of them. Generally speaking, this wonderful person, Ahatanhel Yukhymovych Krymsky, could know a three-digit number of languages.




He was born in 1871 in the city of Volodymyr-Volynskyi, in the family of a teacher. He inherited the surname Krymsky from his great-grandfather – either a mullah, or a relative of the Crimean Khan, who was in a conflict with the bishop and was forced to escape to Mogyliv, where his grandfather was christened.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ahatanhel Krymsky from Volyn region - one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
His parents

For three generations his Tatar ancestors became related with the Belarusians, and his mother, the wife of the teacher Yukhym Krymsky, had Lithuanian and Polish roots — in general, the complete friendship of peoples. In his family, as in many families of the Russian Empire, they spoke Russian.

As you would expect from a future polyglot, Ahatanhel was a gifted child who was showing unique abilities from an early age. He learned to read at the age of three. They scolded me that I taught my children to read at the age of four — early, they said… His parents were clearly harder to deal with it.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ahatanhel Krymsky from Volyn region - one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
The House in Zvenyhorodka near Kyiv, where he spent his childhood

Already at the age of five, his father sent the boy to a local school, where he began his studies. Then there was the gymnasium in Ostroh, the Second Kyiv gymnasium, and in the end — the famous Collegium of Pavlo Galagan, which the secret police called the “hotbed of Ukrainians”. He studied well, like all gifted children.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ahatanhel Krymsky from Volyn region - one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Collegium of Pavlo Galagan

It so happened that it was the teacher of the Russian language Pavlo Zhitetsky, a prominent Ukrainian philologist, who, in addition to excellent knowledge of his subject, taught the student to love the Ukrainian language and literature. It was so great that the Ukrainian language became the main one for the student.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ahatanhel Krymsky from Volyn region - one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Pavlo Zhitetsky




After the gymnasium, Ahatanhel chose the philological path, and he became interested in oriental languages. He graduated from special classes at the Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages ​​in Moscow, and then from the Faculty of History and Philology of Moscow University with a 1st degree diploma.

He studied Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages ​​in the best possible way, and in 1896 he passed the master’s examinations in Arabic studies at  the University of St. Petersburg and in Slavic philology at Moscow University. After passing the exams, he moved to Syria and Lebanon for more than two years, where he improved his knowledge in direct contact with native speakers.

Returning to his Lazarev Institute, Krymsky was heading the department of Arab linguistics there from 1901, became a professor of Arabic literature and philology, and from 1903 – a professor of the history of Islam. In addition, he taught translation courses from Russian to Arabic and from Arabic to Russian.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ahatanhel Krymsky from Volyn region - one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages

At the same time, he simultaneously was teaching the history of the medieval Muslim East at the Advanced History Courses for women of Poltoratskaya, was the professor at the Russian language department at Moscow University and the editor of the journal “Oriental Antiquities” — he was busy enough.




The love of the Ukrainian language, inculcated by Zhitetsky in the Collegium of Pavlo Galagan, undoubtedly reflected in his scientific and literary interests. Even in those days, Krymsky in letters to his friends and acquaintances, in particular to Borys Grinchenko and Ivan Franko, noted that the the love of Ukraine had grown into him “without his knowledge,” and in his perspective he was a Ukrainophile.

He was actively interested in Ukrainian history. In particular, he strongly debated with the philologist Sobolevsky, who supported and developed the hypothesis of the famous historian Pogodin, that after the Mongol-Tatar invasion, the ancient inhabitants of Kievan Rus retreated to the north, and  thus, Kievan Rus is a single center of Slavic peoples.

According to Krymsky, the Ukrainian language began to form earlier than most researchers assumed. He defended the thesis that the Ukrainian language existed as early as the 11th century “as an entirely relief, confidently designated, brightly individual unit.” He introduced this position in his works, such as “Ukrainian Grammar” and “Essays from the history of the Ukrainian language”.

Krymsky had a special relationship with Lesya Ukrainka, who dedicated her drama “In the Catacombs” to him. It is very likely that Krymsky had not only respect for her, but also love, but his feelings remained unanswered. On his 60th birthday, Tychyna read a poem dedicated to him, where he mentioned “eternaly dreamy Lesya Ukrainka”, after which the gossip about his feelings gained evidence.


By joining the Huxley friends club, you support philosophy, science and art




Soon after the revolution, Academician Vernadsky invited Krymsky to Kyiv to participate in the creation of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. Krymsky agreed to the move on condition of transportation his library to Kyiv. It took up a whole carriage, but it was transported.

On November 27, 1918, the first general meeting of the UAN team took place. During this event, Volodymyr Vernadsky was elected as the president of the academy, and Ahatanhel Krymsky, who was also included in the number of the founders, was the indispensable scientific secretary.

He conducted a huge scientific work at the academy – he headed the historical and philological department, the cabinet of Arabic and Iranian philology, the commission of the dictionary of the living language, the commission of the history of the Ukrainian language, the dialectological commission and the commission of spelling.

Hetman Skoropadsky, who founded the academy, could not stay in power, and as a result Kyiv became Soviet. Krymsky stayed in Kyiv — his scientific research was important for any government. In 1921, his merits were really noted by the Sovnarkom of the Ukrainian SSR in the decree “About the social security of honored workers of science”, where he was provided with considerable benefits.

Krymsky was allowed to publish his scientific works at state expense, he was exempted from paying all state taxes, the requisition and sealing of the premises that he occupied were prohibited, materially provided him and, after his death, for his family members.




In Soviet times, Krymsky was not at first bypassed by responsible positions. Since 1921, he has become the director of the Institute of the Ukrainian Scientific Language. And at about the same time, he took part in the First Ukrainian Church Council, which confirmed the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which the authorities obviously liked much less.

Meanwhile, research work was the main one for him. Many of his works today are rightly considered classics, textbooks. He translated many classics of the East – Omar Khayyam, Saadi, Ferdowsi – as well as Western European authors.

And now his works on the history of Islam, as well as his literary works, are relevant and interesting — the two-volume edition of “History of Turkey and its Literature”, “The History of Arabs and Arabic Secular and Spiritual Literature”, the three-volume “History of Persia, its Literature and Dervish Theosophy”, “History of New Arabic Literature” and many more of his compositions.

He was also engaged in literature on his own. Even before the revolution, his great novel “Andrii Lahovskyi” was published — in 2011 it was republished in Kyiv. He also wrote several collections of poetry.




The period of “peaceful coexistence” of Krymsky with the Soviet regime lasted all the 1920s, and then things got worse. Authorities began to take away their posts, deprive graduate students. In 1929, his faithful assistant and secretary Mykola Levchenko, whom he adopted, was arrested. He died in prison.

Levchenko had a pregnant wife, Krymsky did everything possible to save her and the child — he married her and gave the child his name. He sometimes found himself unemployed, lived on a meager pension, he had no opportunities for scientific work.

He was offered to participate in the creation of the Russian-Ukrainian Dictionary, and it was done by Kaganovych. But he categorically refused this work – “I resolutely withdraw from participation in the Dictionary, where all sorts of disfigures and debris of the language are prancing recklessly.”

After the annexation of Western Ukraine, the fate of the scientist changed — he was reinstated in his posts. On June 22, 1940, Krymsky was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, became an Honored Scientist of the Ukrainian SSR, a little later his 70th anniversary was magnificently celebrated, in which both the Academy of Sciences and the Writers’ Union took part… But it did not last long.




Exactly one year after he was awarded, the USSR entered World War II. The war caught Ahatanhel Yukhymovych in the Crimea, after a micro-stroke. And on July 19, the NKVD car arrived for him — allegedly to evacuate him, and even without his consent. It looked like an arrest – and it turned out to be.

According to the decree of July 20, 1941, Krymsky was sent to the internal prison of the NKVD with the accusation: “Political overtone: Ukrainian nationalism.” He denied these accusations. “I have never been an ideologist of Ukrainian nationalism and could not be, because it is disgusting to my whole nature and my worldview,” he told the investigator.

He was taken to Kazakhstan and on October 30, 1941, he was transferred to the Kostanay prison, where he immediately ended up in a hospital cell. There he died a few months later, on January 25, 1942. According to the diagnosis, the causes of death were old age and general weakness.

It is believed that Krymsky simply died in the evacuation, but it did not seem to be true. Indeed, in 1957 he was rehabilitated (the petitions of the prominent Ukrainian philologist Bulakhovsky played a significant role in it). Wouldn’t have been convicted – who would have rehabilitated him?




In our time, his good name has been restored and is not in doubt, and his memory has been immortalized in many different ways. A street named after him appeared in Kyiv in 1970, and now a renaming is being prepared in honor of this great Turkologist of one of the streets of Istanbul.

In 1971, the pedagogical school in Volodymyr-Volynskyi (now Volodymyr-Volynskyi pedagogical college named after Krymsky) was renamed in his honor. And on October 22, 1991, the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine was founded, which was named after him.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ahatanhel Krymsky from Volyn region - one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Memorial plaque

The Prize of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine named after Krymsky was established for outstanding scientific work in the field of oriental studies. There is also the Volyn Literary and Art Criticism Prize named after Krymsky, which is awarded for achievements in the field of fiction and theater.

In 1996, a postage stamp with a portrait of Ahatanhel Krymsky was issued… There are many things to be enumerated. But the losses incurred by humanity due to the humiliation and death of such an outstanding mind, no one is able to compensate — it is impossible. It remains only to remember and not to allow the repetition it in the future.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Ahatanhel Krymsky from Volyn region - one of the founders of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Postage Stamp


All illustrations from open sources

By joining the Huxley friends club, you support philosophy, science and art
Share material

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: