Poltava has always had a high concentration of talented people. In fact, no matter what field you choose, there are outstanding Poltava citizens everywhere. You have already read about Ivan Kotliarevskyi and Mykola Hohol, but it is also worth mentioning Hryhorii Skovoroda. This thinker of the 18th century is considered one of the main philosophers in the history of Ukraine. However, you would be mistaken if you imagined a respectable, bearded luminary sitting at a desk.
For almost half of his life, Skovoroda led the life of a traveling philosopher. People throughout Ukraine respected him for his wisdom, welcomed him, and called him a “traveling academy”. And his famous words, “The world was catching me, but it didn’t catch me,” are etched on the thinker’s grave — indeed, they have become the slogan of Ukrainians’ desire for freedom, which the Russians, of course, don’t like too much. As a result, the Skovoroda museum was destroyed by bombs in 2022.
Another native of Poltava region would definitely have a record-breaking business card. After all, it had to fit all this: a writer with popular works for children and adults, a publicist, a translator, a patron, an ethnographer, a folklorist, a participant in the national liberation and feminist movements, a corresponding member of the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. All this regalia is about Olena Pchilka, who fought for Ukrainian culture all her life. And she always suffered for it — first from tsarism and then from the Bolsheviks. Despite being ideological enemies, the monarchy and communism turned out to be allies in suppressing Ukrainian identity.
If Kotliarevskyi became an important figure for the Ukrainian literary language, Skovoroda for philosophy, and Pchilka for literature, then Mykola Lysenko is deservedly considered the patriarch of Ukrainian music. The outstanding composer wrote works for symphony orchestras and choirs, romances and music for plays, arrangements of folk songs, and opera. At the same time, in his work, Lysenko, a descendant of a well-known Cossack family, persistently appealed to Ukrainian authors, contrary to the royal decree of Ems, which directly forbade virtually any use of the Ukrainian language, including the printing of texts for sheet music. By the way, this was only one of 150 repressions and bans on Ukrainian culture that Moscow has carried out over the past centuries.
It is not surprising that the composer caused the displeasure of the Russian authorities, and in 1907 he was even arrested. And when Lysenko died in 1912, the funeral turned into a powerful political demonstration — thousands of people from all over Ukraine gathered in Kyiv for the ceremony. This frightened the authorities of the Russian Empire so much that after the funeral, photos, and videos of the farewell procession were removed and destroyed.
Mykola Lysenko suffered from the terror of tsarism. But the fate of another prominent Poltava citizen, Yurii Kondratyuk, probably turned out to be tragic because of another Moscow government — the Soviet one.
Global science owes him outstanding discoveries in cosmonautics. It was he who, at the beginning of the 20th century, calculated the optimal trajectory of a spaceship’s flight to the Moon. He calculated it so successfully that it was this route that the USA used for flights to the Earth’s satellite, and the trajectory itself is now called the Kondratyuk Route. One of the leaders of the Apollo space program, John Houbolt, recalled:
“When, at dawn in March 1968, with a sinking heart, I watched at Cape Canaveral the launch of the rocket that carried the Apollo spacecraft towards the moon, I was thinking at that time about the Ukrainian Yurii Kondratyuk, who 50 years ago developed the same route on which our astronauts were supposed to fly…”
However, outstanding scientific achievements did not save the Ukrainian from repression. According to the popular version, he died in a Soviet concentration camp.