Cyril and Methodius Society

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The first Ukrainian political organization in the Russian Empire, the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood existed from late 1845 to early 1847. A secret society with no clear membership criteria, the brotherhood consisted of a core group of some dozen members and a wider circle of an estimated one hundred sympathizers. The society was led by the historian Mykola (Nikolai) Kostomarov, the minor official Mykola Hulak, and the schoolteacher Vasyl Bilozersky. Scholars continue to disagree as to whether the great poet Taras Shevchenko, the most celebrated affiliate of the group, was a formal member. This organization of young Ukrainian patriots was established in Kiev in December 1845 and, during the fourteen months of its existence, its activity was limited to political discussions and the formulation of a program. Kostomarov wrote the society's most important programmatic statement, "The Books of the Genesis of the Ukrainian People." Strongly influenced by Polish Romanticism and Pan-Slavism, this document spoke vaguely of the Christian principles of justice and freedom, but also proposed a number of radical reforms: the abolition of serfdom, the introduction of universal education, and the creation of a democratic federation of all the Slavic peoples with the capital in Kiev. The members of the brotherhood disagreed about priorities and ways of implementing their program. Kostomarov, who stressed the Pan-Slavic ideal, expressed the majority opinion that change could be achieved through education and moral example. Hulak and Shevchenko advocated a violent revolution. Shevchenko, together with the writer Panteleimon Kulish, saw the social and national liberation of Ukrainians as the society's priority. In March 1847 a student informer denounced the society to the authorities, leading to the arrest of all active members. Most of them were subsequently exiled to the Russian provinces, but Hulak received a three-year prison term, while Shevchenko's poems earned him ten years of forced army service in Central Asia. Soviet historians emphasized the difference between radicals and liberals within the brotherhood, while in post-Soviet Ukraine the group is seen as marking the Ukrainian national movement's evolution from the cultural stage to a political one.

See also: nationalities policies, tsarist; ukraine and ukrainians


Luckyj, George S. N. (1991). Young Ukraine: The Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Kiev, 18451847. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.

Serhy Yekelchyk