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In the year 1615, Ukraine was torn by an internal strife. Everyone was fighting against everyone else: the Cossacks against the Turks, the Polish against the Muscovites, and these together against the Cossacks and among themselves. Local feudal lords were fighting among themselves for possessions, and bandits and robbers made any travel a dangerous venture. A group of intellectuals from Kyiv that included Berynda, Zyzaniy, Kopystynsky, Pletenetsky, Boretsky, Smotrytsky and others, formed a society of promoters of education. They called their society the Kyiv Brotherhood, which soon developed into a school of higher learning. Halshka Hulevychivna, an aristocratic and rich woman from Kyiv and a patron of arts and education, let the new school have one of her houses in the old part of town known as Podil.
The subjects taught included five foreign languages, grammar, rhetoric, poetics, philosophy, history and music. Petro Konashevych-Sahaydachny, the then Hetman and de facto ruler of Ukraine, donated considerable sums of money to the school and even expressed a wish in his will to be buried within the fence of the school. Archimandrite Petro Mohyla, known for his zeal for enlightenment, set up another school at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery in 1631. Next year the two schools merged to form what was called the Kyiv Mohyla Collegium, later to become an academy. This academy was in fact a university of the European standard.
For several decades the Kyiv Mohyla Academy was training students until 1817 when it was closed down by the Imperial authority (Ukraine by that time had been part of the Russian Empire for about a century) because the czar had grown suspicious of nationalist and freedom-aspiring tendencies in the Academy. In the twentieth century, during the Soviet era, the premises of the Academy were given to a navy school. In 1990, several years into the perestroika, a crowd of enthusiastic young people in opposition to the crumbling Soviet regime, gathered at the navy school demanding it be given to the Academy which was shortly to be resurrected. The picketers spent several days near the school, climbing into the sleeping bags at night. The whole place was hung up with slogans and posters, demanding the navy school be transferred to another place, more conveniently situated and closer to the sea. One day the picketers were greatly surprised to see a number of the navy school students joining them. Officially, an agreement had been reached to resurrect the Kyiv Mohyla Academy but the admiral who was at the head of the navy school refused to cede the place to the Academy. 45_0.gif (7709 bytes)
Banner of the Kyiv Mohyla Akademy.
Professor Bryukhovetsky who was the prime mover in resurrecting the Academy, insisted on being received by the admiral and the audience was granted. The admiral dismissed the request supported by a bundle of official documents (the military were all powerful in the Soviet times) and was eager to get rid of Bryukhovetsky himself since, as he said, "it was lunchtime and during the lunchtime I am accustomed to playing chess with my officers". Bryukhovetsky immediately offered to play a game of chess suggesting a bet: if the admiral loses he will present Bryukhovetsky with a key to at least one room.
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Professor Vyacheslav Bryukhovetsky, President of the University of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy.
The admiral reluctantly accepted the offer, not knowing that Bryukhovetsky was a master chess player, and in his turn making his own condition: if he, admiral, wins then Bryukhovetsky is not to be seen in his office ever again.Bryukhovetsky won the first game and the second, and the defeated admiral, keeping "the word of an officer" was obliged to cede the key. That’s how the Kyiv Mohyla Academy began to come back to life.
Vyacheslav Bryukhovetsky, president of the University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, has been interviewed by Marysya Horobets and Andriy Hlazovy, Welcome to Ukraine correspondents.
WU: The resurrection of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, the oldest university in Eastern Europe, can be regarded as an example of bringing back those cultural values which were so thoroughly forgotten and neglected in the Soviet times, times of totalitarian suppression of free thought and nationalist aspirations.
Under the rule of slow-witted despots and bloodthirsty dictators the people lose the memory of the past. The Academy of long and glorious tradition came back to life at the time Ukraine gained her independence. It’s not a coincidence, is it?
Bryukhovetsky: Hardly. I’d call it even symbolic. The original foundation of the Academy dates back to 1615 but there is enough evidence to suggest that the actual school had come into being earlier, at the end of the 16th century.
You see, we know that on October 15, 1615, the Academy received new premises in Podil and the students began their classes on the very same day. It’s a clear indication that a school of some kind, a predecessor of the Academy, had been functioning in Kyiv for some time. We are investigating the problem of the Academy’s actual foundation date. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was the biggest and most prestigious establishment of higher learning in the lands of Orthodox Christianity, that is in Eastern and Central Europe, Greece, Transilvania and Russia. The list of its famous graduates is a long one indeed, with major figures in the then culture, sciences, statesmanship all having been trained in the Academy. The best faculty attracted the best students.

At the end of the eighties of this century the idea of bringing the Academy back to life was taken up by the nationally minded Ukrainians as a symbol of bringing back old Ukrainian cultural and educational traditions. Could you, sir, being the main architect of the Academy’s revival, share some of the memories of those times with us?
Bryukhovetsky: Yes, it was regarded as a symbol of cultural renaissance. Ukrainian intelligentsia rallied around it. On September 11, 1990, the Ukrainian Scientific Association announced its decision to have the Academy brought back to life. The Association which was set up as a public organization and as a sort of a counterpoise to official bodies of scholarship and science, believed the Academy could become a major school and a major factor in reviving the Ukrainian national identity.

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Hetman Petro Sahaydachny.
Though, I must admit it, not all of those who signed up the petition to have the Academy re-established, believed it could be really done. Thousands of people offered their support then and this support meant so much for us. A handful of enthusiasts went ahead and began putting the idea into life. The communist regime, shaken by the problems it was facing then, did not seem much bothered by the prospect of seeing the Academy resurrected either. Probably, the authorities thought nothing would come out of it, so they let us be. We got some official papers which technically gave us the permission to set up a new school of higher education. But no help was offered. They thought we would not be able to find enough money, enough support, that we would not be able to get the navy school out of the old buildings of the old Academy. But we did do what we set out to do. In October, 1991, we announced the official establishment of the University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy and our readiness to start enrolling students. Those were the tough days for my nervous system — what if we would not get enough students for a university that was being brought back to life one hundred and seventy five years after it ceased to function? Besides, we were definitely very much different from a regular Soviet university. Who knows for how long we would survive? My beard began to go grey then because of the nervous strain. One day, when things seemed rather bleak, an old woman was admitted into my office.
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At the cross of the symbolic grave of Hetman Petro Sahaydachny on the University of the Kyiv- Mohyla Academy campus.
"Are you the one," she said, "who’s trying to bring the Mohyla Academy back to life?" I said I was the one. " Oh, then I hope you’ll have the church that’s in it rebuilt too, right? Now, look here, I’ve brought you some strawberries from my garden. Go ahead, help yourself, it’ll give you new strength." My associates and I, we ate the strawberries, we were so touched we forgot to ask the old woman’s name. And right after her visit, the first applicant turned up, followed shortly by many others. How do you like that? Weird, isn’t it?

WU: Now, just a few years later, the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy is one of the best schools in Ukraine, known abroad too.
A lot of problems had to be overcome, right? What ensured the success? The spirit of the old Academy returned to its original place?
Bryukhovetsky: I believe one can speak of three main ingredients of success. The first one —  we’ve managed to bring together an excellent teaching staff. The second one — we’ve developed a new system of picking our students out of numerous applicants, a system of tests. Visiting professors express their amazement at a very high level of knowledge of our students. I find nothing surprising in it. We, Ukrainians, are a talented people, speaking collectively, and once our young people were given a chance to develop their abilities freely, and once we were free from the Soviet corrupted practices in choosing the students, our applicants went ahead and showed what they could achieve.

And the third ingredient of our success — we, from the start, aimed big, our goals very lofty. We think that we are on a par with such universities as Sorbonne, Oxford, Princeton which are among the best schools in the world, we are trying hard to work at such a high level. A very important thing for us was the fact that we managed to get the right for running things independently.

WU: What exactly do you mean by that? Isn’t a university supposed to be a self-sustained and self-regulating unit?
Bryukhovetsky: Yes, but don’t forget that we made our first steps when the Soviets were still in power. The Soviet bureaucrats believed in "regulating the activities of educational establishments" and supervising them tight. They attempted to put us under the control of the Soviet educational system and thus rob us of our independence. I had to fight hard to prevent it. I even threatened to resign if they continued to interfere. I told them I would bring together all the students and tell them that I had lied to them — no more independence, I wanted to create an independent school but I had failed. The threat worked and we were left alone.

WU: You’ve mentioned a special system of tests established to pick out the best students. This system, as far as I know, differs very much from those used in other universities. Have you borrowed it from the west?
Bryukhovetsky: No, not really. In fact, our system is unique. A similar system can be found in England and in the USA. But there the tests are conducted in secondary — "high"-schools and then you send the results of the tests to different universities and they will decide whether to take you or reject you. Unfortunately, we cannot yet trust our secondary schools — the level of corruption is high there and one can just buy a certificate of secondary education with good grades from corrupted officials. It was rather difficult to get our system introduced, even some of the faculty were reluctant. Why has an applicant who wants to study, say, philosophy, to take a test in maths? But an intellectual of today must be a person of very wide knowledge. I do not want to imply that our system of tests is infallible, we do everything with the help of computers, we analyse the results without knowing who actually stands behind them. But we believe that today it’s the best we can have.

We have eliminated every possibility to cheat or buy your way in. Isn’t it better when a clever machine decides whether you’re fit to become a student or not, rather than a round sum of money you pay in bribes to be admitted?
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The Kyiv Mohyla Academy faculty and students at the ceremony of avarding the Honorary Doctor Diploma to Leonid Kravchuk.

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The Kyiv Mohyla Academy students.

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WU: Any new plans for the future?
Bryukhovetsky: We are planning to introduce two new master-of-arts programmes — in journalism and in business management. We are still toying with the idea of opening a department of medicine but at the moment we lack the funds to do it. Once we’ve realized all these plans, we’ll stop developing any new ones along these lines for some time — we’ll have to concentrate on fulfilling what we’ve got.

We are not going to admit more students than we originally planned to have, about seventeen hundred. Well, maybe we’ll bring the figure to two thousand. We are a comparatively small university.

WU: At the very outset, historically, it was not a big school, was it?
Bryukhovetsky: We’ll concentrate, as I said, upon improvements of the quality of our education, we’ll fit our classrooms with new, state-of-the-art equipment. And, of course, we’ll continue to be restoring the old buildings we have classes, offices and labs in.

WU: We’ve been talking about the university but hardly a word was said about its president. What did professor Bryukhovetsky do before he came to be president of the Mohyla Academy?
Bryukhovetsky: I’m a machine builder, by my first education. I worked as a regular worker for some time. Then I wanted to be a journalist. A bit later I went into literature and worked as a literary critic. Headed a department in the Literaturna Hazeta ("Literary Gazette"), a paper of Ukrainian writers. In the Soviet times, journalism was just communist propaganda. I did not like that, left journalism for scholarly studies, wrote a dissertation for a master’s degree, joined the Institute of Literature where I was awarded my doctorate degree. When the national democratic opposition to the Soviet regime was being formed, I joined the national movement Rukh. In those times it was something very much different from what it is today, not just one of dozens of political parties. The Rukh Movement united forces that were eager to bring about changes in society. I was the one who wrote the first Rukh programme.
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Larysa Bryuchovetska, editor in chief of   Kinoteatr ("Movie  House") magazine, and Olga  Bryuchovetska, a member of the editorial board, discussing the net issue of their magazine one of the co-founders of whgich was the University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy.
I did a lot of what we call organizational work for Rukh. I gave a whole year of my life to it, it was a happy year, and a very difficult one at the same time. But frankly, I don’t like to be engaged in politics. So I quit and went abroad to give lectures in US and Canadian Universities. It was then that I thought: why couldn’t we, damn it, have a university in Ukraine similar to American universities? I was fascinated with their system of higher education and tended to view it somewhat idealistically. But the idea got implanted in me and I felt convinced after I saw a hunger strike of students in Kyiv demanding changes in the political system and in education. At that time I stayed most of the time in Canada, working at a university there and as I found out later my own daughter took part in that hunger strike. When I talked to the young people, students camping in the central square of Kyiv, they impressed me by their determination and enthusiasm. One of the students on hunger strike told me: "We’re gonna build up an independent Ukraine. Only after it’s done we’ll go back to studies." These words I remembered well and they were a sort of turning point for me. It is well known that a country without an educated elite has no future. So with a group of people who shared my ideas we got down to business of resurrecting the Mohyla Academy. The rest you already know.

WU: What about your family? Are they in any way connected with the Academy?
They share my views, let’s put it this way. Now my wife publishes a magazine called Kinoteatr ("Movie House") and both my daughters write articles for it. My elder daughter graduated from an art college in Lviv, worked as a journalist for some time, and then went back to studies. She’s a student of the Arts Academy. And my younger daughter graduated from Kyiv Shevchenko University.

WU: Why not the University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy?
I can understand your surprise. I offered her to go to study at the Academy but she turned out to be wiser than me. She did not want people in the Academy saying: of course, she’s got special status, she’s the president’s daughter. At present she manages a cinema club where you can see really good films, not all that terrible stuff they show everywhere now.

WU: Do you have any hobbies, specific likes?
Bryukhovetsky: Well, I’ve mentioned chess but I have no time for this game now. There is one thing I like doing so much —  working on the land. I was born and brought up in town but maybe it’s the call of the forefathers. Some time ago I bought myself a house in a village and I enjoy going there to work in the garden. Friends keep asking, what the hell you need it for? Can’t you buy vegetables in stores or at the open markets? Of course, I can. But it’s a special feeling I get when I’m back to nature that I am after. I’ve written all my books in that village. Whenever I can I go there. Alas, it does not happen too often, you know.

Photos from the archives of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy.

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