Dad was an avid philatelist before I was born. It all started in his youth.
Born into a family of wealthy farmers from the Rivne region of Ukraine, they could barely make ends meet after dekulakization.1 Dad spent his childhood hungry. When he arrived at the Lviv Academy of Veterinary Medicine after serving in the Soviet army, he had nothing to his name.
He studied well and received a scholarship. It was during this time that he became interested in stamps. He had a lot of passion, but little money leftover from his scholarship. He worked part-time, on the night shift unloading coal trains. He was paid 40 rubles for each car unloaded, which he spent on philately.2
He mostly collected thematic stamps featuring art, flora and fauna.
My dad made his first stamp album himself from loose pages, and he corresponded and exchanged stamps with Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian philatelists.
Over more than 30 years, he developed quite the collection.
And then I was born.
His priorities changed; my parents worked hard and did their best to provide me with a good childhood and education.
There was a time when Dad wanted to sell his collection – there were many interested buyers, but I begged him not to.
Sometimes I joke that I am the most expensive stamp in his collection, but he corrects me, saying “You are not a stamp, Mariika.”3
Looking through his collection with him is always a joy. As a child, I always asked him to show me “the pretty ones with the kittens.” I never touched the album myself. I knew you should not touch stamps with your bare hands. Dad would take a magnifying glass and tongs, and we plunged into the world of these colorful scraps of paper.
In the 28 years since I was born, a single new stamp has appeared in my Dad᾿s collection. Although I have been living on my own for a long time, my father did not return to philately.
He says he has lost interest.
I know that this is not so.
A light flashes in his eyes whenever you ask about his stamps.
“Look at these, they were published in the Ukrainian People᾿s Republic.4 Ours, Ukrainian. 1919. Do you see this one? It is valuable because it is an error. It was quickly withdrawn from circulation, but I managed to buy it,” he laughs. “Here are those precancels from Cuba. I loved to collect art. Here I have a little communist stamp. They seemed evil to me, but I was happy to exchange them for something better. Someone was collecting those as well.”
From time to time, I thought about reviving my dad's passion. It seemed natural and effortless.
When Ukrposhta issued a stamp with the hero of Snake Island (shown above), I felt – this is it.5
But it turned out, I was not fast enough – the stamps disappeared, quickly selling out as soon as they appeared. The excitement is wild, because the stamp is so inspiring.
I saw ads periodically for the stamp on a well-known online platform, where these legendary stamps were being sold for 10, 20, 30 (and sometimes more) times their original price, and weighed the arguments, but then a friend simply gave me the stamp.
But in fact, it is so much more than just a stamp.
A small piece of adhesive paper with a ship and a figure eloquently showing his middle finger created a real miracle.
My Dad turned into a little boy who had just been given a new toy. His eyes gleamed and he stared at the stamp through the thick lenses of his glasses with fascination and amazement.
Dad spent a long time flipping through his albums looking for the right place to put it, and I secretly planned to find and buy a new one – it will definitely be needed.
The Russian ship stirred a faint smoldering fire and lit a new one.
It started a new page.
There are so many more wonders in the whimsical world of these colorful postal miniatures.
Now I will travel this world with my Dad. Together.
The Author & Translator
Mariia Krystopchuk is a Lviv, Ukraine-based illustrator, and can be found on Instagram @septemberelle.
A.M. LaVey is the New York-based librarian for visual culture at The Ukrainian Museum and the Ukrainian indexer for the American Philatelic Research Library.
1. Dekulakization was a series of Stalinist policies designed to wipe out the prosperous peasant farmer class.
2. Equivalent to about $10 today.
3. Stamp is marka in Ukrainian, so the two are alliterative: марка, Марійка.
4. An autonomous Ukrainian nation in existence from 1917 to 1920, issuing their first stamps in 1918.
5. Ukrposhta is the Ukrainian postal service.