Vasily Yeroshenko – blind Lomonosov of the XX century
Vasily Yeroshenko’s name is almost unknown in modern Russia. Being blind, he traveled half the world, learned at least 20 languages (including Japanese, Chinese, Chukchi and Turkmen) and wrote poems, fairy tales, stories and even plays. His collected works includes several heavy volumes. And some of his works have not yet been transferred from the same Japanese into Russian. In the Land of the Rising Sun his name is familiar to almost any student.
Yeroshenko is a forgotten genius of the XX century. Because of his correspondence with foreign friends he was constantly under the supervision of the NKVD. His disability saved him from repression and accusations of “espionage for Japan”. His archives were destroyed and Yeroshenko restored them. He never lost hope and sought for the new until the end.
Vasily Yeroshenko was born on January 12, 1890 in Kursk province in a poor peasant family. At the age of four he lost his sight as a result of serious illness. His parents sent him to the Moscow school for blind children. There Vasily taught himself to play the guitar and later the violin.
After high school, Yeroshenko earned his living playing the violin in Moscow restaurants in the orchestra of blind musicians. One day he met English teacher Anna Sharapova. He studied English and Esperanto.
In 1912 Yeroshenko went to London to study at the Academy of Music for the Blind and the Royal College. In Britain Vasily learned that there was a special school for the blind in Japan. So, he went to the Land of the Rising Sun and came there in 1914. There he made friends with almost all the prominent figures of Japanese art and significant politics. Vasily even fell in love with Kamitika Itiko, one of the most interesting Japanese women of the last century. Many years later, she became a deputy of the Parliament and achieved the prohibition of prostitution in the country. However they broke up.
Yeroshenko was fluent in Japanese and published fairy tales, stories, and poems. In 1959 he published a three-volume collection of his works in the Japanese language in Tokyo.
In 1916, Vasily left Japan and went on a journey through South-East Asia. He traveled to Thailand, Burma, India and China, studied languages and wrote a lot. In 1917 there was the October revolution in Russia. Yeroshenko was expelled from the British India as a “Bolshevik’s agent”. Through Shanghai he was able to go back to Japan to his friends in 1919.
In the Land of the Rising Sun Yeroshenko was acquainted with artist Tsuneo Nakamura, who was often called Japanese Renoir. Nakamura painted the famous portrait of the writer and this work is considered one of the best paintings of Japanese art nouveau. At the exhibition in 1920 it was a furor. Now the portrait is in the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art and is considered a true masterpiece of the national culture.
In 1921, the writer was suspected in having links with the Bolsheviks and was deported to Vladivostok. There was a civil war in the Far East and Yeroshenko went on foot (!) to China. In Harbin famous Chinese writer Hu Yu-chih invited Vasily to Shanghai to teach Esperanto in the Institute. Writer Lu Xun, one of the founders of modern Chinese literature, was interested in Yeroshenko’s creativity and invited him to Beijing. So, Vasily stayed at Lu Xun’s house quite a long time.
In 1924 after a short stay in Western Europe Yeroshenko returned to Russia (he wasn’t allowed to go abroad any more) and worked as a lecturer and then as a translator from Japanese at the Communist University.
In 1929 he went to Chukotka, where he learned the local language and hunt by ear (!).
In the mid-30s he founded the first orphanage for blind children in Turkmenistan. Having studied the Turkmen language, he developed the first alphabet for blind Turkmen. The writer spent ten years in Central Asia.
In 1945 he returned to the European part of Russia and worked at the Moscow School for the Blind. At the end of the 40s he returned to Central Asia and taught in Tashkent.
In 1951 Yeroshenko was diagnosed with cancer. But despite the deadly disease he continued to travel: visited Yakutia, Karelia, Kharkiv and the Donbass.
His long journey ended on December 23, 1952 in his home village Obukhovka.