Like any other nation, the Belarusians are unique in their own way. They have for centuries celebrated their lands, using different language and names. Many of those who were born here do not consider themselves Belarusians as the borders moved faster than they could identify themselves inside. It was in the 20th century that Belarus got its present name and got the capital changed from historic Vilnius to a more central Minsk. Even now it is difficult to expect a Belarusian to be patriotic: the citizens of Belarus are a nation but not nationalists, a people who are unsure about their national roots and characteristics.
Barys Kit (Boris Kit) is a unique Belarusian, who is well-known far beyond the boundaries of his country and who has not abandoned his roots and his native language. In April 2010, Kit has turned 100 years old. A renowned scholar, mathematician, physicist, chemist, doctor, member of various astronaut societies, including the International Academy of Astronautics, Kit celebrated his birthday in Frankfurt, Germany. And, as always, he talked a lot about Belarus.
Kit was born in St. Petersburg to a Belarusian family in 1910 and at the age of 8 moved to his father’s homeland, the Belarusian village of Aharodniki, today part of Karelichi in the Hrodna region. He graduated from the Polish school (1926) and the Belarusian high-school in Navahradak (1928), received master's degree in Mathematics and Physics from Vilnius University named after Stefan Batory (1933). In his third year of university Kit began teaching mathematics at the Belarusian gymnasium in Vilnius; and, in 1939, at the age of 29, he was appointed director of this gymnasium.
As at the end of 1939 Vilnius became part of Lithuania, Kit returned to Belarus and headed the revived Belarusian school in Navahradak. As a school inspector of the Baranavichy District, he contributed to the foundation of hundreds of Belarusian primary and dozens of secondary schools.
During the German occupation of Belarus, Kit continued to be active in his educational work. He got the permission of the German authorities to open a School of Commerce and Administration in Maladzechna, which, despite the German ban, offered university programme. The disciples of this school were not subject to expulsion to Germany as forced labour.
All in all Kit spent in Belarus 26 years. Already in 1944, expecting accusations of collaboration with the Nazis, Kit left for Germany. In Munich he studied at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Munich, and taught mathematics at the Ukrainian school.
In late 1948, at the age of 38, Kit moved to the United States. In addition to the Belarusian, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, French and German, he learned English. In the States, he worked as a pharmacist and chemist until he found himself as a mathematician and systems analyst in the field of space research.
It was Kit who discovered the importance of liquid hydrogen for space fuel. His research was crucial for the development of American cosmology. He was the author of the first ever textbook on space fuel as well as the calculation of the flight path of the American spacecraft to the Moon.
Since 1958 Kit has been a permanent delegate to the International Astronaut Congress. At the same time, he had been teaching mathematics at the University of Maryland.
In 1960, the Belarusian headed the first bilateral meeting between the USSR and the USA. As a result of those negotiations the Soviet-American programme Soyuz-Apollo was launched in 1972. For the enormous contribution to world science and space exploration the name of Barys Kit was added to the list of important American scientists in a time capsule buried in the wall of the Capitol.
Soon after his arrival to the States Kit established and headed the Belarusian-American committee for cultural, social and political support of his countrymen.
After his retirement in 1972, the 62-year-old Kit moved back to Frankfurt and continued teaching mathematics at the European branch of the University of Maryland. In 1982, he defended his doctoral thesis on the work of one of the most outstanding mathematicians of the twentieth century Sigmund Anton, a professor of Vilnius University. Kit was awarded the academic degree of Doctor of Philosophy in mathematics and history of science.
Kit first came back to Belarus almost half a century after he left it, in 1993. The scholar offered to open in Belarus a national university of the European type. Two biographies of Kit were published by a literary critic Lidzia Savich - Vyartanne (Return) and Cosmas of Belarus (Belarusian Space). He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Hrodna University and became an honorary citizen of Navahradak.
While these are just some facts from his biography, behind them there is a century-long life story, the story of hard daily work, the struggle for survival, experience and self-culture.
Kit has always considered himself a happy man. Being a century old he is beyond time and circumstances, a member of no party, being faithful and dedicated only to science and his land Belarus. Among the ingredients of his recipe for longevity: Belarusian genes, a competitive teaching career, the experience of harsh and hungry years, and, most importantly, a pure conscience. "I have never done any harm to anyone", says Kit.
Kit believes that only a free man can create, improve and be the master of his own destiny. That is how the true Belarusian lived in very different countries and through very different time, but everything he did was in the name - and to the benefit - of Belarus.
By Maryna Rakhlei for the ODB