Ultima Thule

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Taras Shevchenko -- Ukraine Remembers


Taras Shevchenko Monument at Kanev

TARAS SHEVCHENKO'S MEMORY AT CHERNECHA HORA
"Our Ukraine" Press, www.razom.org.ua, Kyiv, Ukraine, May 22, 2004

KANEV - On May 22, the 143rd anniversary of Taras Shevchenko's reburial, Victor Yushchenko with wife Kateryna, son Taras, and two daughters Sophia and Christina visited Taras's Mountain in Kaniv.

The Kobzar's burial place was also visited by people's deputies members of the "Our Ukraine" coalition: Pavlo Movchan, Yuri Kostenko, Ivan Zayets, Yuri Pavlenko, Oksana Bilozir, Yevhen Girnyk, and Mykola Chechel.

The leader of "Our Ukraine" along with his family and his colleagues laid flowers on Taras Shevchenko's grave and participated in the civil funeral rites.

Speaking at the memorial rally dedicated to Shevchenko, Yushchenko noted: "Our Kobzar chose the word to be his profession and his weapon in hard times since that was the only way of fighting for Ukraine."

"Every state begins with language. When the language is lost, the people lose culture. As a result, territorial integrity is lost; the nation is lost. Taras's choice was a wise one, therefore," noted Yushchenko. "Being today close to Taras Shevchenko at Chernecha Hora means knowing what the future of Ukraine will be like," stressed Victor Yushchenko.


TARAS SHEVCHENKO, ARTIST, POET, NATIONAL BARD OF UKRAINE

The Kaniv Museum-Preserve contains the grave of Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) and a museum dedicated to his memory. A monument by K. Tereshchenko was created in 1925. In 1939 a new bronze monument by sculptor M. Manizer was erected and a museum designed by Vasyl Krychevsky and P. Kostyrko was opened. Destroyed during the Second World War by the German army, the museum and the monument were rebuilt.

The Kaniv settlement is the site of an ancient Slavic settlement dating back to the 7th-9th centuries A.D. situated along the right side of the Dnieper River. The city of Kaniv was one of the most important cities in Kievan Rus', it was mentioned in the Kievan Cave Patericon as existing in the last half of the 11th century.

Taras Shevchenko was imprisoned by the Russian Czar in 1847 and not released until 1857, two years after the death of Czar Nicholas. Shevchenko was not allowed to live in Ukraine. He waited for half a year in Nizhnii-Novgorod and then moved to St. Petersburg.

He was permitted to visit Ukraine in 1859 but was once again arrested and sent back to St. Petersburg, where he remained until his under police surveillance until his death in 1861.

Shevchenko was buried in St. Petersburg, but two months later his remains were transferred to the Chernecha Hill, near Kaniv, in Ukraine, a place loved by Shevchenko.

Shevchenko has a uniquely important place in Ukrainian history. He created the conditions that allowed the transformation of Ukrainian literature into a fully functional modern literature. His influence on Ukrainian political thought and his role as an inspirer of a modern democratic ideal of renewed Ukrainian statehood are without parallel.

Shevchenko's poetry contributed greatly to the evolution of national consciousness among the Ukrainian intelligentsia and people, and his influence on various facets of cultural and national life is felt to this day. (Encyclopedia of Ukraine, University of Toronto Press).



"GRAVESIDE ORATION"
EULOGY:
By Panteleimon Kulish in 1861
At Taras Shevchenko's (1814-1861) Original Place of Burial St. Petersburg, Russia, March 12, 1861

No one among us is worth of speaking in our native Ukrainian at Shevchenko's graveside: all the power and beauty of our language was revealed to him alone. Yet, through him we have been granted a great and cherished right - the right to proclaim the native Ukrainian word over this vast land.

A poet such as Shevchenko is beloved not only by Ukrainians. Where- ever he would have died in the immense Slavic world, whether in Serbia, in Bulgaria, or among the Czechs, he would have been at home.

You were afraid, Taras, that you would die in a foreign place, among foreigners. This could not be! In the midst of your large family you went to your eternal resting place. No Ukrainian has had such a large family as you; no one ever received a farewell like yours.

There have been great warriors in our native Ukraine; there have been great rulers. But you rise above them all and your family is the largest. For you, Taras, tought us that people were not made to be driven to their deaths, cities and villages were not made to be mere possessions; you taught us the sacred, life-giving truth.

....And because of your instruction, people of all tongues have gathered around you, like children around a father; because of your teaching you are kinsman to them all and they conduct you to the next world with tears and immense sorrow.

We thank our Holy Father that we do not live in an age when, for the sake of truth, men were crucified upon the cross or burned at the stake. In neither catacombs nor caves have we gathered to praise a great man for his teaching; we have gathered in the light of day in a great capital and together our sincere gratitude for his life-giving word.

Rejoice, Taras, that you have not been laid to rest in a foreign place, for no foreign place exists for you in the Slavic world, and foreigners do not consign you to the grave, for each good and wise soul is your
kinsman.

It was your wish to be buried on the bank overlooking the Dnipro-Slavuta, for you loved it and painted it and glorified it in resounding words. We have faith that with the help of the Lord we will be able to fulfill this wish.

You will lie in your native Ukrainian soil, on the bank of the famous Dnipro, for you have wedded its name to your own for all eternity. .....And yet you left one other testament for us, Taras. You said in your perfect muse:

My ne lukavyly z tobiou,
My prosto ishly, - u nas nema
Zerna nepravdy za sobi....

We were not cunning, you and I;
We walked a true path, - there is not a grain of untruth behind us...


A great and sacred testament! Be confident, Taras, that we will observe it and will never turn from the path you indicated.

Should we ever lack the strength to follow in your path, should it ever become impossible for us to proclaim the sacred truth without trepidation as you have done, then it would be far better for us to remain silent and allow your great words along to speak the pure, unadulterated truth for all eternity.

The translation is based on the text included in P. Kulish, "Tvory" (Lviv 1919) vi.

"Graveside Oration" is article number two in the book "Shevchenko and the Critics 1861-1980" edited by George S. N. Luckyj, published in association with the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies by the University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Buffalo, London, 1980. The article is found on pages 55-56.



WHAT WERE SHEVCHENKO'S NATIONAL IDEALS?
Written By Borys Hrinchenko in 1892
Excerpts from Chapter Six of B. Hrinchenko, 'Lysty z Ukrainy naddniprianskoi,' in "Bukovyna" Chernivtsi, 1892-1893

...Shevchenko never renounced his past; he correctly perceived the standpoint from which our past should be regarded. He branded as infamous those who were 'the scum of Moscow' and 'the refuse of Warsaw.'
He censured individuals, but strongly supported the popular national movement, whose aims were freedom for all peoples and national freedom for Ukraine.

He did not barter these sacred things for the 'scrap of rotten meat' that some regarded as 'a higher culture.' He voiced the will of the people and their national self-awareness (manifested even in such imperfect forms as the Hetmanate and the Sich).

He did not give up in the face of ruinous despotism of Peter I and Catherine II, of whom we wrote in 'The Dream.' It is shameful to relate that some ten years ago [1882] crudely adulatory odes were addressed to them in Ukrainian, reminding one of the old panegyrics to Ukrainian land-owners or the 'Ode to Prince Kurakin.'
Shevchenko did not cut himself off from our historical background for he knew that this must not be done; he clearly saw the flag of his nation when no one else did.

Shevchenko was the focus on which popular wisdom, feeling, and hope converged. In his soul he encompassed all that could be found in the souls of millions of Ukrainians wearied by slavery, and this is why we call him a genius.

I repeat that, regardless of minor faults in his work (and whose work is faultless?), Shevchenko's national awareness made him a genius, and his immeasurable importance and significance in the national rebirth of his country made him a phenomenon unique, perhaps, in the entire world.

At a time when his predecessors hardly dared mention Ukrainian independence in their work, and if they did, understood the notion not as national independence but as the very limited independence of a part of the 'united and indivisible Russian people,' an independence contingent upon the good grace of that 'united' nation, that 'elder brother,' Shevchenko in his work clearly presented our independence as a nation.

He regarded all Slavic peoples as a single family. He considered them brothers and wept bitterly to see how disunited they had become, how 'the children of the ancient Slavs are drunk with blood' (Haidamaky). He hoped

That all Slavs will become
Good brothers
And sons of the sun of truth
And heretics
Like the one from Constance -
A great heretic!
They will bring peace to the world
And eternal fame!

('Poslanie do Shafaryka'/'Letter to Safarik')


He thanked Safarik for guiding 'the Slavic rivers into one sea.' Safarik showed the Slavs the way to unity and united action; he showed them a common goal. No proof is needed that Shevchenko recognized each Slavic people's right to complete national independence, and above all the right of the Ukrainian people to it. He fiercely defended this inde- pendence against interference from either the Russian or the Polish side and the spectre of the 'one and indivisible' people did not hold him back in any way.

He began as a supporter of Pan-Slavic unity and brotherhood but soon perceived that unity with one brother, the Muscovite, would not be brotherhood but slavery. The he immediately opposed this 'unity and indivisibility' and did not hesitate to accuse Bohdan Khmelnytsky of capitulation to Moscow.

Oh, Bohdan, my Bohdan, (says Ukraine)
If I had known
I would have smothered you in the cradle, At my bosom lulled you to sleep!


The poet fiercely opposed all despotism (see for example, 'Tsari' [The Kings] and specifically the despotism of the contemporary Russian regime. In 'The Dream' (Son), he described the dreadful wrongs done to Ukraine and expressed the hope that her natural rights to nationhood would be restored.

He perceived that Ukraine has been brought to this state by her own indolent leaders and he did not hesitate to seem unpatriotic in saying to his countrymen:

Consider everything and ask
Yourselves then: who are we?
Whose sons? of what fathers?
By whom, for what enslaved?
Thus they would see that
Your renowned Brutuses --
Slaves, toadies, the scum of Moscow,
Warsaw's refuse are your masters
The illustrious hetmans!

('Poslanie'/'Epistle')

But this did not prevent him from defending those hetmans he thought had fought for Ukraine's independence. He praised Petro Doroshenko for this (in "A black cloud has arisen'/'Zastupyla chorna khmara'). Still, he perceived few like Doroshenko and the fact that some hetmans could 'trounce Poland' did not gladden him as it did other writers.

Unlike Kvitka or Hulak-Artemovsky, he advised his countrymen not to rejoice in their supposed victory over Poland:

You boast: We once
Ruined Poland!......
You are right: Poland fell
And crushed you!


Such a victory should not be celebrated but regretted, for neither the Poles nor the Ukrainians derived any benefit from it; it resulted in bondage for both nations:

Of what do you boast, you,
Son of poor Ukraine?
That you wear you yoke
Even better than your fathers?


The poet fearlessly called his countrymen slaves and blamed them directly for the misfortune of their native land.

More cruelly than the Pole her our children Crucify her!


Shevchenko could not be taken in by superficial patriotism. He often argued vehemently against provincial patriots whom he hated and eventually he painted the following picture of a so-called 'patriot':
Descendant of a stupid hetman
An overeager patriot
And a Christian to boot --
He travels to Kiev each year!
He wears a homespun cloak among the land-owners
And drinks whisky with the peasants
And is a tavern philosopher.
There he is, complete -- ready to be printed.
And in his village he has his pick
Of young girls, and openly christensTen of his bastards a year.
If that were all!...He is a thorough villain! (P.S.')


Shevchenko had no use for the simple-minded patriotism found so frequently among our early writers. He demanded something different from Ukrainians. 'Rozkuitesia! Brataitesia! (Cast off your chains! Be brothers!) he exclaims.

To 'cast off chains' is to cease being the 'scum of Moscow' and the 'refuse of Warsaw' and to realize that we are the sons of a great, independent nation, to cease bowing down before Moscow and Warsaw and to turn our attention to achieving national independence.

But what is national independence? Shevchenko had a completely original conception of it and, significantly, his conception was correct. As he understood it, a nation was a family of brothers endowed with equal rights and only when all (and not only a few) are truly free can their nation also be free:

Unmarked,
But broad and free
The sacred roads throughout
Will lie, and the rulers
Will not find them,
But down the roads the serfs
Without cries or alarms
Will come together
Full of gladness and cheer,
And joyful villages
Will conquer the desert.

("Rejoice, o Field')


That is why the poet urging us 'not to forget our Mother' and, calling down heavenly vengeance on the turncoats who sell their children to the Muscovite butchers (Za dumoiu duma'/'Thought after thought') also protested against all the barriers invented between people and exhorted the land-owners thus:

My brothers, embrace
Your youngest brother, --
So that our mother will smile,
Our tearful mother! ('Epistle')


Only when there are no more masters or peasants but a unified, educated Ukrainian family will Ukrainian national independence be possible and only then

Her good name will be reborn,
The honour of Ukraine ('Epistle')


This was the road to freedom that the poet pointed out to his country- men, and a wide-ranging reform of social reforms was the only means of achieving freedom.
It would be wrong to think that Shevchenko would have been satisfied with, for instance, merely the abolition of serfdom or that his words, quote above, have no wider significance.

He boldly rejected even the seemingly most sacred forms of social organization as soon as he was convinced that they were not in harmony with truth and that they were harmful to people. He saw no truth in the existing forms of social organization.

Pray to God alone,
Pray to truth on this earth,
And on earth never again
Bow before anyone: it is all lies!

('The Neophytes')


The poet perceived another social order and a truth other than that upheld by priests and police. As he said in his 'Testament':

Bury me and arise,
Rend asunder your chains
And baptize freedom
With the blood of the foe.
And in the great household,
In the new, free household
Do not neglect to speak of me
With a kind and quiet word.


The new household will come into being only when:

The people will grow up.
The now yet conceived princes will die
And on the renewed earth
There will be no foe or adversary
But there will be a son, and there will be a mother ? ?
And there will be people on the earth.


Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of a reform of interpersonal relations in Ukraine; even the Church, which strikes its roots deepest into the soul of the people, must be reorganized.

Shevchenko refused to believe in the God venerated by the priests and he wanted no part of the church they had established.

Paradise is before our eyes
But we creep to church
Our eyes tightly closed


The existing 'tomb of a church' must be destroyed to that a new, free church can be established in its place.

This tomb of a church
Will fall into ruin....And from beneath it
Ukraine will arise
And disperse the gloom of slavery,
A world of truth will shine forth,
And the children of slaves
Will worship in freedom.


Only when men become free brothers and when lies no longer prevail in our land, when master and peasant are no more, will national freedom be possible for Ukraine.

It follows from this that if we want freedom from national enslavement we must work for the good of the common, uneducated people, who are oppressed by their evil fate, and if we neglect to do this nothing will result from our work except an empty provincial patriotism.

These, in short, are Shevchenko's thoughts on nationalism. They reveal no chauvinism or provincial patriotism, nor are they tinged with the slavish mentality of his predecessors.

Throughout, Shevchenko saw the Ukrainian people as an independent nation and he demanded for them the rights that belong to every nation as a matter of course.

His independence and hatred of slavery made him despise it everywhere he saw it, even when his enemies were enslaved. Shevchenko harboured no hostility towards the Muscovites as a nation, nor to the Poles as such.

He rebelled against Muscovite oppression but not against the Muscovite nation. He rebelled against Polish oppression in the past but not against the Polish nation. And in his poem 'To the Poles,' he said:

Give your hand to the Cossack
And your pure heart
And again, in the name of Christ
We shall renew our peaceful paradise!


How far removed this is from Kvitka's or Hulak-Artemovsky's wild notions about the Polish situation!

Shevchenko was the first to express clearly the idea of Ukraine's complete independence as a nation, and along with this he maintained a consistent tolerance of other nations; he expressed something completely new and previously unheard-of in Ukrainian writers who preceded him.

The poet dispersed the tissue of lies which until then had obscured the issue of national independence. He was the first Ukrainian with a real national awareness and no one assisted as he did in the creation of a healthy Ukrainian national outlook.

The greatness of his deed can be appreciated only when we understand what darkness prevailed in our land before Shevchenko. His description of Safarik can be far more justly applied to himself, for it was he who lit 'Svitlo pravdy, voli, 'The light of truth and freedom,' and he became Ezekiel.
?????
And wonder to behold, the corpses arose
And opened their eyes.


Shevchenko transformed the dead into living beings, for what were the members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia as Ukrainians if not corpses?

That is why we call him our national prophet and see him as phenomenon perhaps unique in history.

Ukrainian literature will surely produce many more writers as talented as Shevchenko but never again will there be one as significant for the national renaissance; there will be other great writers but never again a prophet. (1892) -30-

"What were Shevchenko's National Ideas? is article number seven in the book "Shevchenko and the Critics 1861-1980" edited by George
S. N. Luckyj, published in association with the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies by the University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Buffalo, London, 1980. The article is found on pages 115-127.



THE TESTAMENT AND MY TESTAMENT
By Taras Shevchenko
THE TESTAMENT by Taras Shevchenko

Dig my grave and raise my barrow
By the Dnieper-side
In Ukraina, my own land,
A fair land and wide.
I will lie and watch the cornfields,
Listen through the years
To the river voices roaring,
Roaring in my ears.
When I hear the call
Of the racing flood,
Loud with hated blood,
I will leave them all,
Fields and hills; and force my way
Right up to the Throne
Where God sits alone;
Clasp His feet and pray...
But till that day
What is God to me?
Bury me, be done with me,
Rise and break your chain,
Water your new liberty
With blood for rain.
Then, in the mighty family
Of all men that are free,
May be sometimes, very softly
You will speak of me?
(Translated by E. L. Voynich, London, 1911)
MY TESTAMENT
by Taras Shevchenko

When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes, The Dnieper's plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.
When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes ... then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields --
I'll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I'll pray .... But till that day I nothing know of God.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

Pereyaslav, December 25, 1845

{Translated by John Weir, Toronto, Ontario, Canada,1961}

Taras H. Shevchenko Museum and Memorial Park Foundation Toronto, Ontario, Canada



TARAS SHEVCHENKO: "REACHING TARAS'S HEIGHTS"

What kind of Ukraine can one see from Chernecha Hill?

By Ihor Siundiukov, The Day Weekly Digest in English Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Shevchenko's work is the acme of the universal human and Ukrainian spirit. This is our national ideal of a person, which was realized within the limits of one tragically brief life. Figures of this magnitude prove that there is and always will be a certain moral, ethical, and social standard - the standard of a free and unrestrained conscience without which the existence of any nation becomes totally meaningless and reduced to brutish sensations.

The tokens of sincere respect that Ukrainians show to Taras Shevchenko every May 22, the day that his body was finally laid to eternal rest on the Dnipro's steep banks, according to the poet's Testament, are as crucial to us as air or food. As Academicians Ivan Dziuba and Mykola Zhulynsky noted recently, the road to Shevchenko is an eternal road, the road to oneself.

What can help us penetrate the soul of our genius and understand why he wished to be buried in this precise spot? One reason was the dazzling beauty of the landscapes in the Bard's native Cherkasy region, where one can feel the vastness of an enormous "divine world," so vividly described by Shevchenko - the boundless steppe and the mysterious, ancient forests that have stood resolutely for centuries on end.

The Day's "task force" (editor-in-chief Larysa Ivshyna; our respected longtime contributors and friends, Professors Volodymyr Panchenko, Viktor Horobets and his son Ostap, and this writer) set out to attend the Shevchenko celebrations primarily to take a look at the people who feel the need "to reach Taras's heights," to climb sacred Chernecha (Monk's) Hill (all sorts of people - whether or not they are successful in life - are bound to do the same thing: make a strenuous effort to climb hundreds of steep steps) not only to make the physical ascent but also to rise above themselves and the humdrum daily routine that too often blinds us and makes us slaves of our own egotism, narrow-mindedness, and malice.

We were all inclined to believe that thousands or even tens of thousands of people from various nooks and corners of Ukraine had come here not because "it is a must," not because of somebody's coercion, but because they have an urgent need to be purified. As Volodymyr Panchenko rightly observed, the past few decades have created such excessively fine filters, both political and ideological, for those who are not indifferent to Shevchenko's name and heritage that only those who have made a really well considered choice have survived.

Chernecha Hill and the foot of the Bard's monument is the very spot from where you can "see Ukraine and the entire hetman's state all around." It is here that Nikolai Gogol (Mykola Hohol) could and, by all accounts did, write the famous phrase "a rare bird will ever fly as far as the middle of the Dnipro." There are very few places as beautiful as this in all of Ukraine. Shevchenko may have been thinking of these Kaniv landscapes, when ten days before his death he wrote,

"Let's look at this world...
Let's look, my destiny...
See how wide,
High and cheerful,
Clear and deep this world is..."


This strip of land above the Dnipro's steep cliffs attracted the poet, who dreamed of buying a house and settling here. In June 1860 Shevchenko wrote to Varfolomei, his cousin twice removed, "There is a small woodland on the outskirts of Monastyryshche, upstream along the Dnipro from the place you chose yourself, on the right bank between Kaniv and Pekari, on a high hill; well away from the town, in the middle of that woodland, there is a glade and a few fishermen's huts down below...A garden can be put in. And my old friend the Dnipro will seem to be flowing right beneath my feet." It was here that Shevchenko dreamed of setting up a "quiet paradise." But this dream was destined to remain unfulfilled.

The Russian satirist and political journalist Vasiliy Kurochkin brilliantly summed up Shevchenko's destiny during the poet's funeral: "He was not destined to enjoy domestic bliss. A different, posthumous, bliss - glory - awaits him." The finest representatives of the Ukrainian intelligentsia (among them Mykhailo Maksymovych, Hryhoriy Chestakhivsky, Panteleimon Kulish, Mykola Kostomarov, Viktor Zabila, Fedir Chernenko, Ivan Soshenko, young Mykhailo Drahomanov, and Volodymyr Antonovych) considered it their sacred duty and a matter of honor to help fulfill Taras's will - to bury him "in the midst of a wide steppe," in his "beloved Ukraine," in a place from where he could see "the boundless wheat fields, the Dnipro, and the cliffs."

That the prophet of Ukraine found eternal rest precisely here, in Kaniv, is an act of ultimate, divine justice, for he passionately loved these places, this sun-drenched and tender-blue Cherkasy region, his homeland.

What was the attitude of the "common" people to Shevchenko back in 1861? This is what artist Hryhory Chestakhivsky wrote to the Bard's friend Fedir Chernenko, "All the serfs of Ukraine know Taras. They know that he, their father and defender, was laid to rest near Kaniv. Country people keep coming over to bow down at his grave. I often see ordinary peasants by his grave: they stand bareheaded with their little bundles on their backs, leaning on their walking sticks, and looking at the grave. I have never seen such heartfelt, quiet, and tender human glances in my entire life, as though their last hope for a better lot in life were lying in this grave" (June 20, 1861).

There is no better way to express this. And what does the figure of Shevchenko and the cause that he served mean to an "ordinary" Ukrainian today, in the uncommonly cold days of May 2004? (But while we were there a delicate sun finally broke through the clouds and warmed the air a bit). Are many of our compatriots able to instantly perceive, as the Bard did, "the sudden light of truth?"

What attracted our attention most of all were the transcendent expressions on the faces of the people climbing the steps to Taras's peak. Such a great variety of people, all united by Shevchenko. Our divided and disoriented society badly needs (and is going to need for many more years) a powerful factor for national and human consolidation, and it is only Shevchenko who can perform this unique role. But this raises the fundamental question: consolidation on what basis? To answer it, one must perhaps recall the quintessence of Shevchenko's oeuvre - his disgust with all forms of slavery, and acute feeling of national and human dignity.

This is no theory but a God-given feeling of many generations of Ukrainians, as unfettered and subliminal as a thirst for spring water or fresh air (not to be "slaves with a badge on their cap" who are "naked in their heart"). It is this that may serve as a powerful unifying force for Ukrainian citizens, no matter whether they are Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, Jews, Tatars, easterners or westerners. For this human feeling is the most worthy of a human being. Yet it requires an effort because it is an act of upward progression.

It is highly significant that a mere hundred or so meters away from Shevchenko's grave, on the very summit of Chernecha Hill, stands a modest and unremarkable cross with the inscription, "Here in January 1978 Ukrainian patriot Oleksa Hirnyk burned himself to death in protest against the Russification of Ukraine." This fact alone convincingly refutes speculations that Ukraine gained its independence without a struggle, "for free," almost like getting manna from heaven.

Yes, Shevchenko's flame burned in the hearts of Oleksa Hirnyk, Vasyl Stus, Valery Marchenko, Petro Hryhorenko, and in James Mace's heart too. But let us ask ourselves: how many Ukrainians have heard anything about Oleksa Hirnyk? The Czech youth Jan Palach, who did the same thing in 1968, when Soviet tanks were rumbling down the streets of Prague, was declared a hero in his native country. This is what they call pride and Europeanness.

Shevchenko's own biography shows what a truly free individual is capable of. The people that we spoke with that day on Chernecha Hill (among them a well-respected historian and public figure, Academician and Hero of Ukraine Petro Tronko; the Bard's great-grandson once removed, Mykola Lysenko; longtime political prisoner Heorhy Fastovets; and the well-known diplomat and deputy of the first Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Stepan Volkovetsky) shared this opinion: Shevchenko is as inexhaustible as life itself. He accompanies an individual throughout his/her lifetime, from cradle to death.

One of our most indelible impressions was when we visited Shevchenko's memorial svitlytsia, the house that contains a collection of such treasured items as books published during Shevchenko's lifetime and exhibits illustrating the public's attitude to the poet. Among other artifacts, the museum has a towel embroidered by Lesia Ukrayinka. The museum's curator Ms. Zinayida Tarkhan-Bereza, who is a talented researcher and a magnificent example of a true, self-denying Ukrainian intellectual, literally enthralled us with her modesty and boundless love for Shevchenko's legacy.
The sky alone is the limit for this extraordinary woman, who recited from memory lengthy fragments from Haidamaky to us. Ms. Tarkhan-Bereza's book Sacred Place, which this true devotee wrote about the history of Kaniv's Shevchenko Memorial, deserves to be in every Ukrainian's home library.

Naturally, we would like to separate the undying soul of Shevchenko - the soul of Ukraine - from the political vicissitudes of today. So we will only note here that a large number of our compatriots who came that day to visit our foremost poet and prophet are likely to belong to what is known as the "protest-minded" (or oppositional) electorate. In any case, as this writer observed, most of the placards brought by political parties, movements, and civic organizations to Chernecha Hill bore the symbols of Our Ukraine whose leader was, incidentally, very warmly received. Nor did the government (the legislative branch, to be more precise) shun the celebrations: representing it was Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, who laid a wreath at the Bard's monument.
Inscribed on this monument are straightforward and eternal words that were so typical of Shevchenko:

"Love your Ukraine,
Love it...
Pray to God for it
In a time of trouble,
In the last painful minute."


Some people may think that these words have nothing to do with them. Still, democracy, reforms, and all our sweeping plans will only come to fruition if there are as many people of this kind as possible.

6 Comments:

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Michael Morrison said...

Thank you for this fascinating history lesson.
All peoples at all times have had at least one leader or would-be leader whose goal was freedom.
We in the United States need frequent reminding that other nations have also sought freedom, and it is, therefore, even more immoral for us to give up ours, despite the Bush administration's worst efforts and such evil measures as the REAL ID bill.
The timeless cry: "Up the rebels!" is another way to say "Give me liberty or give me death!"

 
At 5:20 PM, Blogger Aussiegirl said...

Thanks for the comment, Michael -- Shevchenko is perhaps unique among men and their relationship to their nation, perhaps because Ukraine's history is quite unusual. I commend you for reading articles about someone you've never heard of, and containing strange sounding surnames and mystifying historical references. But the unmistakeable theme that you picked up on is the universality of man's striving for equality, dignity and freedom -- it is this spark of divine fire that God has placed in each human heart which has echoed through the centuries -- from the days of Socrates -- and even earlier -- the desire for freedom and justice rings though the ages - but as you say - it is immoral that we should possess this gift and willingly give it away today, when we have everything to lose, and nothing to gain. Yet countless individuals throughout history gave everything, including their lives, for values such as this.

Shevchenko himself was born a serf -- a nicer sounding word for slave -- his freedom was purchased by the sale of an auctioned portrait by some noblemen and artists who recognized his talent. He received a first-class education, and was a skilled and talented artist. But his heart drew him to the pen - and to the words which burst forth from his good and noble heart. He couldn't bear to see any injustice in the world -- he loved all humanity -- and the dignity of each person -- and he devoted his work, his life, and ultimately his freedom to this cause. And our puking and mewling senators bargain away our freedom for a few dollars and a few moments in front of the cameras. How quickly the many who are weak displace the noble sacrifices of those who have pointed the way for us. Alas, it's always easier to follow the low road -- and much, much harder to scale the heights of the road which leads to justice and right. I suppose - it is the lot and the history of mankind, writ over and over again.

 
At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Pindar said...

Aussiegirl, what beautiful passages you have chosen to honor your Shevchenko, along with a beautiful photograph of his monument! He was only 47 when he died, but the face on this monument is of a man much older, a man they tried to beat down and silence because of his thoughts and ideas. Aussiegirl, you notice I used the phrase "your Shevchenko", because I think that's how Ukrainians think of him, intimately, close to their hearts, part of their soul. I would never say "my Shakespeare", even though I love Shakespeare...it's not the same thing. All the passages you chose only reinforce this idea of the closeness of Shevchenko to the Ukrainian soul. And this quote of Yushchenko's is so very important to keep in mind: "Every state begins with language. When the language is lost, the people lose culture. As a result, territorial integrity is lost; the nation is lost." Let's hope that Yushchenko can keep Ukraine from being lost; he has an enormous task in front of him.

 
At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Pindar said...

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At 10:39 AM, Anonymous online pharmacy said...

Shevchenko has a uniquely important place in Ukrainian history. He created the conditions that allowed the transformation of Ukrainian literature into a fully functional modern literature. His influence on Ukrainian political thought and his role as an inspirer of a modern democratic ideal of renewed Ukrainian statehood are without parallel.

 
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