Ukraine celebrate the 200th birthday of
Taras Shevchenko (09.03.1814-10.03.1861) – the great Ukrainian poet, painter, and humanist.
Hi is considered to be the most recognized Ukrainian poet in the world. During the 47 years of his relentless life, Shevchenko produced numerous poems and artworks, which are valued with the deep respect and honor by nations across the world. His most prominent work Zapovit (Testament) was translated into over 100 languages.
Being a significant contributor to the development of modern Ukrainian language he authored a number of internationally recognized masterpieces: Haidamaky, Hamaliia, Nazar Stodolia, Zapovit, etc. He is the founder of the modern Ukrainian literary language and his poetry contributed greatly to the growth of Ukrainian national consciousness. His influence on Ukrainian culture has been so immense, that even during Soviet times, the official position was to downplay strong Ukrainian nationalism expressed in his poetry, suppressing any mention of it, and to put an emphasis on the social and anti-Tsarist aspects of his legacy, the class struggle within the Russian Empire. In independent Ukraine, he is now viewed as almost an iconic figure with unmatched significance for the Ukrainian nation, a view that has been mostly shared all along by the Ukrainian diaspora that has always revered Shevchenko.
T. Shevchenko was born in the family of a serf in the village of Moryntsy in Zvenyhorodka Rajon, Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine on March 9, 1814. Young Taras became an orphan very early. He was a shepherd, a labourer to a priest and, when he was fourteen, his master took him into the manor house as a boy-servant — “kozachok”. In 1829 Shevchenko’s master moved to Vilno and then — to St Petersburg. He took his boy-servant with him, too. Still in his early childhood Shevchenko was very fond of drawing and his master decided to make a serf painter of him. For this purpose he sent Taras to study painting. The boy was so talented that several artists decided to free him from slavery.
There he met the Ukrainian artist Ivan Soshenko, who introduced him to other compatriots such as Yevhen Hrebuinka and Vasyl Hryhorovych, and to the Russian painter Alexey Venetsianov. Through these men Shevchenko also met the famous painter and professor Karl Briullov, who donated his portrait of the Russian poet Vasily Zhukovsky as a lottery prize, whose proceeds were used to buy Shevchenko's freedom on May 5, 1838.
Later on the young painter continued his studies at the Petersburg Academy of Arts. Karl Brulov influenced Shevchenko greatly. Soon they became close friends. In 1838 Shevchenko wrote his first poems in Ukrainian. In 1840 he published his first book of poems which he named “Kobzar”. His first poetical works are mainly examples of romanticism. The subject of many poems was unhappy love. He also wrote several poems about historical past of Ukraine. In these works he glorified the heroic struggle of the Ukrainian people against their oppressors and their fight for national liberation (the long poem “Gaidamaky”). In 1843 Shevchenko returned to Ukraine. While residing in Saint Petersburg, Shevchenko made three trips to the regions of Ukraine, in 1843, 1845, and 1846. The difficult conditions under which his countrymen lived had a profound impact on the poet-painter. Shevchenko visited his still enserfed siblings and other relatives, met with prominent Ukrainian writers and intellectuals such as: Yevhen Hrebinka, Panteleimon Kulish, and Mykhaylo Maksymovych, and was befriended by the princely Repnin family especially Varvara Repnina.
On March 22, 1845, the Council of the Academy of Arts granted Shevchenko the title of an artist. He again travelled to Ukraine where he met historian Nikoly Kostomarov and other members of the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius a Pan-Slavist political society dedicated to the political liberalization of the Empire and transforming it into a federation-like polity of Slavic nations. He wrote several revolutionary poems directed against the tsarist despotism (“Dream”, 1844, “The Caucasus”, 1845, and his famous “Testament”). Upon the society's suppression by the authorities, Shevchenko was arrested along with other members on April 5, 1847 and exiled as a soldier to Orsk fortress in Kazakhstan. Here, being a soldier, he wrote several novels in Russian. He also painted several of his best pictures. In 1857 Shevchenko returned from the exile to St Petersburg. Here he published several of his masterpieces in which he criticized the tsarist regime and demanded liberty for serfs. In St Petersburg he made close friends with well-known Russian writers — N. Chernyshevskyi, N. Dobrolubov, N. Nekrasov and others. In 1859, when Shevchenko went to Ukraine, he was arrested and forced to return to St Petersburg — the tsarist government was afraid of the elderly poet. On the 10th of March, Shevchenko died. His death was a great loss for Ukrainian literature and liberation movement — A. Gertsen published a big article on Shevchenko’s death in his magazine “Kolokol” in London.
Shevchenko is the favorite author of millions of Ukrainians, a real people’s poet. Rarely in the world's history has an individual gripped the hearts, the imagination, and the intellect of a nation to such an extent and degree as Taras Shevchenko has done to that of the Ukrainian people. And what is more rare is the spell his spirit continues to exercise to this very day on the most divergent classes of Ukrainian nation: rich man, poor man, beggar man - all fall under the sway of his influence. There must have been some very unusual power in him and his works to have evoked for him such a feeling of love, respect and submission among Ukrainian people.
During the 37th General Assembly in Paris, France United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO appeal the word to celebrate the 200th birthday of this outstanding figure of the Ukrainian history.
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 until 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.