Posts Tagged ‘Ukrainka’

In Shevchenko Land

In Shevchenko Land

March 17, 2010  |  Comments Off

Making the Chapter:

Nowadays Ukrainian writers can write about anything, but not so long ago that was an unrealistic hope. Blogging has replaced the underground press (Samizdat). Twenty years ago a dissident novel had the power to disrupt communism, but today it is the journalist that can bring down the government. The novelist and the novel have lost their power. In In Shevchenko Land I go on a bus journey through central Ukraine, in the company of a lively and spirited Librarian (yes, I know those words are not often seen in conjunction), to discover the heritage of literary greats such as Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko and Lesya Ukrainka.  I confront the confusing identities of Anna Akhmatova and Nikolai Gogol (who in Moscow can accept that Gogol is not Russian?) and take a peep at just how Russian was the “Russian” Avant–Garde.


The police had searched the coffin for sabres and rifles but the real weapons Shevchenko left behind — his words — were unconquerable and mighty. During his lifetime his work was reviewed in the Russian, French, Spanish, and Italian press, and he was mentioned for the first time in the English-speaking world in a magazine edited by Charles Dickens. By the end of the twentieth century, his work had been translated into more than one hundred languages.

By mid-afternoon we arrived in Kaniv and there was a mood of anticipation in the bus. We climbed the hill, a gentle stroll of an hour or so. Until 1918 a simple Celtic cross had stood on his tomb, but in 1939 — with the Soviet re-branding of Shevchenko complete — the famous sculptor Matvei Manizer designed a series of granite steps leading to a seven-metre pedestal on which stands a figure of Shevchenko bowing his recalcitrant head in thought.

On top of the hill the mood was one of unbridled joy. Small groups of pilgrims dotted the site: some were singing gaily, others gathered around as someone recited verse, and others simply admired the breathtaking view of the river. A strong breeze was blowing. Shevchenko always had a deep concern for Ukraine’s future, but he would have gladdened to learn that a hundred and thirty years after his death an even stronger breeze had blown away the shackles from his Cossack maiden.