The boys of Poltava wanted me to pass a message on to Ukrainians in North America. They are disappointed, dismayed and disgusted with the present government in Ukraine. We sat outside a pub (or “pab,” as they say in Ukraine) at the foot of Shevchenko Boulevard, next to the pedestal of what used to hold the Lenin monument. The base is painted in blue and yellow, and the name “Lenin” is fading from the marble. It doesn’t look like the Communist Party is about to restore it.
There I was – in the Kvitka Cisyk Museum in the Kvitka Cisyk School on Kvitka Cisyk Street across from Kvitka Cisyk Park in Lviv. She is very much a presence in Ukraine, even though she passed away at the young age of nearly 45 in 1998. A possibly irreverent and strange thought flashed through my mind as I stood in the museum: if Kvitka were here, she’d love it. With her voice gently surrounding the museum visitor, her albums and photos and family history on the walls, her personal items displayed in the cases – the white open rooms invite the visitor to learn all about her. The museum, opened in 2011, is on the first floor of the Kvitka Cisyk School (School No.
It started out so innocently. A person on a Ukrainian Facebook page was traveling to Ukraine for the first time, and asked what gifts to bring to her family. The suggestions came fast and furious, some practical and worthwhile, some outdated and even bizarre. Somewhere along the way, someone replied, mentioning “Uki,” “Uke” and “Ukie” in the message. A person asked, “What is the expression ukie?” The reply – “A ukie is a Ukrainian whether diaspora or native.” Then all “peklo” (hell) broke loose, going off madly in all directions, way beyond what the original discussion and idea had intended.
WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Shevchenko Year culminated in Winnipeg on March 8, with a gala concert, as the Ukrainian community in Manitoba celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko (1814-1864). Shevchenko was an artist, a writer, a fighter for human rights – and Ukraine’s greatest poet. His influence on the Ukrainian nation was such that his poetry and his image were prominent during the Maidan protests of 2013-2014 in Kyiv. The celebrations will continue well past March, with the most recent event being the opening April 2 of the traveling Shevchenko exhibit at the New Iceland Heritage Museum in Gimli, Manitoba. Speaking at the opening were Gimli Mayor Randy Woroniuk, the museum’s Executive Director Tammy Axelsson, and the curator and writer of the exhibition Orysia Tracz.
All went black. In that second, I felt I would burst a vessel in my brain. The absurdity of what I heard really caught me off guard. I attended the showing of “Music of Survival,” a new documentary on Ukrainian history and culture of the 20th century. It was fascinating and very well researched and presented – a real achievement.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that almost every Ukrainian child in the world knows at least one Taras Shevchenko poem set to music. It could be “Zapovit” (Testament), “Dumy Moyi” (My Thoughts), or “Reve ta Stohne Dnipr Shyrokyi” (The Wide Dnipro Roars and Moans). For most children it would probably be “Sadok Vyshnevyi Kolo Khaty” (The Sour Cherry Orchard near the House). Shevchenko did not intend to write songs, but the language of his poems was so musical – as Ukrainian is – that they became beloved Ukrainian folk songs, some already during his lifetime. Music had always been a part of his life.
The year 988, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, “chaiky,” Ivan Mazepa, Shevchenko, Kobzar, “Pershoho Lystopada” (November 1), Kruty and January 22, 1918. These are the bare minimum dates and names that any Ukrainian kid remembers from Saturday Ukrainian school, or “Ridna Shkola.”
Yes, January 22, 1918 – the first Ukrainian Independence Day, the Fourth Universal, the Ukrainian National Republic. The next year, on the same day, the Unification of Ukrainian Lands took place. But without independence declared in 1918, the unification would not have happened. On Pershoho Lystopada – November 1, 1918, the Western Ukrainian National Republic was proclaimed.