In 2007, in response to the call from teachers of Ukrainian language and literature, the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee pioneered a program-competition titled, “From childhood to Taras.” The purpose of this program was to promote and foster patriotism and identity among the youth of Ukraine through study and recitations of poems by Taras Shevchenko.
This competition begins every year in March in villages. Then, the winners compete in districts, and the district winners compete in the finals in their oblasts. Those winners are awarded a two-day trip to Kaniv and Kyiv. On March 22, the first group of winners, schoolchildren from the Luhansk area, arrived in Kaniv to pay homage to the bard of Ukraine. The group consisted of 35 persons.
Let us remember that on this date in 1861, Shevchenko’s remains, according to his wishes, were brought from St. Petersburg to Ukraine. The students were privileged to take part in the commemoration and festivities of such a historic event. They participated in the panakhyda at the Uspensky Sobor where on May 20-22, 1861, the remains of Shevchenko lay in state. Following the service, all proceeded to the Chernecha Hora, the grave of Shevchenko. Later they laid flowers at the monument of the martyr Oleksa Hirnyk, who burned himself to death as an act of protest against the Russification of Ukrainians.
The youngsters then enjoyed a tour of the Shevchenko Museum and surprised the museum staff with gifts they had made. A most impressive gift was a Tryzub made by Daria Bezdenezhna from Svativska School. Sofia Severodonetska delighted the visitors to the museum with her recitation of “Kateryna,” one of Shevchenko’s beloved poems.
In addition to Kaniv, the young students from Luhansk had the opportunity to visit Kyiv, pay homage at the monuments of the Heavenly Brigade, see the Holodomor Museum, worship at the St. Michael Sobor and visit the military base of the National Guard of Ukraine. There, they learned how to administer emergency aid and even took part in a relay race.
The two days passed much too quickly. The youngsters returned home happy with many unforgettable memories. In fact, 12-year-old Ivan Bobok from the town of Bilovodska took with him a lump of earth wrapped in white cloth from the grave of Shevchenko. War had made these children more mature and more aware of their Ukrainian identity.
Because of UUARC donors’ generosity, our children became more conscious of the importance of Taras Shevchenko to Ukraine. They were able to visit many Ukrainian shrines, experience the majesty of the Dnipro and the beauty of their native land. You helped plant the seed of patriotism in their young souls. My sincerest appreciation and gratitude to all.
The letter-writer is director of the UUARC Bureau in Ukraine’s capital.