A poet, teacher and composer, Gregory Skovoroda is most famous in the field of philosophy, even earning the sobriquet of the ‘Ukrainian Socrates’.
Skovoroda was born on 3rd December 1772. His musical talents were discovered early in life, and he joined the imperial choir performing in Moscow, St Petersburg and in the Hungarian Empire. The love of travelling never left, and he spend the last part of his life walking around Ukraine, rarely staying in one place too long. Skovoroda adopted a simple, hermit-like existence, writing and studying.
A good video introduction may be found on YouTube. Skovoroda’s writings are described as “simple and straightforward.”
Themes of moralising, the inner struggle between good and evil permeate his metaphysical philosophy.
A piece of music attributed to Skovoroda may be accessed here:
Skovoroda died on 9th November 1794. In 2006, his image was placed on a Ukrainian bank note.
Considered the national poet, Taras Shevchenko was born in 1814 in central Ukraine. He was born into serfdom, not becoming free until 1838 when some friends were able to purchase his freedom.
Shevchenko wrote novel and dramas, as well as being an artist, but is best known for his poetry. His first collection, Kobzar, was published in 1840. A contemporary poet referred to the collection as “a new world of poetry … (an) artistic expression not previously known in Ukrainian writing.” (Ivan Franko).
Haidamky, an epic poem, followed in 1841. By now, he was living in St Petersburg, but made several trips to Ukraine in the 1840s, capturing the scenes in oil and watercolour.
Shevchenko was arrested in 1847 after Tsar Nicholas I read the poem Dream, which he found offensive. The poet was forced to march from St Petersburg to Orsk near the Ural Mountains. He was later sent to a severe penal settlement before being released in 1857. The years of exile and imprisonment contributed to his death in 1861, just days before the emancipation of serfs was announced. He is buried in Ukraine at Taras Hill, neat the Dnipro River.
Will and Testament
When I die bury me in the middle of the steppe of my Ukraine. So I can seize broad the broadback field and Dnipro, twisting, so I can see and hear it roar, roaring, carrying
thieves’ blood to the ocean. Then I’ll toss the fields and mountains and me and burn them all like prayers. I won’t know God till then.
Stash me away then stand, split your chains and spatter the soil with blood and fury, having your body back. Now
in our vast family, the free one, the new one, don’t forget to remember me in good-willed words, a word unangered, quiet.
Alexander Dovzhenko is, along with Sergie Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov & Vsevolod Pudovkin, one of the great silent filmmakers from the Soviet era.
Dovzhenko was born in Ukraine on 10th September 1894, and began his cinema career in 1926. He is most famous for his ‘Ukraine Trilogy‘, the final part of which, ‘Earth‘, is regarded as one of the greatest silent films ever made.
Dovzhenko’s films are characterised by elements of avant garde, camera tricks, slow motion and unsettling framing, most notably in the incredible cinematography of ‘Arsenal‘. “Sequences of invigorating speed and motion are contrasted with images of deathly stillness.” (BFI.org.uk)
The collection has short fiction and poems by, among others, Vololdymyr Dibrova, Oksana Zabuzhko and Bohdan Zholdak.
One of my favourites was a tale entitled ‘To Find Yourself in a Garden‘ by Halyna Pahutiak (born 1958 in the Lviv region, graduated from Kyiv). She has published four books of prose, as well as a novella, ‘The Sun‘.
In 2021, three Ukrainian writers were shortlisted for the EBRD Literary Prize: Andrey Kurkov, Andriy Lyubka, and Oksana Zabuzhko for ‘You Ad Could Go Here‘.
‘Carbide’ has been describes as a tragicomedy, the story of an alcoholic teacher who decides to build a tunnel and smuggle the Ukrainian population into the EU. I have not read this novel, but it is certainly on my ‘to read’ list.
Finally, there is Andrey Kurkov
‘Grey Bees’ is set in the ‘grey zone’ between Ukraine and Russia. The story’s protagonist moves to the Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Born in Lviv, Tania D’Avignon emigrated with her parents to the USA in 1949. She has worked on several National geographic projects, and her art has been reproduced in books in Europe, Ukraine and the States. Tania has exhibited in many USA and Canadian cities, as well as Ukraine and Poland.
Marchuk was born on May 12th 1936 in Moskalivka, Ukraine. The Daily Telegraph (UK) listed him as one of the 100 geniuses of today.
Marchuk graduated from Lviv Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts in 1965, and his work was exhibited in Moscow, Kiev and other Soviet cities but it wasn’t until 1990 that he was officially recognised by the Soviet artistic establishment. His work has now been displayed in New York, Toronto, Detroit, Philadelphia, Massachusetts and Sydney, Australia. The Boston Herald wrote that Marchuk’s paintings “Expressed the desire for independence, the pain and anger, the pride and hope of [his] people.”
Source: Hogan, E (editor), ‘From Three Worlds’, New Ukrainian Writing, 1996, GLAS Publishing
For me, art – is life and revelation. There is no alternative. Simultaniously, art – is a hard labor. I work 365 days a year, and without it I can not exist. This is destiny, karma, judgment, doom.