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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Taras Shevchenko’s travels

On a new local history guide for Poltava region
5 June, 2014 - 11:23
TARAS SHEVCHENKO. KOTLIAREVSKY’S HOUSE IN POLTAVA (1845). WATERCOLOR ON PAPER / Photo illustration from Yevhenia STOROKHA’s book Poltava in the Life and Works of Taras Shevchenko

One can only welcome coming of local budget-funded books to the domestic book market. Thanks to the efforts of publisher Hovorov, home region of Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Kotliarevsky, and Panas Myrny saw publication of Poltava in the Life and Works of Taras Shevchenko, a popular treat-ment of the theme authored by Kotliarevsky Poltava Literary Memorial Museum’s leading research fellow Yevhenia Storokha and dedicated to the Bard of Ukraine’s 200th birth anniversary.

The guide opens with a thematic map on the book’s flyleaf, which shows towns and villages of 19th century Poltava region, visited by Shevchenko during his travels around Ukraine. Apart from modern and ancient names of localities, it features the dates of the poet’s arrivals and routes of his movements. For example, Taras Shevchenko visited the town of Pyriatyn, also displayed on the map, several times in 1843, 1845-46 and 1859, while Myrhorod saw him only once in 1845.

Storokha set herself an ambitious goal to explore the period of Shevchenko’s life that had been associated with his visits not only to Poltava, but also the adjacent towns, villages and hamlets.

During his travels around the land of legends and folk tales, Shevchenko repeatedly met locals. The author believes that two prominent sons of Poltava, Gogol and Kotliarevsky, always aroused particular reverence in Shevchenko and were perceived by him as “awakeners of a people lulled into inaction.” He considered the former “a genius of geniuses” and the latter his literary father. It was no coincidence that the Bard of Ukraine devoted quite a few poetic lines to these two Ukrainians, depicted the creator of Eneida in his novel The Twins and left many paintings that give us an idea of their everyday life.

Traveling around Poltava region, Shevchenko did a lot of sketches of architecturally valuable buildings (churches, monasteries) and landscapes that he later included in album Picturesque Ukraine.

 Poltava in the Life and Works of Taras Shevchenko deals also with the poet’s participation in the Saints Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood (labeled as the Ukrainian-Slavic Society in archival materials produced by the 3rd Department of His Imperial Majesty’s Private Chancellery). That secret society included some members from Poltava region as well. By the way, unlike Panteleimon Kulish, Vasyl Bilozersky, employed then as history teacher in Poltava schools and one of the founders of the society, was making every effort to shield Shevchenko during the investigation launched by the tsar’s gendarmes.

The book’s author provides other interesting facts that shed some more light on Shevchenko’s Poltava period, describing in particular his attempts to set up a family, when the poet half-jokingly asked his friends in writing to find him a snub-nosed Poltava girl.

We know from his contemporaries’ memoirs that Shevchenko concerned himself with educational matters at the end of life despite worsening health.

“Throughout the fall of 1860, from September to November, Shevchenko was preparing for publication his South-Russian Primer, which targeted Sunday schools, being actively set up at the time by progressive-minded civic activists,” Storokha noted. “Oleksandr Konysky, a well-known Ukrainian translator, writer, and publisher, stated: ‘The movement was really strong, as even such a small town as Poltava was then hosting five Sunday schools, two Saturday schools and one daily school serving the masses.’ Shevchenko included in his Primer texts of Creed, Our Father and Ephrem the Syrian’s Prayer, which he considered fundamental to a person’s moral education.”