Excursion into the Past.
Old newspaper article from the "Ukrainian Weekly" archive about how the work and the spirit of Taras Shevchenko had been shockingly misrepresented in typical USSR pseudohistorical film.
Svoboda. Ukrainian Daily. ("Свобода. Український щоденник.")
The Ukrainian Weekly supplement.
Monday, August 25, 1952 No. 34.
Taras Shevchenko in the Light of Soviet Russian Propaganda
The celebrated bard of the Ukrainian people scandalously represented in kremlin film
For some weeks now the Stanley Theatre on 7th Avenue and 41st Street in New York City has been featuring a Soviet-produced film, entitled, "Taras Shevchenko." To judge by the title, the film deals with the life and times of Taras Shevchenko, the greatest poet of Ukraine, a symbol of Ukrainian national rebirth and a prophet and ardent advocate of a free and independent state of Ukraine.
Those Ukrainian and foreign admirers of Taras Shevchenko who have viewed this film, however, know otherwise. The work and the spirit of the man have been shockingly misrepresented in this typical USSR product. Produced by the Kiev Film Studio under the direction of Igor Savchenko, the film was made by an alleged Ukrainian film company in Kiev. Its language, however, is Russian; only some of the poetry and songs of Shevchenko", who is portrayed by Serhey Bondarchuk, are rendered in Ukrainian.
In the viewer's mind one question arises immediately: What was the aim of the Politburo in producing this pseudohistorical film about Taras Shevchenko? What is its function, inasmuch as it does not begin to give a true picture of the life and struggle of this great and immortal Ukrainian?
For some decades biographical films in the Soviet Union have been powerful weapons of Soviet propaganda and aggression. Such patently chauvinistic films as "Ivan the Terrible," "Peter the Great," "Alexander Nevsky" and "Minin and Pozharsky" have shamelessly glorified Russian military might and greatness, in order to imbue the new Soviet generation with ideas of grandeur, political superiority of the Soviet Russian system of government, and military invincibility of Russian arms.
But Taras Shevchenko was not a military man nor was he a conqueror. All his life he fought against the tyranny of Moscow — now beging glorified by the Politburo and the Stalinist clique and, because of his intransigeant opposition to Moscow's rule over Ukraine, was sent into exile. Broken both in flesh and spirit, he died a premature death.
Yet the Russian totalitarians were not to be denied. Spurred by their perennial fear with regard to the loyalty of the Ukrainian people to the Soviet regime which was imposed by force of arms, they have managed to capitalize upon the magic of the name of Taras Shevchenko. The film, "Taras Shevchenko," is but another step in the longrange political plan to rewrite the history of the Ukrainian people. For with this cinematic piece of propaganda the Ukrainians of the present are shown that in the past all great Ukrainians, including Taras Shevchenko, were deeply devoted to the "great Russian people" and and that they never wanted to be separated from Russia.
Such — inescapably — is the basic motivation of the Kremlin movie-makers who produced Taras Shevchenko." With this film the Russian totalitarians are creating the myth that Taras Shevchenko, too, was a "glorifier of Russian culture, language and the Russian people themselves," and that he, too, was an ardent supporter of Russian "protection" over the Ukrainian people. That this is totally untrue historically is irrelevant and less than unimportant to the Soviet mentality.
The Real Shevchenko
Here, however , the Russians have bitten off more than they can chew, for every Ukrainian knows the real Taras Shevchenko. Born in 1814 of a family of serfs, he gained his freedom through friends who procured enough money to buy it for him. With the publication of his Kobzar, a collection of Ukrainian patriotic poems, Shevchenko became known overnight throughout the whole of Ukraine. He was hailed as a prophet and and awakener of the Ukrainian people, and a symbol of the struggle of the Ukrainian people against Moscow.
In 1847, the Russian uprootted the Brotherhood of St. Cyril and Methodius in і Kiev, a patriotic organization of Ukrainian intellectuals which aimed at the overthrow of the Czar and which, in addition to Shevchenko, numbered such prominent "Ukrainian leaders as Mikola Kostomariv and Panteleimon Kulish. Shevchenko was arrested and sentenced to 10 years of compulsory service in the Russian army in Asia. Czar Nicholas I in his own hand prohibited Shevchenko from writing or painting, so as to render him important spiritually and thus negate this tremendous revolutionary threat. Despite this interdiction, Shevchenko succeeded in writing some of his most fiery anti-Russian poetry, denouncing the Czar and his corrupt, tyrannical and barbaric government. When Shevchenko was released from exile in 1857, he was acclaimed by the entire Ukrainian people as a national hero. He made a triumphal return to Ukraine, where he found many friends among the Ukrainian intelligentsia and nobility, as well as among liberal-minded Russian intellectuals. Four years later this great and moving spirit was no more.
Soviet Shevchenko — Un-Ukrainian Shevchenko.
The Ukrainian in the USSR does not recognize this Shevchenko in the Soviet-made film. He sees instead a fantastic Soviet Shevchenko who is perturbed about the fate of the Russian empire. He is offered the incredible sight of a Shevchenko who talks like a Russian patriot and supporter of a vast territorial empire. He is asked to reconcile with the legend of Shevchenko handed down to him over the generations the Soviet "facts" that the friends of Shevchenko were all Russians, and that the Ukrainians Shevchenko knew were villainous characters, his personal enemies as well as the enemies of the Ukrainian people. Dobroliubov and Cherniehevsky, two Russian intellectuals (who were Shevchenko's friends and who were not supporters of the Russian empire) are shown in the film as being responsible for the release of Shevchenko, although Shevchenko actually served his full ten years of exile. The Ukrainian is shown nothing of Shevchenko's love for the Ukrainian language and for Ukrainian folklore, nothing of the influence of early Ukrainian writers, such as Hrebinka. Soshenko and Kotlyarevsky, of his literary activity.
For the Ukrainian in the USSR the Soviet film about Taras Shevchenko is, of course, nothing more than a reminder of his own enslavement. Today, the Bolsheviks, the true successors of the Czars, are exiling millions of the Ukrainians, in order to intimidate the entire population into the belief that unless the Ukrainians' accept the domination of the "oldest brother" (Russia), they will succumb to domination at the hands of the "American imperialists." And we can expect to see more such films as "Taras Shevchenko" being fed to the Ukrainian nation, as an important part of the diet of Big Lie. But the technique of the Big Lie has not worked well in Ukraine, as witness the continuous upheaval in all forms of Ukrainian life since the throttling of the Ukrainian state in 1920. But "Taras Shevchenko" cannot but be too much; it is more than indigestible; it is a violent emetic.
UKRAINIAN WEEKLY, MONDAY, AUGUST 25, 1952 No. 34.