Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Kharkiv's Shevchenko Park

Here's Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian hero who has cast a lingering shadow through history. Don't tear me apart for this, but in my mind he's like the Abraham Lincoln of Ukraine.

Both Lincoln and Shevchenko lived during the same times- their births and deaths were just a few years apart. They have completely different stories, of course- one was a poet whose career was ended by a tsar, the other a politician who saw his country through a civil war- but they're memorialized in imposing statues* as national patriots everywhere throughout their respective countries. Plus, nowadays Abe's got the $5 bill and Taras has the 100 uah bill (now worth about $5 USD). When I say Shevchenko is Ukraine's Lincoln, I mean that he's remembered with that same feeling, that the history books label them both as men who stood up for their nations.

*(Although Lincoln often gets the heartbroken look and Shevchenko gets the badass glare.)

But enough about history- you can get more of that here- this post is competition for last December's sad poetry night. Here's the contender for sad poetry champion: a Taras Shevchenko poem...

Чого мені тяжко, чого мені нудно
Why do I feel so heavy? Why so weary?

Чого мені тяжко, чого мені нудно 
Why do I feel so heavy? Why so weary?
Чого серце плаче, ридає, кричить, 
 Why does my soul in wailing grief lament
Мов дитя голодне? Серце моє трудне,  
Like a starved child? Ah, heart oppressed and dreary,
Чого ти бажаєш, що в тебе болить?   
What do you wish? What is your discontent?
Чи пити, чи їсти, чи спатоньки хочеш? 
Are you for food, or drink, or sleep aspirant?
Засни, моє серце, навіки засни, 
Sleep, then, my heart! Sleep forever,
Невкрите, розбите,—
Shattered, uncovered...
А люд навісний , нехай скаженіє... 
Let the mad go mad...
Закрий, серце, очі.  
Close, close your eyes, my heart!

How's that for gloomy? I swear some figures on the statue were made with that poem in mind. On a sunny day, though, the statue takes on a different light. It's a gathering point for friends, lovers, tourists, and rallies-

It's a place for following this tradition (does anyone know the details?)-

And there's poorly-publicized-but-very-real Taras Shevchenko moustache tourism-

Even those poor tortured souls surrounding the pedestal look slightly more hopeful in direct sunlight-

This is one of Kharkiv's most famous landmarks, in one of the city's most famous parks- Shevchenko Park. This park is one of the billion things I miss about Ukraine. Spend even a day in Kharkiv and someone will bring you to this very park to take a long afternoon прогулка, get ice cream, listen to the young guys playing guitars on benches, visit the zoo / dolphinarium / fountain, or even just cut across the park to Freedom Square.

Most people also make a quick stop here at the 50th parallel, reported to bring happiness to whomever steps on it (or so they say...)-

So there you have it- the famous statue in the famous park named after a famous poet. The poem's translation, by the way, came mostly from here... and really, not all of the other poems on that site are quite so glum!

If you get it in your mind to learn one of his poems by heart, try Заповіт (My Testament):
That's just the first stanza; follow the links above for more. And here's your homework: recite this Ukrainian poem in front of an actual Shevchenko statue somewhere in Ukraine ;)


  1. Great post, Katherine. One of the best writes up about Shevchenko I've ever read - a touch of good humor always works miracles :)

  2. What a wonderful post! I also miss Svechenko park the most from my time there. I spent many a lovely afternoon there and had some interesting epiphanies while people watching.

  3. What a wonderful post! I also miss Svechenko park the most from my time there. I spent many a lovely afternoon there and had some interesting epiphanies while people watching.

    1. Hi Dacia! So glad it brought back good memories for you. It's definitely one of the top places in town for people watching :) Did you by chance live downtown near the park?

  4. Hello from Guatemala! I'm a Brit, just bought some land and a cottage south of Kyiv, ex-pat 20 years in Japan, and so on, so yah, thanks for your blog as I am perusing the net for 'real experiences' in UA and came across yours. Thanks. Maria

    1. Hola Maria :) Property in Ukraine? That's exciting, congrats!! Are you thinking of moving there full-time?

      Also, it sounds like you have a rather adventurous life story... do you keep a blog? I was in Nicaragua last month, just missed you by a few hundred kilometers!