Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ukrainians and Russians, an article and a new book

This post has nothing to do with Ukrainian music, but much to do with Ukrainian history. It is also a piece of shameless self-promotion.

I just read an interesting article on E-Poshta, entitled: "PERSPECTIVES: St. Petersburg's anniversary." Penned by columnist Andrew Fedynsky, it first appeared in the Ukrainian Weekly (05/25/03). Among other things, it's rich with historical context explaining the roots of Ukrainian-Russian animosity:

Although it's more than 600 miles north of Kyiv, St. Petersburg looms large in Ukrainian history and culture. Ukrainians first arrived there in substantial numbers in 1709, after Hetman Ivan Mazepa's defeat at the Battle of Poltava where he fought to free Ukraine from Russian rule. To punish what he saw as disloyalty, [Russian Czar] Peter condemned tens of thousands of Kozaks to build canals and drain marshes, clear forests, drag stones to pave the streets, cut, hew and haul lumber to the banks of the Neva and drive piles, build docks. The slaves lived in crowded, filthy huts in the midst of swamps and squalor. Many died from malaria, scurvy and dysentery. In the wintertime, they froze. According to estimates from Peter's time, at least 100,000 people died building his city.

One hundred twenty years later, another slave arrived there: Taras Shevchenko. Soon, he met fellow Ukrainians, notably, the painter Ivan Soshenko and writer Yevhen Hrebinka who convinced some influential Russian friends to arrange for Shevchenko's emancipation. The rest is history. Once free, Shevchenko applied his genius to the 'Kobzar,' the poetry collection that tapped into the ancient songs he'd heard as a boy. The wandering minstrels who sang them helped Ukraine's peasant-serfs maintain their national consciousness more than two generations after the last Kozak stronghold, the Sich, had been destroyed. Published in 1840 in St. Petersburg, the 'Kobzar' is easily the most important book in Ukrainian history. As for the orphan whose poetry mobilized a defeated nation and changed the course of history, his story has been elevated to mythological levels. "

Now for the self-aggrandizement. My first published work of fiction, a short story about a young Canadian who goes to Ukraine to experience the Orange Revolution, will appear in a book that takes its inspiration from Shevchenko and his book "Kobzar" and hopes to continue his work. The book is a collection of 12 short stories (fiction and non-fiction) spanning 100 years.

The Kobzar's Children: A Century of Untold Ukrainian Stories is scheduled for release in June and of course I'll keep you posted! You can also check the progress on Marsha Skrypuch's blog.

Incidentally, the book is slated for release in the United States in the near future. Stay tuned!

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