Turning the pages back...
April 5, 1847
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko's arrest for writing revolutionary anti-imperial verse.
After the national bard's freedom was bought by a group of friends in April 1838, he continued to live in St. Petersburg, where his landowner Pavel Engelhardt had brought him. In the 1840s, Shevchenko traveled extensively. Most importantly, he returned to Ukraine on a number of occasions, and the ravaged state of his homeland made a profound impact on him.
After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg in 1845, Shevchenko joined the Kyiv Archeographic Commission and conducted expeditions during which he sketched historical and architectural ruins and monuments, and collected folklorica and other ethnographic materials. He also met prominent Ukrainian intellectuals, including the writer and scholar Panteleimon Kulish, the historian and folklorist Mykhailo Maksymovych, and the writer and critic Mykola Kostomarov.
Shevchenko also wrote some of his most viciously satirical and politically subversive poems, including "Son" (The Dream), "Velykyi Liokh" (The Great Vault) and "Kavkaz" (Caucasus).
In November 1846 a student, Oleksii Petrov, eavesdropped on the poet Mykola Hulak, a member of the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood, and decided to insinuate himself into his company. Hulak read Petrov some of Shevchenko's poetry, which had begun to circulate among Ukrainian activists. Petrov sent a letter to the tsarist police denouncing the brotherhood as a secret political society and Shevchenko's works as "clearly expressing illegal sentiments," adding that the poet "vehemently expresses his hatred for the imperial family" and "incites Ukrainians to an uprising."
In mid-March 1847 Aleksei Orlov, chief of the Third Section of His Majesty's Own Chancery (which Tsar Nikolai I established as his secret police), ordered the arrest of Hulak and a search for those mentioned in Petrov's denunciation and in Hulak's correspondence. On March 26 Kostomarov's apartment in Kyiv was searched and fragments of the "Great Vault" and a full text of "The Dream" were found. On April 3 gendarmes in Warsaw took an entire booklet of Shevchenko's poems from brotherhood member Vasyl Bilozersky.
From late January to early March, Shevchenko was traveling through the Chernihiv region, and just before Easter (which fell on March 23 that year) he stopped at an estate near Sedniv to spend time with the Lyzohub family, before continuing on to Kyiv where he was to be best man at Kostomarov's wedding.
Arriving at the railway station in Brovary with baggage containing six portfolios of sketches, many letters, poems and other papers, he changed into formal dress, then boarded a ferry to cross the Dnipro River to the Ukrainian capital. When the ferry reached the other side, the police were waiting for him. It was April 5, 1847.
In the arrest report, Kyiv's Governor Ivan Funduklei wrote: "Among the papers a book of [Shevchenko's] poems have been found, some of them rebellious and criminal."
Source: Pavlo Zaitsev, "Taras Shevchenko: A Life," edited and translated by G.S.N. Luckyj (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988); "Shevchenko, Taras," Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Vol. 4 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993).
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, March 30, 1997, No. 13, Vol. LXV
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