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12 March, 2011  ▪  Arkadii Sydoruk

Shevchenko in Washington

When will a George Washington monument be erected in Kyiv?

In a triangular square bordering the respectable Massachusetts Ave. in the U.S. capital, Taras Shevchenko stands cast in bronze on a granite pedestal. Carved into the granite are his words:

When shall we get ourselves a Washington

To promulgate his new and righteous law?

But someday we shall surely find the man!

Taras Shevchenko, 1848

 

Shevchenko Society in America
 
The first American Shevchenko Society, founded back in 1898 in Pennsylvania, set the goal of erecting the moment to the “greatest son of Ukraine–Rus’.” While the effort failed at the time, American Ukrainians never lost hope. The first practical step taken was the article “In Favor of a Shevchenko Monument in Washington, D.C.” written by Prof. Ivan Dubrovsky and published by the New York-based newspaper Svoboda (Freedom). The author noted that the Shevchenko Scientific Society and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) needed to get behind the cause. In September 1960, the Shevchenko Monument Committee was set up on the initiative of the then UCCA President Lev Dobriansky. It was headed by Roman Smal-Stocky, president of the General Council of Shevchenko societies, George Yurii Shevelov, president of the Ukrainian Free Academy of Sciences in the U.S.A., and Mr. Dobriansky.
 
That same year a competition was announced for the design of the monument which was to be erected to mark 150 years since Shevchenko’s birth. Notably, one of the points conveyed the desire for “the public at large to see the poet depicted in his youth,” while another stated that the most important goal was to find the right artistic idea for the monument to reflect the poet’s national and universal standing. Proposals were accepted through the end of the winter of 1962. The financial rewards for the best designs were quite modest: USD 1,500 for the winner, USD 1,000 for each of two runners-up, and USD 750 for each of the two designs placed third. The project was clearly more about artistic and civic prestige than money.
 
Of the 17 projects submitted, the jury unanimously selected Prometheus by Leonid Molozhanyn (Winnipeg) as the winner (see the fact file below).
 
One poet and four presidents
 
The Ukrainian community previously obtained a Congressional permit to erect the monument in a public place in Washington. This took quite an effort. Thousands of American Ukrainians sent letters to Capitol Hill, while leaders of the diaspora, above all Mr. Dobriansky, lobbyied the idea. Senator Jacob Javits (R) and Congressman Alvin Bentley (R) joined the cause.
In June 1960, the resolution was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives and in August, prior to the end of a Congressional session, it was upheld by the Senate. On 2 September, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the document into law under No. 86-749.
 
Leaders of the USA made a unique contribution to honoring Shevchenko. Harry Truman was an honorary head of the Shevchenko Monument Committee. Dwight Eisenhower finally cleared the way for the monument to be installed in Washington and John F. Kennedy sent his greetings to American Ukrainians as they dedicated the site in September 1963 and facilitated implementation. In his letter, he called Shevchenko’s poetry a “noble part” of American historical heritage. Lyndon B. Johnson said:  "He was more than a Ukrainian — he was a statesman and citizen of the world. He was more than a poet — he was a valiant crusader for the rights and freedom of men. He used verse to carry on a determined fight for freedom.”
 
Confrontation
 
The dramatic campaign to build the Shevchenko monument continued for five years. “Two superpowers, American and Soviet, were pitted against each other,” wrote Antin Drahan in his book Shevchenko in Washington. The Soviet embassy twice appealed to the U.S. Department of State demanding plans for the monument be scrapped. It was joined by the puppet representation of the Ukrainian SSR in the UN.
 
Hostile anti-Ukrainian forces rallied around The Washington Post. The newspaper painstakingly portrayed Shevchenko as a hater of Catholics, Orthodox, Russians, Poles, and Jews and, at the same time, as a harbinger of communism. Reputed as a respectable and liberal periodical, it pressed the Congress to repeal the resolution it had passed. Tensions mounted after the site was dedicated when Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall decided, influenced by an anti-Ukrainian article in The Washington Post, to revise the already decided question. However, these attempts eventually failed.
 
A new round of confrontation came with the “Appeal to Ukrainians, the entire American Ukrainian community, and the Shevchenko Monument Committee” sent out by the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., to Ukrainian periodicals. Flattering appeals to “fellow countrymen living outside Ukraine” were interspersed with curses against “some small fry” who were allegedly trying to exploit Shevchenko’s name for “their dirty political purposes.”
Ukrainian cultural figures in the USA responded in a tolerant tone to the signees of the Appeal most of whom were “respectful older and younger authors and figures in Ukrainian science, literature, and arts,” including Maksym Rylsky, Pavlo Tychyna, Yevhen Paton, Pavlo Virsky, Levko Revutsky, Borys Hmyria, and Dmytro Pavlychko. Many diaspora Ukrainians doubted that all of them indeed signed the address.
 
In April 1963, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts approved the proposed design and the layout of the square (developed by architect Radoslav Zuk) where it was to be put up. 27 June 1964 became Ukrainian Day in America. The festivities were attended by 100,000 people, including delegations from Canada, Argentina, Great Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, and Australia. Representatives of the U.S. government and foreign ambassadors were also in attendance. As he unveiled the Shevchenko monument, President Eisenhower called the poet a Ukrainian hero and addressed the people gathered with these words: “For my hope is that your magnificent march from the shadow of the Washington Monument to the foot of the statue of Shevchenko will here kindle a new world movement in the hearts, minds, words and actions of men; a never-ending movement dedicated to the independence and freedom of peoples of all captive nations of the entire world.”
In May 1965, a large urn made of stainless steel was installed at the foot of the monument. In it was soil brought from Shevchenko’s grave in Kaniv by the president of the Detroit City Council, Mary Beck, and the Kalmyky couple. A Commemorative Book with a brief description of the story of the monument, a list of over 50,000 American donors (largely of Ukrainian background), and other documents were also put in the base. Since then the Ukrainian community in the United States has marked many of its most important events at the Shevchenko Monument.
 
INSCRIPTION ON THE MONUMENT
TARAS SHEVCHENKO, 1814-1861, Bard of Ukraine, the greatest Ukrainian Poet and Fighter for the independence of Ukraine and the freedom of all mankind, who under foreign Russian imperialist tyranny and colonial rule appealed for “The new and righteous law of Washington.” 
 
 
FACT FILE
Leonid Molozhanyn (Leo Mol)
Born Leonid Molozhanyn in Polonne, now a district center in Khmelnytsk Region, he studied at the Leningrad Academy of Arts and later at the Academy of Arts in Berlin and the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague. He made a name for himself as an artist across the world and especially in Canada. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and received the highest state award — Order of Canada. The Leo Moil Sculpture Garden was set up in his honor in Winnipeg where over 300 of his works are on display. Apart from the Shevchenko Monument in Washington, D.C., he also created monuments of the great poet in Buenos Aires and Saint Petersburg.
 
INTERESTING FACTS
A decision to   erect a monument to Shevchenko in Moscow was passed after his bronze figure was already put up in Winnipeg, Canada, and the construction of another one, in Washington, D.C., was signed into law. The Ukrainian diaspora newspaper Svoboda (Freedom) wrote: “We are certain that the Shevchenko Monument in Washington, D.C., will cause … the grateful, freedom-loving Ukrainian people to build a monument to George Washington in Kyiv, an American symbol of the highest ideals that Shevchenko left for the Ukrainian people.”
 

The monument to the first U.S. president, whom the great Ukrainian poet admired, is a stone’s throw away from the Shevchenko monument, while Washington is thousands of miles away from Kyiv. They met in Washington nearly half a century ago. When will they finally meet in Ukraine?
 
 

 

 

 

 


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