MONUMENTS TO TARAS SHEVCHENKO, 22 MAY
In the 1960s, the monuments to the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko became a traditional place in Ukraine for unsanctioned national-patriotic demonstrations. They were usually held on 9-10 March – the day of his birthday (9 March 1814) and of his death (10 March 1861) when he was officially honoured, and 22 May on the anniversary of the day in 1861 when Taras Shevchenko’s ashes had been brought from St. Petersburg to the Chernecha Hill at Kaniv in Ukraine* In Kyiv, where the tradition began and was on the largest scale, on 22 May near the Monument supporters of Ukrainian identity and culture (mainly students and young workers) gathered, reading poems, singing Ukrainian songs and laying flowers. Sometimes the messages on wreaths laid had a political subtext (for example “Fight and you will win!”).
In 1966 near the Monument around 150 people gathered, and in 1967 the number of people was even greater. After 22.00 the police detained several people and tried to disperse the rest. The crowd surrounded the police officers chanting “Hanba!” [“Shame!”]. Instead of dispersing, around 500 people, following the call of the doctor Mykola PLAKOTNYUK passed along T. Shevchenko Boulevard down Khreschatyk St. to the building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine. They walked in solid file, without any singing or yelling so as to not give any grounds for accusing them of disturbing public order. Along the way fire engines doused them with water. At 1.30 a.m. the Minister for Public Order Ivan Holovchenko with retinue including the deputy head of the UkrSSR KGB General Kalash arrived at the Central Committee building and told them to present their complaints. The first to come forward was Oksana MESHKO whodemanded the release of those arrested. The Minister promised that by morning they would be released and asked them to send a delegation in the morning to the Central Committee, but to now disperse. The majority heeded this, however around 40 people remained there to await the promised release. At 3 a.m. they were brought out and freed in view of those waiting. A few days after the demonstration, Mykola PLAKOTNYUK was dismissed from his job.
After this the authorities did not attempt to disperse the demonstrations of 22 May, however they carried out “preventive” work: students received warnings, Komsomol meetings were organized for that time, active workers and civil servants were sent on work-related trips, those who weren’t submissive were expelled from institutes or dismissed from their work. Near the Monuments to Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko and Aleksandr Pushkin alternative official “Friendship of Nations” festivals were organized. However late in the evening the unofficial honouring would begin. In 1971 during the reading of his own poems near the Monument Anatoly LUPYNIS was arrested and imprisoned.
After the second wave of arrests in 1972, the Taras Shevchenko Park was openly surrounded by law enforcement cars and nobody was let through. The opposition momentum of the actions began to wane.
In contemporary Ukraine the tradition of marking 22 May was revived, with flowers being laid by both state officials, and civic and political organizations.
* Taras Shevchenko died in Russian exile in 1861. The very fact of bringing his ashes home, and placing them high over the river Dnipro, in accordance with his poem “Zapovit” ['Testament',] had been an act honouring both the poet and the freedom he had stood for a hundred years earlier. (translator’s note)