The Sad State of the Modern Ukrainian Anthem

Ukraine hasn’t died yet…

Those who have heard the present-day Ukrainian anthem wondered what it is they’ve just listened to. It’s such a sorry wailing, indeed… In fact, one a capella performance inspired a netizen to overlay it with Frédéric Chopin’s “Marche Funèbre” (Funeral March), which resulted in a perfect match! Many think that the Ukrainian anthem starts with the line “Ukraine hasn’t died yet…”, and while not exactly correct, there is a grain of historical truth to it.

But it wasn’t always like this. As a republic of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had a joyous anthem, starting with the words “Live, Ukraine, beautiful and strong,…”. But then came 1992, and Ukraine – like the rest of the former republics of the Union – traded its heroes for ghosts.

State Anthem of the Ukrainian SSR (1949 – 1953)

More about this edition of the anthem at our Beorn And The Shieldmaiden Telegram channel.

State Anthem of the Ukrainian SSR (1978 – 1992)

More about this edition of the anthem at our Beorn And The Shieldmaiden Telegram channel.

The article below is one of a series tackling the myths surrounding Ukraine, addressing the history of their modern anthem. Some of the surrounding events are also described in Project ‘Ukraine’. Documentary by Andrei Medvedev (with English subtitles)

Myths about the origin of Ukraine and Ukrainians.
Myth 4. A requiem instead of an anthem

The origin of the anthem of Ukraine, like everything related to Ukrainians, is shrouded in a fog of lies. When you listen to the Ukrainian anthem, its tedious, drawling melody, there is no desire to cry with pride for the country and admire this symbol of the state. Many people don’t even want to stand up. It is not so much an anthem, but a requiem, a memorial song.

It cannot be said that when listening to the anthem, there is a feeling of weight and spaciousness. On the contrary, the very first line of the anthem (“Ukraine hasn’t died yet…”), combined with the melody in minor tune, creates a feeling of heaviness, monotony, sadness and oppression. Why is that? Why is the Ukrainian anthem – a carbon copy of the Polish anthem, which outlines the program for the revival of the Polish state?

Before talking about the authorship and melody of the anthem, it is worth recalling the historical period when this anthem was written. It is 1862, Poland as a state has not existed for more than half a century. It is divided between Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Polish uprising of 1830 was suppressed, and a new uprising was being prepared, which would also end in failure in the following 1863.

In 1797, one of the Polish generals serving in Napoleon’s army wrote the song “Poland has not perished yet”, which quickly became a popular hit among supporters of the restoration of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. As Dombrowski’s Mazurka, it became the national anthem during the Polish uprisings of 1830 and 1863 and in 1927 – the national anthem of Poland.

The Polish gentry, including those who settled in the lands of Malorossia – Rus Minor, dream of restoring the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and seek to attract to their side the “hlopomans” (“hlopomania” translates roughly as “peasant-mania”): part of the Russian intelligentsia, mainly young people, infected under the Polish influence with the idea of a separate “Ukrainian people”.

According to the canonical version, the authorship of the words of the future Ukrainian anthem “Ukraine hasn’t died yet” belongs to the famous Russian scientist Pavel Chubinsky, a Ukrainophile and a former member of the Polish club of hlopomans. He allegedly wrote this verse in August 1862, on the eve of the Polish uprising. However, Chubinsky himself never claimed authorship during his lifetime.

For the first time, Chubinsky’s authorship was mentioned in the memoirs of a certain Beletsky. They were published in 1914 in the Ukrainophile magazine “Ukrainian Life”, the purpose of which was to promote the so-called Ukrainian cultural heritage. Is it any wonder that the editor-in-chief of the magazine was the notorious Simon Petliura.

According to Beletsky, at one of the parties of Kiev hlopomans which he attended, Chubinsky impromptu wrote the words of the anthem “Ukraine is not dead yet”, as if to the tune of a Serbian song. The cunning deception lies in the fact that the party really took place, and this verse war really written at it. But Beletsky is trying to hide the shameful primogeniture of the Polish anthem and the authorship of the Poles behind the version with the Serbian trace.

It was not difficult to do this, since there was already a Serbian version written by Gandri Zeiler “Serbia has not yet died”, and even a similar one among the Muslims of Croatia — “Croatia has not yet died” by Ludevit Gay. It demonstrates an interesting dissemination of the Polish smash hit among the peoples who did not have statehood! In the memoirs of another party participant, Nikolai Verbitsky, expressed through his letters, everything appears much more plausible. How during an ordinary student party of sympathizers of the maturing uprising a popular hit was being rewritten.

The verse became the fruit of a collective creative effort to rewrite the Polish hit “Yeshe Polska ne zginela” (“Poland hasn’t perished yet”) in a hlopomansk way. The act was attended by hlopomans, “the true-born gentry of the Radziwill blood” Joseph Rylsky and his brother Tadei Rylsky, a famous Polish poet, known under the pseudonym Maxim Cherny (the father and uncle of the Soviet poet Maxim Rylsky).

Their Polish Russophobic pals, Paulin Sventsitsky (pseudonym: Pavel Svoy, which means “Own”), Pavel Zhitetsky and Ivan Navrotsky were at the party. The last two came late, but they brought a Serbian acquaintance, Petr Entich-Karic. Chubinsky himself appeared, as always, last.

During the party, Poles Rylsky and Svenzicki sang “Dombrowski’s March”, and the idea was born to write the same thing, but now tied in with the Polish-Hlopoman ideas. The poem was written collectively. According to Verbitsky, only two lines of his text remain.

The first version of the future anthem included the quintessence of all Polish complexes on the Ukrainian issue. Which is understandable, given the nationality of the team of the authors! One of the first versions included the following stanza: “Those who bravely defended Mother Ukraine. Nalivaiko and Pavlyuk…”

Tadei Rylsky and Pavlin Sventsitsky did not like the mention of him, seeing as their relatives from infants to elders were cut out by Pavel Boot, nicknamed Pavlyuk. Tadei Rylsky offered his own version: “Let’s remember the holy death of the Knights of the Cossacks…”

And here is a verse from the first versions of the future anthem of Ukraine:

“Oh, Bogdan-Zinovy, our drunken getman,
Why did you sell Ukraine to filthy Moskals (Muscovites)?”

And then came the primordial claims of Greater Poland: “Let us, brothers, join in a bloodied battle from San to Don”. They envisage the future of these lands, on the one side, from the San River, a tributary of the Vistula River in the depths of Poland, and on the other, to the Don River in the depths of Russian territory. That is, they immediately lay claim to a part of Poland, as well as Kursk, Belgorod, Voronezh, half of Rostov, part of Lipetsk and Volgograd regions of Russia!

After the suppression of the Polish uprising of 1863, Sventsitsky, an admirer of Taras Shevchenko’s work and an ardent Russophobe, emigrated to Lvov, which was then Austrian and called Lemberg, and then he ascribe the authorship of “Ukraine has not died yet” to another idol of Ukrainians – Shevchenko.

The first publication of the poems took place not at any old place, but in the very same Lvov. Four poems were published in the fourth issue of the local magazine “Meta” in 1863. Moreover, the first poem in the row was that “Ukraine hasn’t died yet”, followed by three poems that really belonged by Shevchenko. And all of that was concluded by his signature. In that way, at the suggestion of Sventsitsky, they tried to attribute authorship to Kobzar (the title of a Ukrainian village bard, often used when talking about Taras Shevchenko).

But it raised altogether too many doubts. In the 188s, the publishers of Shevchenko’s poems turned to such an expert in Ukrainian literature as Ukrainophile Kulish. He was aware that Shevchenko was not involved. Not wanting to reveal the Polish trace and knowing Pavel Chubinsky (recently deceased), a colleague at the Ministry of Railways, Kulish attributed the authorship to him.

A week later, inspired by the publication, a Galician priest, a Pole by birth, Mihail Verbitsky, the namesake of Nikolai Verbitsky, wrote music for it. From that moment on, the Polish hit began to claim the spot of the anthem of Galicia. The selfsame Galicia, where just at that time the Austrians were creating a new, Ukrainian nation, gifting “Ukrainians” with attributes like a flag, anthem and even history. The official date of the first public performance of the song is considered to be March 10, 1865, when at the theological seminary in Przemysl the Ukrainian society organized an evening commemorating Shevchenko.

The origin and meaning of “Ukraine has not died yet” fully corresponds to the political slogans and views of the Polish gentry of Rus Minor (Malorossia) and Galicia on the eve of the uprising. Since the uprising failed, the lyrics of the song did not become widespread. And it was alien to the Rus Minor (Malorossian) population, which, by the way, actively helped to eliminate the Polish rebellion. The song found fertile ground only among Galician Ukrainophiles, who willingly sang to the Polish tune.

Appearing briefly in 1917-1920 as one of the variants of the national anthem of the fake UPR, the Polish hit was once more pulled out of the cache in 1992. They took it out, shook off the naphthalene, edited it. President Kuchma changed the first stanza to: “It hasn’t died out, neither Ukraine’s glory nor will,” simultaneously leaving only the first quatrain and the chorus. It was very politically incorrect to claim the San River in Poland and the Russian Don. In this form, this Polish creation was approved in 2003 as the national anthem of Ukraine.

As you know, the anthem of any state is a program that combines the past, present and future, it is a call to its people, it is a prayer for their well—being. The anthem should evoke in the citizens of a country a sense of belonging to something bigger and greater, and preserve the memory of it for centuries. The anthem of France, the famous “Marseillaise”, is one of the most striking examples of a successful anthem, the melody of which does not leave anyone indifferent. It perfectly conveys the flavour of the country, its goals and aspirations.

And what associations can the anthem of Ukraine “It hasn’t died…” evoke? The first thing that comes to mind: “barely alive”, “breathing it last”, “the soul is barely staying in the body”. The first line of the national anthem says a lot. As the unforgettable Captain Vrungel used to say: “Whatever you name the yacht, so it will sail.” So it is with Ukraine: it’s not clear where it is sailing and it’s not clear why. Ant it is not that far till the final reef.

As a postscript. As the author of the Fainting Piglet cartoons noted, Ukraine is currently ripe for an updated anthem.