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1933 “Famine” Edition of T.H. Shevchenko’s Kobzar*
Intro by Andrew Fedynsky, UMA Director

In 1932-33, Ukraine had bountiful crops of grain, yet the country was gripped by famine – the result of Joseph Stalin’s collectivization policy. In order to force people to give up their land to the state, he ordered an army of Communist Party activists to seize grain and other food from Ukraine’s independent farmers. In one of the greatest crimes in history, more than seven million Ukrainian peasants were deliberately starved to death. This coincided with a period of terror that was unleashed against Ukrainian artists and cultural figures. For more than fifty years afterward, any mention of the Famine and the Terror was subject to total censorship in Soviet Ukraine. Eyewitness accounts and other records from this period were suppressed and destroyed.

One of the few surviving works illustrating these horrible times can be found in the UMA’s collection. This is the extraordinary 1933 “Famine” edition of Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar, featuring drawings by Vasyl Sedliar (1899-1937). Although Shevchenko wrote his “Kobzar” in the 19th Century, the 48 full-page sketches and accompanying verses from Shevchenko’s poems that illustrate this edition make it clear that Sedliar and his editor, Andriy Richytsky (1890-1934), were commenting on Stalin’s Famine and not Tsarist Russia. Reminiscent of Henri Matisse, Sedliar shows great technical skill as well as breathtaking artistic courage in these long-forgotten drawings. Despite inquiries, we have been unable to determine the location of the originals of these drawings or whether they still exist.

Both Sedliar and Richytsky were arrested and shot by the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police).

* This online exhibit in all of its aspects, textual and illustrative, copyright © 2006 by the Ukrainian Museum-Archives (UMA), Cleveland, with all rights strictly reserved and may not be copied or used in any way without the express written permission by the UMA.