IN this week’s ‘Monday’s Musical Musings’, our Heads of School, Ted Pepper and Eleanor MacGillivray, take a look at the Ukrainian National Anthem – ‘Shche ne vmerla Ukrainy’.

“This week, we couldn’t think of any more appropriate piece of music to share with you than the Ukrainian National Anthem. Played on radio stations, televisions, online and at concerts all around the world, it has been hard to miss. It is a source of inspiration and comfort for the Ukrainian people, a focal point of protests across the globe, and a sign of solidarity with the people of Ukraine in the wake of Putin’s invasion.

“The Ukrainian National Anthem is a product of the 19th Century nationalist period. The lyrics are part of a patriotic poem written in 1862 by Pavlo Chubynsky, a poet and anthropologist from Kyiv. They were set to music by Mykhailo Verbytsky, a Ukrainian composer and priest, in 1863.

“Translated, it says:

The Glory and freedom of Ukraine has not yet perished
Luck will still smile on us brother-Ukrainians.
Our enemies will die, as the dew does in the sunshine,
and we, too, brothers, we’ll live happily in our land.
We’ll not spare either our souls or bodies to get freedom
and we’ll prove that we are brothers of Cossack kin.

“In style the anthem sounds like a martial hymn, which fits the romantic nationalist sentiments of the words. These words seem more relevant than ever to Ukrainians at the moment, as we watch them coming together to fight for their country’s ‘Glory and freedom’. There is a defiance in the anthem too, particularly in the reference to the Cossacks, who were famed warriors and had a democratic and semi-military culture. There is also an optimism and hope, that the people will ‘live happily in our land.’ The Ukrainian response to the invasion by their larger neighbour has been awe-inspiring, from the morale of their out-numbered army, to the defiance of President Volodymyr Zelensky. No doubt soldiers and citizens alike have been inspired by their national anthem.

“The anthem was adopted following the fall of the Soviet Union, when Ukrainians declared state sovereignty in 1990. The word Ukraine may come from the Slavonic for ‘borderland’ and Ukraine certainly has a complicated history. Medieval Kievan Rus (covering much of modern-day Ukraine) is looked on by both Ukrainians and Russians as the birthplace of their culture, with the conversion to Orthodox Christianity in 988 AD. Since then, it has undergone countless changes, being destroyed as a state by the Mongols in 1240, before becoming part of the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth; later periods saw Cossack rule, before eventual absorption into the Russian Tsarist Empire in the 18th Century.

“The 19th Century saw the rise of language-based Nationalist movements across Europe, and after the 1917 Russian Revolution, Ukrainians made a brief attempt to forge a Ukrainian People’s Republic. However, by 1921 most of Ukraine had been taken over and made part of the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the USSR, Ukrainians again declared state sovereignty. Recent years have seen political instability between pro-Russian politicians and more Western-oriented parties. The ousting of a pro-Russian president after the Euromaidan protest in 2013, led to the invasion of parts of Eastern Ukraine by Putin in 2014, and now full-scale war.

“The strength, hope and optimism brought by this anthem are now more important and relevant than ever. We have seen countless renditions over the last few days, and for us one of the most powerful has been at the Winter Paralympic Games, as athletes – both Ukrainian and other nations – have come together to make an angry and emotional call for peace. Ukraine topped Day 1’s medal table, and at the time of writing has 11 gold, 10 silver and 8 bronze medals. Another has been the singing of the anthem by the Metropolitan Opera in New York on the opening night of their production of Don Carlos.

“Ukrainian soldiers and civilians alike are rallying around the optimism and hope that their National Anthem brings. Like people all around the world, we would echo its words, and hope that peace and freedom will soon be restored to Ukraine.”

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