Ukraine’s Will and Testament

The Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, was born a serf and found limited freedom after being taken by his master to St Petersburg where a group of artists bought his freedom at the age of 34.

He did not know true liberty for long; his verse displeased the authorities, leading to arrests and long periods of exile.

He was a romantic, transforming Ukraine from which he felt banished into an idealised land and the Ukrainians into a romanticised people who could be galvanised to rise up against their  Russian oppressor.

This poem is Taras Schevchenko’s “will and testament” . After his death in St Petersburg, his friends transported his body to a hill overlooking the river Dnipro.  Here is his Testament, translated from the Ukrainian by Daniel Moysaenko.

When I die bury me

in the middle of the steppe

of my Ukraine. So I can seize

broad the broadback field and

Dnipro, twisting,

so I can see and hear it roar,

roaring, carrying


thieves’ blood

to the ocean. Then I’ll toss

the fields and mountains and me

and burn them all like prayers.

I won’t know God till then.


Stash me away then stand,

split your chains and spatter

the soil with blood and fury,

having your body back. Now


in our vast family, the free

one, the new one,

don’t forget to remember me

in good-willed words,

a word unangered,



Shevchenko also had a few words of advice for those who were free of serfdom, wars, and other grim realities of his 19th century life:

Roughly translated as:

“It’s scary to be enslaved

And to die a serf,

But it is even worse to sleep, sleep,

Sleep while one is free…”

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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