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CultureUkrainian culture is rooted in deep past. It is proved by numerous landmarks left by civilizations which existed on the territory of Ukraine. This is Trypillya civilization (4000-3000 BC) which left finely decorated figuline. This is Scythians’ culture which is well-known for its masterpieces made of gold and silver.  Dramatic art of Ukraine goes back to ancient popular games, dances, songs and rites. Back in 11th century AD skomorokhs (minstrel-cum-clown) were already performing plays. In Kievan Rus elements of theatre were present in church ceremonies. We can tell it from the frescos in the Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. First drama pieces were publicly recited by students of Kievan Bratska (Kyiv-Mohyla Academy) and Lavra Schools. First theatrical companies appeared in Prydniprov’ya in 18th century but plays were performed in Russian and Polish.

Later in Kyiv (1806), Odessa (1809) and Poltava (1810) appeared first theatre buildings. And yet they were not large professional theatres. In 1882 Marko Kropivnitsky created a first professional theatre well-known far beyond Ukraine. Karpenko-Kary, Saksagansky, Sadovsky and Maria Zankovetska carried on Kropivnitsky’s work.

Ukrainian opera developed along with dramatic art. It is considered to be founded by Semen Hulak-Artemovsky.

In 1920s a`distinguished stage director Les’ Kurbas together with a group of talented actors founded theatre “Berezil” in Kharkiv. Most plays performed by “Berezil” became classics of dramatic art. Creative developments of Les’ Kurbas who was repressed in Stalin times are attracting increasing attention from around the world. In our times there is an annual theatre festival “Mystetske Berezillya” held in Kyiv.

1994 was marked by an outstanding event in a life of not only Ukrainian but also world ballet. First International Ballet Contest named after Serge Lifar was held in June. Born in Kiev, Serge Lifar is a world-famous ballet master and dancer. For more than 30 years he was a head of ballet in Parisian theatre “Grande Opera” and French Academy of Dance in Paris. This contest has become a tradition.

Ukrainians are very musical and singing people. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian folk songs are written down and recorded. Old Ukrainian musicians are depicted on the frescos of the Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv but on the territory of Ukraine music had started to sound much earlier — more than 20 000 years ago. It is such an imposing age of musical instruments made of mammoths’ tusks which were found by Kievan archeologists on the outskirts of ancient Ukrainian city of Chernigiv. In Ukraine there were such musical instruments as kobza (bandura), torban, dulcimer, violin, basolya, zither, tulumbas. Music accompanies New Year and Christmas rites (“Malanka”, “Koza”), parties, weddings and other family occasions.

A key role the in preservation of historical memory was played by kobzars who used to travel from place to place, choose crowded places and sing folk ballads about national heroes and strugglers for the freedom of motherland. Ukrainian folk songs inspired a number of great composers namely Ludvig Beethoven and Franz List who used their motives in their works. Religious music of Dmitri Bortnyansky, Michael Berezovsky and Artemiy Vedel can still be heard in churches around the world. Operas “Zaporozhets za Dunayem” (“A Zaporozhian (Cossack) Beyond the Danube”) by Semen Hulak-Artemovsky, “Taras Bulba”, “Natalka Poltavka”, “Utoplema” (“The Drowned Woman”) and “Christmas Night” by Mykola Lysenko draw by means of music a Ukrainian character — its delicate lyrical soul, ardent patriotism and famous Ukrainian sense of humour. Ukranian songs arranged by M. Leontovich, O. Koshytsa, M. Lysenko and K. Stetsenko sound today and delight audiences around the world.

Ukrainian chorus singing is well-known around the world. Two best know examples are State Academic Choir “Mysl” (“Thought”) and Ukrainian National Honoured Academic Folk Chorus named G. Veryovka. There are hundreds of such groups in Ukraine. Ukrainian National Folk Dance Ensemble named after P.Virsky also has worldwide recognition. Far beyond the territory of Ukraine people know ballets “Lisova Pisnya” (“A Forest Song”) composed by M. Skorulsky and “Tini Zabutyh Predkiv” (“The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”) composed by V.Kireiko. A lot of wonderful Ukrainian singers and musicians perform on the best stages around the world.

Ukrainian literature has a thousands-years-old history. 12th century was marked by an appearance of the Primary Chronicle which recounts history of Kievan Rus. Poetic masterpiece of ancient literature is the Song of Igor’s Campaign which absorbed the best traditions of popular literature of those times and became a heritage and pride of all Slavic world. Medieval literature is known by works of Milety Smotritsky and Feofan Prokopovich. Most famous writers of 18th century (epoch of Ukrainian baroque) are Grygory Skovoroda and Ivan Kotlyarevsky. The latter actually founded Ukrainian literature with his poem “Eneyida” which absorbed pearls of Ukrainian humour and colorful descriptions of Ukrainian everyday life.

19th century became an epoch of national consciousness formation. “Kobzar” by Taras Shevchenko published in 1840 became a remarkable event in the cultural life of Ukraine. Shevchenko’s works incorporated the best folk poetic traditions, aspirations and hoped of an enslaved people. 19th century is also noted for the works of Leodin Glebov, Stepan Rudnitsky, Marko Vovchok, Ivan Franko, Panas Mirny, Michael Kotsyubinsky, Olga Kobylyanska. Realistic and philosophical works by Ivan Franko and poems by Lesya Ukrainka marked an important milestone in Ukrainian literature.

The process of development of Ukrainian literature in 20th century was rather complicated. May talented people perished in the Civil War, Holocaust and Bolshevists’ repressions. Among those who perished there are M. Kulish and E. Pluzhnik. Nikolay Hvylevy committed a suicide. More than 500 Ukrainian writers were repressed. That is why Ukrainian literature of 1920s is called “Shot Renaissance”. Nevertheless in spite of mass extermination of cultural workers Ukrainian literature was enriched with works by P. Tychyna, M. Rylsky, V. Sosyura, O. Gonchar, M. Stelmakh and others. Worldwide recognition was given to works of screenwriter and film director Oleksandr Dovzhenko. Rich heritage was left by so called “1960s generation” (L. Kostenko, V. Simonenko, G. Tyutyunik, D. Pavlichko, I. Drach, V. Stus, I. Svitlychny). Nowadays new Ukrainian literature is being developed in independent Ukraine.
Dmytro Chernenko
14.10.2009

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