THE CHILDHOOD OF
exists. Apart from his own autobiographical notes which relate only part
of the story, there is a fair number of interpretive works, primarily of
the Soviet period. One should also note in this regard that because of
the stature Shevchenko attained in the national culture of Ukraine and
his contribution to international culture in general, twice celebrated
by UNESCO, there has been a tendency to idealise, even iconise him. As
such, these interpretations of the young Taras, and even of the older
artist and poet, often contradict each other and, as such, are not fully
reliable. What can be gleaned from these materials, however, is a
portrait of the times and the conditions under which Taras and countless
other peasant children grew up.
Taras Shevchenko, the son of serfs, was born on the estate of Baron
Vasili Engelhardt on March 9, 1814. One of six children, at his birth he
was little more than another possession of his lord and master.
The place of his birth was the village of Morintsi, some 200 kilometres
to the south of Kiev, an area which in earlier generations had been the
home of the Zaporizhian Cossacks. Amongst the peasantry, burdened by the
brutal and unjust system of serfdom, tales of these folk heroes and
their struggles for freedom, were commonplace, a relief from the toils
of the day, as well as a hope for a better future. It was in such an
environment that the young Taras and his siblings were raised.
Shevchenko's parents, Hryhori and Kateryna, worked the fields of Baron
Engelhardt, as did his older brother Mykyta. As was usual in those
times, the serfs laboured five days for their master, and one for
themselves. His father also worked on occasion as a chumak, a teamster,
hauling salt for Baron Engelhardt from southern Ukraine. It appears that
his father, on occasion, took Taras with him on these trips, as young
children were not obliged to work for their master. During these trips,
the young boy was able to see some of the world, even major centres such
as Elizavetgrad and Uman.
His mother Kateryna, while working the fields during the growing season,
spent the winters at home, as did most peasant women, spinning and
weaving for the master.
Inside the household, again as was typical, the older children took care
of the younger ones. In the Shevchenko household, older sister Katrusia
was the mainstay and had quite an effect on her younger brother. He was
upset, it appears, when she married and moved away with her new husband,
and it was to her home that Taras returned a few years later after
fleeing a brutal deacon for whom he worked.
youngest sister, Mariyka, forced to fast during the lenten period before
Easter and after a winter of food shortages, went blind as a result of
Another influence on the young boy was his paternal grandfather, Ivan,
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