On his way to Ukraine in 1859, Taras Shevchenko’s first stop was the village Lykhvyn, Dmytro Khrushchov’s propriety.
Setting off for Ukraine from St. Petersburg, Taras Shevchenko agreed with Dmytro Khrushchov that they would meet in Moscow and proceed together. Khrushchov was a young landlord from Kharkiv, whom the poet met in St. Petersburg. He was a progressive man, a member of the Kharkiv Gubernia Committee “on arranging the peasantry’s affairs,” and took part in the drafting and implementation of the land reform.
Khrushchov had a nice estate in the village Lykhvyn, near Lebedyn. Legend has it that it was Natalia Khrushchova, an extraordinary woman, who decided to invite Shevchenko to Lykhvyn. She was acquainted with Ivan Turgenev, Yakov Polonsky, and Aleksei Pleshcheev. Her aristocratic nature was organically combined with her democratism. Ivan Yerofeiv, who back in 1930 researched the story of Shevchenko’s stay in the Sumy region, wrote that “everyone who knew Khrushchova was charmed with her beauty, and even more, by her wit, level of culture, and deep interest in poetry and politics.”
Yerofeiv had at his disposal Khrushchova’s photo. So, he had an opportunity to make sure that the words of those who remembered her, met the reality: “she was very beautiful, tall, and slim, with dark hair, peculiar green-and-gray eyes and nice low voice.”
Petro Zhura, a researcher of Shevchenko’s life, has managed to establish the fact that in 1863-65 (after Shevchenko’s death), Khrushchova was on trial in the case of the Process of 32, on the suspicion of liaisons with the political exiles Alexander Herzen and Nikolay Ogarev, and was even put under surveillance of police forces. Khrushchova, indeed, took great interest in the publications of the “London propagandists”: she was keen on the socialist-utopian experiment of Robert Owen; she was also ready to sacrifice herself for the sake of the common good. A bright proof of this is her letter to Pyotr Lyapin dated September 11, 1861, found by Zhura: “I feel ashamed to enjoy all these benefits, when the world is full of hungry and suppressed. We are all criminals! In such minutes I would eagerly, without hesitation, offer my worthless life, if this life was needed to atone some light idea. But, unfortunately, those are dreams that will never come true, though I feel with full awareness that I possess enough courage and self-sacrifice. So, happy is the one who sacrifices all to achieve a higher aim, never loses spirit, in spite of all the obstacles, and in the end either achieves his goal or dies for his own beliefs. I need no other fame.”
There is no doubt that a person with such views saw Shevchenko as a hero.
LEBEDYN’S VARENUKHA DRINKERS
On June 4, 1859, Shevchenko and the Khrushchov couple came to Sumy, after which Shevchenko went to Lebedyn across Boromlia, Trostianets, Okhtyrka, and Oleshnia.
Shevchenko spent several days with the Khrushchovs. He stayed at the gardener Mykola Denysenko’s place, but mostly spent his time in Lebedyn, where he acquired new acquaintances. It is worth mentioning the brothers Oleksii and Maksym Zalesky, who lived in a modest mansion in Mykhailivska Str. This house has been preserved by miracle. Local lore experts consider that Hryhorii Skovoroda also stopped by there (when he visited Zaleskys’ grandfather, Fedor).
Shevchenko’s new acquaintances included Otto Zoege von Manteuffel, an officer who served in the Voznesensky regiment of the Hessen prince, which in 1859 was sent to Lebedyn. But Manteuffel was also an amateur artist. In 1846 he attended painting classes for several months. Art critics and ethnographers mention his two paintings, Picnic, “a sort of a group portrait of Shevchenko’s Lebedyn acquaintances,” and A Mansion Courtyard, depicting the Zalesky brother’s mansion.
According to Konysky and Yerofeiv, the Zaleskys were “known to the entire neighborhood as boozers and varenukha-drinkers (they did not drink anything but varenukha).” It seemed a repetition of the story of 1843, when Shevchenko was visiting Zakrevskys in Berezova Rudka. The poet again found himself in the milieu of hospitable “seducers.” He was invited to an introduction party, and by all appearance Shevchenko was glad to feast in the Khrushchovs’ farmstead, located near Lykhvyn. He had not seen Ukraine for 12 years.
However, the hosts, apparently, expected to communicate with the poet in a more trustful and close manner. Yerofeiv, who was familiar with the stories told by the witnesses of Shevchenko’s stay in Lykhvyn and Lebedyn, believed that “Shevchenko produced a sad impression on Khrushchova. Everyone was waiting for him, everyone was eager to discuss many things with him, but Shevchenko was not eager to join any conversation. Hinting that Shevchenko at the time had the moods of an alcoholic, Khrushchova aptly said that he was somewhat conflicted: he was forced to stay in the living-room, but he had a longing for the servants’ quarters. He put down verse in his album which transpired his desire to mingle with simple people. He easily changed the topic of literature into other topics and easily moved on to communication with simple people.”
As for “putting down his verse in an album,” Yerofeiv, of course, meant the poem A Cherry Orchard Near the House that Shevchenko wrote in the hostess’ album. It is also known that as a sign of gratitude, the poet gave some of his paintings to Khrushchova. Though Shevchenko produced an impression of a “loner,” his muse never left him in those days of June 1895.
MUSE AND LEGENDS
It is known for sure that during his stay at the Khrushchovs’ place Shevchenko painted two pictures, In Lykhvyn and the sketch An Oak. However, local researchers name many other works. For example, Kravchenko asserts that M. Zalesky’s daughter Suchkova kept three sketches for a long time, these were presented by Shevchenko to her father: Lonely Figure of a Shepherd, A Hireling Mending Her Skirt without Taking it Off, and A Small Group of Peasants. Their fate is unknown. Kravchenko attested that “Shevchenko painted Khrushchova’s portrait, which was kept till 1930 by the agricultural commune ‘New World.’” And this was not all — in Lebedyn (or Lykhvyn) Shevchenko allegedly painted two portraits: of the gardener Denysenko and the serf Maria. In the village Vorozhba he allegedly “painted the portrait of an unknown peasant.”
But was not that too much for a three-day visit, which was far from being filled with only creative work? Apparently, a great part of the works mentioned by Kravchenko were merely legends multiplied by the ethnographic “patriotism.”
Legends are regular companions of great personalities’ lives. So it’s no surprise that the residents of Lebedyn created a legend that Shevchenko was pursued by gendarmes, but that he “dug an underground tunnel and escaped from Lykhvyn.” Researchers who study Shevchenko’s life prefer to use reliable sources — the Lykhvyn episode produced two pictures, In Lykhvyn and the sketch An Oak, as well as the poem “Chamomile is in Blossom on the Mountain,” which he wrote on June 7.
The poem is written in the style of a folk song. Interestingly, a young Cossack’s search of his destiny, hidden in the trunk of his bride, whom he does not know yet, is in the center of the poem. This motive is in a sense autobiographical, as Shevchenko hoped to marry in Ukraine.
Chamomile is in blossom
on the mountain
A Cossack walks across a valley.
He asked the grief,
Where is my destiny feasting?
With rich men in pubs?
Or with tchoomaks in the steppe?
Or is it wandering
in the freedom of fields
With the wind?
In none of those places,
Dear brother and friend.
It is in a house,
Hidden with rushnyk
In a young maiden’s new trunk.
The final hint, saying that the Cossack’s destiny is hidden neither in the field, nor in a pub, but in a maiden’s trunk, is quite significant. It appears that the poet’s longing for home comforts pierced the lines of his folk-song improvisation.
There is a theory that in Lebedyn Shevchenko met Mykhailo Petrenko, a romantic poet, who authored the famous poem “I’m Gazing at the Sky and Thinking a Thought.” At least, Petrenko’s descendants continue to tell the tale.
In early spring 2005 I happened to go to Lebedyn and Lykhvyn. The extremely interesting museum of arts in Lebedyn displays the portrait of the Khrushchov couple painted by an unknown artist of the mid-19th century. The exposition also contains von Manteuffel’s picture A Mansion Courtyard. Rumor has it that one can see the picture Picnic in Sumy. There is also a photo depicting the brothers Zalesky. As for the Khrushchovs’ Lykhvyn estate, it has been preserved, but it is now in quite a sad condition. There have been attempts to repair the palace — the roof was covered, but the forces of ruination and decay gained the upper hand.
On June 9, 1859 Shevchenko left the Khrushchovs. He had to go to Kyrylivka to see his family, to Korsun to see Varfolomii Shevchenko, and to Kyiv. He was still hoping that destiny would smile at him and he would have his own orchard garden near a house in his native Cherkasy region.