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Eastern Europe and the Baltics -- Ukraine (and the Hutsulka!)

This week we venture to Ukraine, a country with history – like so many other countries in Eastern Europe – that is inextricably bound to that of its massive neighbor Russia.    

Ukraine is a large and always politically pivotal nation that has endured centuries of complicated territorial shifts -- ruled at points by Lithuania, the Ottoman Empire, Poland, Austria-Hungry and, most prominently throughout the 20th century, Russia,. Ukraine's fate intertwined with that of the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, enduring devastating famine and forced "Russification" under Joseph Stalin's rule. After becoming independent from the failing USSR in 1991 Ukraine went back and forth between aligning more closely with Russia and then, after the "Orange Revolution," with the West. The country continues its tempestuous relationship with Russia, in particular in a dispute over Crimea.  

Of course Ukraine is so much more that just a character in another nation's narrative. Ukrainians are proud of their perseverance through their challenging history as well as their Ukrainian language and a  pleasing diversity of people, cultures and music. Ukraine is home to a variety of mountain-dwelling ethnic groups, such as the Hutsuls who we meet in this week's class, while at the same time boasting rapidly modernizing, increasingly European cities such as  Kiev.    

This week in class we sing:

We sing "We Are Happy," a hello song from Uganda, to open every All Around This World class. This week we sing hello in Ukrainian: "Dobri den!"

"Mela Babka” is a Czech song based upon the 1-2-3 rhythm of a type of song and social dance called the mazurka. In class we sing, but let beanbags do the dancing. (More.)  

Darida” is a song from Ingushetia, a Russian Republic in the Caucasus Mountains, about someone who is so in love that he'll follow the the person he loves anywhere. (More.

Vesno Krasna” is a Ukrainian song that celebrates the coming of spring and the triumph over a long, hard winter. (More.

Nigun Simcho” is an exuberant melody that is popular among Chasidic Jews that maintain traditional religious and cultural practices from 18th century Eastern Europe. (More.)  


The primary musical figure of the Ukraine has always been the “kobzar,” the blind itinerant musician who has traditional played “bandura” (zither) and spread folk music and poetry. This class of independent musician was such an important part of Ukraine’s national identity at the beginning of the Soviet period that Stalin, as part of his 1933 purges, invited the nation’s kobzars to a conference, arrested them and…worse. Only one kobzar was not able to attend the conference; he survived and passed down his traditions. With no more kobzars to concern them the Soviets replaced independent, multicultural Ukrainian music with sterile, state-sponsored orchestras and ensembles and effectively prohibited musical expression. 

Ukrainian music reemerged after the Soviet Union collapsed. A new crop of kobzars rose to revive Ukrainian folk traditions, though with the ascendance of modern music like rock, pop and hip hop, true kobzars are few and far between. You will enjoy this short documentary tribute to “the last kobzar,” Ostap Kindrachuk. 

Have a great week,