The Culture of Ukraine with Rosamund Bartlett – Thursday 2nd November 2023

Despite Storm Ciaran, Rosamund Bartlett braved the weather and disrupted travel conditions to travel from Oxford to Grayshott Village Hall arriving just a few minutes late to give her lecture – and what a fascinating lecture it was. An expert on Russia and Ukraine, Rosamund, lecturer, author, translator and researcher, traced the development of Ukraine’s multi ethnic and multi faith history and culture from the 11th Century to the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The proud and independent Ukrainian Cossacks (from the word Kazak meaning freeman), developed their own culture: Kiev’s St Sophia Cathedral in Kiev which includes the beautiful Virgin Orans mosaic. Their  own music – they sang the epic “Dumy” ballads and improvised their own national dance, the “Hopak” – which is now a national sport as it is so athletic. Ukraine went from being part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to being absorbed into Russia under Catherine the Great in the 18th Century. By the 19th Century Ukraine was considered a Russian province, but despite this Ukraine maintained and developed its own cultural identity, producing well known composers such a  Maxim Berezovsky (1745-1777), author Nikolai Gogol (1809-1854) who wrote in Russian about Ukraine, and fervent nationalist, artist and poet Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861)

As the 19th Century progressed, Russia attempted to eradicate more and more aspects of the Ukrainian identity, culminating with Alexander II’s Ems decree in 1876 banning anything to be printed in the Ukrainian language. Consequently Ukrainian folk culture became even more important as Ukrainians circumvented this restriction by developing and wearing beautifully embroidered nationalistic clothing, and the “Bogomazys” (untrained folk masters) painted colourful icons of Saints to look like family members as well as decorating and painting eggs and geometric animals. In 1905 the ban on the Ukrainian language was lifted and an incredible renaissance of everything Ukrainian arose with an equally strong, proud, independent and vibrant artistic community.

Rosamund interspersed her excellent lecture with some of Ukraine’s beautiful folk music and sacred songs, then finished with Mykola Lysenko famous prayer for Ukraine “Protect our beloved Ukraine”


Liz Beecheno