In the spring of 1846, in Kiev, Shevchenko met the young historian
Kostomarov, who was an ardent admirer of his poetry.
Together with a group of young Ukrainian liberals, Kostomarov organized
a political association - the Society of Cyril and Methodious, named
for the legendary disseminators of reading and writing among the
Slavs. The Society called for the unification of all the Slavic
nations on the basis of equality, and stood for the annulment of
serfdom and for close cultural and political fraternization. However,
its members imagined that they could achieve their aims through
sermonizing and dissemination of knowlege, ruling out any idea of
The poet attended meetings of the secret fraternity, where he read
his flaming poems, calling for an uprising. He headed the left wing
of the society.
In March of 1847 the Society was denounced to the authorities and
its members - Kostomarov, Shevchenko, Hulak and others - were arrested.
M. Shtaerman, First Arrest of Shevchenko
Shevchenko, whose revolutionary poems where circulated in
manuscript copies, had become known to the Tsar, was sentenced
to exile as a private in the Orenburg Field Batallion.
Approving the verdict, Nicholas I added with his own hand:
"Under strictest surveilance, with the prohibition to
write and paint."
The poet later wrote of the Tsar's sentence: "If I had
been a monster, a vampire, even then a more horrible torture
could not have been devised for me."
In eight days Shevchenko was delivered to his place of exile.
From Orenburg he was sent further yet, to the Orsk Fortress.
The appearance of Orsk was anything but attractive. A solitary
hillock rose from a dismal plan. On one side there were the
poor huts of the local populance; on the other side were the
barracks of the convicts. The only vegetation consisted of
prickly weeds and withered sedge.
After the magnificent nature of Ukraine, the green banks of the
Dnipro River, the picturesque avenues of beautiful Kiev and spacious
southern steppes, Shevchenko viewed the wilderness with profound
Here began the hard and monotonous life of Private Taras Shevchenko.
In the daytime he went through the drills. In the evenings, sitting
with the other soldiers in his stuffy barracks, Shevchenko listened
to their unhappy tales about beatings and humiliations.
Shevchenko spent ten years in exhile in the distant reaches of
the Tsarist empire. The degrading treatment he suffered at the hands
of his cruel superiors, and the difficult conditions of harshly
disciplined army life undermined his health, but they could not
subdue his spirit - on the contrary, his hatred of the Tsarist regime
grew still more implacable. Nothing could break his ardent will
to struggle and engage in creative work. "I am tormented, I
suffer, but I do not repent," Shevchenko said at the time of
his most arduous ordeals.
Violating the Tsar's prohibition and disregarding all threats,
Shevchenko secretly continued to write poetry. It should be noted
that among his immediate superiors there were not only rude martinets,
but also some very sensitive and humane people. During his ten years
of exile he composed many marvelous works, in which, disclosing
his own feelings and experiences, he expressed the cherished aspirations
of all oppressed people.
Writing, painting and the hope that he would gain his freedom were
the sole consolations of Shevchenko, Private No.191 in the regimental
T.Shevchenko, Langhiz-Agach, 1848
In the beginning of 1848 a group of officers of the General
Staff undertook a scientific expedition to explore the Aral
Sea. Taras Shevchenko was offered an opportunity to join the
expedition and gladly agreed. The main thing was that he would
be rid of the tyranny of his harsh sergeant-majors, and would
leave the strench of the barracks.
Shevchenko made many sketches and water colors during the
trip. He sketched the forbidding landscape of the Aral Sea
and its shores with telling expressiveness, which became interesting
On Kos-Aral Island Shevchenko wrote a great deal. In his diary
he termed the poetry written in exile a "Prisoner's Muse."
It contained both lyrical pieces and poems - Marina, The Sotnik
(Cossack Centurion), and The Sexton's Daughter. Shevchenko's
lyrics of the Kos-Aral period is a poetical record of his life in
an "unlocked prison". Other verses of the Kos-Aral cycle
are of an intimate nature imbued with a mournful mood. However,
there is no feeling of hopelessness in Shevchenko's poetry of that
period. Through the misty curtain of the current reality the poet
discerned the bright outlines of the happy Ukraine-to-be without
lord and slaves.
Never did freedom seem so precious to Shevchenko as it did
there, in exile and bondage. With all his heart he yearned
for Ukraine, although she, too, was deprived of freedom.
That winter Shevchenko composed many songs in the folk-song
tradition - sad songs and merry ones, serious songs and jesting
ones. During the same period he wrote several autobiographical
poems, which carried him back to his childhood and the years
of his youth.
In the autumn of 1849 the expedition returned to Orenburg. Shevchenko's
sketches and paintings of the Aral Sea were dispatched to headquarters
with a petition to have the exile's lot alleviated.
In Orenburg the poet roomed in private quarters and was not subject
to the rules of soldiering. He wrote and painted, and he wore civilian
clothes. And then a base young lieutenent informed on Shevchenko
to the authorities. A search was made of the poet's quarters and
his books and letters were confiscated.
Soon after orders were received from St. Petersburg that conditions
be made worse for Private Shevchenko. Nicolas I personally was behind
that command. The poet was sent to the far-away Novopetrovsk Fortress
on the north-eastern shore of the Caspian Sea. For the second time
he was sternly forbidden to write or paint. He was now watched more
The poet would not give up. At the risk of bringing the wrath of
his superiors down on him, he kept writing. In his new place of
exile Shevchenko wrote a number of stories in the Russian language,
the plots of which unfolded against the background of serfdom.
Shortly before his long-awaited freedom, Shevchenko began
to keep a diary in the Russian language. He began it "out
of boredom", as he put it simply because he had "
a terrible desire to write" and because he wanted to
practice writing. "Just as his instrument is imperative
for the virtuoso and his brush to the painter, so must a man
of letters practice writing."
He had no idea that his Journal (as he titled it, according
to fashion) would become one of his most remarkable works.
It is more than a biographical document. It is also a unique
self-portrait of the man whom Nekrasov called "a most
remarkable person of the Russian land" -a self-portrait
that allows us to gain an intimate knowlege of the poet, his
feelings, thoughts and political convictions.
In his Journal, Shevchenko appears as a staunch fighter, incapable
of compromise and firm in his belief that the final victory of the
people over the powers that held them in slavery.
We have been accustomed to visualize Shevchenko as he is shown
in the most popular portraits of him. He is depicted with a severe
oldish face with a long, hanging moustache. But this severe frowning
man was a person of gentle and sensitive spirit, of lofty and versatile
thought, an advanced man of his time.
When Shevchenko was finally released in 1857, already during the
reign of Tsar Alexander II, the poet seemed to have been born anew
as though he had dumped the hard years of exile off his back: "It
seems to me that I'm exactly the same as I was ten years ago. Not
a single trait of my inner being has changed. Is that good? It is
good!" he wrote in his Journal.
Arrest and Exile
Quick facts on Shevchenko Biography
Destiny - an autobiographical essay by Taras Shevchenko