THIS DAY 

IN HISTORY

                                                                                                                     ISSUE 4 - JANUARY 23, 2019
Then & Now: Gunshots Aimed at the Heart of Ukraine
During this past Christmas season, it is undoubtedly certain you have heard one of the most popular, and world famous carols celebrating the season, "Carol of the Bells." The young Ukrainian composer, Mykola Leontovych, who wrote this piece, was assassinated this day in January, 98 years ago in his parents' home. Why? Simply because he stood for a free and independent Ukraine, a struggle that continues to this very day.
 
Postage stamp of Mykola Leontovych issued by Ukraine in 2002 on the 125th anniversary of his birth.
Mykola Leontovych was a Ukrainian composer, conductor, and teacher. After graduating from the theological seminary in Kamianets-Podilskyj in 1899, he worked as a teacher at various schools in Kyiv and other places. Leontovych's creativity played an important role in the development of Ukrainian choral tradition and i nfluenced composers of succeeding generations.  In spite of the popularity of his compositions, Leontovych was modest about his work and remained a generally unrecognized figure until he was brought to Kyiv in 1918-19 to teach at Kyiv Conservatory and the Lysenko Music and Drama Institute. Leontovych's musical heritage consists primarily of more than 150 choral compositions inspired by the texts and melodies of Ukrainian folk songs. Obtaining high praise from critics as well as widespread popularity in Ukraine and elsewhere, in France, Leontovych earned the nickname, "The Ukrainian Bach." 

Mykola Leontovych pictured with his wife, Claudia Feropontivna Zhovtevych, and the couple's first daughter, Halyna.
On October 5, 1921, "Shchedryk" was performed in Carnegie Hall in New York City to a sold-out audience. Widely known as "Carol of the Bells," this masterpiece of Ukrainian music has experienced over 150 transmutations in re-arrangements for differing vocal and instrumental combinations throughout the world. It has, indeed, become synonymous with representing the spirit that is Christmas.
 
Mykola Leontovych was at his parents' home to celebrate the Christmas holidays. The night before he was murdered, the assassin  had come to his parents' house in the village of Markivka (near Vinnytsia) and asked for overnight shelter. He said he was traveling on government assignment and showed his official papers. This was a small home, with meager accommodations, so the two, Mykola Leontovych and the Cheka agent  shared the same room for the night. Then, at seven in the morning, in a cowardly fashion, the agent shot Mykola Leontovych in his sleep, in the stomach. Sadly, his mother and father had been tied up and so, they helplessly watched their son bleed to death .

Leontovych and a choir in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Just as today, the official Kremlin playbook was used. The official Soviet narrative of this assassination was presented as a trivial robbery  by a criminal who just pretended to be a Cheka agent (the agent having made-off with the Leontovychs' valuables as well). However, recently revealed archival documents confirm that the killer was a genuine operative of the Cheka from the office based in Haisyn.
 

The Leontovych home.
Regrettably, the struggle for a free and independent Ukraine that Mykola Leontovych stood for is still very  much under threat today by the successors of those Cheka agents. The Kremlin is repeatedly placing Ukraine's independence and freedom under threat, especially since the Revolution of Dignity, which spurred a new dawning for democracy in Ukraine. Even now, gunshots continue to kill the people of Ukraine (over 10,000) as they fight a struggle to continue building their democracy in a free and independent  country.

Whenever you next hear the "Carol of the Bells," please take a nanosecond to remember this young composer who had so much more to contribute to the world of music as well as all the people of Ukraine who continue to be killed from gunshots in defense of their democratic independent country.
A Message from the Front
"Ukraine Will Overcome!"



"Believe in Ukraine"
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