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Hryhoriy Skovoroda-a Famous Ukrainian Writer, Minimalist, and Avid Traveler

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Introduction

Ukrainian literature is beautiful and rich. It boasts a long list of famous writers and poets. I was lucky enough to take classes from a great teacher in Ukrainian literature, Larysa, many years ago. She made me fall in love with many Ukrainian writers, including Taras Shevchenko, Vasyl Stus, Ivan Nechuy-Levyzky, Mykola Bazhan, Lesya Ukrainka, Hryhoriy Skovoroda… All of these writers put their heart and soul into their works.

Especially now, when I live in the United States, I find it comforting to read some of my favorite Ukrainian books from time to time. They give me peace and take me back to Ukraine in a flash. Instead of sitting in my living room in the Northwest Washington DC, I find myself wandering through the gorgeous Ukrainian forests and vast valleys. I hear the soft songs of nightingales and admire the bright yellow sunflowers blooming in the fields. Thanks to the Ukrainian writers, I can remember Ukraine the way it used to be before the devastating war.

The monument to Hryhoriy Skovoroda in Washington DC

One of my friends in Kyiv mentioned that a new monument was opened in Washington DC. And it wasn’t just any monument, but a monument to Hryhoriy Skovoroda, a famous Ukrainian writer and philosopher.

How cool!

Needless to say, I decided to check it out as soon as I had an opportunity. The monument is located in the Ukraine House, a cultural center of Ukraine in Washington DC. As soon as you enter the garden of Ukraine House, you can immediately spot this wonderful statue. It looks exactly like Hryhoriy Skovoroda. The statue was unveiled in December 2022 on the occasion of the 300 years from birth of the famous author.

Apparently, this sculpture was made back in 1992 by an American sculptor Mark Rhodes at the request of the Ukrainian diaspora. However, the statue was lost for many years and eventually needed to travel quite a bit to find its worthy place in the center of Washington DC.

This story doesn’t come as a surprise. In fact, Skovoroda himself was one of the most avid travelers one could imagine!

Skovoroda’s Travels

Hryhoriy Skovoroda travelled on foot throughout Ukraine and Europe and lived in various cities and villages throughout his life. He did not stay long in one place.

Skovoroda led a rather lonely existence, but this is the way of life which made him content. He declined many important jobs because he felt they were not for him. Skovoroda was a true minimalist. He didn’t need a big house and many expensive things to make him happy. He believed that he was meant to lead a simple life, no matter how famous he was.

Skovoroda travelled around with just a bag of things he found really important. The list of the items he had in his bag is not known for sure. However, there’s a good chance he carried around his Bible, his flute, and some books.

Skovoroda died when he was 71. Notably, when he felt that end was near, he still managed to get back to Ukraine from another country. He passed away in his native land, like he always wanted. His grave, which is located in the small village of Skovorodynivka in the Kharkiv region, has a cross with a sign: “The world was trying to catch me, but never did.” This is the statement the Ukrainian writer asked to be put on his grave.

Works and views of Hryhoriy Skovoroda

Skovoroda’s works were never published while he was still alive. This was because the strict censorship did not allow them. Skovoroda’s works went against the religious views of his time, whereby the church considered some people blessed, while others were considered cursed (for example, poor serfs). Instead, this Ukrainian writer argued that any work was blessed by God, and people were created equal. The theme of friendship was also widely present in his works. He argued that friendship was very important for a person’s happiness, but friends needed to picked very carefully.

Despite the inability to publish his works, Skovoroda gained notable fame throughout his native land. He had a tremendous impact on his contemporaries, including other Ukrainian writers, who sought and shared his works among themselves. This happened centuries before social media was invented! Common people of Ukraine had great respect for the author and kept his portraits in their houses. Skovoroda’s first work was published in 1798, and the full collection of his works was only published in the 1972.

In conclusion

Skovoroda’s philosophy is very close to my heart. He advised everyone to use the simplest, most practical things and find satisfaction in their work, rather than in their wealth. Skovoroda used to say that wealth satisfies the body, but work satisfies the soul. He didn’t care about expensive clothing and only wore a simple, although well put together, peasant outfit. Neither was he fond of any gourmet meals and preferred simple, healthy food. I think everyone can benefit from the advice of this famous Ukrainian writer!

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3 thoughts on “Hryhoriy Skovoroda-a Famous Ukrainian Writer, Minimalist, and Avid Traveler”

  1. Ukrainian literature was my favorite subject at school, even though my parents were not fluent in Ukrainian (like the most of the locals in Odessa in the 90s-20s)! Also, I do not recall much from Skovoroda´s biography, so loved learning more via your blog

    1. Glad this post was useful! Skovoroda was quite a traveler, hah? I would never be able to travel the way he did, with just a couple of items… He’d make a perfect travel blogger with millions of followers had he lived today!

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