Taras Hryhorovich Shevchenko, the great Ukrainian poet, artist and thinker, was born on March 9, 1814, in the village of Moryntsi in central Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. His parents, H. Shevchenko and K. Shevchenko, were serfs on the land of V. Engelhardt.
Noted writers and artists bought Shevchenko out of serfdom. The 2,500 rubles required were raised through a lottery in which the prize was a portrait of the poet, Zhukovsky, painted by Karl Bryullov. The release from serfdom was signed on April 22, 1838. A committee of the Association for the Encouragement of Artists had examined drawings by Shevchenko and approved them. In 1838, Shevchenko was accepted into the Academy of Arts as an external student, practicing in the workshop of K. Bryullov.
In January, 1839, Shevchenko was accepted as a resident student at the Association for the Encouragement of Artists, and at the annual examinations at the Academy of Arts, Shevchenko was given the Silver Medal for a landscape. In 1840 he was again given the Silver Medal, this time for his first oil painting, The Beggar Boy Giving Bread to a Dog.
Shevchenko began to write poetry even before he was freed from serfdom. In 1840, the world first saw the Kobzar, Shevchenko's first collection of poetry. Later Ivan Franko wrote that this book, "immediately revealed, as it were, a new world of poetry. It burst forth like a spring of clear, cold water, and sparkled with a clarity, breadth and elegance of artistic expression not previously known in Ukrainian writing." In 1841, the epic poem Haidamaky appeared as a separate volume. In September of that same year, Shevchenko got his third Silver Medal -- for his picture The Gypsy Fortune Teller. A significant work is the painting Kateryna, based on his poem.
Taras Shevchenko died in his studio apartment St. Petersburg at 5:30 a.m. on March 10, 1861. At the Academy of Arts, over the coffin of Shevchenko, speeches were delivered in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish. The poet was first buried at the Smolensk Cemetery in St. Petersburg. Then Shevchenko's friends immediately undertook to fulfil the poet's Zapovit (Testament), and bury him in Ukraine. The coffin with the body of Shevchenko was taken by train to Moscow, and then by horse-drawn wagon to Ukraine. Shevchenko's remains entered Kiev on the evening of May 6, and the next day they were transferred to the steamship Kremenchuh. On May 8 the steamship reached Kaniv, and Taras was buried on Chernecha Hill (now Taras Hill) by the Dnipro River. A tall mound was erected over his grave, and it has become a sacred site for the Ukrainian people.