The History of Ukraine’s National Anthem

“Ukraine is not yet dead”, the first line of a patriotic poem written by Pavlo Chubynsky in 1862, the prose, later to accompany a musical score written a year later by Mykhailo Verbytsky, a Ukrainian composer and Catholic priest, denotes the cultural mix of hope and desperation felt by Ukrainians through the centuries to rule their own land. Widely sung as a hymn originally, both the melody and lyrics share similarities with Polish, Serbian, and Israeli anthems. Formally adopted as the national anthem of the briefly independent Ukrainian National Republic after Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Ukraine’s national anthem became a source of controversy in 1991 when the country’s second, but permanent, independence declaration was secured.

The newly installed Ukrainian parliament, dissatisfied with the pessimistic tone of the lyrics in particular, sponsored several contests for revised lyrics. Unable to come to any agreement on any of the suggestions submitted, the national anthem spent twelve years in limbo until an agreement was forged by political parties and leaders and signed by the President in 2003.

In the end, only modest changes to the Ukraine national anthem were made. Rather than opening with the words, “Ukraine hasn’t yet died, nor has her glory or freedom,” the anthem begins with the phrase, “Ukraine’s glory and freedom which haven’t perished”. An abbreviated length of the anthem, whittling three verses to one with a chorus refrain, sadly eliminated poetic references to the Dnipro River and the Black Sea, the Carpathian Mountains, and the rich steppe region, opting instead to shine the spotlight on vanquishing the country’s enemies and the fresh breath of freedom.