What Is The Ukrainian National Anthem: History, English Lyrics. Photo: Classicfm
What Is The Ukrainian National Anthem: History, English Lyrics. Photo: Classicfm

"Shche ne vmerla Ukrainy i slava, i volia", also known by its official title of "State Anthem of Ukraine" or by its shortened form "Shche ne vmerla Ukrainy" (Ще не вмерла України, lit. 'Ukraine has not yet perished'), is the national anthem of Ukraine. It is one of the state symbols of the country.

Upon the declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1917, a number of patriotic works were used in the capacity of a national anthem, including Chubynskyi’s work, but none of them were officially declared as the national anthem. In 1920, Ukraine was made part of the Soviet Union, and “Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina” and other patriotic works were officially discouraged. During the second world war, the short lived Carpatho-Ukraine Republic (now located in western Ukraine) adopted “Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina” as its anthem. Upon the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine regained its independence and Chubynskyi’s anthem was the most popular choice already in use as an anthem; when independence was declared no lyrics were officially mandated, the lyrics that were in common use at the time differed somewhat from Chubynskyi’s original poem.

The lyrics were made official in 2003 and changed slightly; the most important change was made to the first line (and title), which were interestingly borrowed from the Polish anthem. In the new version, the case ending of the word “Ukraine” was changed, so that rather than saying “Ukraine hasn’t yet died, nor has her glory or freedom,” it now says that it’s Ukraine’s glory and freedom which haven’t perished. Also, the current version of the anthem is limited to the first verse of Chubynskyi’s poem (with the modification to the first line mentioned above) plus the chorus, which was the first half of Chubynskyi’s original chorus; previously, three verses and a chorus were commonly used.

History of The Ukrainian National Anthem

Photo: USAToday
Photo: USAToday

The Ukrainian national anthem can be traced back to one of the parties of the Ukrainian ethnographer and poet Pavlo Chubynsky that occurred during the autumn of 1862. Scholars think that the Polish national song "Poland Is Not Yet Lost" ("Polish: Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła"), which dates back to 1797, and which later became the national anthem of Poland and the Polish Legions, also had an influence on Chubynsky's lyrics. "Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła" was popular among the nations of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth that were at that time fighting for their independence; the January Uprising started a few months after Chubynsky wrote his lyrics.

Chubynsky's words were rapidly taken up by the earliest Ukrainophiles. In 1862 , the head gendarm Prince Vasily Dolgorukov exiled Chubynsky to Arkhangelsk Governorate for the "dangerous influence on the minds of commoners".

The poem was first officially published in 1863, when it appeared in the fourth issue of the Lviv journal Meta. It became popular in the territories which now form part of Western Ukraine, and came to the attention of a member of the Ukrainian clergy, Mykhailo Verbytsky of the Greek-Catholic Church. Inspired by Chubynsky's poem, Verbytsky, then a prominent composer in Ukraine, decided to set it to music. The poem was first published with Verbytsky's sheet music In 1865. The first choral performance of the piece was in 1864 at the Ukraine Theatre in Lviv.

The first recording of this anthem (then spelled "Szcze ne wmerła Ukrajiny ni sława ni wola") in Ukrainian was released on a vinyl record by Columbia Phonograph Company during World War I in 1916. As a folk song it was performed by a Ukrainian emigrant from Lviv and New York resident Mychajlo Zazulak in 1915.

Early use

However, Chubynsky's poem wasn't used as a state anthem until 1917, when it was adopted by the Ukrainian Republic. Still, even between 1917 and 1921, this anthem was not legislatively adopted as an exclusive state anthem as other anthems were also used at the time.

During the period between 1918 and 1919, Chubynsky's poem was also used as a state anthem of the short-lived West Ukrainian People's Republic.

Ukraine's anthem during the Soviet period

In 1922, the Ukrainian SSR signed the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR with the Russian SFSR, Transcaucasian SFSR and Byelorussian SSR, which created the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Following the signing of the treaty, the anthem was immediately banned by the Soviet regime. The authorities later decided that each separate Soviet republic could have its own anthem, but Shche ne vmerla Ukraina was rejected in an attempt to help to suppress separatist sentiments held by Ukrainian Nationalists. In 1939, "Szcze ne wmerła Ukrajina" was adopted as the official state anthem of Carpatho-Ukraine.

Soviet leaders instead wanted an anthem that would evoke emotions of Ukraine being a fraternal republic within the USSR, which was "equal among equals, free among the free". It necessarily had to mention the Communist Party of the Soviet Union which was leading Ukraine towards communism. They chose Pavlo Tychyna's version of "Zhyvy, Ukraino, prekrasna i syľna", which become the official anthem of the Ukrainian SSR in 1949, and remained the republic's anthem until 1991. Unpopular among Ukrainians, the anthem of the USSR was played instead during nearly all official events in Ukraine during the communist era.

Post-independence

On 15 January 1992, the music for the State Anthem of Ukraine was adopted by Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and was later instituted in the Ukrainian constitution. However, the lyrics for the anthem were not officially adopted until 6 March 2003, when the Verkhovna Rada passed a law on the state anthem of Ukraine (Закон "Про Державний гімн України"), proposed by then president Leonid Kuchma. The law proposed Mykhailo Verbytsky's music and Pavlo Chubynsky's first verse and refrain of his poem "Šče ne vmerla Ukrajina". However, the first stanza of the anthem was to be changed from "Shche ne vmerla Ukraina, ni slava ni volia" to "Shche ne vmerla Ukrainy, i slava i volia".

The law was passed with an overwhelming majority of 334 votes out of 450, with only 46 MPs opposing. Only the members of Socialist Party of Ukraine and Communist Party of Ukraine refrained from the voting. The passing of this law finalised Article 20 of the Constitution of Ukraine. The national anthem that up until then had only officially consisted of Mykhailo Verbytsky's music, would henceforth also include the modified lyrics of Pavlo Chubynsky.

The popularity of the Ukrainian anthem has become particularly high in the wake of the Orange Revolution protests of 2004 and Euromaidan of 2013. Ukrainian composer Valentyn Sylvestrov, who participated in Ukrainian protests in Kyiv, characterised the Ukrainian anthem thus:

The Ukrainian anthem is amazing. At first it doesn't impress you at all, but that's only at first glance. Indeed, this anthem was created by Mykhailo Verbytsky, clerical composer of the mid-19th century. He lived under the Austrian monarchy, probably was fond of Schubert; he had an euphonic gift – it's clear from his liturgical compositions. He was a church composer. And this patriotic song, he created as a church composer. This chant is a Hallelujah. No other anthem has this! It's a unique piece: the anthem of Ukraine, which at the same time has all characteristic features of a liturgy's beginning. Some memory of a liturgy, of an all-night vigil, has submerged in this anthem. It seems as if wind blows in this simple chant, as if tree branches are singing.

Euromaidan to present

During the Euromaidan protests of 2013, the anthem became a revolutionary song for the protesters. In the early weeks of the protests, they sang the national anthem once an hour, led by singer Ruslana.

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, orchestras in Europe and North America played the anthem in solidarity with Ukraine and its people.

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Different lyrics versions of Ukrainian National Anthem

Shche ne vmerla Ukraina was sung as the de facto national anthem at the inauguration of the first President Leonid Kravchuk on 5 December 1991, but it was not until 6 March 2003 that Chubynsky's poem officially became a part of Ukraine's national anthem. The Constitution of Ukraine designated Verbytsky's music for the national anthem on 28 June 1996:

The State Anthem of Ukraine is the national anthem set to the music of M. Verbytsky, with words that are confirmed by the law adopted by no less than two-thirds of the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

— Article 20 of the Constitution of Ukraine

On 6 March 2003, the Verkhovna Rada officially adopted the anthem's lyrics, opting to use only the first verse and chorus from Chubynsky's original poem, while slightly modifying the first stanza. Instead of stating "Ukraine has not yet died, neither her glory, nor her freedom", the opening line now states "Ukraine's glory has not yet died, nor her freedom".

Ukrainian lyrics (Cyrillic script)

Ще не вмерла України і слава, і воля,

Ще нам, браття молодії, усміхнеться доля.

Згинуть наші воріженьки, як роса на сонці.

Запануєм і ми, браття, у своїй сторонці.

CHORUS:

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу,

І покажем, що ми, браття, козацького роду

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу,

І покажем, що ми, браття, козацького роду

Ukrainian lyrics (Romanization)

Shche ne vmerla Ukrayiny i slava, i volya,

Shche nam, brattya molodiyi, usmixnet’sya dolya.

Zhynut’ nashi vorizhen’ky, yak rosa na sonci.

Zapanuyem i my, brattya, u svoyij storonci.

CHORUS:

Dushu j tilo my polozhym za nashu svobodu,

I pokazhem, shcho my, brattya, kozac’koho rodu

Dushu j tilo my polozhym za nashu svobodu,

I pokazhem, shcho my, brattya, kozac’koho rodu

English translation

Ukraine’s glory hasn’t perished, nor her freedom

Upon us, fellow compatriots, fate shall smile once more.

Our enemies will vanish, like dew in the morning sun,

And we too shall rule, brothers, in a free land of our own.

CHORUS:

We’ll lay down our souls and bodies to attain our freedom,

And we’ll show that we, brothers, are of the Kozak nation.

We’ll lay down our souls and bodies to attain our freedom,

And we’ll show that we, brothers, are of the Kozak nation.

Lyrics video of The Ukrainian National Anthem

Ukraine’s National Anthem Reverberates Around the World

And on Monday night, the anthem shook the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, whose white travertine exterior was draped in an enormous Ukrainian flag and bathed in blue and yellow lights for its “Concert for Ukraine.”

Alyona Alyona, one of Ukraine’s biggest rappers, said in a Skype interview from her home in Baryshivka, a town east of Kyiv, that she was hearing the anthem about “20 times a day” on Ukrainian TV, where it was being used to rally the country. She had contributed to a compilation of the country’s music stars singing it, she added. “This song has a very big meaning,” she said.

Even in Russia, Ukraine’s anthem has been heard, with some antiwar protesters in Moscow having been filmed defiantly singing it while being arrested.

Paul Kubicek, a political scientist at Oakland University who has written extensively about Ukraine, said the anthem was penned in the 1860s when much of what is today Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire. It was “a time of cultural awakening,” Kubicek said, with elites looking to “revive and celebrate a Ukrainian heritage that was at risk of being lost to a process of Russification.”

Those elites included Pavlo Chubynsky, an ethnologist and poet, who in 1862 wrote the lyrics after being inspired by patriotic songs from Serbia and Poland. The following year, a composer and priest, Mykhailo Verbytsky, set Chubynsky’s words to music.

Rory Finnin, a professor of Ukrainian studies at Cambridge University, said Chubynsky’s song was one of a host of texts that worried the Russian authorities around that time. In 1863, they began censoring almost all Ukrainian publications, Finnin said. Soon, Chubynsky was expelled from the country “for disturbing the minds” of the public, Finnin added.

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