April 1 (UPI) — Acclaimed poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, whose work chronicled anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, died Saturday of heart failure, his wife said. He was 84.
The youngest of the Soviet-era writers who came to prominence under communist rule, Yevtushenko’s work denounced Russian dictator Joseph Stalin and shined a spotlight on the plight of Jews and other minorities under his rule.
Yevtushenko’s most prominent work was the epic poem Babi Yar, which chronicled the horrific violence that led to the two-day massacre of more than 33,000 Jews in Kiev, Ukraine, by the Nazis in World War II. The poem shed light on an act of genocide long suppressed by the Russians.
The poem takes its name from the park where the mass executions happened. A steep ravine in the park is where the Nazis put the bodies.
When Russian troops retook Kiev from Nazi control, the government began systematically removing references to the fact it was mainly Jews who were killed at Babi Yar. Instead, the government began referring to the victims as “peaceful Soviet citizens.”
In the poem, which was published in 1961, Yevtushenko wrote:
“No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.”
The poem was later set to music by the composer Dmitri Shostakovich in his Symphony No. 13, which debuted by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra in 1962.
Yevtushenko was born in Siberia but raised in Moscow. He later emigrated to the United States as his protest poetry made him a target of Kremlin ire.
Yevtushenko published more than 150 poetry anthologies in his career and was a professor at Oklahoma State University at the time of his death.