Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Photo from: (By Cybersky - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Photo from: (By Cybersky – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Yevgeny Yevtushenko was the best known poet of the post-Stalin generation of Soviet poets. He gained international fame in 1961 with his poem Babi Yar, in which he denounced both Nazi and Russian anti-Semitism. He said that the poem was inspired by shame and conscience. The editor of the magazine that published it lost his job.

The poem was translated into seventy-two languages within a week of publication. It achieved wide circulation and was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich in his Thirteenth Symphony. One of the few Babi Yar survivors kissed the poet’s hand in gratitude for publicly recognizing the tragedy.

In his Stalin’s Heirs published the same year in Pravda, Yevtushenko warned that Stalinism still dominated the Soviet Union. He asked “how to take Stalin out of Stalin’s heirs.” The poem did not appear in print again until perestroika.

In 1968, Yevtushenko publicly protested the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. His poem Russian Tanks in Prague was distributed in Samizdat and was not published until perestroika twenty-five years later.

Since the 1970s Yevtushenko has been also active in acting and directing movies and remained politically outspoken. In 1987, he was appointed honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1991, 200,000 people gathered at a stadium to hear him recite his poetry.

In Gorbachev’s time, he introduced to Soviet readers many poets repressed by Stalin. He was instrumental in getting a monument to the victims of Stalinist repressions erected opposite the headquarters of the KGB.

Since 1992, Yevtushenko lived in Tulsa, OK, where he taught at the university. He died on April 1, 2017. According to his will, he was buried in Moscow, next to Boris Pasternak.

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