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Every country has it. The United States has America the beautiful, Australia has Waltzing Matilda, New Zealand has Pokarekare Ana, Korea has Arirang and Latvia has Dzimtā valoda. Ukraine is no different. The song that is bound to get any Ukrainian on their feet and sing is Червона рута (Chervona Ruta, meaning Red Rue in English), a song that was recorded in 1968. Despite being classified as an "oldie," it is still a hit.

So how has this piece of music become immortal? The song is related to the holiday of Ivan Kupala Day in Ukrainian culture which is celebrated on the night of 23 - 24 June in the Gregorian or New Style calendar. According to the legend, the rue turns red from its original yellow on the night of Ivan Kupala and the girl who finds this flower at this time will be happy in love forever.

In 1968, a 19 year-old student at the Lviv Medical Institute looked through his father's library and found a collection of "kolomyjka"s (the author of the collection was Volodymyr Hnatyuk), traditional folk songs/dances of Pokuttia and Prykarpattia (both terms are historic in describing East and Central Europe). Looking through his father's prized possessions, something caught his eye: the legend of Ivan Kupala Day. The young man was bemused by the legend because he was taught in school that rue is yellow and stays yellow. This stuck in his head and he began writing a song about it. Little did he know that he would gain cult status in the entire Soviet Union for this work. The young man's name was Volodymyr Ivasiuk.

Ivasiuk would go on to make his television debut with his "magnum opus" on 13th September 1970 in Chernivtsi. The song was sung by the author and a female singer called Olena Kuznetsova. Later that year, a Ukrainian pop group named Смерічка (Smerichka) performed "Chervona Ruta" and the song's popularity took off. Smerichka won the USSR National Song of the Year prize in 1971 at the Television Song Festival competition held in Moscow. Cult phenomenon status was confirmed the same year when a film based on the song, coincidentally titled Chervona Ruta starring Sofia Rotaru and Vasyl Zinkevych, was released. Rotaru was instrumental in transforming the immense popularity of Ivasiuk's work into immortal status (she was awarded with the title of the People's Artist of the USSR).

Despite the accolades and the nation's praise, the Soviet authorities were not impressed with the song. Although it is not 100% confirmed, many Ukrainians believe that Volodymyr Ivasiuk's premature and mysterious death in 1979 at age 30 was a homicide orchestrated by the KGB. The reason was that the composer was deliberately promoting Ukrainian nationalism and not conforming to the Soviet ideals for art. His funeral was attended by at least 10 000 people and even more than thirty years after his death, he is revered as one of the most important figures in Ukrainian history. Ironically, a hero was killed but a legend was born. In 2009, then-President Victor Yushchenko posthumously awarded Ivasiuk the Hero of Ukraine medal. The Ukrainian President even ordered a re-opening of the cold case regarding the composer's demise.

The legacy of Chervona Ruta has been undeniable. Ruslana, the 2004 Eurovision Contest winner, debuted with this song at the Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk in 1996 where she was awarded First place. Furthermore, Ani Lorak (the runner-up at the 2008 Eurovision Contest) made a tremendous cover of the song. Thirdly, it was even translated into English and performed by Kievan native Anna Sedokova.

The Lyrics to Chervona Ruta (in Ukrainian)

Ty pryznajsya meni,
Zvidky v tebe ti chary,
Ya bez tebe vsi dni
U poloni pechali.
Mozhe, des" u lisax
Ty char-zillya shukala,
Sonce-rutu znajshla
I mene zcharuvala!

Chervonu rutu ne shukaj vechoramy —
Ty u mene yedyna, til'ky ty, povir.
Bo tvoya vroda to ye chystaya voda,
To ye bystraya voda synix hir.

Bachu ya tebe v snax,
U dibrovax zelenyx,
Po zabutyx stezhkax
Ty pryxodysh do mene.
I ne treba nesty
Meni kvitku nadiyi,
Bo davno uzhe ty
Uvijshla v moyi mriyi


The English translation

Just admit it to me.
You’re controlling my feelings.
Though my heart was in pain
With your spell it is healing.
In the forest you knew
Of the midsummer flower
That when kissed by the sun
Has a magical power.

Please don’t go searching
For the red bloom this evening
For the love that I have for you
Is true and free.
Just as the rivers
Of the mountains are givers
Of clean water;
You’ve given life to me.

As you visit my dreams
In the green glades of summer
You are coming to me
As you would to a lover
And you don’t need to give
Me a flower or a potion
I shall always be here
You have all my devotion.

Please don’t go searching
For the red bloom this evening
For the love that I have for you
Is true and free.
Just as the rivers
Of the mountains are givers
Of clean water;
You’ve given life to me.


Here are some videos of the various performances of Chervona Ruta:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iV_4XvldJw0 - a vintage performance with the Ivasiuk himself on stage

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=So_baTpMgZE - Ani Lorak's cover

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJM9GnWEz5w - The 1971 Film

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNxTvZm7Q9w - Sofia Rotaru's version


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Feb. 13th, 2017 11:17 pm (UTC)
Chervona Ruta
Re Chervona Ruta in English here is my performance of my translation that you list https://youtu.be/d32hnc5Iois

Edited at 2017-02-13 11:18 pm (UTC)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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