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Taras Shevchenko Museum

A path to the right-hand side of the ethnographic museum heads into the park. A plinth to the left of the path honours the senior officials of the Mangyshlak expedition involved in the march on Khiva in 1873. The statue of Tsar Alexander II which once stood on top of the plinth is now absent. A Soviet-era anti-aircraft gun stands nearby.

At the end of the path stands the elegant single-storey building, built in the 1850s, which once served as the summer residence of the commander of the fortress, and which now houses the Taras Shevchenko Museum. Shevchenko's writings are a foundation of modern Ukrainian literature, his poetry made a major contribution to the development of the Ukrainian national consciousness, and he was no mean artist either.

Born a serf in 1814, and orphaned young, Shevchenko progressed through his talent and the support of artists such as Karl Brullov, with whose help his freedom was purchased in 1838. He was arrested in 1847 for his association with the pan-Slavic Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The discovery by the arresting authorities of poetry critical of Tsarist rule resulted in a particularly severe punishment, and Shevchenko found himself in military exile as a private as part of the Orenburg garrison at the Orenburg and then Orsk fortresses. Despite a specific injunction from Tsar Nicholas I that he be barred from writing, drawing and painting, he managed to do all three. Indeed his artistic skills secured him a place on the military expedition sent to survey the Aral Sea in 1848-49. He was transferred to the fortress of Novopetrovskoye in 1850, and remained there until his release from military exile in 1857, two years after the death of Tsar Nicholas II. Taras Shevchenko died in 1861.

Shevchenko was able to produce many watercolours and pencil drawings during his exile in Novopetrovskoye, and these are featured heavily in the museum. Among the themes chosen are landscapes, such as a painting of fire on the steppe, the everyday lives of the Kazakh people, a series of mythical and biblical subjects, and portrayals of military life. There are portraits of the commander of the fortress, Irakty Uskov, who helped Shevchenko, and of his wife, Agata Uskova, with whom the poet seems to have been deeply enamoured. Also on display is a model of the Novopetrovskoye Fortress, and descriptions of the 1848 Aral expedition and 1851 Karatau expedition, in both of which Shevchenkos artistic skills were utilised. There is a copy of a letter to the Tsarist administration from explorer Karl Ber, petitioning for Shevchenkos release. And there is a tiny book in which Shevchenko wrote his poetry. The museum also includes various later paintings depicting Shevchenko in exile, including a 1951 canvas portraying the poet being taken by boat across the Caspian on his release from internal exile. The museums current visitors' book starts with a message from Ukrainian President Yushchenko, who visited Fort Shevchenko in 2005.

The modern building next to the museum surrounds the simple underground room where Shevchenko apparently spent much of his time. It comprises little more than two high windows, whitewashed walls, a hard wooden bed and a writing table. Also in this building is a section of tree trunk, apparently all that remains of a tree planted by the poet, and some kulpytases drawn by him. Opposite the museum is a statue of a rather contemplative Shevchenko.


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