Acclaimed Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko died Saturday of heart failure in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he taught at the University of Tulsa. He was 84 years old.
Born in the city of Irkutsk in Siberia, Yevtushenko was raised in Moscow. He became known in the 1960s for his poems denouncing Joseph Stalin and anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.
“The Prospects of the Future,” the first of Yevtushenko’s nearly 150 collections of poetry, was published in 1952. That same year, he became the “youngest member of the Union of Soviet Writers,” the BBC reported.
His epic 1961 work, “Babi Yar,” detailed the massacre by the Nazis of more than 33,000 Jews in the Ukraine during World War II, shedding light on a story the Soviet Union had long suppressed. In the poem, Yevtushenko wrote:
No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
“Babi Yar” was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich in his “Symphony No. 13” and premiered at a 1962 performance by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Yevtushenko “knew how to find the key to the souls of people,” and a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Yevtushenko’s legacy will, “remain part of Russian culture,” the Associated Press reported.
Yevtushenko told the AP in 2007 that he would not call his work “political poetry.”
“I call it human rights poetry; the poetry which defends human conscience as the greatest spiritual value,” he said.