Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko was born in Stantsiya Zima, Siberia, in the Soviet Union, on July 18, 1933, of mixed Ukrainian, Russian, and Tartar blood. In his famous poem “Stantsia Zima” (“Zima Junction”), he describes in detail this remote Siberian town on the Trans-Siberian Railway about two hundred miles from Irkutsk and not far from Lake Baikal. Both his grandfathers were victims of Stalinist purges, a fact that helps to explain Yevtushenko’s attitude toward Stalin. Yevtushenko’s father was a geologist, and between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, young Zhenya, as he was familiarly called, accompanied his father on geological expeditions to Kazakhstan and the Altai. His mother, of modest peasant stock, worked as a singer in Moscow during and after the war. His parents’ careers gave Yevtushenko a broad appreciation for common working people and the day-to-day struggles to survive in an authoritarian state.
As a young boy in Moscow, Yevtushenko began to read Russian and foreign classics, familiarizing himself not only with the works of Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov, but also those of Alexandre Dumas, père, Gustave Flaubert, Friedrich Schiller, Honoré de Balzac, Dante, and many other foreign authors. In 1941, he was evacuated to Zima Junction, where he developed his love for the Siberian taiga and his impassioned opposition to war. When his parents were separated in 1944, he returned to Moscow with his mother. His education from 1944 to 1948 was very desultory, and when he was expelled from school at fifteen, he ran off to join his father in Siberia for two years.
Among Yevtushenko’s many interests was sports, and it was not accidental that his first verses were published in a sports magazine. He met the editors Tarasov and Barlas, who became his first mentors, although his continued interest in reading led him to other models, especially Ernest Hemingway, Aleksandr Blok, Sergei Esenin, andVladimir Mayakovsky. Yevtushenko wrote in the style of the times, paying lip service to Stalin until the latter’s death in 1953.
The year 1953 was a turning point in Yevtushenko’s life, for along with many other Russians,...
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