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What happened to Mykola Leontovych, author of the legendary “Carol of the Bells” song?


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What happened to Mykola Leontovych, author of the legendary “Carol of the Bells” song?

In 1919, Ukrainian “Shchedryk” (also known in English as “The Little Swallow” and later adapted as “Carol of the Bells”) resounded in many European concert halls. 

The melody united the world and gave it a sense of gentle excitement on the eve of Christmas. Its composer could have gone on to create dozens more breathtaking melodies had the soviet regime not decided otherwise.

This story is about the brutal murder of Mykola Leontovych, legendary author of “Shchedryk”. He was slaughtered while his daughter and father were in a room next door. For decades, the soviet regime withheld the facts of his murder until after Ukraine became independent, the archives were finally accessed, and the light was shed on the murder’s details.

5 October 1922, New York. The famous Carnegie Hall. Fancy people are sitting in the exquisite red velvet-trimmed interior. The famous Ukrainian Oleksandr Koshyts choir begins singing a melody no one has ever heard.

People turn around. They look at each other. It becomes clear to all, even those who know nothing about music, that the resounding melody will become eternal.

However, the author of the song was not present. He would never get to know that his melody touched the hearts of people around the world. After all, by the time the choir took the stage at Carnegie Hall, he was 9 months dead.

What happened to Mykola Leontovych, author of the legendary “Shchedryk” song?

On 22 January 1921, Mykola Leontovych visited his father, Dmytro, a priest in a village in the Vinnytsia region in Ukraine. His daughter Halyna and his sister Viktoriia were already awaiting him there. Together, the family was enjoying a pleasant winter evening.

Around 6 p.m., a knock at the door interfered with their quiet. Two unfamiliar men asked to spend the night in their house.

It was clearly cold outside, so the family decided to give the strangers lodging for the night.

Suddenly, a political debate sparked between Leontovych and one of the strangers who introduced himself as Hryshchenko.

The composer lamented that life had become harder for the people. This angered his companion greatly. He exclaimed that all those who felt hardship on them would have to be “lined up against a wall [and shot]”.

At that moment, it occurred to the family that the person they took for an ordinary stranger was actually a chekist. Hryshchenko made no secret of his affiliation with the All-russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counterrevolution. Moreover, he waved a document in the face of Leontovych and his father that identified him as a law enforcement officer.

Having failed to reach a consensus, they all went to bed. 

At 7:30 a.m., Leontovych’s father woke up to the sound of a gunshot.

He entered the room and saw his son bleeding to death. That same Hryschenko towered over him, holding a gun and removing a scrap shell case. 

“What sort of communist is he?!” – the murderer screamed, pointing at Leontovych.

The chekist tied his sister’s and father’s hands. Before leaving, the murderer robbed the house. He took the money, Leontovych’s wristwatch, and even his father’s short fur coat and shoes.

The villagers came running upon hearing the screams of the father. They untied the house owners’ hands and put a bandage on Leontovych’s wound.

The composer still managed to utter: “Dad, I am dying”.

When the doctor arrived, Leontovych was already dead.

He died in the embrace of his father in front of his daughter.

Mykola Leontovych was only 43 years old when the soviet regime cut his life short. He was not the only artist killed by the bolsheviks.

Naturally, the soviet regime covered up the murder for decades, promulgating facts that contradicted one another. The communists spread propaganda, claiming that the person who killed Leontovych was not a chekist but a disguised Petliura (Ukrainian politician) follower. 

It was not until the days of independent Ukraine that it became known that an official of soviet special services violently murdered Leontovych.

The father’s fellow villagers later recalled seeing Hryshchenko in Markivka a week before the murder. The man was investigating the priest’s house, the future scene of the murder.

Shortly before his death, Leontovych mentioned someone rummaging in his briefcase during one of his concerts. It contained two tickets abroad.

Prominent creative politician and military leader Symon Petliura succeeded at revealing Ukraine through music. 

It was his idea to send the Oleksandr Koshytsia choir on a world tour. Starting in 1919, the group travelled to dozens of European cities and performed in America.

Through cultural diplomacy, Petliura managed to demonstrate the difference between Ukrainian and russian cultures. 

Everyone liked “Shchedryk” at the time, and thereby, it became a weapon with which Ukraine could resist soviet subjugation.

Thus, the executioners of Mykola Leontovych, the author of the legendary tune, saw a threat to the system in him. That is why the soviet regime decided to get rid of him.


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