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Painting: Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth
Emanuel Leutze, painted in 1857.

Separated by more than 5,000 miles and the Atlantic Ocean, the United States and Ukraine bear striking similarities in their love for freedom and independence. The cultures of both countries treat liberty and democracy as sacred ideas. When looking at their respective art, poetry, music, and historical heritage, the parallels become impossible to ignore: from paintings depicting great freedom fighters to revolutionary songs, with even similar themes in their respective national anthems.

The reason for these similarities is no mystery: both countries were forged in a hard-fought struggle for independence. When a nation is formed during its fight for freedom, liberty becomes a deeply held feature of its mentality. Unlike many other countries whose battles for independence lie in ancient history, for the U.S. and Ukraine, the struggle for self-determination is a fresh enough memory that it remains a strong part of their culture and identity.

For the 4th of July, the USA Independence Day celebration, the ‘Kyiv Camerata’ Orchestra has arranged the famous American patriotic melody ‘Yankee Doodle’ at America House Kyiv.

National anthems — hymns to freedom

As countries formed in the heated fight for independence, both the United States’ and Ukraine’s anthems reflect the values of bravery, sacrifice, and an indomitable will to determine one’s destiny. These songs do not shy away from the idea of battles and struggles; in fact, they proudly emphasize that peace and liberty need to be defended.

Though the history of the two countries is chronologically different, the anthems were created relatively close in historical terms: the United States’ anthem — in 1814 and Ukraine’s anthem — in 1862. This demonstrates a surprising fact: Americans and Ukrainians were establishing their freedom-oriented identity almost simultaneously in the broad scope of world history. Ukraine’s independence was delayed by the political chaos of World War One and later by the Soviet occupation, while American independence was solidified after the Revolutionary War.

The Star-Spangled Banner is a song of perseverance through battle, of freedom that cannot be suppressed by tyrannical powers, of a nation determined by its will and bravery. It was inspired by the defense of Fort McHenry in 1812, where, despite heavy bombardment by British forces, the American flag flew proudly above the battlements. This image resonates with many Ukrainians, who raise their blue-and-yellow flag daily amidst Russian missile strikes.

The Ukrainian national anthem hits on many of the same themes, such as the defense of liberty in the face of war, bravery and sacrifice in battle, and love for one’s homeland. The difference lies in the theme of centuries-long perseverance and rebirth, as the Ukrainian struggle against Russia dates back at least to the 17th century.

Founding figures and the Constitution

Left: Mount Rushmore. Photo: Thomas Wolf
Right: Monument to the founders of Kyiv. Photo: Kyiv Stories

American and Ukrainian cultures share a deep veneration of their founding figures: legendary and heroic personalities that laid the foundations for the country’s future. Mount Rushmore is the ultimate embodiment of these figures in sculpture — presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, carved from 1927 to 1941 into the side of an entire mountain. Chosen for their enormous influence on the establishment of the United States as a free and strong nation, their depiction on Mount Rushmore is a revered cultural symbol in the U.S. 

Completed in 1982, Ukraine’s sculpture of its founders is much more modest, yet its figures are no less legendary: the three brothers Kyi, Shchek, Khoryv, and their sister Lybid. According to historical chronicles, they established the city of Kyiv, from which the modern state of Ukraine developed. The monument on the city’s riverside promenade is a beloved cultural landmark for Kyivites and visitors alike.

Left: Thomas Jefferson Monument in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: The Sculpture Center
Right: Mykhailo Hrushevskyy Monument in Lviv. Photo: Lviv Center

Ukraine also honors its modern historical figures, placing them in public prominence just like those in the United States. They often serve as a reminder that civic and state achievements are just as important as martial ones. For example, there’s a definite similarity between how Americans perceive Thomas Jefferson (the U.S.’s third president) and how Ukrainians perceive Mykhailo Hrushevskyy (Ukraine’s first historical head of state). Both men were scholars, diplomats, and statesmen, revered for their societal contributions. It’s no coincidence that sculptors often depict them in poses of deep thought, holding scholarly attributes — books, scrolls, and documents. Their monuments are often seen in grand public squares, memorials, and in front of state buildings.

Left: Constitution of the United States. Photo: U.S. National Archives
Right: Ukrainian Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk. Photo: National Archives of Sweden

Additionally, both countries emphasize the importance of their Constitution as their highest founding document. Coincidentally, the United States can proudly proclaim it has the oldest formally ratified constitution in the world (signed in 1787), while Ukraine lays claim to the fact that it had the oldest early constitutional document in Europe (Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, written in 1710). 

While vastly different in details, the two constitutions both emphasize the now all-important idea of checks and balances and the separation of powers in government. Due to Ukraine’s difficult struggle for independence, the country would have to wait much longer to implement its modern founding document, ratified after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

Revolutionary music

Paintings: Left: Yankee Doodle by Archibald Willard, 1875
Right: To Battle! by Julian Butsmaniuk, 1918

Both the United States and Ukraine have a rich history of revolutionary songs. The importance of revolutionary music is even depicted in the art of both countries, such as: ‘The Spirit of ‘76’ (or ‘Yankee Doodle’) by Archibald Willard, which depicts American army musicians, and the painting ‘To Battle!’ by Julian Butsmaniuk which shows Ukrainian Riflemen musicians during their advance.

Yankee Doodle has long been seen as a symbol of defiance in American culture: initially created by the British imperial powers as a mockery of U.S. soldiers in the American Revolution, it later became a prominent battle hymn played to raise U.S. morale. A common man’s tune, it demonstrates an upbeat defiant mood and the never-ending optimism of a freedom fighter. 

Similarly, the song ‘Wayfaring tree in the meadow’, initially created in 1875 (coincidentally the same year that ‘Yankee Doodle’ was painted by Archibald Willard), was the hymn of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen. Just as Yankee Doodle was played in defiance of British imperial powers, so was the Wayfaring Tree a battle hymn against Moscow’s oppression.

Another similar revolutionary ballad with striking similarities to the Ukrainian ‘Wayfaring Tree’ is ‘The Liberty Tree’ by Thomas Paine. It shows a mythical tree as a national symbol, and mentions the fight for freedom, tyrannical oppression, and the sacred defense of liberty. Yankee Doodle is still widely known in the U.S. as a revolutionary symbol (and even a nursery song). The Ukrainian Wayfaring Tree regained popularity in 2022 after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It was sung by soldiers, civilians, and performers all around the country, (and even covered by Pink Floyd) as a hymn of resistance to Moscow’s aggression.

Leadership and liberty in art

Left: Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, painted in 1851
Right: Bohdan Khmelnytskyy enters Kyiv, by Mykola Ivasiuk, painted in 1912

The United States and Ukraine have no shortage of heroic leaders in their journey to independence. They are quite different in their historical contexts, yet share similar values of individual liberty, freedom of thought, and valor.

Bravery and leadership in battle are strongly associated in the U.S. with the American Revolution, depicted in such startling masterpieces as Washington Crossing the Delaware’ and ‘The Death of General Warren’. The former shows fearlessness and bravery exemplified by George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River to mount a surprise attack on enemy forces.

The theme of leaders and visionaries tasked with the struggle for national independence is also extremely common in Ukrainian art. In fact, the famous Ukrainian painting ‘Bohdan Khmelnytskyy enters Kyiv’ also depicts a national leader at the forefront of such a struggle — Bohdan Khmelnytskyy, the Cossack leader whose entire life was defined by his fight for Ukrainian freedom. This art piece was made by the talented Ukrainian painter Mykola Ivasiuk, who was later killed by the Soviet government as part of the Executed Renaissance. Both the Ukrainian and American paintings carry themes of legendary wartime leaders coming to liberate their people.

Left: ‘The Death of General Warren’ by John Trumbull
Right: ‘Before battle’ by Mykola Pymonenko.

The Death of General Warren’ dwells on the ideas of loss in war, and the self-sacrifice of civilians willing to defend their homeland. General Joseph Warren was an American civic leader and doctor, who volunteered to fight for his country — a story well understood by modern Ukrainians, many of whom left their civilian lives to become battlefield medics, soldiers, and officers. The theme of loss in war is echoed in much of Ukrainian art as well. A famous example is ‘Before Battle’ painted by Mykola Pymonenko, which depicts a Ukrainian girl crying as her husband leaves to fight for the country.

Poetry and love for the homeland

Left: Yosemite National Park, United States. Photo: Joss Woodhead.
Right: Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains. Photo: Dmitri K.

The United States and Ukraine also share a deep appreciation and love for their land: its beauty, its vastness, and the all-encompassing comfort of calling a place your home. Similar themes echo in the poetry of American and Ukrainian voices, marveling at the natural grace and wide expanses of their homeland, describing the feeling of freedom and belonging that they provide. In fact, those who have visited Ukraine and the American Mid-West (as well as some other U.S. regions in the North and South) would undoubtedly remark on how similar these landscapes can look.

At the end of the day, all the themes described above seem universal. Loving your homeland, fighting for freedom, protecting your families and loved ones… these ideas are echoed in history again and again. Yet, in the case of Ukraine and the United States, they seem especially closely connected in spirit, culture, and art. The national memory of righteous revolution, heroism, and the fight for liberty are equally as vivid in Kyiv and Kharkiv as they are in Georgia, Texas, New York, and Nevada. Both Americans and Ukrainians know — democracy deserves to be defended.