Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko has died in the US aged 84 from a cardiac arrest. Yevtushenko championed greater freedom in artistic and literary expression in post-Stalin Russia. In his poetry he focused on war atrocities and denounced antisemitism and tyrannical dictators, denouncing Joseph Stalin.
He gained international acclaim as a young revolutionary with Babi Yar, an unflinching 1961 poem that told of the slaughter of nearly 34,000 Jews by the Nazis and denounced the antisemitism that had spread throughout the Soviet Union. Yevtushenko, born in Siberia, was a longtime faculty member at the University of Tulsa teaching Russian and European poetry and the history of world cinema. He had been splitting his time between Oklahoma and Moscow. “He died a few minutes ago surrounded by relatives and close friends,” his widow, Maria Novikova, was quoted. “I call it human rights poetry; the poetry which defends human conscience as the greatest spiritual value,” Yevtushenko defined himself. At the height of his fame, Yevtushenko read his works in packed soccer stadiums and arenas, including to a crowd of 200,000 in 1991, during a failed coup attempt in Russia. “I like very much the University of Tulsa,” Yevtushenko said in a 1995 interview. “My students are sons of ranchers, even cowboys, oil engineers.” In 1987, Yevtushenko was made an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.