Victor Yushchenko attended a ceremony at the National Opera and Ballet Theatre on Friday to honor this year’s nine winners of the Shevchenko Prize, according to the President`s press-office.

In his speech, the President said millions of Ukrainians saw Taras Shevchenko as their spiritual guide in times of hardship. He said we must formulate a national strategy to emerge as a potent and confident nation.

“Our national idea is creating a European Ukraine, speaking one language, going to one church, enjoying freedom and respecting each citizen’s rights, opinions and choice,” he said, calling on Ukraine’s democratic forces to unite for "continuous and efficient" cooperation. 

Mr. Yushchenko then said it was important to start preparing for Taras Shevchenko’s bicentenary birthday, which will be marked in 2014, and suggested publishing a collection of his works, opening a new museum and erecting his monuments in the world’s capitals. 

“Shevchenko’s presence in the world is the presence of Ukraine, its spirit and idea,” he said. 

He said he would never tolerate any blasphemous or disrespectful act, attitude, or utterance in regard to our sacred symbols, both in Ukraine and abroad.

“As Ukraine’s President, I resolutely condemn any deliberate demonstration of disrespect towards the name of Shevchenko,” he said, asking the government of Canada to investigate a recent vandal attack on the poet’s monument in Toronto.

He also condemned regular actions against monuments to Ukrainian heroes, war victims and Jews in Ukraine: “I urge the Security Service, the Prosecutor General’s Office and regional authorities to prevent such crimes.”

The President characterized this year’s winners of the Shevchenko Prize as “bright and creative personalities whose contribution to the Ukrainian culture is priceless:” “I believe each of today’s winners will… continue to work for the benefit of Ukraine.” 

Following the award ceremony, the President and the First Lady enjoyed a concert marking the 193rd birthday of the Great Kobzar.