It’s 75 years since the Russian massacre and 55 years since Shostakovich commemorated it in a symphony.

When Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev declared a cultural ‘thaw’, he gave permission for artistic expression that had been suppressed during the Stalin years. In 1961, the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote Babi Yar, which openly denounced Russian distortion of the facts surrounding the 1941 massacre of thousands of Ukrainian Jews as well as anti-Semitism still rampant in Russia at the time. The poem was published in a major newspaper, Literaturaya Gazeta, initiating a conversation throughout Russian society about what everyone knew but was too afraid to talk about. A year later, moved and inspired by the poem, Shostakovich set it and four others by Yevtushenko to music, calling the work his Symphony No 13 – Babi Yar.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who died earlier this year, reciting to a crowd of thousands in the USSR .

In the first movement, the poet likens himself to a Jew, hated, spat on, beaten, judged and oppressed. I am sure for Yevtushenko and Shostakovich this was a residual feeling left over from the Stalin regime. In Humour, the...