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Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko gives house and art collection to state

PEREDELKINO, Russia (AP) — Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Russia's most renowned living poet, has given his house along with an extensive art collection to the state as a museum.

The two-story museum in the writer's colony of Peredelkino, just outside Moscow, joins nearby house-museums, including those of Boris Pasternak and Bulat Okudjava. It contains paintings by Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

The museum also exhibits Yevtushenko's photographs from his travels in Siberia, China, Italy, the Middle East, and items collected during his life, among which is American writer Mark Twain's cane.

Yevtushenko, who opened the museum at a ceremony on Saturday, came to prominence during the Soviet Union's so-called cultural "thaw" under Nikita Khrushchev.

One of his best-known poems is 1961's "Babi Yar," which denounces anti-Semitism and the failure of Soviet authorities to build a monument commemorating the Nazi massacre of Jews in Kiev.

At the height of his fame, Yevtushenko read his work in packed soccer stadiums and arenas. There was a recital in 1972 in New York's Madison Square Garden, an audience of 27,000 in Mexico City and a crowd of 200,000 in 1991 who came to listen during a failed coup attempt in Russia.

Yevtushenko, who turns 77 Sunday, has traveled to 96 countries and now divides his time between Moscow and Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he teaches poetry at the University of Tulsa.

Before cutting the ribbon, Yevtushenko read his recent poem, "U.S.S.R. - FRG 1955. (Reportage from past century)," about a football game that brought Russian war veterans and Germans together ten years after the end of World War II. He expressed hope in the future.

"I grew up during Cold War, now it is time of 'Cold Peace,'" Yevtushenko said.

The Director of the State Museum of Contemporary History of Russia, Sergei Arkhangelov, said poets in Russia have a vital social role.

"A poet in Russia is not just a poet; it is a role of an activist," Arkhangelov said. "The development of Russian intellect is tied to him. For us it came through these works, tied to his name."

The museum will open next week. Besides its permanent exhibition, it will feature shows by contemporary Russian artists, poetry readings and a library of archives.