There is more to the relations between African American artists and Ukrainians than revealed in the otherwise sensitive and informative article by James Rupert and Greg Seigle {"Artists' Raw Images of Ukraine: Americans Find Different Traditions, Familiar Prejudice," Style, Sept. 6}.

In 1858, the African American Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge -- who was playing "King Lear" and "Othello" in St. Petersburg, then the capital of Russia -- met Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian painter, poet, political exile and spiritual leader of his nation. The two became friends, undoubtedly because in Shevchenko, Aldridge recognized a kindred spirit, a former serf, who had literally been bought free and placed in the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts by his Russian and Ukrainian admirers and friends. Impatient and fidgety as he was, Aldridge sat for a charcoal portrait by Shevchenko.

In the early 1960s, the Ukrainian American community petitioned Congress to be given land in the District for the erection of a monument to Shevchenko, at their own expense. They ran into unexpectedly strong opposition, both in Congress and in the press. Allegedly, Washington was already filled with monuments. And above all, there was no connection between Shevchenko and the American capital.

Mindful of the Aldridge-Shevchenko friendship, Howard University President James M. Nabrit Jr. most graciously volunteered to make a spot for Shevchenko's monument available on the Howard campus.

Shown the error of their ways, the opposition in both Congress and certain papers yielded. The monument was built on public land in the District, albeit minus the most appropriate inscription, which should have been drawn from Shevchenko's 1857 poem "God's Fool," or "Half-Wit":

When will we greet

Our own George Washington at last With the new law of righteousness?

Oh, there's no doubt that day we'll see!

On June 27, 1964, in sweltering heat, former president Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated the monument with tens of thousands ecstatic Ukrainian Americans in attendance.

In the 1990s, the Shevchenko monument has become an obligatory stop for diplomatic state visits, as graciously noted by Vice President Al Gore during the State Department luncheon in honor of Ukrainian President Leonid D. Kuchma in November 1994. Goodness knows whether the encounter between soul mates Aldridge and Shevchenko was purely by chance, or whether it was meant to be. YAROSLAV BILINSKY Professor Department of Political Science And International Relations University of Delaware Newark, Del.