Born to illiterate, impoverished peasants who were descendants of Cossacks, Alexander Dovzhenko completed his education and left the Desna River Valley to become a school teacher. His aspirations in the arts led to involvement in literary circles after the Communist Revolution of 1917, a revolution he embraced as the first step toward Ukrainian national independence. He joined the army and later studied art in Berlin. In 1923, he returned to his beloved Ukraine to launch a career as an illustrator. His painter's eye was expressed in detailed political cartoons and book illustrations which supported the "People's Republic." His films would express his strong ties to Ukrainian culture, particularly in the romantically nationalistic "Zvenyhora" (1928) and "Arsenal" (1929), considered his most complete and masterful works.