Ukrainian literature

Ukrainian literature is literature written in the Ukrainian language.

Ukrainian literature mostly developed under foreign domination over Ukrainian territories. At times Ukrainian language was partly outlawed in oral and print form from 17th to early 21st century. However, foreign rule by the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Poland, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Romania, the Austria-Hungary Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, enriched Ukrainian culture and language, and Ukrainian authors were able to produce a rich literary heritage.

Ivan Kotlyarevsky
Taras Shevchenko
Ivan Franko
Lesya Ukrainka

Ukrainian literature’s precursor: writings in Old-Church Slavonic and Latin in Ukraine

Prior to the establishment of Ukrainian literature in 1700s, many authors from Ukraine wrote in "scholarly" languages of middle-ages - Latin and Old-Church Slavonic. Among prominent authors from Ukraine who wrote in Latin and Old-Church Slavonic are Hryhorii Skovoroda, Yuriy Drohobych, Sebastian Klenovych, Stanislav Orikhovsky-Roxolan, Feofan Prokopovych, Jan-Toma Yuzefovych, Pavlo Rusyn-Krosnyanyn and others.

The beginnings of oral Ukrainian literature: dumy

During this period of history there was a higher number of elementary schools per population in the Hetmanate than in either neighboring Muscovy or Poland. In the 1740s, of 1,099 settlements within seven regimental districts, as many as 866 had primary schools.[1] The German visitor to the Hetmanate, writing in 1720, commented on how the son of Hetman Danylo Apostol, who had never left Ukraine, was fluent in the Latin, Italian, French, German, Polish and Russian languages[2]

Late 16th and early 17th century included the rise folk epics called dumy. These songs celebrated the activities of the Cossacks and were oral retellings of major Ukrainian historical events in modern Ukrainian language (e.g., not in Old-Church Slavonic). This period produced Ostap Veresai, a renowned minstrel and kobzar from Poltava province, Ukraine.

The beginnings of written Ukrainian literature

The establishment of Ukrainian literature is believed to have been triggered by the publishing of a widely successful poem Eneida by Ivan Kotliarevsky in 1798, which is one of the first instances of a printed literary work written in modern Ukrainian language.[3][4] Due to Kotliarevsky's role as the inaugurator of Ukrainian literature, among literary critics he is often referred to as "the father of Ukrainian literature".[5] Modern Ukrainian prose was inaugurated by Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko’s novel Marusya (1834).[3][4]

The "Ruska Triytsia" and Western Ukrainian national revival

Although short-lived, a group of young Galician poets and scholars, established in the 1830s and known as the "Ruthenian Triad," played a decisive role in the Western Ukrainian cultural revival of the 19th century. Comprised by Markiian Shashkevych, Yakiv Holovatsky, and Ivan Vahylevych, the "Ruthenian Triad" united around itself other young people who began to research Ukrainian history and culture and actively promote the Ukrainian national cause at the Greek Catholic Theological Seminary in Lviv. The members of the group maintained that the "Ruthenians" of Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia were all part of one Ukrainian people who had their own language, culture, and history. The great importance of their literary collection, Rusalka Dnistrova (The Dniester Nymph, 1836), was in that it was written in the spoken Ukrainian and not in the "learned" yazychiie; it thus initiated the use of vernacular Ukrainian language for literature in the Ukrainian lands in the Habsburg Empire.

Since the group came into being during the period of Romanticism, it retained the predominant interests and features of that movement – an interest in folklore and history and a striving for Pan-Slavic unity. Its Slavophilism was noticeable in the use of Old Slavic pseudonyms: Ruslan by Shashkevych, Dalibor by Vahylevych, and Yaroslav by Holovatsky. The group founders as well as other young people united around them were engaged in collecting folk oral literature, studying the history of Ukraine, and writing their own verses and treatises. They emulated the Ukrainians under Russian rule, and were especially influenced by Ivan Kotliarevsky's Eneida (Aeneid). Because of their populist and national views, the group members suffered harassment by the conservative Ukrainian clergy and Austrian authorities.

Rusalka Dnistrova (The Dniester Nymph)

The first Ukrainian literary and folkloric almanac published in Galicia. It was compiled by the Ruthenian Triad (Markiian Shashkevych, Yakiv Holovatsky, and Ivan Vahylevych) and printed in Buda, Hungary, in December 1836. The almanac consisted of folk songs recorded in various places in Galicia, with an introduction by Vahylevych; poetry and prose by the Triad's members and their translations of Serbian folk poetry; texts of lyrical and heroic poetry from a 15th-century manuscript, with an introduction by Shashkevych; Holovatsky's note on manuscripts in the library of Saint Basil's Monastery in Lviv; and a review of a book of Ukrainian wedding rituals. In the manifesto-like preface Shashkevych stressed the beauty of the Ukrainian vernacular and folk oral literature and provided a list of the most important contemporary publications of literature and folklore in Russian-ruled Ukraine.

Taras Shevchenko, Panteleimon Kulish, and the Ukrainian romanticism

Taras Shevchenko and Panteleimon Kulish were the most prominent representatives of the Ukrainian Romantic movement—a movement which, to a large extent, crystallized modern Ukrainian national identity. The extroverted and passionate poet and artist Shevchenko became Ukraine's famous national bard. The introverted intellectual Kulish (Shevchenko's close friend and editor of many of his works) was condemned by most of his populist contemporaries for his controversial works and elitist ideas. However, during the Literary Discussion of 1925, Mykola Khvylovy defended Kulish as Ukraine's 'truly European intellectual.' Learn more about Ukrainian Romantics by visiting the following entries:

Taras Shevchenko

Taras Shevchenko, born 9 March 1814 in Moryntsi, Zvenyhorod county, Kiev Governorate, died 10 March 1861 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Ukraine's national bard and famous artist. Born a serf, Shevchenko was orphaned when he was twelve and grew up in poverty and misery. He was taught to read by a village precentor and was often beaten for 'wasting time' on drawing. At the age of 14 he became a houseboy of his owner, P. Engelhardt, and served him in Vilnius (1828–31) and then Saint Petersburg. Engelhardt noticed Shevchenko's artistic talent, and in Saint Petersburg he apprenticed him to the painter V. Shiriaev for four years. Shevchenko spent his free time sketching the statues in the capital's imperial summer gardens. There he met the Ukrainian artist Ivan Soshenko, who introduced him to other compatriots, such as Yevhen Hrebinka and Vasyl Hryhorovych, and to the Russian painter A. Venetsianov. Through these men Shevchenko also met the famous painter and professor Karl Briullov, who donated his portrait of the Russian poet Vasilii Zhukovsky as the prize in a lottery whose proceeds were used to buy Shevchenko's freedom on 5 May 1838.

Panteleimon Kulish

Panteleimon Kulish, born 8 August 1819 in Voronizh, Chernihiv gubernia, d 14 February 1897 in Motronivka, Chernihiv gubernia. Prominent writer, historian, ethnographer, and translator. He was born into an impoverished Cossack-gentry family. After completing only five years at the Novhorod-Siverskyi gymnasium he enrolled at Kiev University in 1837 but was not allowed to finish his studies because he was not a noble. He obtained a teaching position in Lutske in 1840. There he wrote his first historical novel in Russian Mykhailo Charnyshenko, or Little Russia Eighty Years Ago (2 vols, 1843). Mykhailo Maksymovych promoted Kulish's literary efforts and published several of his early stories. His first longer work written in Ukrainian was the epic poem 'Ukrana' (1843). In 1843–5 Kulish taught in Kiev and studied Ukrainian history and ethnography. There he befriended Taras Shevchenko, Mykola Kostomarov, and Vasyl Bilozersky; their circle later became the nucleus of the secret Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood.

Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius

Secret society established in December 1845 – January 1846 in Kiev at the initiative of Mykola Kostomarov. The aim of the society was to transform the social order according to the Christian principles of justice, freedom, equality, and brotherhood. It proposed a series of reforms: (1) abolition of serfdom and equality of rights for all estates, (2) equal opportunity for all Slavic nations to develop their national language and culture, (3) education for the broad masses of the people, and (4) unification of all Slavs in the spirit of the Slavophilism of the time in a federated state in which Ukraine would play a leading role. Kiev was to be the capital of the federation and the seat of the all-Slavic diet. Among others, the following individuals belonged to the brotherhood: Kostomarov, Vasyl Bilozersky, Oleksander Navrotsky, Mykola Hulak, Dmytro Pylchykov, O. Petrov, Panteleimon Kulish, Opanas Markovych, Yurii Andruzky, Ivan Posiada, M. Savych, and Taras Shevchenko.


Nikolay Kostomarov, b 16 May 1817 in Yurasivka, Ostrohozke county, Voronezh region, died 1885 in Saint Petersburg. Historian, publicist, and writer. He graduated from the Voronezh gymnasium and then in 1837 from Kharkiv University. From 1844 to 1845 Kostomarov taught history at the Rivne and at the First Kiev gymnasiums. In 1846 he was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Russian History at Kiev University. That year, along with Vasyl Bilozersky, Panteleimon Kulish, Mykola Hulak, Taras Shevchenko, and others, he formed the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood. In Knyhy bytiia ukraïns'koho narodu (Books of the Genesis of the Ukrainian People), Ustav Slov'ians'koho tovarystva sv Kyryla i Metodiia: Holovni idei (The Statute of the Slavic Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius: Its Main Ideas), and two proclamations, Kostomarov formulated the society's program and basic ideas: Christian piety, democratic republicanism, a Ukrainian national renaissance, Ukrainian messianism, and Pan-Slavic federalism.


Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky (pseud of Ivan Levytsky), born 1838 in Stebliv, Kaniv county, Kiev Governorate, died 1918 in Kiev. Writer. Upon graduating from the Kiev Theological Academy (1865) he taught Russian language, history, and geography in the Poltava Theological Seminary (1865–66) and, later, in the gymnasiums in Kalisz, Siedlce, and Kishinev. He began writing in 1865, but because of Russian imperial censorship his works appeared only in Galician periodicals. His works about the lives of peasants and laborers established him as a master of Ukrainian classical prose and as the creator of the Ukrainian realist narrative. Nechui-Levytsky was the first to provide fictional characterizations of various classes of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, ranging from students and teachers to high-ranking members of the Russian civil service. Against a background of colonial repression and thoroughgoing Russification Nechui-Levytsky sought to depict the stirrings of national consciousness in the Ukrainian intelligentsia.


Panas Myrny (pseud of Panas Rudchenko), born 1849 in Myrhorod, died 1920 in Poltava. Writer. He worked in various government offices and eventually achieved the rank of full government councilor (1914). The works of Taras Shevchenko had the greatest influence on the formation of Myrny's worldview, artistic preferences, and ideology. His early literary attempts included poems, dramas, and short stories. His best-known work is the novel Propashcha syla (The Ruined Strength), also titled Khiba revut' voly, iak iasla povni? (Do the Oxen Bellow, When Their Mangers Are Full?, 1880). The work can be characterized as a socio-psychological novel-chronicle; it covers almost a hundred years in the history of a Ukrainian village, from serfdom to the postreform era. In it Myrny depicts social oppression, internal strife between different social groups, the tsarist legal system, the harsh life of a soldier during the time of Tsar Nicholas I, police violence, and spontaneous protests against lies and injustice.


Borys Hrinchenko, born 1863 at Vilkhovyi Yar khutir in Kharkiv county, died 1910 in Ospedaletti, Italy. Prominent public figure, educator, writer, folklorist, and linguist. For 10 years he taught in elementary schools in Kharkiv gubernia and Katerynoslav gubernia. In 1894 he settled in Chernihiv, where he organized there the largest publishing house in Russian-ruled Ukraine, which published 50 popular-educational books despite severe censorship. In 1902 he moved to Kiev, where the Hromada of Kiev entrusted him with the task of compiling a dictionary of the Ukrainian language. Hrinchenko's literary work was directly linked with his journalistic work and was to a large extent subservient to it. In his realistic short stories and novelettes he depicted Ukrainian peasant life while raising urgent social questions, the attitude of the intelligentsia to the peasantry, the education and denationalization of the rural population, and the relation between nationalism and radicalism or socialism.


Mykhailo Starytsky, born 1840 in Klishchyntsi, Poltava gubernia, died 1904 in Kiev. Writer and theatrical and cultural activist. Orphaned in childhood, Starytsky was raised by his uncle, the father of Mykola Lysenko. He studied at the Poltava gymnasium (until 1856), Kharkiv University (1858–60), and Kiev University (1860–6). Starytsky was first published in 1865. An important part of his literary legacy is his poetry on social issues, which is characterized by populist and patriotic motifs, glorification of the Ukrainian past, and protests against tsarism. Starytsky made a considerable contribution to Ukrainian theater and dramaturgy. In 1883 he headed the first Ukrainian professional theater and in 1885 founded a new troupe with young actors. He wrote several original dramatic works as well as librettos for many of Mykola Lysenko's operas. During the last years of his life Starytsky wrote several historical novels on Ukrainian themes in Russian and Ukrainian.

Ivan Franko and the Western Ukrainian populists and radicals

Like Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko is considered one of Ukraine's most important literary figures. A very prolific writer, poet, publicist, and important political leader, Franko exerted a tremendous influence not only on his native Western Ukraine, but on the Ukrainian culture and national consciousness as a whole. In the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century he played a key role in the shaping of the powerful Western Ukrainian populist movement and the formation of Ukrainian radicalism. Although he was an ardent proponent of the realist style in literature and art and was consistently critical of modernist trends, Franko himself did not remain immune to new literary currents and produced (in such collections as Withered Leaves, 1896) one of the first modernist poems in Western Ukraine. Learn more about Ivan Franko and his environment by visiting the following entries:

Ivan Franko

Ivan Franko, b 27 August 1856 in Nahuievychi (today Ivan Franko), Drohobych county, Galicia, d 28 May 1916 in Lviv. Writer, scholar, political and civic leader, publicist; like Taras Shevchenko, one of Ukraine's greatest creative geniuses. The son of a village blacksmith, Franko graduated from the Drohobych gymnasium in 1875 and began to study classical philology and Ukrainian language and literature at Lviv University. His first literary works were published in the students' magazine Druh, whose editorial board he joined in 1875. Franko's political and publishing activities and his correspondence with Mykhailo Drahomanov attracted the attention of the police, and in 1877 he was arrested along with Mykhailo Pavlyk, Ostap Terletsky, Andrew Goga, Andrew Mazur and others for spreading socialist propaganda. In 1878 he founded with Pavlyk, the magazine Hromads'kyi druh, which was confiscated by the authorities but resumed publication under the names Dzvin and Molot. In 1880 Franko was arrested again and charged with inciting peasants against the authorities. After serving a three-month term, he was released but was kept under police surveillance and was forced to discontinue his university studies...

Populism, Western Ukraine

A cultural and then political movement initiated in the 1860s by the young Ukrainian intelligentsia in Galicia (known commonly as narodovtsi, or populists). It arose in counterpoint to the clerical conservatism of the older intelligentsia, who had become disillusioned with the possibility of independent Ukrainian national development after the failure of efforts to secure full national emancipation and had begun to orient itself increasingly (both culturally and politically) to Russia. The narodovtsi sought to help Ukrainians better themselves through their own resources. They identified themselves with Ukrainians in the Russian Empire and insisted on the use of vernacular Ukrainian language in literature and education. Their movement, deeply influenced by the writings of Taras Shevchenko, Markiian Shashkevych, Panteleimon Kulish, Mykola Kostomarov, Marko Vovchok, and others, built on the traditions of the Ukrainian national revival of the 1830s and 1840s as represented by the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood in Kiev, the Ruthenian Triad, and the Supreme Ruthenian Council in Lviv...


In its most general sense radicalism (from the Latin radix 'root') is the striving for fundamental change. Usually the term has a narrower meaning in politics. Although there can be right-wing or nationalist radicalism, the term is more often used in connection with movements on the left of the political spectrum. In the context of Ukrainian history radicalism refers to a brand of agrarian socialism that emerged in Galicia in the late 19th century and survived there until the Second World War. The ideological inspiration for radicalism came from the political thinker Mykhailo Drahomanov and was embodied in the Ukrainian Radical party (est 1890) in Galicia.

Mykhailo Pavlyk

Mykhailo Pavlyk, b 17 September 1853 in Monastyrske (now part of Kosiv), Kolomyia circle, Galicia, d 26 January 1915 in Lviv. Galician socialist figure and publicist; full member of the Shevchenko Scientific Society from 1900. He and Ivan Franko became close friends as students at Lviv University. Both of them contributed to the Academic Circle's organ, Druh (1874–77), and both became Ukrainophile socialists under the influence of Mykhailo Drahomanov's letters to Druh and the Polish-language newspaper Praca. Through his writings Pavlyk remained the principal Galician propagator of Drahomanov's ideas, which brought about his persecution (he was tried in court nearly 30 times), imprisonment (in 1877, 1878, 1882, 1885–6, and 1889), and ostracism. With Franko he edited (1878) the socialist journal Hromads'kyi druh and miscellanies Dzvin and Molot, all of which outraged the conservative Galician public and were confiscated by the police...

Osyp Makovei

Osyp Makovei, b 23 August 1867 in Yavoriv, Galicia, d 21 August 1925 in Zalishchyky. Writer, journalist, and teacher. He attended Lviv University, from which he graduated in 1893. Varied work as an editorial assistant and a contributor to Dilo (1891), Narodna chasopys' (1892), and other newspapers prepared him for the position of editor of Bukovyna (1895–97). He was also one of the editors of Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk (1897–99)...

Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk

Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk (Literary Scientific Herald, or LNV). A monthly journal published in 1898–1906 in Lviv, in 1907–14 and 1917–19 in Kiev, and in 1922–32 again in Lviv. It was founded on the initiative of Mykhailo Hrushevsky as the organ of the Shevchenko Scientific Society (NTSh), incorporating the journals Zoria (published by the NTSh) and Zhytie i slovo (published by O. Franko). LNV became the foremost literary-scientific journal of the day. The editorial board consisted of Mykhailo Hrushevsky (editor in chief), Ivan Franko, Oleksander Borkovsky, and Osyp Makovei.

Ukrainian modernist writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Toward the end of the 19th century the dominant realist style in Ukrainian literature started to give way to modernism. Some writers no longer aimed for a naturalistic 'copy' of reality, and instead elected an impressionist mode. Along with that change the novelette gave way to the short story. In drama the action passed inward, to explore the psychological conflicts, moods, and experiences of the characters. Poetry abandoned its realistic orientation in favor of the symbolic; emphasis on content gave way to a fascination with form. The work of Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky marks the transition from realism to modernism. Olha Kobylianska, a woman writer contemporary of Kotsiubynsky, was not so much an impressionist in her manner as a neoromantic. The neoromantic tendency in modernism prompted to a rekindling of interest in folklore and resulted in the appearance of a number of remarkable works of literature, including Lesia Ukrainka's play Lisova pisnia (A Forest Song, 1911). The master of the very short impressionistic story was Vasyl Stefanyk. The novelist and dramatist Volodymyr Vynnychenko was deeply interested in the psychological experiences and especially the morality of the intelligentsia... Learn more about the Ukrainian modernist writers of the late 19th century and early 20th century by visiting the following entries:

Lesia Ukrainka

Lesia Ukrainka (pseud of Larysa Kosach-Kvitka), b 25 February 1871 in Zviahel, Volhynia gubernia, d 1 August 1913 in Surami, Georgia. Poet and playwright. Lesia Ukrainka achieved a broad education by self-tuition and knew all of the major Western European languages as well as Greek and Latin and the Slavic languages. She began writing poetry at a very early age. At the age of nine she wrote the poem 'Nadiia' (Hope), and her first published poems appeared in the journal Zoria in Lviv in 1884. Lesia Ukrainka began to write more prolifically from the mid-1880s. Her first collection of original poetry, Na krylakh pisen' (On Wings of Songs), appeared in 1893. However, she reached her literary heights in her poetic dramas. Particularly important among her works are the dramatic poems on the subject of prisoners in Babylon, which were meant to serve as symbols of the imprisonment of Ukrainians within the Russian Empire.

Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky

Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, b 17 September 1864 in Vinnytsia, d 25 April 1913 in Kiev. One of the finest Ukrainian writers of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Expelled from the Kamianets-Podilskyi Theological Seminary in 1882 for his Populist involvement, he remained under police surveillance for the rest of his life. A self-taught intellectual, as a young man he was influenced by the works of Taras Shevchenko, Marko Vovchok, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Heinrich Heine, Émile Zola, Victor Hugo, and Guy de Maupassant. His earliest stories are examples of ethnographic realism and show the influence of Ivan Nechui-Levytsky and Populist ideas. In the late 1890s, however, his themes and subjects became more varied and his approach more sophisticated, and he evolved into one of the most talented Ukrainian modernist writers...

Volodymyr Vynnychenko

Volodymyr Vynnychenko, b 27 July 1880 in the village Velykyi Kut, Yelysavethrad county, Kherson gubernia, d 6 March 1951 in Mougins, France. Writer, statesman, and politician. Vynnychenko began to study law at Kiev University in 1901 but, owing to his expulsion in 1902 for 'revolutionary' activities, he never completed his studies. He was a member of the executive committee of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers' party and editor of its journal Borot'ba. In 1917 he was chosen one of two vice-presidents of the Central Rada and then the first president of the General Secretariat of the Central Rada, the autonomous government of Ukraine. Upon disagreeing with the pro-Entente politics of the Directory of the UNR Vynnychenko left for Vienna and finally settled in France where he devoted himself almost exclusively to his literary career...

Vasyl Stefanyk

Vasyl Stefanyk, b 14 May 1871 in Rusiv, Sniatyn county, Galicia, d 7 December 1936 in Rusiv. Prose writer. In the course of his studies Stefanyk became acquainted with Les Martovych and Lev Bachynsky, both of whom had an influence on his life: Martovych turned him to writing, and Bachynsky steered him toward community-political involvement. His first attempts to publish some of his introspective poetic prose in newspapers were unsuccessful, but in 1897 the terse narratives of scenes observed by Stefanyk appeared in Pratsia (Chernivtsi); they were followed by several novellas in Literaturno-naukovyi vistnyk (1898) and finally by Stefanyk's first collection of novellas, Synia knyzhechka (The Blue Book, 1899). With its appearance came immediate literary acclaim...

Olha Kobylianska

Olha Kobylianska, b 27 November 1863 in Gura Humorului, Bukovyna, d 21 March 1942 in Chernivtsi. A pioneering Ukrainian modernist writer. A self-educated and well-read woman, her first novellen were written in German, beginning in 1880. Her travels and acquaintance with Lesia Ukrainka, Nataliia Kobrynska, Osyp Makovei, Ivan Franko, Vasyl Stefanyk, and Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky changed her cultural and political outlook, and she became involved in the Ukrainian women's movement in Bukovyna and began writing in Ukrainian. Many of her works—including the novels Liudyna (A Person, 1891) and Tsarivna (The Princess, 1895)--have as their protagonists cultured, emancipated women oppressed in a philistine, provincial society. Her works are known for their impressionistic, lyrical descriptions of nature and subtle psychological portrayals...

Mykola Khvylovy, Vaplite, and the Ukrainian cultural renaissance of the 1920s

The downfall of the Russian Empire after the First World War, the resulting abolition of imperial censorship, the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state (even if for a very short time), and the relative leniency of the Soviet regime in the 1920s all led to an astonishing renaissance of literary and cultural activity in Ukraine. Scores of new writers and poets appeared and formed dozens of literary groups that changed the face of Ukrainian literature. Perhaps the most charismatic cultural leader was Mykola Khvylovy, a prominent writer, publicist, and founder of the elitist literary organization Vaplite. Among Vaplite's members were a renowned playwright Mykola Kulish, a brilliant symbolist poet Pavlo Tychyna, an avant-garde poet and writer Maik Yohansen, and such writers and poets as Yurii Yanovsky, Arkadii Liubchenko, and Mykola Bazhan. However, the Ukrainian cultural renaissance of the 1920s was brutally quashed by Stalinist terror of the 1930s. As a symbolic act of defiance and concern for his nation in the face of the man-made famine and the growing campaign of political terror, Khvylovy committed suicide in May 1933. The majority of Vaplite members, including Kulish and Yohansen, were imprisoned and executed. Others, including Tychyna, were forced to capitulate to the Soviet regime and begin producing works in the socialist-realist style which glorified Joseph Stalin and the Party. Nonetheless, in a very brief time of relative creative freedom, these writers managed to create a remarkable and lasting literary legacy.

Mykola Khvylovy

Mykola Khvylovy, (pen-name of Mykola Fitilyov) b 13 December 1893 in Trostianets, Kharkiv gubernia, d 13 May 1933 in Kharkiv. Prominent Ukrainian writer and publicist of the Ukrainian cultural renaissance of the 1920s. Born Mykola Fitilev, he graduated in 1916 from the Bohodukhiv Gymnasium. In Kharkiv in 1921, with Volodymyr Sosiura and Maik Yohansen, he signed a landmark literary manifesto Our Universal to the Ukrainian Workers and Ukrainian Proletarian Artists. After publishing two poetry collections, he switched to writing prose. Khvylovy experimented boldly in his prose, introducing into the narrative diaries, dialogues with the reader, speculations about the subsequent unfolding of the plot, philosophical musings about the nature of art, and other asides. In his brief period of creativity (less than five years) he masterfully depicted the revolution in Ukraine and the first hints of its degeneration, using a rich gallery of characters, most of them members of the intelligentsia.


VAPLITE (Free Academy of Proletarian Literature). A writers' organization which existed in Kharkiv from 1925 to 1928. While accepting the official requirements of the Communist party, Vaplite adopted an independent position on questions of literary policy and supported Mykola Khvylovy in the Literary Discussion of 1925–8. Vaplite proposed to create a new Ukrainian literature based on the writers in its ranks who strived to perfect their work by assimilating the finest masterpieces of Western European culture. Joseph Stalin interpreted that goal as a betrayal of the aims of the Party and accused Khvylovy and Vaplite of working under the slogan "Away from Moscow." The association rejected the policy of mass participation in masovism proletarian writers' organizations, which were supported by the Communist party.

Mykola Kulish

Mykola Kulish, b 18 December 1892 in Chaplynka, Tavriia gubernia, d 3 November 1937 in Sandormokh, Karelia region, Russia. The most famous Ukrainian playwright of the 20th century. After his mother's early death, Kulish spent most of his childhood in orphanages and charity homes. He studied history and philology at Odessa University, but his university education was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. He participated in the Ukrainian Struggle for Independence (1917–20), organizing a guerrilla regiment to fight the Russian Volunteer Army in Southern Ukraine. Kulish had joined the proletarian writers' group Hart in 1924, and after moving to Kharkiv he met many of the group's other members. One of them, the famous writer and polemicist Mykola Khvylovy, had a great impact on Kulish's writing and views. Kulish was also profoundly influenced by Ukraine's leading theater director, Les Kurbas, who staged several of Kulish's plays at his Berezil theater.


Maik Yohansen, (Ukrainian: Йогансен Майк Гервасійович) b 28 October 1895 in Kharkiv, d 27 October 1937 in Kiev. Poet, writer, translator, literary theorist, and linguist of German and Ukrainian parentage. Until 1917 he studied philology at Kharkiv University, graduating with a master's degree. Yohansen wrote in German and Russian until 1917, but only in Ukrainian after 1919. Originally a member of the Soviet Ukrainian proletarian writers' organization Hart, in 1925 Yohansen became a founding member of the literary group Vaplite. After the forced dissolution of Vaplite in 1928 by the Soviet authorities, he cofounded and actively contributed to the literary and art periodicals Literaturnyi iarmarok and Universal'nyi zhurnal. He was the only former Vaplite member to question publicly the formation of the more populist literary organization Prolitfront, which he refused to join. Instead he founded the apolitical Techno-Artistic Group A, which was officially banned in 1930.

Pavlo Tychyna

Pavlo Tychyna, b 27 January 1891 in Pisky, Kozelets county, Chernihiv gubernia, d 16 September 1967 in Kiev. Poet; recipient of the highest Soviet awards and orders; deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR from 1938 and its chairman in 1953–9; director of the Institute of Literature of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR in 1936–9 and 1941–3; and minister of education of the Ukrainian SSR in 1943–8. He graduated from the Chernihiv Theological Seminary in 1913. He enrolled at the Kiev Commercial Institute, and while a student, he worked on the editorial boards of the newspapers Rada and Svitlo. His first collection of poetry, Soniashni kliarnety (Clarinets of the Sun, 1918; repr 1990), is a programmatic work, in which he created a uniquely Ukrainian form of symbolism and established his own poetic style, known as kliarnetyzm (clarinetism).

Mykola Zerov and the Ukrainian neoclassicists

The nucleus of the group of the Ukrainian Neoclassicists of the 1920s consisted of Mykola Zerov, Maksym Rylsky, Pavlo Fylypovych, Mykhailo Drai-Khmara, and Oswald Burghardt (Yurii Klen). They never established a formal organization or program, but they shared cultural and esthetic interests. Mykhailo Mohyliansky, Viktor Petrov, and others are also included in this loose grouping. The group's name is derived from their use of themes and images of antiquity and was given to them by their opponents in the Literary Discussion of 1925–8. The Neoclassicists were self-consciously concerned with the production of high art and disdained 'mass art,' didactic writing, and propagandistic work. Their opponents, in contrast, organized themselves around writers who were supported by the Communist party, and viewed literature in a primarily utilitarian fashion, that is, as a means of strengthening Soviet rule in Ukraine. In the 1930s Mykola Zerov, Pavlo Fylypovych, and Mykhailo Drai-Khmara were sent to Soviet concentration camps and perished there. Maksym Rylsky was forced to publish socialist-realist works, and Burghardt emigrated to the West, where he wrote under the pseudonym Yurii Klen. The tradition of the Neoclassicists was continued among emigre poets, most notably by M. Zerov's brother, Mykhailo Orest.


A literary movement of the 1920s. The works of the Neoclassicists were anti-Romantic and antifolkloric. They sought universal themes and considered Ukrainian culture to be an organic part of Western European culture. The closest to what could be considered their program was set out by Mykola Zerov. 'We should,' he wrote, 'assimilate the highest culture of our times, not only in its latest manifestations, but also in its original forms.' From that commitment stemmed the demands the Neoclassicists made of a writer: (1) a comprehensive knowledge of the best works of Ukrainian literature; (2) a comprehensive knowledge of the achievements of world literature; and (3) poetic craftsmanship of the highest level. High art, in their view, could be conveyed only through clarity of thought and mastery of form. Their poetry, therefore, is characterized by balance, plasticity of image, and logical ordering of subject and composition. The main purpose of literature, as they perceived it, was esthetic.


Mykola Zerov, b 26 April 1890 in Zinkiv, Poltava gubernia, d 3 November 1937 in the Solovets Islands. Poet, translator, and literary historian. He studied philology at Kiev University. He was a professor of Ukrainian literature at the Kiev Architectural Institute (1918–20), the Kiev Co-operative Tekhnikum (1923–25), and the Kiev Institute of People's Education (1923–35). Zerov's literary activity, both as a poet and as a translator, was in complete harmony with his ideals and theoretical postulates. An avowed classicist and Parnassian, he became the leader of the Neoclassicists. He concentrated on the sonnet and Alexandrine verse and produced excellent examples of both forms. He translated numerous works of Latin poetry. He wrote literary criticism on contemporary Soviet Ukrainian literary works, articles on literary translation, and introductions to editions of Ukrainian classics. He was arrested in April 1935 and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in the Solovets Islands. He was executed on 3 November 1937 in Sandarmokh, Karelia.


Mykhailo Drai-Khmara, b 10 October 1889 in Mali Kanivtsi, Poltava gubernia, d 19 January 1939, Kolyma region, Siberia. Poet, linguist, literary scholar, translator. Drai-Khmara studied at the Galagan College (1906–10), Kiev University (1910–15), and Petrograd University (1915–17). He became a specialist in Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Serbian literatures and the history of the Serbian and Belarusian languages. He was professor of Ukrainian studies at Kamianets-Podilskyi Ukrainian State University (1918–21) and at the Kiev Medical Institute (1923–29). He began writing poetry in 1910, and in the 1920s was a member of the Neoclassicists. His early poetry was lyrical, emotive, and essentially symbolist. His later poetry combined symbolist elements with an increasing attention to form, language, and imagery reminiscent of Kievan neoclassicism. He was first arrested in February 1933. Rearrested in September 1935, he was sentenced for 'counterrevolutionary terrorism' in March 1936 and perished in a Kolyma labor camp.


Pavlo Fylypovych, b 1 September 1891 in the village of Kaitanivka, Kiev Governorate, d 3 November 1937. Poet and literary scholar. Fylypovych studied at Galagan College and at Kiev University (1910–5), where he later was a professor (1917–35). His first poems were published in Russian journals beginning in 1910. After the Revolution of 1917 Fylypovych switched to writing poetry in Ukrainian. In the 1920s he became a member of the Neoclassicists and published two collections of poetry. Fylypovych was an associate member of the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and secretary of its Historical-Literary Society. He made a major contribution to the comparative study of Ukrainian literature, particularly to the study of Taras Shevchenko and Ukrainian romanticism. Fylypovych was arrested in August 1935 during the Stalinist terror, presumably for his critical attitude to official Soviet cultural policies, and sentenced to 10 years in concentration camps. He was executed on 3 November 1937 in Sandarmokh, Karelia.

Maksym Rylsky

Maksym Rylsky, b 19 March 1895 in Kiev, d 24 July 1964 in Kiev. Poet, translator, and community activist. He studied at Kiev University, initially in the medical faculty and later in the historical-philological faculty. Rylsky started to write early in life (he published his first poem in 1907), and by 1910 he had published his first youthful collection. His poetic talents reached full bloom with the publication of several poetry collections in the 1920s. Rylsky's lyric poetry grew out of the best achievements of Ukrainian poetry at his time, and out of his broad knowledge of world poetry, French writers in particular. He often used motifs and images from ancient mythology and adhered to classical forms, which practices linked him to the group of Neoclassicists. In many other respects, however, his philosophical and contemplative lyric poetry did not fit the narrow definition of Neoclassicism. Rylsky's apolitical poetry provoked fierce attacks from official critics. He was arrested in 1931, but then proclaimed his acceptance of the official Soviet view of reality.

Yurii Klen

Yurii Klen (pseud of Oswald Burghardt), b 4 October 1891 in Serbynivtsi, Podilia gubernia, d 30 October 1947 in Augsburg, Germany. Writer, poet, literary scholar, and translator. After graduating from Kiev University, he published in Russian a study on the latest analyses of poetic style (1915). Because he was the son of German colonists, he was exiled during the First World War to the Arkhangelsk region of northern Russia. Returning to Ukraine after the Revolution of 1917, he worked as a teacher in Baryshivka. There he renewed his friendship with the scholar and poet Mykola Zerov and began writing poetry in Ukrainian. Klen became one of the unofficial five-member group called the Neoclassicists. Although his poems began to appear in the periodical press beginning in 1924, his major contributions were his translations of German, French, and English poetry. In 1931 Klen managed to emigrate to Germany and taught Slavic literatures at the universities of Munster, Innsbruck, and Prague.

The "minor renaissance" Of Ukrainian literature in the 1940s

Immediately after World War II, in the second half of the 1940s, Ukrainian literature outside of Soviet Ukraine experienced an unusually intensive period of development in the displaced persons' camps in western Germany and Austria. These camps, which had become home to over 200,000 Ukrainian war refugees, including a significant number of writers and literary scholars, represented a hub of fervent cultural activity, so much so that the period 1945–1949 is often referred to by scholars as the "minor renaissance" of Ukrainian literature. Thrown together from various regions of Ukraine, writers managed to replay on a small scale the activity of the 1920s. They convened congresses, organized literary associations, and published almanacs, journals, and books. A key role in the period's most important literary organization, MUR, was played by the linguist, scholar, and literary critic, George Yurii Shevelov and the novelist Ulas Samchuk. Other most notable members of MUR included the dramatist, prose writer, essayist, and publisher Ihor Kostetsky; the writer and scholar Viktor Petrov (V. Domontovych), the politically ambivalent Yurii Kosach, and the poet Vasyl Barka. This "minor renaissance" of Ukrainian literature came to an end in the early 1950s as the majority of the authors emigrated to North America and continued their literary work there.

The artistic Ukrainian movement

The artistic Ukrainian movement (Mystetskyi ukrainskyi rukh) was an artistic-literary organization of Ukrainian emigres in Europe. It was founded on 25 September 1945 in Furth, Germany, on the initiative of a committee consisting of Ivan Bahriany, V. Domontovych (Viktor Petrov), Yurii Kosach, Ihor Kostetsky, Ivan Maistrenko, and Yu. Sherekh (George Yurii Shevelov). MUR organized three writers' congresses (1945, 1947, and 1948) as well as three conferences devoted to various aspects of literary activity. The head of the organization during its whole duration was Ulas Samchuk, and its membership numbered 61. The objectives of MUR were to gather Ukrainian writers scattered by the Second World War, to organize the publication of their works, and to become a center for creative dialogues among members representing various styles and literary aims. MUR managed to organize almost all of the noted emigre writers and provide them with a forum for discussion while it stimulated an interest in literature among the public at large.

George Yurii Shevelov

George Yurii Shevelov (pseud: Yurii Sherekh), b 17 December 1908 in Kharkiv, d 12 April 2002 in New York. Slavic linguist, philologist, essayist, literary historian, and literary critic; full member of the Shevchenko Scientific Society since 1949 and of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1945. After studying under Leonid Bulakhovsky at Kharkiv University (candidate 1939) he lectured there in Slavic linguistics (1939–43). Having emigrated to Germany, he taught at the Ukrainian Free University in Munich (1946–49) and obtained a doctorate there (1949). He was also vice-president of the MUR literary association (1945–49). After settling in the United States he served as lecturer in Russian and Ukrainian at Harvard University (1952–54), associate professor (1954–58) and professor of Slavic philology at Columbia University (1958–77), and president of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences (1959–61, 1981–6). He was a founding member of the Slovo Association of Ukrainian Writers in Exile.

Ulas Samchuk

Ulas Samchuk, b 20 February 1905 in Derman, Ostrih county, Volhynia gubernia, d 9 July 1987 in Toronto. Writer and journalist. Samchuk was educated at the University of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) and at the Ukrainian Free University in Prague (1931). His literary career began in 1926. He was editor of the Rivne newspaper Volyn' (1941–43), and he fled to Germany in 1944, where he headed the literary-artistic organization MUR (1945–48). He emigrated to Canada after 1948 and became a longtime head of the Slovo Association of Ukrainian Writers in Exile. Samchuk's prose is deeply rooted in the 19th-century realist tradition. His novels are broad-canvas chronicles of the Ukrainian experience in the 20th century. Themes progress from the difficult national and cultural nascence in the trilogy Volyn' (Volhynia, 1932, 1935, 1937), the devastating Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–33 in Mariia (1934), and the Second World War and forced Ukrainian labor in the trilogy Ost (East, 1948, 1957, 1982).

Ihor Kostetsky

Ihor Kostetsky (Kostetzky, Eaghor G.; pen name of Ihor Merzliakov), b 14 May 1913 in Kiev, d 14 June 1983 in Schwaikheim, West Germany. Writer, playwright, translator, critic, and publisher. He grew up in Kiev and Vinnytsia. In the 1930s he studied stage directing and acting in Leningrad and Moscow. A postwar refugee in Germany, he was one of the founders of the writers' association MUR. In the 1950s and 1960s he edited an illustrated journal Ukraina i svit. He and his wife, the German poet Elizabeth Kottmeier, established the Na Hori publishing house in the mid-1950s and, over the period of twenty five years, published several dozen books, including some outstanding editions of the world literary classics in the Ukrainian translation. Kostetsky published prolifically during the late 1940s. His prose works combined traditional and modernist (expressionist, surrealist, dadaist) forms of expression. His experimental plays written in the 1940s anticipated many stylistic devices subsequently mastered by such dramatists as Samuel Beckett.

Viktor Petrov

Viktor Petrov(pseud: V. Domontovych, V. Ber), b 22 October 1894 in Katerynoslav (now Dnipro), d 8 June 1969 in Kiev. Writer, literary scholar, archeologist, and ethnographer; member of the Shevchenko Scientific Society. A graduate of Kiev University (1918), from 1920 he worked for the Ethnographic Commission of the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. During the 1920s he also worked as a literary scholar and writer and was close to the Neoclassicists. In 1941 he was briefly director of the Institute of Ukrainian Folklore of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR. In 1944 he fled to the West. As a refugee in postwar Munich he was a professor at the Ukrainian Free University and a member of the editorial boards of the literary and art monthly Arka and the MUR collections. In 1949 he 'reappeared' in the USSR and worked at the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow. From 1956 he was a senior associate of the Institute of Archeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR in Kiev and the custodian of its scientific archive.

Yurii Kosach

Yurii Kosach, b 5 December 1909 in Kiev, d 10 January 1990 in Passaic, New Jersey. Poet, writer, and dramatist; nephew of Lesia Ukrainka. Kosach studied at Warsaw University and in Paris. After the war he lived in displaced persons camps in Germany and was an active member of the writers' organization MUR. In 1949 he immigrated to the United States. While in New York he began publishing a pro-Soviet journal, Za synim obriiem, which was notable primarily for its strident anti-emigre attacks. A prolific author excelling in the genre of the historical novel, he is also the author of several collections of rather average poetry, often marked by his interest in history and mythology. His dramatic works include Obloha (The Siege, 1943)--a dramatic poem—and the tragedy Diistvo pro Iuriia Peremozhtsia (Play about Yurii the Conqueror, 1947). By far the largest and most interesting body of work is Kosach's prose, written prior to his emigration to the United States.

Vasyl Barka

Vasyl Barka (pseudonym of Vasyl Ocheret) was born on 16 July 1908 in the village of Solonytsia near Lubni, Poltava Gubernia and died on 11 April 2003 in Liberty, New York State.

He was a poet, writer, literary critic and translator. An emigre from 1943, he lived in Germany, where he was active in the MUR literary association, before settling in the United States in 1949. Barka's orphic works require intuitive rather than logical comprehension. His poetry developed and grew in stature, from the early lyrical collections to the monumental 4,000-strophe epic novel in verse "Svidok Dlia Sontsia Shestykrylykh" (The Witness for the Sun of Seraphims, 1981), addressed to the theme of reconciliation between 'man and the Creator.' His first novel, Rai (Paradise, 1953), deals with the Soviet 'paradise.' His second novel, Zhovtyi kniaz' (The Yellow Prince, 1962, 1968), about the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–33 was translated into French (Paris 1981) and served as the basis for Oles Yanchuk's 1993 Ukrainian feature film Holod-33 (Famine-33).

Iryna Vilde

Ukrainian writer Iryna Vilde (pseudonym of Daryna Dmytrivna Makohon) was born on 5 May 1907 in Czernowitz (Chernivtsi), Austro-Hungarian monarchy and died on 30 October 1982 in Lviv. Her father was Dmytro Makohon, a lecturer and writer on folk arts. She graduated from Lviv University in 1932. She was married to Eugene Polotnyuk.

From 1930 to 1939 she published short stories and novels about the life of Western Ukrainian intelligentsia, the petty bourgeoisie and students. In 1935 she, for the first time under the pseudonym "Iryna Vilde" published the novel "The Butterflies in high heels" (Ukrainian "Meteliki na shpilkah").

After the reunification of Western Ukraine with Ukrainian SSR, she continued to describe the familiar themes of family in bourgeois society. She is the author of many short stories, novellas and novels. Her work contain a huge number of characters – protagonists from all public layers of the then Galicia – of the clergy, employees, workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie, as well as information on the activities of various parties and public organizations, the Polish administration policy, the economy, education and the culture.

Some of her work are: The collection of short stories "Bizarre Heart" (1936), the story "Adult Children" (1939), a collection of lyrical miniatures "Okrushyny" (1969), the trilogy "Butterflies heels" (2007), novels "Adult Children" (1952), "Sisters Richynski" (Book 1 – 1958 book 2 – 1964), the trilogy "Butterflies on hairpins" (2007). "Sisters Richynski" is considered to be her most creative achievement.

Contemporary literature

Since the late 1980s, and particularly after the independence of Ukraine (1991) and disappearance of Soviet censorship the whole generation of writers emerged: Moysey Fishbein, Yuri Andrukhovych, Serhiy Zhadan, Oksana Zabuzhko, Oleksandr Irvanets, Izdryk, Maria Matios, Ihor Pavlyuk and many others. Many of them are considered to be "postmodernists".

At the same time the post-neoclassical literary trend has grown where the main figures are Igor Kaczurowskyj (d. 2013) and Maksym Strikha.

List of notable Ukrainian writers

Ukrainian writers include (alphabetically):

See also


  1. Magocsi, Paul Robert (1996). A History of Ukraine. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 285. ISBN 0-8020-0830-5.
  2. Volodymyr Sichynsky (1953). Ukraine in foreign comments and descriptions from the VIth to XXth century. New York: Ukrainian Congress Committee of America
  3. Ukrainian literature // Encyclopædia Britannica 15th ed. (second version, Micropædia) Vol. 12: (1985–2010). 948 p.: p. 111 (in English)
  4. Ukrainian literature // Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2019 (in English)
  5. Parody and Burlesque // Hardie, Philip. The Last Trojan Hero: A Cultural History of Virgil's Aeneid. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. 2014. 264 p: 187 (in English)


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