I’m not routin’ for Putin. As the leader of a country that persecutes homosexuals, suppresses free speech and generally has far too much power, I just don’t like him. The situation in Crimea has recently encouraged me to do a little research into Ukrainian culture. Seeing as I don’t have any armies, money or land, there is sadly little I can do to support Ukraine at the moment. Instead, I’ve been reading about their literary history, and I hope that by engaging with some of the best works of Ukrainian authors we can very indirectly support their independence. Of course, if you believe Putin’s coup d’etat theory and you don’t much care for Ukraine, here’s a picture of an elephant instead. Otherwise, here are four intriguing writers who have influenced the Ukrainian literary canon..
Aside from being a poet and playwright, Lesya Ukrainka was also a political, social and feminist activist. Her family were devoted to the advancement of Ukrainian culture, and she was educated at home to avoid public schools teaching Russian as the first language. An active opponent of tsarism, she was also the first to translate the Communist Manifesto into her native language. Among her most remembered works is The Forest Song, a mythical play and folkloric love story.
Possibly the most famous Ukrainian playwright of the 20th century, Mykola Kulish was also a veteran of the First World War and the Red Army. He wrote political plays about his impoverished nation whilst touring Southern Ukraine and helping the starving. In 1934 he was arrested by agents of the NKVD and died three years later in Solovki prison camp. His most famous works include Commune in Steppes, 97 and Farewell, Village.
Writing before, during and after WWI, Iryna Vilde wrote a number of short stories and novels about the life of Western Ukrainian intelligentsia and the petty bourgeoisie. She wrote about the clergy, workers, peasantry and students, as well as documenting the activities of various political parties and organisations, the economy, education and culture. In 1943 her husband was shot by the Gestapo, and she died after a long illness in 1982.
A prose writer, poet, essayist and translator, Andrukhovych is known for his pro-Ukrainian and pro-European views. However, he rejects the idea of Ukrainian nationalism, and respects both the languages of Ukraine and Russia. His works include The Sky and Squares, Exotic Birds and Plants, Twelve Rings and The Devil’s Hiding in the Cheese.