Lesia Ukrainka

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ukrainka, Lesia


(pen name of Larisa Petrovna Kosach). Born Feb. 13 (25), 1871, in Novograd-Volynskii, in what is now Zhitomir Oblast; died July 19 (Aug. 1), 1913, in Surami, Georgia; buried in Kiev. Ukrainian writer.

Ukrainka was born into a family of the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry) and was the daughter of the writer O. Pchilka. Ukrainka began publishing in 1884. She was afflicted with tuberculosis of the bones in childhood and for many years was compelled to live in the south (the Crimea, Georgia, Italy, and Egypt). She was educated at home and studied mainly history and literature; she also learned many foreign languages.

Ukrainka became interested in public affairs early in life and was soon attracted to Marxism and the revolutionary Social Democrats. In the late 1890’s she read K. Marx’ Das Kapital, and in 1902 she translated the Communist Manifesto into Ukrainian. She was a literary critic for a number of legal Marxist publications, including the journal Zhizn’ (Life). Because of her contacts with Russian Marxist organizations, she was persecuted and kept under police surveillance.

Ukrainka’s poetry and dramaturgy continued and developed the traditions of T. G. Shevchenko. Her poetry collections On Wings of Song (1893), Thoughts and Dreams (1899), and Echoes (1902), which extolled revolution and appealed for struggle, could not be published in tsarist Russia and were printed in L’vov. Ukrainka’s works manifested a consistently internationalist spirit. The themes of class struggle, national oppression, and the future freedom of the Ukrainian people were interwoven in her poetry with sympathy for contemporary Italian workers, the pyramid builders of ancient Egypt, and the medieval Scottish peasantry; an example was the narrative poem Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland (1894). The poetry cycles Slave Songs (1895-96) and Songs of Liberty (1905) extolled and appealed for armed insurrection. Ukrainka’s poetry is marked by numerous historical and contemporary motifs, a refined and profound sensibility, and a rich variety of stanzas, rhythms, and poetic forms and images.

Ukrainka’s dramas and dramatic narrative poems were based chiefly on the mythology and history of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Judea and on medieval Western European history. Yet these works, for all their historical authenticity, express ideas and attitudes relevant to the 20th century. The dramatic narrative poem The Woman Obsessed (1901) attacked both Christian humility and Tolstoyan nonresistance to evil. Another dramatic narrative poem, In the Catacombs (1905), denounced voluntary slavery in the early Christian communities of Rome. The work’s hero, a slave fighting for freedom, brings to mind mythological opponents of tyranny, as well as the Promethean heroes of the modern age. A similar symbolism is encountered in Ukrainka’s dramatic narrative poems The Babylonian Captivity (1903) and On the Ruins (1904). The dramatic fantasy An Autumn Tale (1905; published 1928), written during the height of revolutionary events, is clearly an allegory of the Revolution of 1905-07. The figure of Judas in the dramatic sketch On a Field of Blood (1909) represents a polemic against the attempts of reactionary writers and publicists to justify a philosophy of treachery.

Ukrainka’s nationally oriented fairy-tale drama The Forest Song (1912; staged 1918) contrasted the acquisitive mentality to love and poetry, creative ardor, and simple, normal human joys. The work was the source of a ballet with music by M. A. Skorul’-skii, of an opera with music by V. D. Kireiko, and of a motion picture (1961). Ukrainka also wrote the dramas Cassandra (1908) and The Stone Master (1912). Her plays enriched Ukrainian literature with new themes and characters and brought the Ukrainian theater to a level equal with that of the world’s best dramaturgy.

As a literary critic, Ukrainka correctly evaluated the significance of socialism for the future of art. Her articles “Two Trends in Modern Italian Literature” (1900), “Modern Socially Oriented Drama” (1901), “Utopia in Fiction” (1906), and “Little-Russian Writers in Bucovina” (1900) dealt with a method of literary creativity that would unite the best traits of realism and romanticism, as well as with the socialist ideal in literature. Ukrainka also translated works by Homer, Hugo, Byron, Schiller, A. Mickiewicz, and many other poets; her best translation was Heine’s Book of Songs (1892).

Ukrainka’s works have been translated into many national languages of the USSR and into foreign languages. Museums devoted to Ukrainka have been established in Kiev, in Surami, and in the village of Kolodiazhnoe, Kovel’ Raion, Volyn’ Oblast. A Russian-language theater in Kiev is named after Ukrainka.


Tvory, vols. 1-10. Kiev, 1963-65.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–4. Moscow, 1956-57.
Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1971.


Deich, A. Lesia Ukrainka, 2nded. Moscow, 1954.
Lesia Ukrainka v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov. Moscow, 1971. .
Babyshkin, O. K. Dramaturhiia Lesi Ukrainky. Kiev, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Certain prominent figures of the past were easily adopted by both the nationalist and the Soviet pantheons: Bohdan Khmernyts'ky, Taras Shevchenko, Lesia Ukrainka. Some prominent Soviet Ukrainian celebrities included in the national heritage fund after 1991 are the football coach Valerii Lobanovskii, the surgeon Nikolai Amosov, and the opera star Anatolii Solovianenko.
It was the first of a number of tributes to Ukrainian literary figures, which would be erected throughout the west, followed by monuments to Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, Vasyl Stefanyk and Lesia Ukrainka.
Discussing Ukrainian verse, she observes that even such outstanding Ukrainian poets as Taras Shevchenko, Lesia Ukrainka, Ivan Franko, and Maksym Ryl's'kyi have been seldom translated into English.