Ukrainian literature

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Ukrainian literature,

literary writings in the Ukrainian language.

Kievan Church SlavonicChurch Slavonic,
language belonging to the South Slavic group of the Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Slavic languages). Although it is still the liturgical language of most branches of the Orthodox Eastern Church, Church Slavonic is extinct today
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 texts of the 11th cent. and W Ukrainian texts of the 13th cent. show Ukrainian linguistic features, which predominate in the Galician-Volhynian chronicle of the 13th cent. and in much of the writing of the 14th–16th cent. Ukrainian oral literature attained its high point in the 16th cent. with the Cossack epic songs, the dumy. The first books printed in Ukrainian (16th cent.) were translations of the Gospels. A grammar appeared in 1596 and a dictionary in 1627. Ukrainian cultural life of the 17th cent. centered around the Kievan academy, established in 1633.

Gregory Skovoroda (1722–94) was the outstanding 18th cent. poet and philosopher. A leading early figure in the Ukrainian literary revival was Ivan Kotliarevsky (1769–1838), whose travesty of the Aeneid and operetta Natalka Poltavka are major works of Ukrainian classical literature. Classicism predominates also in the writings of the novelist Gregory Kvitka (1778–1843) and in the plays of Vasil Gogol (d. 1825). Interest in folklore and ethnography is represented in the works of Levko Borovykovsky (1806–89) and Ambros Metlynsky (1814–70), poets of the Kharkiv romantic school.

With the founding in the 1830s of a university in Kiev, the capital became once again the cultural center of Ukraine. The leading scholar of the period was the historian Mikola Kostomarov (1817–85). The poet Taras ShevchenkoShevchenko, Taras
, 1814–61, Ukrainian poet and artist. Born a serf and orphaned early, Shevchenko passed a wretched childhood in the service of a brutal sexton. He was apprenticed to icon and mural painters until he was bought and freed in 1838 by a group of intellectuals
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 was the great figure of Ukrainian romanticism, represented also in the dramatic works of Michael Staritsky (1840–1904), Marko Kropivnitsky (1840–1910), and Ivan Tobilevich (1845–1907). Realism in Ukrainian prose found expression in the works of Boris Hrinchenko (1863–1910) and Ivan Nechuy-Levitsky (1838–1918) and in the naturalistic tales of Marko Vovchok (pseud. of Maria Markovich, 1834–1907).

Turn-of-the-century Ukrainian literature is also represented by the outstanding writer Ivan FrankoFranko, Ivan
, 1856–1916, Ukrainian writer and nationalist. His realistic novels Boryslav Laughs (1881–82) and Boa Constrictor (1878, tr. 1961) portray the harsh existence of Ukrainian workers and peasants.
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 and the poet Lesia UkrainkaUkrainka, Lesia
, 1871–1913, Ukrainian poet and dramatist, whose original name was Larysa Kvitka-Kosach. Ukrainka spent most of her life abroad fighting to recuperate from tuberculosis.
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. Michael Kotsiubynsky (1864–1913) and Vasil Stefanyk (1871–1936) were masters of impressionist prose. Major early 20th cent. literary figures include the novelist Olha Kobylanska (1868–1942) and the novelist and political writer Vladimir VinnichenkoVinnichenko, Vladimir
, 1880–1951, Ukrainian writer and statesman. Vinnichenko's early tales are naturalistic; his later novels concern the individual's conflict with society.
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. Many Ukrainian writers were killed or deported by the Soviet regime during the 1930s, among them the dramatist Mikola Kulish (1892–1934), the humorist Ostap Vyshnia, and the theorist of neoclassicism Mikola Zerov.

One of the leading writers of the proletarian age, Mikola Khvylovy (1893–1933), proposed the reorientation of Ukrainian literature toward the West. Important writers who survived the purges of the 1930s include the master of subjective verse Maxim Rylsky, the neo-romantic poet Mikola Bazhan, the lyric poet Pavlo Tychyna, the dramatist Aleksandr Korneichuk, and the novelists Oles Honchar and Michael Stelmakh. The thaw that occurred after Stalin's death was followed by the reimposition of strict censorship in 1964. A number of writers circulated their work clandestinely, and some was later published in the West. Whether the breakup of the Soviet Union, and Ukrainian independence, will produce a surge in the country's literary life remains to be seen.


See G. Luckyj, Literary Politics in the Soviet Ukraine, 1917–34 (1956; rev. 1990) and Between Gogol and Sevcenko (1971); D. Chyzhevskyi, A History of Ukrainian Literature (1975).

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