22 November 2022
Good news! If you have a British Library Reader Pass, it is now possible to access most of the Library’s East View e-resources remotely on a personal device. From digital newspaper collections and election ephemera to de-classified archival documents, the resources include a wide range of material originating in the Baltic states, Belarus, Central Asia and the Caucasus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine.
Available titles include the Chernobyl Newspapers Collection, 1979-1990; the Social Movements, Elections and Ephemera collection, including the Euromaidan Protests in Ukraine and the Belarus Anti-Fascist Resistance Leaflets, 1942-1944; Russian central and regional newspapers; the Pravda Ukrainy Digital Archive; the Izvestiia and Pravda digital archives; periodicals of Central Asia and the Caucasus; and The Moscow News (1930-2014) digital archive, as well as statistical and bibliographic databases.
In March 2021, we shared some newly acquired e-resources on our blog. Since then, we have added a further three collections to our offering: the Belarus Presidential Election 2020 Ephemera database; an extension to the existing Chernobyl newspaper and archival collections; and the Poliarnaia Kochegarka Digital Archive. By the beginning of 2023 we will add the Demokratychna Ukraina Digital Archive.
For more information on the Library’s East View collections available for remote access, and for detailed instructions on how to connect using a personal advice, please visit our website.
03 November 2022
Call for PhD project partners: ‘Postcolonial Discourse in East European Studies and its Application to British Library Collections’
The British Library is pleased to invite applications from HEI partners to co-supervise the AHRC PhD project ‘Postcolonial Discourse in East European Studies and its Application to British Library Collections’.
Slavonic and Eastern European collections at the British Library are one of its strengths. Developed since the mid‐19th century, the collections are broad and diverse, including a wide range of materials in Slavonic languages and originating in countries referred to as Eastern Europe and Eurasia. However, despite the diversity of the collections, marginalised voices and the complexities of relations between the cultures are not easily visible through the collections’ structures and descriptions. The British Library co‐supervisors have identified postcolonial research and its application to curatorial practices as a priority approach to these collections, likely to reveal many meaningful gaps and contested interpretations. The team of curators are looking to engage with an HEI partner on a project that can be beneficial for the entire collection area and therefore offer an opportunity for wide interpretation of this CDP.
The purpose of this CDP project is first to advance postcolonial and decolonisation work in the above area studies and then to apply this to the British Library’s collections in the form of policy, review and/or recommendations. Focusing on the Belarusian, Polish, Russian and/or Ukrainian collections, the study will therefore provide the foundation for a new understanding of decolonising practices in the context of Eastern Europe, as well as the Library’s policy on collecting, curating and interpreting the collections.
Cover of Taras Shevchenko, Dumky ta pisni Kobzaria (Kyiv, 1905). The book, part of a series, was issued by Kievskaia starina, a monthly magazine for Ukrainian studies. Originally published in Russian, the magazine was renamed Ukraïna in 1907 and appeared in Ukrainian. Here, the title of the book is written in Ukrainian in Russian orthography.
The collections under investigations can be taken holistically using an Area Studies approach; on a country or regional level; thematically (e.g., as a comparative study of colonial and imperial approaches and practices within Eastern Europe); or focus on ethnic, national or transnational groups (e.g., material produced in minority and minoritised languages and communities). The approaches can also vary from concentrating on theoretical issues and building a theoretical framework, creating comparative analysis or conducting case studies. The potential focus and research questions will be refined and developed with the HEI partner and (once recruited) the student.
Research questions can include (but are not limited to) the following:
- What are the major theoretical problems with the application and adaptation of postcolonial theory to East European postcolonial studies and decolonisation practices? What are common or specific features of postcolonial discourse in East European Studies and how should they be taken into account in interpretation, description and development of collections?
- How can book and print history, and/or the history of collecting be analysed within the postcolonial discourse?
- Is there a need, necessity and/or obligation for the Library to engage with Diasporas, national or transnational communities in the UK and in the countries of origin? What methodological approaches should be applied?
By examining the collections through a critical, historical lens and identifying points of contestation in interpretation, potential outcomes of the project could include:
- highlighting the ‘hidden’ collections and gaps in materials printed in minority languages, by oppressed groups and nationalist movements, as well as materials that represent the complex identities of authors and producers across the present political borders between the countries;
- suggesting the most appropriate language and vocabulary for the purpose of collection discovery and interpretation;
- contributing to decolonising metadata for the British Library’s records;
- suggesting means of communicating and promoting the outcomes of the review.
The placement provides an opportunity to work on a project that will deliver a practical output by improving discovery and accessibility of one of the largest heritage collections in the world, including for the communities who create and are represented in the collections. It also offers an opportunity to develop cultural diplomacy skills by liaising with organisations with varied governance practices and cultural backgrounds, for example: the Ukrainian Institute London, various Polish cultural organisations (e.g. the Pilsudski Institute), COSEELIS, Pushkin House etc.
Based within the Library's European, Americas and Oceania Collections team, the student will have access to advice and support from across this team, and work closely with a smaller team of East European curators. Depending on the student’s interests and project needs there will be opportunities to learn about other roles and activities within the Library (e.g., metadata, cataloguing teams, events, etc). The student will also have access to the Library’s extensive training programmes.
The deadline for applications is Friday 25 November 2022, 5pm. For more information on the project and how to apply, see the Library website.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, Olga Topol and Katie McElvanney, Curators East European Collections
28 September 2022
Last November, the British Library, in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London, hosted an event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ukrainian writer and poet Lesia Ukrainka. Alongside a captivating panel discussion, Olesya Khromeychuk, Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, announced the winner of the Institute’s inaugural Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize. First prize was awarded to translator and poet Nina Murray for her translation from Ukrainka’s poetic drama Cassandra.
Francis Legat after George Romney, Cassandra Raving (Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 2) first published 1795, Print. The Met.
First published in 1908, Ukrainka’s drama retells the story of the Trojan war through the eyes of Cassandra, the fiery prophetess who persists in fighting for the truth when no one will believe her. An extract from Nina Murray’s translation of Cassandra appeared in the second issue of the London Ukrainian Review in August, and the full text will be published by Harvard University Press next year.
Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Cassandra: A Dramatic Poem. Translated by Nina Murray. Awaiting publication.
The publisher’s website describes the forthcoming work as follows:
Cassandra: A Dramatic Poem encapsulates the complexities of Ukrainka’s late works: use of classical mythology and her intertextual practice; intense focus on issues of colonialism and cultural subjugation—and allegorical reading of the asymmetric relationship of Ukrainian and Russian culture; a sharp commentary on patriarchy and the subjugation of women; and the dilemma of the writer-seer who knows the truth and its ominous implications but is powerless to impart that to contemporaries and countrymen.
This strongly autobiographical work commanded a significant critical reception in Ukraine and projects Ukrainka into the new Ukrainian cultural canon. Presented here in a contemporary and sophisticated English translation attuned to psychological nuance, it is sure to attract the attention of the modern-day reader.
Poster for the Live Canon and the Ukrainian Institute London production of Cassandra
Ukrainka’s Cassandra has astounding relevance at this time of war, and Live Canon and the Ukrainian Institute London will present the play for the first time on the UK stage, in Nina Murray’s award winning translation. Directed by Helen Eastman, the production will run from 4-16 October 2022 at Omnibus Theatre. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Theatre’s website. There will be a post-show Q&A on Sunday 9 October (free to ticket holders).
Additional reading and resources
Olga Kerziouk, ‘Lady on Banknotes’, European Studies Blog, 1 August 2013
Recording of ‘The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka’ which was held at the British Library in November 2021
Sasha Dovzhyk, ‘Subverting the Canon of Patriarchy: Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking’, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 25 February 2021
Lesia Ukrainka: Fin-de-siècle Ukrainian Feminism (short film), Ukrainian Institute London, 2020
Lesya Ukrainka. Life and work by Constantine Bida. Selected works, translated by Vera Rich. (Toronto, 1968). X.900/3941. An electronic copy of Vera Rich’s translation of Cassandra is available.
Lesia Ukrainka, Cassandre: Poème dramatique. Traduit de l'ukrainien, préfacé et annoté par Andry Swirko. (Brussels, 1973). X.909/27847.
Lesia Ukrainka, Dramatychni tvory (Kyiv, 2008). YF.2009.a.24435
31 August 2022
August is Women in Translation Month, a 2014 initiative aimed at celebrating and promoting women writers in translation, as well as their translators and publishers. As in previous years, we are highlighting a selection of books from across the European collections that we have recently enjoyed. We hope you enjoy them too.
Lize Spit, The Melting, translated by Kristen Gehrman (London: Pan Macmillan, 2021) ELD.DS.611746.
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
‘It wasn't a good day, but at least there's a story in it.’ Lize Spit consoled herself as a child with writing when life was against her. After a long, hard struggle she entered the literary world in Flanders and the Netherlands with her debut novel Het Smelt, or The Melting. It is part coming-of-age novel, part thriller about a young woman who takes revenge on her childhood friends for things done to her 13 years before. Spit doesn’t pull any punches, doesn’t flinch from cruelty. Just how good it is can be seen from the number of languages Het Smelt was translated into: Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Danish, German, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Croatian, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish, Czech, Swedish and English. The English translation is by Kristen Gehrman, who translates from Dutch into English, German and French.
Contemporary Georgian Fiction, translated and edited by Elizabeth Heighway (Champaign, Ill., 2012), Nov.2013/1985
Chosen by Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections
Published in 2012, this volume brings together stories by 20 prominent contemporary Georgian writers. It affords a view into a vibrant literary world that has been largely inaccessible to English-speaking readers. Written over the last 50 years, the selection of stories offers a very broad mix of writers with different literary styles. Some of the writers are well known, while others have only recently entered the literary world. Among them are five female authors, all from different generations and backgrounds, and each with a distinct authorial voice. They have achieved success in a number of literary competitions and have been awarded literary prizes, both Georgian and international. Some have previously been translated into other languages, for others this is their first published translation. Their names are: Mariam Bekauri, Teona Dolenjashvili, Ana Kordzaia-Samadasvili, Maka Mikeladze, and Nino Tepnadze. They succeed in creating powerful images of Georgia and its inhabitants, seen from different perspectives. The variety of contexts reflects changes in Georgian society in recent years, while the variety of narrative styles highlights the challenges presented to the translator, Elizabeth Heighway.
Madeleine Bourdouxhe, A Nail, a Rose, translated by Faith Evans (London, 2019) ELD.DS.439385 and Marie, translated and with an afterword by Faith Evans (London, 2016) H.2018/.7905
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections
After years of neglect, the fiction of Belgian author Madeleine Bourdouxhe is undergoing a revival with new editions of her work appearing in the UK, the US and Germany. In her stories, Bourdouxhe explores the themes of resistance, but also the life, routine, sexuality, and ennui of women in the 20th century. First rediscovered in France with the reissue of La femme de Gilles in 1985, she has since become something of a feminist icon. Faith Evans’s recent translations of two of Bourdouxhe’s books into English put her works into their historical, political and stylistic context. She also shares with us her translator’s impressions, feelings and reasoning; and perhaps even more surprisingly, as it is so rare, the author’s impressions at being translated.
Iryna Shuvalova, Pray to the Empty Wells, translated by Olena Jennings and the author (Sandpoint, Idaho: Lost Horse Press, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Presented in dual-language format, Pray to the Empty Wells is Ukrainian poet Iryna Shuvalova’s first book-length collection of poems in English. Drawing heavily on Ukraine’s folk culture and themes ranging from memory, the natural environment and Russia’s war in Ukraine, Shuvalova’s poems are meditative, intimate, unflinchingly direct and often visceral. The collection is beautifully translated from Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Shuvalova, and forms part of Lost Horse Press Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry series.
Shuvalova will be appearing in the Worldwide Reading of Ukrainian Literature event at the British Library on 7 September, along with a host of other award-winning Ukrainian writers and translators. The event is free to attend and will also be live streamed on the LKN website.
24 August 2022
On 24 August 1991, Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union by passing the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine. On this day, we are exploring our collection of works by Ukrainian historians who contributed to Ukrainian scholarship and Ukrainian identity.
Samiilo Velychko and Hryhorii Hrabianka could be considered the first named historians of Ukraine. Although they still wrote their works in a chronicle style, they are distinctly different from the earlier anonymous work Litopys Samovydtsia (‘The Eyewitness Chronicle’) that described events in Ukraine from the outbreak of the Khmelnytsky revolt in 1648 until 1702. All three authors had their social roots in the Cossack officer class and their works are often referred to as ‘Cossack chronicles’. However, Samovidets’ (‘the eyewitness’) was the only one who had personal knowledge of the Khemelnitsky era. Both – Velychko and Hrabianka – came from the next generation. Their narratives include not only annual accounts of events, but also their own interpretations, memoirs and documents. The manuscripts of Velychko’s Litopys show that it is a unique example of historical reflection on the past. This is no longer a chronicle, or a collection and compilation, but a historical study, united by a common idea, approach and methodology.
The Cossack chronicles have been published several times since 1840s, and the British Library holds some of the most important editions.
The Eyewitness Chronicle - facsimile of the manuscript folio
A page from the 2001 edition of Hrabianka’s Historiia (Hystoriia ... H. Hrab’ianky ; Lietopis kratkii. Zhytomyr, 2001. YA.2003.30504)
Title page of the first edition of Velychko’s Litopys (Kyiv, 1848). Ac.7870/5.
Facsimile of the title page of the manuscript
Facsimile of one of the images in the Velychko’s manuscript – portrait of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskyi
Like in many other countries in Europe, Ukrainian scholarly historical research reached a new level in the 19th century. Mykola Kostomarov was a historian by training. He graduated from Kharkiv University and in 1846 was appointed assistant professor at Kyiv University. We have numerous editions of his works, including the beautifully printed Slavianskaia mifologiia (‘Slavonic mythology’).
Kostomarov’s Slavianskaia mifologiia (Kyiv, 1847) 4504.h.20
Some important aspects of Kostomarov's life and work can be studied through the Endangered Archives Programme collection (EAP657), as digitised copies of archival Russian Imperial polices files on the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius can be accessed from anywhere in the world. The original documents are held at the National Taras Shevchenko Museum in Ukraine. Kostomarov’s involvement in the Brotherhood resulted in his arrest and exile.
If Kostomarov laid the foundations for Ukrainian national historiography, the researcher and prominent political and civic leader Mykhailo Hrushevsky made the most fundamental contribution to Ukrainian scholarship by writing a 10 volume history of Ukraine. Thanks to another EAP project (EAP900), free open access to the full run of the Papers of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in Lviv, where Hrushevsky was an active member, is also available from the British Library website.
Many prominent historians of Ukraine contributed to the Harvard series in Ukrainian studies and other publications by Harvard University, which, of course, would be easier to find in our online catalogue, and the most recent works are available as e-books from our Reading Rooms, like, for example, Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine.
Cover of Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (London, 2015). YC.2017.a.1703 and ELD.DS.188427
This is probably the most popular English-language book about Ukraine today. Whichever book you choose, let us mark Ukrainian Independence Day by learning about Ukraine’s rich history and by celebrating the brilliant scholars who studied it.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator Central, East European and Slavonic Collections
M. IU Braichevsʹkyi, Annexation or reunification: critical notes on one conception; translated and edited by George P. Kulchycky (Munich, 1974) W39/2929
Dmytro Doroshenko, History of the Ukraine; translated from the Ukranian and abridged by Hanna Chikalenko- Keller ; edited and introduction by G.W. Simpson (Edmonton, 1939) YA.2003.a.10952
Ivan Dziuba, Internationalism or Russification? A study in the Soviet nationalities problem, 3rd edition (New York ; London, 1974) X.709/30122
Hryhorij Hrabjanka, The great war of Bohdan Xmelʹnycʹkyj, with an introduction by Yuri Lutsenko. ([Cambridge, Mass.], 1990) YC.1993.b.1849
M. Hrushevsʹkyi, Istoriia Ukrainy-Rusy : v odynadtsiaty tomakh, dvanadtsiaty knyhakh. (Kyiv, 1991-2000). ZA.9.a.8256
Kostomarov's “Books of Genesis of the Ukrainian People,” with a commentary by B. Yanivs'kyi. (New York, 1954). 10293.e.11/60.
Oleksander Ohloblyn, Arkadii Zhukovsky and Serhiy Bilenky. ‘Historiography’ in Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine
Omeljan Pritsak, Istoriosofiia ta istoriohrafiia Mykhaila Hrushevsʹkoho. (Kyiv, 1991) YA.1996.a.7702
The Eyewitness Chronicle, with an editor’s preface by Omeljan Pritsak (Munich, 1972) X.0800/445(7/1)
28 July 2022
The Ukrainian Institute London in partnership with PEN Ukraine and the Ukrainian Institute is currently running Ukraine Lab, an online residency for six emerging writers based in the United Kingdom and Ukraine (or displaced by the war). Sasha Dovzhyk, curator of Ukraine Lab, writes:
The ongoing successful resistance to Russia’s war of aggression on an unprecedented scale has made the value of Ukrainian knowledge and experience undeniable. The urgency to learn from Ukraine is now existential for the rest of the world, and Ukraine Lab presents such an opportunity.
Working in cross-cultural pairs, the participants of Ukraine Lab will produce creative nonfiction pieces tackling global challenges in the areas of modern warfare, disinformation, and environment through the prism of Ukraine. Ukraine Lab is supported by the British Council as part of UK/UA Season.
Oleksandr Khvostenko-Khvostov’s set design for Mob (adapted from Upton Sinclair’s novel They Call Me Carpenter), 1924. Mystetskyi arsenal, Kyiv, Ukraine.
As part of the project, the writers took part in an online workshop with Katie McElvanney, curator of Slavonic and East European collections at the British Library. We encouraged the participants to engage critically and creatively with the Library’s rich Ukrainian collections, and to record their responses to some of the items they encountered.
Front page of Ukrainian Peace News, no. 3/4 (London, 1987). ZK.9.d.258
Jonathon Turnbull (United Kingdom)
Cultural and environmental geographer at the University of Cambridge researching the return of nature to the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone
From original copies of CIA-sponsored radical newspapers born from the Chornobyl nuclear disaster to a traditionally-bound book celebrating the history and culture of the Hutsuls, the British Library’s Ukrainian collections are packed with gems. Equally well-preserved are the stories behind these items, whose histories were richly conveyed by Katie McElvanney, curator of Slavonic and Eastern European collections. In the collection, we can trace the history of Russia’s imperialistic attempts to erase Ukrainian culture and language, an endeavour which is more apparent than ever since February 24th 2022. But equally, we can find the perseverance and strength of the Ukrainian resistance to Russian imperialism. We were shown, for instance, a rare pocket-sized edition of Taras Shevchenko’s famous poetry collection Kobzar, published in Geneva and designed to be easily smuggled into Ukraine at a time when Ukrainian language was prohibited by Russian colonialism. Some editions were even disguised as cigarette papers to avoid detection. Items like this remind us of the power of literature, poetry, and other documentary forms in fostering community, protecting culture, and enabling resistance. It was a privilege to access such items and to learn about their history from Katie McElvanney who gave a wonderful insight into the British Library’s Ukrainian collections.
Front cover of Mariika Pidhiryanka’s children’s book, Brysko, huska i lysychka [Munich, 1949]. Awaiting shelfmark
Olena Kozar (Ukraine)
Journalist, editor, and copywriter
The book that stood out for me was Mariika Pidhiryanka’s children's book, Brysko, huska i lysychka, published in 1949 in a displaced persons camp in Germany and doodled by a kid’s hand. I couldn’t help thinking back to a cramped school library which I frequented and where doodling in books was strictly forbidden. Of course, it was. But after all, what else can bring a book to life and closer to us if not a mischievous message sent through time? I hope that the young reader of Pidhiryanka’s book didn’t witness or remember World War II and doodled care-free in a world where the evil was defeated. I salute you, little monkey, from the new Europe, torn apart by a new war. The evil came back but we are fighting.
Title page of the British Library’s copy of the 1881 Kobzar (volume one). 1451.a.42.
Kris Michalowicz (United Kingdom)
International volunteer and writer focusing on Eastern Europe
I was struck by the wealth of history and human experience contained in the collections. The eclectic range of items made a powerful impression on me, and made my connection to Ukrainian history all the more vivid. One item that stood out to me was the portable copy of Shevchenko's Kobzar, designed to be smuggled. It highlighted the ingenuity, determination, and bravery Ukrainians have needed to preserve their culture across the centuries under the threat of imperialism.
Page from Poetics of Endangered Species: Ukraine (Kyiv; Tallinn, 2007), YF.2017.b.1282
Kateryna Iakovlenko (Ukraine)
Luhansk-born visual culture researcher and writer exploring cultural and artistic transformation during the war and violence
I have always been fascinated by library collections: how they are formed, how curators distribute and catalogue books. It was interesting to observe how carefully the staff treated each book as a separate independent story. But among all that Katie McElvanney spoke about, I was most inspired by the collection of environmental sound recordings. While we grow up surrounded by the sounds of birds, frogs, and animals, it seems that nothing can change, that they will always be with us. Unfortunately, however, climate change and wars affect the environment. Some plants and animals are on the verge of extinction. For this reason, it's crucial to preserve them by all possible means.
Cover of the Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm by ‘Ivan Cherniatynskyi’, Kolhosp tvaryn: kazka, with an introduction by George Orwell. ([Munich, 1947?]) 12593.f.40.
Phoebe Page (United Kingdom)
University of Cambridge Languages and Literature graduate, preparing for a Masters degree in Political Sociology
I was blown away by the breadth and variety of the collection, spanning so many styles, genres, places, and periods in history. I was particularly struck by the story each piece told, and the layers of experience you could divine from items which must have passed through several different hands, and which still bear the marks of previous owners. We were shown a rare edition of Orwell’s Animal Farm, translated into Ukrainian in 1947 and distributed throughout the displaced persons camps at the end of the Second World War. It was incredible to learn that Orwell wrote a special introduction for the Ukrainian version of Animal Farm, which became a message of hope for Ukrainians in the DP camps. Political independence was a matter of survival for Orwell and for Ukrainians facing Soviet oppression, and that such an iconic author would write a special introduction personally addressed to a tiny audience (only around 2,000 copies of this edition were distributed) is to me incredibly powerful.
Sofia Cheliak (Ukraine)
TV host, Programme director at the Lviv International BookForum, translator from Czech
I was surprised by the approach to the process of collecting items and the very diversity of the Ukrainian collection. I studied Ukrainian Philology (Literary Studies) for my degree and only read about the books that were published by Mykhailo Drahomanov. At the British Library workshop, I was able to actually see them, at least online.
Edited by Sasha Dovzhyk, Curator of Ukraine Lab and special projects curator at Ukrainian Institute London
10 March 2022
The British Library holds a number of interesting editions by and about the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. Some of them are very rare. In addition, in 2014, as part of the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), which is administered by the British Library, the Taras Shevchenko National Museum digitised print and archival materials relating to Shevchenko. These files are available via the EAP website and searchable via the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. This digital collection compliments the British Library’s holdings of print materials.
Title page of the British Library’s copy of the 1881 Kobzar (volume one). 1451.a.42.
I first had the opportunity to learn about rare copies of Shevchenko’s works in the collections of the British Library while working on a bio-bibliography of the outstanding Ukrainian bibliographer and librarian Iurii Mezhenko in the early 1990s. It was Mezhenko who collected the world’s largest private collection of Shevchenko’s works and books about the poet. His collection contained a very rare edition of Kobzar in two volumes, published in 1881 in Geneva by Mykhailo Drahomanov. As stated in the preface of the bio-bibliography, only two copies of this Kobzar have survived: one in Mezhenko’s collection and the other (volume one only) in the British Library (Iurii Oleksiiovych Mezhenko… p. 32). The British Library (then the British Museum Library) copy was discovered by Volodymyr Doroshenko, author of the most complete bibliography of Shevchenko, as early as 1942.
What makes this edition so rare? Five years before its publication, in 1876, a decree banning the use of the Ukrainian language in the Russian Empire was issued by Tsar Alexander II. Known as the Ems Ukaz after the German town where it was promulgated, the decree also forbade the import of Ukrainian publications. That is why Shevchenko’s poems were published abroad. Another reason for this decision was that all previous publications of Shevchenko’s works in the Russian Empire were censored, and uncensored poems were only distributed in manuscript copies. Any criticism of the Empire, any hint of the subjugation of Ukrainians, any allusion to a separate Ukrainian identity or former Hetman state was removed from the poems. For example, from the poem ‘The Night of Taras’ lines 15-16, 45-64, and 131-136 were all cut. Among them:
Once there was the Hetmanate
It passed beyond recall.
…. Where the freedom-destiny?
The Hetmans and their banners?
Where is it scattered? Burned to ashes?
Or has the blue sea drowned
And covered over your high hills
And the lofty mounds?
(Translated by Vera Rich)
Copies of the 1878 and 1881 editions of Kobzar in Mezhenko’s collection. Reproduced with kind permission.
Mykhaylo Drahomanov, a scholar and political thinker who had been forced to emigrate following his dismissal from the Kyiv University of St. Volodymyr by the Russian government, initiated the publication of uncensored editions of Kobzar by the Hromada publishing house in Geneva, which operated there from 1876 until 1889. Both the 1881 Kobzar and an earlier edition printed in 1878 (a digitised copy of the 1878 Kobzar is available via the V. Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine), open with the text of the Ems Ukaz and are very small in size. Part of the print run of the 1878 edition (5,5 x 8,5 cm) was transported to the Russian Empire “legally” under the guise of cigarette papers manufactured by the well-known French factory ‘Abadie’ as, wrapped in a branded cover, the small book resembled a stack of cigarette papers.
Abadie cigarette paper advert by E. Hilda.
The 1881 edition is a little bigger (7 х 11 cm) but is also of a pocket size which was convenient for transporting to Russian-controlled Ukraine and for hiding. Both of these editions were printed using a reformed Ukrainian alphabet called Drahomanivka. This phonemic orthography was developed in Kyiv in the 1870s by a group of Ukrainian intellectuals including Drahomanov. However, following the ban of Ukrainian language publications and the relocation of publishing activities abroad, this reformed orthography had no chance to be used in Ukraine. The alphabet was named after Drahomanov, who had used it in publications since 1876. As Drahomanivka did not catch on, these and some other editions are historical examples of its usage.
Example of Drahomanivka from the 1881 edition of Kobzar
Title page of ‘Mariia’ by Taras Shevchenko (Geneva, 1882). 011586.ff.49.(3.)
Later, in 1882, Drahomanov used Ukrainian orthography based on the Latin alphabet for printing Shevchenko’s poem ‘Mariia’ in Geneva. This very interesting and rare edition is also held by the British Library, as well as a copy of Drahomanov’s printed report ‘La Littérature Oukraïnienne proscrite par le Gouvernement Russe’, which was distributed at the Paris Literary Congress in 1878 (11851.ccc.19.).
Title page of the 1876 Prague edition of Kobzar. 11585.k.11.
Another rare edition of Kobzar which is preserved in the British Library (and in Mezhenko’s collection) is the Prague edition of 1876. It was published by the printing house of Eduard Grégr (1827–1907), a Czech publicist and politician who, together with his brother, founded the political magazine Národní listy (MFM.MF641; Digitised copies of Národní listy are available via the Moravian Library and the National Library of the Czech Republic).
Digitised file relating to editions of Kobzar published abroad (EAP657/1/51)
The EAP Shevchenko collection contains a file (1881) issued by the Main Department on Print Issues of the Russian Empire relating to editions of Kobzar published abroad, including the Prague edition. The file examines issues of censorship and rights. One report, dated 12 February 1881 and signed by a Russian censor, states that the Prague edition of Kobzar is “subject to unconditional prohibition” (f.6).
As this blog demonstrates, the stories behind these editions are part of Ukrainian history.
Nadiia Strishenets, Leading Researcher at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine and British Library Chevening Fellow. She is working on enhancing metadata for the Shevchenko digital collections.
References and further reading
Iurii Oleksiiovych Mezhenko (1892-1969): materialy do biohrafiï, compiled by T. A. Ihnatova, N. V. Kazakova, N. V. Strishenets (Kyiv, 1994). 2719.e.3344
Taras Shevchenko, “Song out of Darkness”: Selected poems translated from the Ukrainian by Vera Rich. (London, 1961) 11303.bb.3.
08 March 2022
“Your problems are also my problems” – tracing Ukraine in the British Library's Solidarity Collection
As the catastrophic situation in Ukraine unfolds, as human lives and cultural heritage are under threat, the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine keeps displaying a curt and distressing message: ‘Due to the imposition of martial law throughout Ukraine, the library remains closed to readers’.
The tragic circumstances of one of the most populous countries in Europe remind us of the importance of international solidarity and the need to come together to preserve lives and heritage. In this blog post we take a look at Ukraine in the British Library’s Solidarity collection to show the prominence of international connections for building democracies.
Since 1980, when the Gdańsk Agreement was signed between the strikers of the Lenin Shipyard and the government of the Polish People’s Republic, the Polish ‘Solidarity’ movement – the trade union – has been being widely credited with playing a crucial role in ending communist rule in Poland. For many activists around the world Solidarity became a symbol of a successful battle against tyranny and dictatorship.
The British Library’s collection named after the movement holds thousands of items inspired by the theme of freedom and democracy. A detailed description of the collection can be found on our blog.
The Solidarity Collection, which includes diverse pro-democratic materials from many independent bodies, is a true testament to the freedom movement spreading through the Eastern Bloc in the late 1970s and 1980s. The following collection items highlight the connection between the Polish movement and Ukraine.
Cover of Tomasz Jastrun, Życie Anny Walentynowicz (Warszawa, 1985). Sol.223.c
Anna Walentynowicz (née Lubczyk), born in 1929 in Volhynia into a Ukrainian protestant family, was an icon of the Polish solidarity movement. From 1950, when Anna started working for the Gdansk Shipyard, she was actively engaged in defending workers’ rights, protesting against financial fraud, and distributing underground newsletters. In 1978 she joined the Free Trade Unions of the Coast (Wolne Związki Zawodowe Wybrzeża, WZZW), which two years later became an excuse for firing her from her post at the shipyard just before she was due to retire. The act, which infuriated her colleagues, triggered the famed strike on 14 August 1980, and consequentially led to the signing of the Gdańsk Agreement and the birth of the Solidarity trade union. By the mid-1980s Anna’s symbolic position within the ranks of the opposition prompted Tomasz Jastrun, a fellow dissident and literary critic to write her biography, Życie Anny Walentynowicz (The Life of Anna Walentynowicz), in the form of an extended interview. Although Walentynowicz later entered into a conflict with Lech Wałęsa over the direction the Solidarity movement was going, she worked relentlessly her entire life to defend human rights. She said in one of the interviews:
Our main duty is to consider the needs of the others. If we become alive to this duty, there will be no unjustly treated people in our midst, and we, in turn, shall not be treated unjustly. Our day-to-day motto should be: “Your problems are also my problems”. We must extend our friendship and strengthen our solidarity. Source: Extracts from Polish underground publications
A declaration of the hunger-strike protest signed by Anna Walentynowicz. Cele i zasady naszego głodowego protestu. List do społeczeństwa (Kraków, 1985) Sol.764
Anna died tragically in the Smolensk air disaster in 2010. Before her death she managed to find and reunite with her family in Ukraine from whom she had been separated during the Second World War.
Robotnik. Pismo członków Międzyzakładowego Robotniczego Komitetu „Solidarności” (Warszawa, 1986) Sol.764
This special issue of the underground periodical Robotnik (Worker) is devoted to the April 1986 atomic disaster in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. The editors of Robotnik express their sympathy and proclaim solidarity with the victims of the catastrophe, which in their view occurred as a result of systematic negligence. They declare: ‘In the Soviet system there is no space for protecting human rights, even the most elementary right to life’. [my translation]
Proclamation on the Rules of Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation
Oświadczenie w sprawie zasad współpracy polsko-ukraińskiej (Paryż, 1987) Sol.764
The Liberal Democratic Party ‘Niepodległość’/’Independence’ aimed to overthrow the communist regime and make Poland an independent country. One of their goals was to establish a common position of the Ukrainian and Polish opposition regarding mutual support for the countries’ independence and the future Polish-Ukrainian border. The 1987 ‘Proclamation on the Rules of Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation’, held in the Solidarity collection, shows a joint attempt to reach a solution. The signatories promise to respect each other’s right to national independence.
A postcard celebrating 1000 years of Christianity in Ukraine (1988) Sol.764
Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European collections
Shana Penn, Solidarity’s secret: the women who defeated Communism in Poland (Ann Arbor, Mich.; Bristol, 2005). YC.2007.a.10368
M. Szporer, ‘Anna Walentynowicz and the Legacy of Solidarity in Poland’ Journal of Cold War studies, 13:1 (2011), pp. 213-222. 4958.799420
03 March 2022
For the past week, the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine has dominated the news. War represents an existential threat not just to human lives, but to the cultural and intellectual heritage that helps us understand who we are – and which it is the mission of library staff to collect, preserve and share.
The British Library’s Chief Librarian is one of the signatories of this statement by the UK Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), which expresses solidarity with colleagues across Ukraine, and calls for the UK Government and international community to do all they can to restore peace and security for Ukraine.
In this blog post, we highlight three items from the Library’s Ukrainian collections that speak to the country’s history, people and culture. They present just a snapshot of what the collections have to offer.
Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (Kyiv, 1912). 12975.l.27.
Borys and Mariia Hrinchenko were two of the most prominent Ukrainian educators, folklorists, writers and linguists of the late 19th and early 20th century. They advocated the spread of the Ukrainian language at a time when it was banned from schools and print form by the Ems Ukaz, a secret decree issued in 1876 by the Russian tsar Alexander II aimed at the destruction of Ukrainian language and culture.
Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’) was compiled by Borys and Mariia and published in Kyiv in 1912. Borys initially used the reader, which he put together in 1889, to teach his daughter, Anastasiia, how to read. After publishing a Ukrainian primer in 1907 (012901.i.25.(1.)), Borys also planned to publish his reader. The book needed considerable work, however, and he died before it was finished. Following his death from tuberculosis in 1910, Mariia, edited the reader and added additional sections. The book was received as a gift by the British Museum Library in 1913, a year after it was first published.
The reader is arranged thematically, beginning with a section on domestic and wild animals, before moving on to subjects such as flora, clothing and science. In addition to short stories and poems (including by Borys and Mariia Hrinchenko, Lesia Ukrainka and Taras Shevchenko), songs and comprehension exercises, it contains a number of riddles relating to the topic of each section.
Lesia Ukrainka, Poezii: vybrani tvory (Regensburg, 1946). 11588.a.59.
This small volume of poetry by the modernist Ukrainian writer Lesia Ukrainka was published in the Regensburg Displaced Persons (DP) Camp in 1946, the 75th anniversary of her birth. Permitted by authority of the US Military Government in the American Allied Occupation Zone, the British Library copy contains the stamp of the London-based Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, which is believed to have donated the book to the Library in 1948.
At the end of the Second World War, millions of people, including Ukrainians, were displaced from their homes, with more than six million refugees in Allied-occupied Germany alone. They included concentration camp survivors, political prisoners, former forced labourers and prisoners of war. While many were repatriated in the first few months, approximately one million people in Germany were unable to return to their countries of origin. Ukrainian and other DP communities set up schools, churches, synagogues, theatres, hospitals, and published their own newspapers and books.
The British Library holds a number of rare Ukrainian books, journals and newspapers published in and around DP Camps in Europe (predominantly Germany and Austria) between 1945 and 1955.
You can watch a recording of a 2021 event at the British Library to mark the 150th anniversary of Lesia Ukrainka’s birth on the Ukrainian Institute London’s website.
Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls (Tallinn: Ukrainian Cultural Centre, 2014). RF.2020.b.31. (Reproduced by kind permission of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre)
This handmade book celebrates the history and culture of the Hutsuls, an ethnic group from the Hutsul region in the Carpathian Mountains. It is one of a limited series of 35 items, which were donated to major libraries around the world by the Ukrainian Cultural Centre (UKK) in Tallinn, Estonia. One of the most striking and important aspects of the project is its collaboration with Hutsul communities. In addition to the plant specimens, which were collected from the Ukrainian side of the Carpathian Mountains, each book contains postcards and bookmarks from community members with their comments and reflections on aspects of Hutsul life and culture, as well as a cycle of poems in the Hutsul dialect by the poet Mariya Korpanyuk. The postcards were distributed in Hutsul villages and the hundreds of responses, with their stamps and postmarks, were divided among the individual books, further adding to their unique composition and design.
The UKK also partnered with the National Museum of Hutsulshchyna & Pokuttia Folk Art, which selected pre-Second World War photographs of Hutsul life to reproduce and include in the books. Located in Kolomyia, the largest town on traditional Hutsul territory, the museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting Hutsul culture. The photographs are thematically paired to speak to the themes of Korpanyuk’s poems, from childhood and marriage to crafts, music and mushroom picking.
Discover more about the project in this interview with a colleague from the UKK on our blog.
Further information about the collections
From rare 16th-century books and banned texts published in volumes small enough to smuggle across borders, to a futurist literary almanac and digital ephemera from the 2013-14 Euromaidan protests, the Ukrainian collections at the British Library reflect the wealth and strength of Ukrainian culture. Each year we add more than 1,500 items to the collections from all regions of Ukraine and strive to bring them to as wide an audience as possible.
Find out more about the Library’s Ukrainian collections and Ukrainian culture and history by exploring our blog, collection guide, and the Ukrainian Institute London’s website – particularly their series of short films ‘10 Things Everyone Should Know About Ukraine’.
09 February 2022
Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the Slavonic and East European collections at the British Library. Under the title ‘Displaced Persons (DP) Camp Publications in the British Library’, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or part-time equivalent) researching, improving catalogue records, and promoting the Ukrainian-language titles within this collection.
Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Poezii: vybrani tvory (Regensburg, 1946). 11588.a.59. The British Library copy contains the stamp of the London-based Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, which is believed to have donated the book to the Library in 1948.
At the end of the Second World War, millions of people were displaced from their homes, with more than six million refugees in Allied-occupied Germany alone. They included concentration camp survivors, political prisoners, former forced labourers and prisoners of war. While many were repatriated in the first few months, approximately one million people in Germany were unable or unwilling to return to their countries of origin. The remaining displaced persons were housed in camps, organised mainly by nationality. DP communities set up schools, churches, synagogues, theatres, hospitals, and published their own newspapers and books.
Cover of Ravensbrück: naibilʹshyi zhinochyi kontsentratsiinyi tabor v Nimechchyni, illustrated by Olena Vityk-Voitovych (Munich, ca. 1946). YA.2003.a.16502.
The British Library holds a number of rare books, journals and newspapers published in and around DP Camps in Europe (predominantly Germany and Austria) between 1945 and 1955. The languages of these publications include Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Yiddish and Belarusian. Among the titles are editions of famous literary and historical works, accounts of internment in Nazi concentration camps, political manifestos, and children’s books. Many are written and/or illustrated by prominent writers and artists, and contain stamps and other information key to understanding the activities, networks and governance of the camps and DP/émigré communities. The metadata for these items is inconsistent and, in many cases, minimal. While the project will focus on the collection’s Ukrainian-language titles, there is also scope to work with DP camp publications in other languages depending on the student’s area of interest.
Cover and two watercolour illustrations by Edvard Kozak, Selo: Al’bum Karykatur ([Germany, 1948?]). RB.31.c.713. The Library’s copy is nr 89 in a limited edition of 500 numbered copies.
The placement will provide a hands-on introduction to the activities of a major research library and cultural organisation, with a particular focus on cataloguing, collection management, and public engagement. In undertaking the placement project, the student will have the opportunity to consult and work with colleagues across a range of collection areas and roles.
Supervised by Dr Katie McElvanney, Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections, the placement will sit within the European, Americas and Oceania Department. Alongside regular meetings, pastoral support, and training opportunities, the student will benefit from being part of a welcoming and supportive wider team, which includes a number of PhD researchers.
Cover of Lev Iatskevych, Parovyi verbliud, illustrated by Edvard Kozak (Munich, 1947). Awaiting shelfmark.
The placement is open to UK-based PhD students from all disciplines and academic backgrounds; however, a good reading knowledge of Ukrainian is essential, and knowledge of 20th century European history and another Slavonic language (Russian, Belarusian, Polish) would be an advantage.
Further information on eligibility, funding and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is Friday 25 February 2022 (5 pm).
For informal enquiries, please contact Katie.McElvanney@bl.uk
References and further reading:
Gerard Daniel Cohen, In war’s wake: Europe’s displaced persons in the postwar order (New York; Oxford, c2012). YC.2011.a.17419
Ann Holian, Between National Socialism and Soviet Communism: Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany (Ann Arbor, 2011). YC.2011.a.13908
David Nasaw, The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War (New York, 2020).
Mark Wyman, DPs: Europe’s Displaced Persons, 1945–1951 (London; Ithaca, 1998). YC.1999.b.7740
Publications by Ukrainian "displaced persons" and political refugees, 1945-1954, in the John Luczkiw collection, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto: Microfilm collection: An electronic bibliography Compiled by Yury Boshyk and Włodzimierz Kiebalo. Edited by Wasyl Sydorenko.
The Refugee Experience: Ukrainian Displaced Persons after World War II, eds. Wsewolod W. Isajiw, Yury Boshyk, and Roman Senkus (Edmonton, 1992). YA.1995.b.3753
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