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 [email protected]
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
23 December 2021
It’s the festive season again! Conversations in our multi-national department invariably turn to colleagues’ national Christmas and New Year traditions, especially what we have to eat in our home countries. In today’s post colleagues share some Christmas Eve cuisine from Central Europe, Ukraine and France
In Central Europe, carp is a popular traditional dish for Christmas. ‘The queen of rivers’, as it was called by the 17th-century English writer Izaak Walton, this fish is quite oily and bony. So the first thing to do is to remove as many bones as possible, so that your Christmas dinner is not spoilt by a call to the ambulance. Choking on carp bones was a typical Christmas accident and is the source of many songs and anecdotes. However, you really should risk it, as carp scales are a symbol of wealth, so don’t forget to place them under plates before dinner, or hold in the palm of your hand, or put them in your wallet.
If you want your taste-buds get excited this Christmas and are seriously concerned about your wealth, why not visit your fishmonger and then indulge in a quality family time removing bones together during dark December evenings? Once the bones are out of the way, you can be creative with rubbing salt, spices, and pepper into the fish. Some recipes suggest using mustard and lemon juice or eggs to mix with flour or breadcrumbs for wrapping. Each household in Czechia or Poland would have their own traditional recipe, but the most important thing is to fry carefully and not overdo it.
Of course, carp is not only for Christmas, it is a really big part of Central European culture all year round. Books have been written about this wonderful and really tasty fish, as for example this one, promoting carp from the southern regions on the Czech Republic in national and foreign cuisines.
Cover of Vilém Vrabec, Jihočeský kapr v naší a zahraniční kuchyni (České Budějovice, 1979) X.629/16113
In fact, in Polish territories neighbouring the Czech lands carp was popularized by Czech Cistercians in 12th century. Although it became one of the staples of Polish cuisine, for a long time it was not considered as an essential part of the Christmas Eve table. Other fish dishes were equally, if not more popular. However, after the Second World War when freshwater fish farming could not come back to its former glory and the Baltic fleet was depleted, the Polish Minister for Industry and Trade, Hilary Minc, came up with an ingenious trade and marketing strategy. First, he decided that the answer for the ‘fish crisis’ was to set up carp breeding ponds which would offer fish-starved Poles a cheap but hefty chunk of protein. The slogan ‘Carp on every Christmas Eve table’ became a reality. Since 1947 almost every Polish child has been able to pet their own carp, held for days in bathtubs, in a run up to Christmas. Live carp were often offered to workers as a festive bonus.
In recent years animal rights activists launched a very successful campaign ‘Uwolnić karpia!’(‘Free the Carp!’) to put a stop to animal suffering which for years has been a part of the festive season. The campaign, which is ongoing, does not aim to fight the Polish Christmas tradition, but to get rid of the part which is unnecessarily cruel to animals. So let us celebrate with a cheerful: Happy Carp – Happy Christmas!
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator and Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Collections
Ukrainian Christmas Dishes
In Ukraine the whole family gathers at the table for the Christmas Eve dinner. Traditionally they wait for the first star to be appear in the sky. It reminds them of the star of Bethlehem which once announced to the Magi the birth of the Son of God. Only after that (and after prayer) can they start dinner.
Since Christmas Eve is the last day of the Advent fast, all meals should be lean. Traditionally it is 12 festive dishes in honour of the 12 apostles.
Chief among these are kutia and uzvar. The dinner starts with kutia – a porridge made from wheat or barley grain which symbolize eternal life and prosperity. Before cooking, the grain is soaked in cold water. Traditionally some people cook it in clay pots. Cooked porridge is placed in a deep, preferably earthenware, bowl or makitra and crushed poppy-seeds, walnuts, raisins and honey are added. Everything is mixed thoroughly.
Recipe for kutia from Ukraine: Food and History, edited by Olena Braichenko (Kyiv, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark.
The traditional Christmas drink Uzvar is made from dried fruits. Uzvar means ‘boil down’ because the fruit is boiled over a low heat. First of all it is apples, pears, plums and cherries which give it an intense and warm colour. It could be also dried apricots and raisins or other fruits depending of the area of Ukraine.
Cover of Igor Stassiouk, Ukrainian Christmas Feast = Ukraïnsʹke Rizdvo (Kyïv, 2010) YK.2012.a.9322
The other 12 dishes are not so prescriptive, and among them could be holubtsi (stuffed cabbage with mushrooms), lean borsch, vinaigrette, deruny (potato pancakes), varenyky (dumplings with cherries or grated poppy seeds), baked apples, etc. Recipes for these and other festive dishes can be found in the British Library’s collections, for example in the works illustrated above and cited below.
For Christmas and Easter: religious holiday dishes = Na Rizdvo i na Velykdenʹ: zakarpatsʹki sviatkovi stravy. Compiled by Valentyna Dzioba English translation by Valentyna Babydorych. (Uzhhorod, 2002) YF.2007.a.29847
Olha Verbenets, Vira Manko, Obriady i stravy sviatoho vechora (Lviv, 2007) YF.2008.a.30595
Lidiia Artiukh, Zvychaï ukraïntsiv u narodnomu kalendari (Kyïv, 2015) LF.31.a.5017
Nadiia Strishenets, British Library Chevening Fellow
A ghost and thirteen desserts
Christmas is associated with many things: seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit. Since Charles Dickens, maybe, it has also been associated in literature with ghost stories and just supernatural retribution for mistakes, past and present.
French author Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), who was instrumental in reviving and creating a canon of Provençal folklore, somehow managed to combine food and ghosts in his story of the ‘three low masses’, which was part of his work Lettres de mon moulin (Letters from my Mill; Paris, 1879; 11483.aaa.13).
Published in 1875, Daudet’s short story ‘Les trois basses messes’ imitates the tradition of folk-tale and evokes the delicious food of Christmas with a celestial retribution that sees gourmand Priest Dom Balaguère so impatient for his Christmas réveillon feast of truffled turkeys, pheasant, eels, trout, and wine that he succumbs to the Devil’s tricks and rushes through the required three low masses for Christmas Eve… As a punishment, God decrees that the priest shall not enter heaven until he has celebrated 300 Christmas masses in his chapel, where for centuries his ghost will be heard saying the masses he had first botched because of his gluttony. The British Library has several recordings of readings of excerpts from Lettres de Mon Moulin including some by French actor Fernandel (Sound Archive 1LP0095903), and in English by British actor Stephen Fry (Sound Archive 1CA0029425).
It has been argued that Daudet, following Provencal Poet Frederic Mistral’s success, deliberately exaggerated his links to Provence to further his literary career and social success; but Provence has been, and still is, an acknowledged source of Christmas traditions, be they religious, musical or culinary.
The true Provençal Christmas delicacy, is nowadays considered to be the tradition of the ‘thirteen desserts’ (Occitan: lei tretze dessèrts), the traditional table of delights arranged for the celebration of Christmas in the South of France. In Provence particularly, the ‘Réveillon de Noel’ (Christmas Eve supper) ends with a ritual of thirteen desserts, representing Jesus Christ and the 12 Apostles – you can read a nostalgic and love-filled description of this in Marcel Pagnol’s Le Chateau de ma mère (Paris, 1958; F9/5843).
Definition of the reveillon, from Petit almanach perpétuel de gastronomie (Paris, 1859). Source: Gallica
The food should be presented on Christmas Eve and remains on the table for three days. The precise composition varies in each province, town, or even family. There are only six compulsory items including the four mendiants (‘beggars’), evoking religious orders that had taken a vow of poverty (walnuts or hazelnuts for the Augustinians, dried figs for the Franciscans, almonds for the Carmelites and raisins for the Dominicans), black and white nougat (which counts as one dessert) and the famous pompe à l’huile d’olive, a sweet focaccia-type brioche made with olive oil and flavoured with orange blossom water. Other treats might include calissons (a sweet made of almonds and candied melon), fresh fruits, oreillettes (a type of light doughnut) and all sorts of delicious things.
If only poor Dom Balaguère could have waited for a few hours…
The traditional thirteen desserts served for the celebration of Christmas in the South of France. Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmerman from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)
Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections
24 November 2021
On 16 November 2021, the British Library, in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London, hosted an event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Ukrainian writer and poet Lesia Ukrainka. The expert panel was chaired by Lucy Delap, Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Murray Edwards College, and included Sasha Dovzhyk, a Ukrainian scholar and writer based in London, and Oksana Zabuzhko, one of Ukraine’s major contemporary writers.
The evening was opened by Katie McElvanney, Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections at the British Library. Oksana Zabuzhko, who joined the event remotely from Kyiv, highlighted that the complete collection of Lesia Ukrainka’s works (14 volumes) had only now been published, 150 years after her birth. She noted that Ukrainka was ‘misread’ in Soviet times and stressed the importance of re-reading and reviving her work and legacy.
Speaking about Ukrainka’s family, Zabuzhko emphasised that they were remarkable people who played an important role in the creation of modern Ukraine. She also spoke about the main themes and motifs of Ukrainka’s 21 plays, which were based on European culture and the European Christian tradition. In each of her dramas the main character is a woman and these women possess spiritual leadership, said Zabuzhko.
As part of the event, Olesya Khromeychuk, Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, announced the winner of the Institute’s inaugural Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize. The condition of this year was the translation of Ukrainka’s works. First prize was awarded to Nina Murray for her translation from Ukrainka’s drama Cassandra. Daisy Gibbons received the second prize for her translation of extracts from Ukrainka’s letters to Olha Kobylianska and the short story ‘By the Sea’. Nina Murray, together with Uilleam Blacker, then read excerpts from Cassandra in Ukrainian and English. It should be mentioned that Zabuzhko’s novel The Museum of Abandoned Secrets was also translated into English by Nina Murray.
Continuing the panel discussion, Sasha Dovzhyk told the audience about the Ukrainian Institute London’s short film Fin de Siècle Ukrainian Feminism on Ukrainka, where she was an expert. She also spoke about Ukrainka’s letters to Olha Kobylianska. Among the subjects of their correspondence was the struggle for women's rights. Dovzhyk cited and conextualised the words of another outstanding Ukrainian poet and writer Ivan Franko who remarked of Ukrainka, ‘this fragile and sick woman is almost the only man in the whole of Ukraine’.
Oksana Zabuzhko and Sasha Dovzhyk answered a number of questions from the audience. They also stressed that 19th and early 20th-century European literature is not complete without Lesia Ukrainka. She was a part of European culture, even in her travelling, and it is vital that her work is translated into different languages. Discussing Ukrainka’s relevance and appeal in contemporary Ukrainian society, Dovzhyk noted that she has become part of mass culture in Ukraine; during the Euromaidan her image appeared on the building of the Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Sciences, along with the other prominent figures Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko.
The recording of the event will be available on the Ukrainian Institute London’s YouTube channel.
Nadiia Strishenets, British Library Chevening Fellow working on collections related to the Ukrainian writer, poet and artist Taras Shevchenko
Photos by Anna Morgan and Tetiana Kharchenko. With thanks to the Ukrainian Institute London for allowing us to reproduce the photos in this blog post.
28 October 2021
The modernist Ukrainian writer Lesia Ukrainka (pen name of Larysa Kosach-Kvitka) pioneered a new feminist literature at the forefront of European trends of the time. Her dramas, poetry and prose address concerns from gender and race to feminism and environmentalism. In the year of the 150th anniversary of her birth, the British Library and the Ukrainian Institute London will shine a light on this remarkable figure at an event on 16 November 2021.
In the second of a two-part blog post, we explore aspects of Ukrainka’s life, work and legacy through items held in the British Library. It is co-authored by Dr Sasha Dovzhyk, a Ukrainian writer and scholar based in London, who will take part in the event.
Lesia Ukrainka, Dumy i mriï (L’viv, 1899). 20009.e.44.
Thoughts and Dreams
In a review of Lesia Ukrainka’s second poetry collection, Dumy i mriï (‘Thoughts and Dreams’), the writer Ivan Franko, who was a considerable influence on her work, remarked, ‘[…] one cannot resist the feeling that this fragile, invalid girl is almost the only man in all our present-day Ukraine (Spirit of Flame, p. 19).’ Intended as praise of her directness in addressing Ukrainian identity, Franko’s assessment of Ukrainka and her work nevertheless speaks volumes about the construction of gender roles in the society in which she lived and wrote.
For more than two centuries, the Imperial Russian government had sought to stamp out the existence and understanding of a separate and distinct Ukrainian national consciousness. This first edition of Dumy i mriï was published in 1899 in L’viv, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as books and pamphlets in the Ukrainian language were banned in the Russian Empire from 1876 by a secret decree known as the Ems Ukaz.
The theme of subjugation and liberation, as told through historical examples, is present throughout much of Ukrainka’s work, not least in the collection Dumy i mriï. The second poem, ‘Robert Brus, korol’ shotlands’kyi’, tells of the struggles (and ultimate success) of the Scottish people under Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, to free themselves from the English King.
Poster for the Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize run by the Ukrainian Institute London
Ukrainka was a prolific poet, translator, prose writer, and cultural critic. However, it is her 20 poetic dramas that form the core of her legacy. The subjects and settings range from Homeric Greece and the ancient Middle East to the 17th-century Tsardom of Muscovy. The Stone Host (1912) reviews the classic story of Don Juan, while Cassandra (1907) looks at the fall of Troy through the eyes of a seemingly marginal female character. During Ukrainka’s lifetime, her plots were deemed too ‘exotic’ by Ukrainian critics who, in accordance with the 19th-century populist doctrine, identified the Ukrainian nation with the peasant class. Ukrainka’s ambition lay elsewhere. Envisioning Ukrainian literature as an equal participant in the conversation with major world literatures, she almost single-handedly coined the required cultural vocabulary through her dramas. Poetic translations of several of these works by Percival Cundy were printed in Spirit of Flame in 1950 (12263.d.14.). A selection of dramas was also translated by Vera Rich and published in Lesya Ukrainka: Life and work in 1968 (X.900/3941.). Run by the Ukrainian Institute London, the Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize 2021 has focused on Ukrainka’s work and is promising to give an English voice to a greater number of her dramatic characters. The winners will be announced at the event on 16 November.
Lesia Ukrainka, Lisova pisnia (Kyïv, 1914). 20001.g.48.
The neo-Romantic Lisova pisnia ('Forest Song') is a poetic drama that has historically introduced young Ukrainians to Ukrainka’s work. Even in Soviet Ukraine, the neo-Romantic story of a forest nymph Mavka’s love for a peasant seemed a fitting choice for school syllabi and, unlike Ukrainka’s dramas that openly deal with the questions of power, an ideologically harmless one. The first book-form edition of Lisova pisnia appears to lay the groundwork for the provincialising perception of the drama as a naïve folk tale. Apart from the text and the author’s picture, the book includes three photographic landscapes and three portraits of peasant ‘types’ from the Volyn region of Ukraine as well as 16 musical notations for a reed-pipe (supposedly the simple songs played by Mavka’s beloved). Such a quasi-folkloric presentation distracts from some of the more radical aspects of the drama, including Ukrainka’s subtle commentary on female agency, creativity, and embodiment. Indeed, Lisova pisnia taps into the foundational questions of European literature about the power of art, traceable from the myth of Orpheus to Gerhart Hauptmann’s The Sunken Bell (1896). Unusually for this tradition, Ukrainka subverts the male-centric plot and transfers the creative power to her female character. As she straightforwardly stated in a letter to her mother, ‘Mavka’s story can only be written by a woman’. Lisova pisnia was translated into English by Percival Cundy (12263.d.14.) and by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps (YF.2009.a.28990).
Oksana Zabuzhko, Notre Dame d’Ukraine: Ukraïnka v konflikti mifolohiĭ (Kyïv, 2007). YF.2007.a.26516
Notre Dame d’Ukraine
An intriguing reading of Lisova pisnia in the light of Gnosticism and chivalric culture is offered by a pioneering and widely translated Ukrainian author Oksana Zabuzhko, who interprets Ukrainka’s fairy-tale drama as the Ukrainian version of the Grail epic. Starting with her influential novel Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex (1996), Zabuzhko’s writing has foregrounded feminist and postcolonial perspectives on Ukrainian culture while repeatedly acknowledging her debt to Ukrainka. The most significant testament of Zabuzhko’s commitment to reviewing and reviving Ukrainka’s legacy is the 600-page magnum opus Notre Dame d’Ukraine. This volume positions Ukrainka as the last representative of the Ukrainian chivalric tradition. Aided by her passion for the subject and her engrossing literary style, Zabuzhko argues that Ukrainka and her small intellectual milieu had embodied the idealism and knightly code of honour exterminated in Ukraine under Soviet rule. Pointedly, Zabuzhko is also the most compelling advocate of Ukrainka’s Europeanism and of the international significance of her oeuvre. This accent is particularly important in relation to the canonised national writer whose image has been habitually subjected to reductionist nationalist approaches. As Notre Dame d’Ukraine will not let us forget, Ukrainka’s worldview is not only firmly grounded in European culture; her literary voice is also this culture’s knowledgeable and at times subversive interlocutor.
Screen shot from a Zoom performance of 'Virtual Forest Song' in June 2021. Credit: Yara Arts Group
Some of the most innovative productions of Ukrainka’s work have been created by the New York-based Yara Arts Group. Taking Lisova pisnia as a starting point, in 1993 Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps created an award-winning English translation of the play. Over the years, Yara Arts Group has staged different versions of the play, including a bilingual show at the Kurbas Theatre in L'viv and at La MaMa in New York, and the immersive ‘Fire Water Night’ in 2013. Their translation of the play is included in the bilingual anthology In a Different Light, which was published in 2008.
150 years after her birth, Ukrainka’s work continues to inspire and adapt to a changing world; in June 2021, Yara Arts Group performed its ‘Virtual Forest Song’ on Zoom. Reviewing the production in Ukrainian Weekly, Olena Jennings praised the online format, observing that it ‘[…] emphasizes the connection between nature, humans and technology. The space between the Zoom boxes becomes fluid as actors reach across boundaries.’
Sasha Dovzhyk, writer and scholar, and Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
The event The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka will take place at the British Library on 16 November 2021.
Additional reading and resources:
Sasha Dovzhyk, ‘Subverting the Canon of Patriarchy: Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking’, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 25 February 2021
Olga Kerziouk, ‘Lady on Banknotes’, European Studies Blog, 1 August 2013
Lesia Ukrainka: Fin-de-siècle Ukrainian Feminism (short film), Ukrainian Institute London, 2020
Lesia Ukrainka, Dramatychni tvory (Kyïv, 1923). 20009.ee.71.
In a Different Light: a bilingual anthology of Ukrainian literature, translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps; compiled and edited with foreword and notes by Olha Luchuk; introduction by Natalia Pylypiuk (L’viv, 2008). YF.2009.a.28990
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