Lesia Ukrainka: Ukrainian Narrative on the European Literary Canvas

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Lesia Ukrainka: Ukrainian Narrative on the European Literary Canvas

February 25, 2021, marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Larysa Kosach-Kvitka - better known as Lesia Ukrainka - who is widely recognized as one of Ukraine's foremost literary figures. A talented translator, folklorist, prominent public intellectual, and civil and women’s rights activist, Ukrainka is best known for her poems and plays affirming ideals of humanism and the struggle for personal and national freedom.

Raised in an aristocratic Ukrainian family in the small town in the Podillia region of western Ukraine, Lesia was well-educated and fluent in ten languages.  Her talents allowed her to study the best works of ancient and Western European literature and philosophy and to translate the works of, among others, Homer, Shakespeare, Byron, Victor Hugo, Heinrich Heine, Adam Mickiewicz, Ivan Turgenyev.  Ukrainka's own works are pervaded with a belief in her country's freedom and independence and incorporate the richness of Ukrainian culture and folklore. She elaborated a Ukrainian narrative and wove it into the pan-European cultural canvas.  The Ukrainian Institute, London, has produced an informative video that positions Ukrainika as a pioneer of a new feminist literature at the leading edge of European trends (Lesia Ukrainka: Fin-de-siècle Ukrainian Feminism).

One interesting aspect of Lesia Ukrainka’s personal life was that her passion for folk songs, myths, legends, rites and customs helped her meet her future husband, Klyment Kvitka who as a freshman attended her presentation at the Kyiv University Artistic and Literature Society in November 1898. He had been collecting Ukrainian folk songs since he was sixteen and Lesya helped him transcribe those she was familiar originating from her native Podillia district. A prominent ethnography scholar who published more than six thousand folk songs, Klyment Kvitka remained somewhat unfortunately in the shade of his genius wife whom he outlived by forty years.  After Ukrainka’s death is 1913 he helped publish the first seven-volume edition of her works, essays and letters.