Five Best Classics in Ukrainian Literature

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The birth of the Ukrainian language and literature dates back to the 10th century. It was from the beginning of the 19th century, however, that Ukrainian national consciousness started to develop. Writings in the Ukrainian language started to increase gradually over time, despite the fact that Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire.

This list provides an overview of five of the best classics written in the Ukrainian language, that gained popularity in Ukraine and around the world:

1) Kobzar by Taras Shevchenko

Published in 1840, Kobzar is a poetry collection that includes eight poems in its first edition, such as: Katerina, Tarasova night, Poplar, and more. These poems revolve around themes of struggle and pain, and were translated into more than 140 languages.

The book made a great impact upon Ukrainian culture and literature, and, since its huge success, the author himself was called “The Kobzar”. This title gave him huge popularity in the 19th century, along with his fellow writers.

Taras Shevchenko is considered to be the founder of the modern written Ukrainian language, and his dedicated works were influential to the people of Ukraine, and to the cultural heritage of the country.

2) Ukrainian Folk Stories by Marko Vovchok

The book is a collection of short stories, fables, and tales, published in 1857. Consisting of traditional Ukrainian stories where the protagonists are mostly peasant women, the tales depicts social issues that these women used to face and struggle with.

Marko Vovchok gained literary fame after the publication of her folk stories, which is considered to be her most influential work in the Ukrainian language and in Ukrainian literature. The author used a pseudonym for publication, as most authors did, but her real name is Maria Vilinska. She is a famous key figure in Ukrainian literature, having produced many great stories and a collection of poems that contributed to the Ukrainian language.

3) The Forest Song by Lesya Ukrainka

The Forest Song is one of the most popular Ukrainian plays. It was written by Lesya Ukrainka, known as “The Daughter of Prometheus”, whose poems were turned into folk songs.

A three-act poetic play, The Forest Song was performed on stage in the year 1918 for the first time. The story is about Mavka, a female forest creature who falls in love with a man named Lerkash. The play dives into a mysterious world full of magic, fantasy, and mythical creatures. These elements were first used in Ukrainian fiction. The play was adapted into operas, songs, and most recently into the animated movie Mavka: The Forest Song, released worldwide and praised by many film critics.

4) The Kaidash Family by Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky

One of the most popular Ukrainian classic books, The Kaidash Family is a realistic novel that depicts a conflict among family members. In this novel, the author criticises Ukrainian society and the social behaviour of the time period. The book is a combination of both sadness and humour, and was recently adapted as a TV series, To Catch the Kaidash (2020).

Along with this popular novel, Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky has many other works that amassed huge success, such as At Kozhumyaky in 1875, a comedy that turned into a play, and later a movie in 1961.

Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky is a well-known realistic novelist who made a cultural impact in Ukraine through his stories, which reflect the reality of Ukrainian society, and its deepest struggles and conflicts.

5) At a High Cost by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky

This book, published in 1901, is one of the most famous historical books in Ukrainian literature. It is considered influential among the people of Ukraine to demand freedom and independence. Set in the 1830s, when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire, the story calls for liberty against oppression.

Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky is well-known for writing realism, along with elements of impressionism and deep psychology. Kotsiubynsky’s modern writings and its relevance with actual life gave him a huge popularity among Ukrainian youth, who aim to understand more about their past and its circumstances.

Words by Joyce Bou Charaa

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