Lesya Ukrainka

Lesya Ukrainka Poems

Lesya Ukrainka Biography

Lesya Ukrainka was one of Ukraine’s best known poets who also wrote plays.  She was politically active, especially on feminist issues.

She was born Larysa Petrivna Kosach-Kvitka on the 25th February 1871 in the Ukrainian town of Novohrad-Volynskyi.  Her mother was a writer who used the pseudonym Olena Pchilka to write poetry and short stories aimed at children and it seems likely that she encouraged Larysa to follow in her footsteps.  Her high school education was taken at the Chernihiv Gymnasium and she then went to the University of Petersburg to study mathematics.  Two years later she moved on to Kiev where she gained a law degree.  She had grown up speaking Ukrainian at home but found that she had a gift for linguistics, mastering European languages including English and Italian as well as Slavic languages such as Polish and Bulgarian.

Larysa’s first attempt at poetry was a piece called Hope, written when she was just 8 years old, this being her reaction to the enforced exile of an aunt who had been arrested after protesting about the autocracy of the Tsars.  That same year the family moved to Lutsk and her uncle Mykhaylo took on the task of encouraging his niece to read the Bible in order to grasp its poetic nuances.  He also got her reading up on Ukrainian history and folk tales.  It only took her a short while before her first poem was published in the Lviv-based magazine Zorya.  She was 13 years old when Lily of the Valley appeared in print and this was also the first time that she used the pseudonym Lesya Ukrainka.

She believed passionately in the right of her country to be independent from Russia and much of her writing was patriotically-themed.  She soon recognised the hardships that had to be borne and tried to maintain hope and optimism despite the difficulties.  Her health was not good and tuberculosis of the bone prevented her from progressing as a pianist.  It did not stop her writing though and a good example of her optimistic, hopeful verse was the poem Contra Spem Spero!  This poem is reproduced below:
Her first collection of poetry, On the Wings of Songs, was published in 1893 but had to be produced in the Austro-Hungarian ruled Western Ukraine and smuggled into Kiev in secrecy due to the oppressive rules of the Russian Empire which meant that Ukrainian literature was banned.  Ukrainka took a risk being a member of the Literary and Artistic Society in Kiev but she, along with other writers, was determined that work originating in her country should thrive.  Health issues forced her to travel to places with a drier climate such as Egypt, the Crimea and Bulgaria and these visits inspired her to write more.  One book to come out of her travels was The Ancient History of Oriental Peoples and this included poems such as
She published a number of collections of poetry including
Lesya Ukrainka died on the 1st August 1913 while staying at a Georgian health resort.  She was 42 years old.