Ukraine Literature Between the 1960’s and 1990’s

By | December 24, 2021

The thirty years 1960-90 is one of the most creative and fruitful periods of Ukrainian literature, and marks a definitive break with the forms of socialist realism imposed by the Soviet regime. Having embarked on an autonomous path with determination and awareness finally free from suffocating ideological shackles, literature unreservedly tackles a wide range of new themes, which it expresses among other things in decidedly modern forms, such as can be found in more fortunate cultural contexts. The turning point takes place under the banner of the so-called šistdesjatnyky (“generation of the sixties”). It is not a mere generational revolution, but the emergence of a new awareness, which is both political, cultural and social. The period is crucial, marked by a further, heavy offensive by the Soviet regime against any autonomous expression of culture (the “ thaw ” of Crušcëv’s government, in reality, is very illusory), which translates into a real planned Russification of Ukraine. The revolt of this group of intellectuals therefore immediately acquires a precise political significance, the premise of that independence that the country will only win in 1991. For Ukraine culture and traditions, please check

Prominent figures are the poets L. Kostenko (b. 1930), I. Drač (b. 1936), V. Symonenko (1935-1963), M. Vinhranovs’kyj (b. 1936); but the new ferments run through the most varied sectors, from painting to cinema, from music to history to archeology. Poetry and literary criticism – I. Dzjuba (b. 1931), Je. Sverstjuk (b.1928), I. Svitlyčnyj (1929-1993) – undoubtedly constitute the spearhead of the movement, whose fundamental demands are clear: affirmation of national cultural identity, underlining of precise ethical values ​​on which to build a civil society worthy of the name, renewed attention to the self, reaffirmation of the ” European code ” of this culture traditionally open to the West, and expressive experimentalism.

The essay by Dzjuba Internacionalizm čy rusyfikacija (“Internationalism or Russification”, 1968) assumes in this sense an essential role, not only for the specifically Ukrainian culture, but for the cultural structure of the whole area of ​​the former Soviet empire. In his examination Dzjuba analyzes the mechanisms of cultural distortion imposed by a forced homologating system. And in this direction the empire did not take long to strike: the most prominent representatives of this generation were immediately the object of ruthless repression (Dzjuba, Sverstjuk and Svitlyčnyj spent years in the gulags, Kostenko was no longer allowed to publish, etc.). The West knew many of their works before they could circulate in their homeland.

From the seventies onwards, the most important figures each followed their own path. On the one hand, the ideal tension that fed those precursors was no longer sustainable; on the other hand, their effort nevertheless leaves considerable fruit. Kostenko, with his new reading of history in an ethical key, proposes a sophisticated metaphorical figure translated into a highly innovative versification, supported by a very high emotional tension (Nad berehamy vičnoji riky, “On the banks of the eternal river”, 1977; the novel in verse Marusja Čuraj, 1979, 1982 2, 1990 3 ; Sad netanučych skul’ptur, “The garden of statues that never melt”, 1987; the dramatic poem Snih u Florenciji, “Snow in Florence”, trad. it., Intarsi, 1994, winner of the Petrarca prize). Drač proposes poems and poems of glittering symbolism, rich in daring technical solutions (Protuberanci sercja, “Protuberances of the heart”, 1965; Balady budniv, “Ballads of everyday life”, 1967; Sonjačnyj Feniks, “Solar Phoenix”, 1978; Lyst do kalyny, “A letter to the viburnum”, 1990). Vinhranovs’kyj explores the everyday in surrealistic transfigurations that crystallize into ecstatic intuitions (Atomni preljudy, “Atomic preludes”, 1962; Na sribnim berezi, “Sulla riva argentea”, 1978; Hubamy teplymy i okom zolotym, “With warm lips and with a golden eye”, 1984). V. Stus (1938-1985), who died in a gulag, a symbolic figure of the period, has only recently returned to the fore. A poet of dramatic sensibility, he expresses dreamlike states in an esoteric style that reveal a dark and bitter underlying reality (Zymovi dereva, “Winter Trees”, 1970; Veselyj cvyntar, “Allegro cemetery”, 1976; Sviča v svičadi, “Candela in the mirror “, 1977; Palimpsesty,” Palinsesti “, 1986). But the pressure of the system is still strong, and some undoubtedly talented authors, such as D. Pavlyčko (b. 1929) and B. Olijnyk (b. 1935), cannot resist its lure.

The most important figure of the “old guard” is M. Bažan (1904-1983), with a more monumental language (Nični rozdumy staroho majstra, “The nocturnal thoughts of the old master”, 1974), who carries out an intense activity as a translator and literary critic, and founded the new Ukrajins’ka Encyklopedija ; in the 1960s he was Ungaretti’s deputy in the presidency of the Community of European writers. The regime’s constant censorship practice is to consign unwanted works to oblivion.

This happens to the best works of Bažan himself, such as the poems Nič Hofmana (“Hoffmann’s Night”, 1929), Slipci (“The blind”, 1931), the brilliant poetic collections of P. Tyčyna (1891-1967) Sonjačni klarnety (“Solar clarinets”, 1918), Zamist ‘sonetiv i oktav (“Instead of sonnets and octaves”, 1920), Pluh (“Plow”, 1920), Viter z Ukrajiny (“Wind from Ukraine”, 1924): they will all rigorously erased from the history of literature until the nineties. The well-known poet and scholar M. Ryls’kyi (1895-1964) had a similar fate.

A new generation of poets rose to prominence in the seventies: M. Vorob’jov (b. 1941; Ožyna obriju, “The blackberries of the horizon”, 1988; Verchovnyj holos, “Voce da lassù”, 1991), I. Kalynec ‘(b. 1939; Koronuvannja opudala, “Coronation of the scarecrow”, 1972), M. Osadčyj (b. 1936; Quos Ego, 1979), V. Holoborod’ko (b. 1946; Zelen den’, “Green day”, 1988; Ikar na metelykovych krylach, “Icarus on butterfly wings”, 1990), I. Žylenko (b. 1941; Koncert dlja skrypky, došču i cvirkuna, “Concerto for violin, rain and cricket”, 1979; Ostannij vulyčnyj šarmanščyk, “The last accordion player”, 1985). Behind the hermetic figure and the surrealistic imaginism, the real, however transfigured, shines through in these works in all its critical charge. Many writers are expelled from universities, almost all publish their books abroad.

Fiction also has a prominent place in this period. H. Tjutjunnyk (1931-1980), the most prominent figure in the Sixties, reconstructs the peasant life of the time (Bat’kivs’ki porohy, ” Paternal thresholds”, 1972; Korinnja, “Roots”, 1976) with a sure air and without romantic surrender. A special place deserves the novel Sobor (“The Cathedral”, 1968) by O. Hončar: substantially aligned, with this work the author goes ” against the current ”, raising the question of the destruction of values ​​in a totalitarian society. Also in this case the censorship is punctually triggered, and the offending work ends up in the most complete ostracism.

Towards the seventies a school of ” magic realism ” sui generis (chymernyj roman) was born, which uses irony to capture the more savory sides of human comedy.

We remember in particular V. Zemljak (1923-1977), for his novels Lebedyna zhraja (“Flock of swans”, 1971) and Zeleni mlyny (“The green mills”, 1976) and the stories Čarivnyj kin ‘ (“Miraculous horse”, 1978); Je. Hucalo (1937-1995), for the short stories Jabluka z osinnjoho sadu (“Apples from the autumn garden”, 1964), Serpen ‘, spalach ljubovi (“August, blaze of love”, 1970), Ščo my znajemo pro ljubov (” What We Know About Love “, 1979), and the novel Pozyčenyj čolovik (” Borrowed Husband “, 1981); and V. Drozd (b. 1939), for the Maslyny narrative collections (“(“Bird’s Cry at Dusk”, 1972), and the novels Katastrofa (“Catastrophe”, 1969), Samotnij vovk (“Lonely Wolf”, 1983), Spektakl ‘ (“Entertainment”, 1985), and above all for the epic Lystja zemli (“The leaves of the earth”, 1990-94). One of the most pressing concerns of this generation of writers is the recovery of history. Hence the historical narrative line represented by P. Zahrebel’nyj (b. 1924; the novels Smert ‘u Kyjevi, “Death in Kiev”, 1973; Roksolana, 1980; Ja, Bohdan…, “I, Bohdan… “, 1982; Levyne serce,” Lion heart “, 1978) and R., “Malve”, 1968; Čerlene vyno, “Red wine”, 1977; Vodà z kamenju, “Water from the stone”, 1982; Manuskrypt z vulyci Rus’koji, “Manuscript from Rus’ka Street”, 1979). One of the major figures of Ukrainian prose today is V. Ševčuk (b. 1939), a writer with a measured style but very rich in nuances (Večir svjatoji oseni, “Evening of Holy Autumn”, 1969; Dolyna džerel, “Meadow of springs”, 1981; Na poli smyrennomu, “On the humble field”, 1983; Try lystky za viknom, “Three leaves behind the window”, 1986; Kaminna luna, “Echo of stone”, 1987). Shevchuk also deserves to have recovered the ancient Ukrainian Renaissance and Baroque poetry, to have translated it into modern Ukrainian language and published it in numerous anthologies. We also remember other prose writers, in particular for their works on the Chernobyl catastrophe: Ju. Ščerbak (b. 1934; Svitli tanci mynuloho, ” Bright dances of the past”, 1983; Fresky i fotohrafiji, “Frescoes and photographs”; the novels Bar’jer nesumisnosti, “The barrier of incompatibility”, 1971; the essay Černobyl, 1987) and V. Javorivs’kyj (b. 1942; Lancjuhova reakcija, “Chain reaction”, 1978; Marija z polynom v kinci stolittja, “Maria with absinthe at the end of a century”, 1988).

The Eighties saw a cultured and sophisticated line of young writers (Ju. Andruchovyč, I. Rymaruk, O. Zabužko, I. Malkovyč, V. Herasym’juk, V. Neborak) that contrasts with an underground vein marked by a nihilism without illusions (O. Lyšeha, V. Cybul’ko, Je. Paškovs’kyj). Common features of this new production, which can be found both in prose and in poetry, are irreverent irony and an all-out stylistic research.

On the sidelines of the renewed efforts of a literature that is now moving free from ideological bottlenecks and censorial obtuseness, it is perhaps worth underlining some significant constants of a process which is still in progress. The translation activity, which boasts a glorious tradition in the United States, has resumed with renewed energy. The cultural opening towards the West therefore finds new lymph. It is enough to mention a few names such as H. Kočur, M. Lukaš (also translator of the Decameron), B. Ten (among other things he translated the Divine Comedy), M. Bažan, V. Mysyk, O. Senjuk, Je. Popovyč, A. Sodomora, M. Moskalenko, and others. Furthermore, after the collapse of the USSR, there is an active recovery of the literature of the 1920s ” buried ” by the regime: thus great names of prose writers and playwrights emerge from the forced oblivion (V. Vynnyčenko, M. Chvyljovyj, V. Pidmohyl’nyj, M. Kuliš), of poets (Je. Malanjuk, M. Zerov, P. Fylypovyč, O. Burghardt [Ju. Klen], Je. Plužnyk, M. Draj-Chmara, V. Svidzyns’kyj, BI Antonyč), by historians (M. Hruševs’kyj, D. Čyževs’kyj, A. Kryms’kyj, O. Jefymenko, D. Dorošenko, I. Ohijenko, D. Javornyc’kyj).

Even the literature of the Ukrainian diaspora (mainly American, Canadian, German) now finds space in the corpus of the country’s literature. Writers such as I. Bahrjanyj (1907-1963), V. Barka (b.1908), E. Andijevs’ka (b.1931), B. Rubčak (b.1935), O. Zujevs’kyj (b.1920), B. Bojčuk (b. 1927) finally make up an organic part of the Ukrainian cultural continent with good reason.

Ukraine culture and traditions