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11 Ukrainian Literary Classics You Must Read

Picture of Maria Sibirtseva
Updated: 24 November 2017

Most Ukrainian classics are taught in secondary school and there are many reasons why. These are stories about life, dreams, and love. These are books that should be read at least once by anyone interested to learn about Ukrainian culture. 

Kobzar by Taras Shevchenko

Kobzar is the name of the first collection of works by the prominent Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko. He was given permission to publish the collection in 1840, which was of great importance because Ukrainian literature had been banned from printing presses. The collection quickly gained extreme popularity, and soon people started to call Shevchenko “Kobzar” or “folk singer.”

The Forest Song by Lesya Ukrainka

This fantastic drama is three acts and was written in 1911 by Lesya Ukrainka, a Ukrainian writer and a public activist. The Forest Song uncovers the problems in the relationship between man and nature, which is often acute and often not harmonious. It delves into the native perception of the world and the ancient mythological thinking of Ukrainians. Seven years after being published, the play was performed in the Kiev Drama Theater.

 

Tiger Trappers by Ivan Bahrianyi

A romantic adventure that intertwines the autobiographical facts of the author Ivan Bahrianyi, Tiger Trappers was published in 1944 in the Ukrainian periodical called Late Hour. The author, as an eyewitness, depicts the violence in the hell of concentration camps and the humiliation of human dignity that took place. This unique work highlights revolutionary events throughout its pages. No one can remain indifferent to the story when the ideals of the state are considered more important than the life of a person.

Kaidash’s Family by Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky

Kaidash’s Family by Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky is a realistic story, that shows how private-owned instincts lead people to moral impoverishment. Absurd actions of the main characters, captivating plot and familiar situations, make it one of the classics of Ukrainian literature. Written from the unique perspective of a peasant in Ukraine in late nineteenth century, the novel is one of the best pieces to read at least once.

Eneïda by Ivan Kotliarevsky

This Ukrainian poem, written by Ivan Kotlyarevsky, is based on the plot of the classic poem of Roman poet, Virgil. Eneïda was the first monument of Ukrainian literature that was created in spoken form of the Ukrainian language. The poem brilliantly depicted Ukrainian life and culture in the eighteenth century.

Stolen Happiness by Ivan Franko

Many Ukrainian classics were first published in periodicals due to censorship issues; many were re-published later as books. Stolen Happiness of Ivan Franko was not an exception. The author participated in numerous competitions and tried to attract public attention to his art. Luckily for him, the play was recommended to the Lviv Theatre by a literary committee. It was edited and finally performed in 1893. Since then, the drama has taken an honorary place in local school programs and theaters.

Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky

Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors tells about the love between a Ukrainian Romeo and Juliet. The work features the life and culture of the Hutsul community living in the Carpathian Mountains in the late nineteenth century; it depicts their harmony with nature, traditions and customs, mixed beliefs in Christianity and pagan rituals, and family rivalries.

 

Ukraine in Flames by Alexander Dovzhenko

Alexander Dovzhenko, a Ukrainian writer, film director and painter, devoted this book and film to the events of the Second World War and the fate of the peasants. According to Dovzhenko, Ukraine in Flames is about the invincibility of power and the spirit of Ukrainian people, as well as the importance of having confidence in claiming victory over the enemy. Through long dialogues, inherent to the drama genre, viewers and readers can observe the psychology of the main character’s actions.

Martyn Borulia by Ivan Karpenko-Kary

In this satirical work, Ivan Karpenko-Kary comments on contemporary social orders as bribery in bureaucracy and the judicial system. The moral is to remain a decent person in all life situations, no matter the temptation. Interestingly, the plot of the comedy Martyn Borulia was based on the lives of the Tobilevich family (the real surname of the writer is Tobilevich). For example, his father, who for a long time served as the steward of the landed estates, decided to obtain recognition of nobility.

#ІванКарпенко_Карий#МартинБоруля

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I (Romance) by Mykola Khvylovy

In the novel I (Romance), Khvylovy reveals the psychology of dreamers and romantics of the civil war era. The main character is “I am” or the young chekist (an employee of the Soviet state security organizations). The story is a confrontation between good and evil taking place in the character’s bifurcated soul. The peculiarity of I (Romance) is the synthesis of illusion and reality. Quite often, it is difficult for the reader to distinguish if the events described are fiction and reality.

Marusia Churai by Lina Kostenko

Ukrainian culture shines in this historical drama by famous contemporary author Lina Kostenko. The author conducted incredible research before writing the book in order to illustrate seventeenth century Ukraine as precisely as possible. The story revolves around the indestructibility of the Ukrainian people, who live in a rich spiritual world.