The Most Inspiring Women in Ukrainian History

The monument to Olga of Kiev (cropped)
The monument to Olga of Kiev (cropped) | © Piramidion / WikiCommons
Maria Sibirtseva

The one thing that unites all the most inspiring women in Ukrainian history, no matter the era, is courage. Whether it is the 10th century or the 20th, a strength of spirit and steadfastness have always been present and encouraged. Read our list to discover new names and stories, or learn more about women everyone’s been talking about for many years.

Olga of Kyiv (920-969)

Being the first princess of Kievan Rus (945-460), Olga of Kyiv also became the first inspiring woman in the history of Ukraine. The chroniclers sing the praises of her strong character and determination, which are evidenced by a range of events. Olga of Kyiv was a pioneer in a peaceful visit to the Byzantine Empire, thereby establishing an alliance with this powerful state. She also converted to Christianity, while her husband and son remained pagans. Yet her major merit was the rooting of the concept of law and creating regulations for tribute collection. Thus, during her rule, Kievan Rus became a prosperous state.

Olga of Kyiv monument

Hürrem Sultan (1505-1558)

Surprisingly, the wife of the Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent is a prominent figure in Ukrainian history. While in contemporary Turkey, her name is associated with a number of architectural monuments, in Ukraine, she is known as Roksolana or Anastasiia Lisovskaya – the daughter of an Orthodox priest from the west of the country. It is related that, remembering the homeland, Roksolana restrained the aggression of the Ottoman army against Ukraine and cared about the fate of the Cossacks.

Hürrem Sultan portrait

Maria Zankovetska (1854–1934)

Maria Zankovetska was and remains a legend of the Ukrainian theatre. During her life, she played more than 30 roles on stage, mostly dramatic heroines. She was often called on to perform in the theatres of the Russian Empire; however, she remained faithful to her birthplace. In times of strict censorship, she strove to promote local art and literature. Maria Zankovetska, together with Ukrainian director Nikolay Sadovsky, opened the first repertory theatre. She also governed the National Theatre of Nizhyn, as well as participating in the establishment of the theatre in Kyiv.
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Olga Kobylianska (1863-1942)

The feminist movement in Ukraine would not have been possible without Ukrainian writer Olga Kobylianska. In novels and stories, she portrayed the problems of the Ukrainian intellectuals of her generation and formed the view of life in Bukovina, Western Ukraine. She was the first to embrace feminist ideas in Ukrainian literature and to raise the theme of women’s emancipation. Most of her life, Olga Kobylianska lived in Chernivtsi. Today, in the house where she lived, you can visit the memorial museum.

Olha Kobylyanska stamp

Lesya Ukrainka (1871-1913)

A great poetess, writer, activist, and interpreter, Lesya Ukrainka devoted 30 years of her life (she died at the age of 42) to literature. Fighting tuberculosis her entire youth, she is the epitome of female heroism and strength. Being bedridden, courage was the main motive behind her words, thus inspiring millions of people to listen to their hearts and be brave. She was also engaged in folklore studies and played an active role in the Ukrainian national movement.

A book by Lesya Ukrainka

Solomiya Krushelnytska (1872-1952)

The name of Solomiya Krushelnytska is popular not only in Ukraine but worldwide. She was the opera diva whose incredible voice graced all the concert halls of Western Europe, Poland, Russia, and even Egypt, Chile, and Argentina. She became extremely popular after Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini entrusted her with the main role in his opera Madama Butterfly. It was a huge success, as the audience applauded the artists seven times in a row. Today, the main attraction of Lviv is named after her – Solomiya Krushelnytska Lviv State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet.

Solomiya Krushelnytska monument

Maria Prymachenko (1909-1997)

The art of Maria Prymachenko has become the calling card of Ukraine. Her works, created in the style of naïve art, are recognized all over the world. Her art was exhibited in Paris, Prague, and Warsaw, as well as in Montreal. Meanwhile, the artist herself spent all her life in the small village of Bolotnya (Kyiv region). Living in incredibly modest conditions, her works displayed the simple joy of being, faith in good and love, and the beauty of nature. Moreover, all her paintings were created with her left hand, despite being right-handed.
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Lyudmila Pavlichenko (1916-1974)

Lyudmila Pavlichenko is the most successful female sniper in the history of the world. She is an example of endless bravery, not only for many women but men as well. At the front of the Great Patriotic War, she shot 309 foes and was later awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. In 2015, Ukraine and Russia released a film about her heroism, Battle for Sevastopol, which was among the top 100 most viewed movies on Amazon in 2017.
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Lina Kostenko (1930-)

Contemporary Ukrainian writer Lina Kostenko is in her 80s at the moment, but she is already one of the most inspiring women in the country’s history. For many years, her work remained unpublished, since in the 1960s she participated in the dissident and Sixties movements. This period spurred the newest styles in Ukrainian literature, forced to create something avant-garde and critical in relation to the authorities and to the then-totalitarian regime. The poetess wrote hundreds of poems and only one novel (Notes of the Ukrainian Insane), which instantly became a bestseller.
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