Monday, February 25, 2008

February 26: Lesya Ukrainka (1871-1913)


[Image description: an oval framed, black-and-white portrait of a young woman in an embroidered blouse and jacket]
Who told you that I'm weak,
That I succumb to fate?
My voice is strong when I speak,
My thoughts and songs vibrate.
Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka was born Larysa Kosach on this date (more or less--depends on which calendar you follow) in 1871. From age 10, she had chronic joint and bone pain caused by tuberculous arthritis. In search of relief, she traveled a lot to warmer places, seaside towns on the Crimea, in Italy, in Egypt, and elsewhere. Her parents taught their children Ukrainian language and culture, when such things were banned in the Russian-run schools. As a result, she took the pen name "Ukrainka" (Ukrainian woman), and published poetry, drama, essays, and literary criticism, all informed by her study of Ukrainian folktales, history, and culture. Her controversial works had to be published in another part of Ukraine, outside Russian jurisdiction. (She also published translations, including a 1902 translation of the Communist Manifesto, which got her arrested.) The ferocity of her cultural nationalism was often contrasted with her physical "frailty," a false contrast that provoked her to write the lines above.

Today, there are monuments to Ukrainka throughout Kiev--and a boulevard named for her. There's also a monument to her at the University of Saskatchewan, and another in downtown Cleveland. Her image has been featured on Ukrainian postage, coins, and banknotes.

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