Women's Voices in Ukrainian Literature
Yevheniya Yaroshynska spent her short life in a constant struggle to educate herself
and ameliorate the living conditions of the peasants among whom she lived and worked in
her native province of Bukovyna in Western Ukraine. Born into the family of a village
teacher, she was unable to receive a higher education, as her father believed that his
first responsibility was to secure the future of his two sons. After completing her
elementary schooling, she satisfied her intellectual curiosity by reading widely and
intensively, and embarking on a systematic program of self-education.
At that time, the Ukrainian province of Bukovyna was part of the Austro-Hungarian
empire, and German was imposed on the local Ukrainian population as the official language.
The books that Yevheniya read, therefore, were all in German, and when she began writing
she wrote in that language. Her first stories were published in a Viennese periodical when
she was eighteen.
Just when Yevheniya was beginning her literary career in German literature, the first
Ukrainian-language newspaper was established in Bukovyna under the editorship of Yuriy
Fedkovych, one of the leading Bukovynian writers of the day. The articles published in
this newspaper were pro-Ukrainian and promoted unification of Bukovyna with the rest of
Ukraine. Drawn to the ideas expressed in the newspaper, Yevheniya began to correspond with
Under Fedkovych's influence, Yevheniya Yaroshynska began to read the works of Ukrainian
authors from other parts of Ukraine, and to collect and study the folklore of her region.
Becoming aware of the richness of her literary and cultural heritage, she decided to start
writing in Ukrainian, and devote herself and her talent to her people.
Assiduously applying herself to the task of collecting folklore materials, Yaroshynska
wrote down 450 Bukovynian folks songs. For this notable collection, she was awarded a
silver medal and a sizeable monetary prize (500 karbovantsi) from the ethnographic section
of the Russian Geographical Association. In 1888, she began writing articles for
Ukrainian, German, and Czech periodicals about Bukovynian embroidery, Easter egg designs,
and wedding rituals.
At this time, as the daughter of a village teacher, she seized the opportunity to
assist in the local school, where she taught young girls many practical skills and
traditional arts. This program proved so successful that other parents asked her to
instruct their children as well.
By 1890, she was publishing stories written in Ukrainian, literary translations, and
articles about contemporary issues in Bukovynian society. In addition, inspired by her
young pupils, she began to publish stories in journals for children.
In 1891, she travelled to Prague with Nataliya Kobrynska and other cultural leaders
from Western Ukraine (Bukovyna and Halychyna) to see an exposition of Czech artifacts. She
was greatly impressed by the work done by senior citizens and the mentally challenged, and
by the fact that these people were integrated into Czech society.
In 1892, Yevheniya began an apprenticeship as a teacher and, after writing a qualifying
examination in 1896, received her teaching certificate. In conjunction with her teaching
career, Yaroshynska contributed articles to pedagogical journals, began developing new
curricula for village schools, and supported the idea of creating a teachers' association.
During this time, Yaroshynska became deeply involved in the women's movement in
Ukraine. Encouraged by Nataliya Kobrynska and Olha Kobylianska, she wrote numerous
articles and delivered speeches on the role of women in society. She participated in
publishing the almanac Nasha dolya [Our Fate], edited by Kobrynska, which was
devoted to fighting for equal rights for women in education, in the workplace, and as
full-fledged members of society.
Yaroshynska also worked tirelessly on a practical level to improve the lot of peasant
women. In 1889, after completing a weaving course, she began instructing peasant women in
this craft, thereby hoping to provide them with an additional source of income. She also
established reading clubs in which she read newspapers to peasants to inform them about
contemporary political and cultural issues.
In 1904, Yaroshynska attended a teachers' convention in Chernivtsi with her father and
presented a lengthy paper outlining an innovative curriculum for public schools. The
response was enthusiastic, and she was asked to submit it to the district Board of
Education. Unfortunately, her untimely death later that year prevented her from pursuing
this goal and cut short her selfless efforts on behalf of the disadvantaged peasantry.
In her works, Yaroshynska expressed the view that the Ukrainian intelligentsia had an
important role to play in educating the masses and improving their quality of life. She is
remembered today as a prose writer, folklorist, pedagogue, and community activist.
All levels of society are reflected in Yaroshynska's works. Complementing the writings
of other Bukovynian authors, they provide a realistic and sympathetic picture of life in
that region of Ukraine at the turn of the twentieth century.
©1998 Language Lanterns Publications
ISBN 0-9683899-2-9 (v.3)
Sketch by Roma Franko; Edited by Sonia Morris
Volumes this author appears in:
But... The Lord is Silent
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