Olena Zvychayna
(d. 1985)

Biographical Note

Olena Zvychayna, an émigré author, was a passionate champion of individual and national freedom. Born in Ukraine into a well-educated family—her father was a lawyer, her mother a teacher—she was encouraged from an early age to develop her gift for languages and her talent for writing. She graduated with a gold medal from a high school in Kharkiv and continued her studies at an institution of higher learning.

Influenced by a grandmother who cherished the Ukrainian language and culture, and by parents committed to helping their compatriots, Zvychayna, despite her obvious literary aptitude, vowed not to publish any of her works as long as she was subject to Soviet censorship. Her marriage to a man who was actively involved in movements to free Ukraine, and who was incarcerated several times as an "enemy of the people," further increased her resolve.

During World War II she was interred in a Nazi labour camp in Austria. Some years later she settled in the United States and began publishing her works in the late 1940s. Her stories describe life in Ukraine under Soviet oppression and Nazi occupation, as well as the experiences of people displaced by war. Drawing on her first-hand knowledge of the atrocities perpetrated by both the Soviet regime and the Nazi war machine, Zvychayna, with her deeply-ingrained sense of justice and her profound empathy for the misfortune of others, was able to craft gripping stories that reveal, in all their devastating horror, the tyranny and cruelty of the occupiers, and decry the collaboration of individual Ukrainians convinced of the merits of the social and political ideologies of the oppressors.

Known as the "Harriet Beecher-Stowe" of Ukrainian literature, Zvychayna focused her literary efforts on documenting human suffering at the hands of ideological extremists in positions of power. In an autobiographical novel written in collaboration with her husband (pen name: Mykhaylo Mlakovy) she describes the fate of the unfortunate millions accused of being "enemies of the people" by the NKVD. Her short fiction about the Terror-Famine of the early 1930s during the period of forced collectivization in Ukraine draws vivid contrasts between the horrific suffering of the starving peasants and the privileged lifestyles of those who enforced the decrees of the Soviet state.

Little is known about Zvychayna’s life, and few of her writings have been translated into English. Born in the early 1900s, she died in 1985.

Note by Roma Franko; Edited by Sonia Morris

Volumes this author appears in:

A Hunger Most Cruel


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