For a short time, following The Revolution of 1917, Ukraine stood proud, alone, and independent.
After WW1, Ukraine experienced freedom; freedom to be unique and genuine. Conditions existed which allowed for a remarkable renaissance of literary activity. A number of new writers appeared on the scene and quickly formed groups and organizations with titles like Lanka, MARS, Hart, Pluh, Nova Generatsiia, Vaplite and Prolitfront. They then proceeded to publish a variety of almanacs and magazines such as Literaturnyi iarmarok. Their work initiated new trends. Critics described their writings as symbolic, expressionistic, futuristic and neoclassic. The decade 1920-1930 is still heralded as one of the most vital periods in Ukrainian literary history. Today, in the literary circles of Ukraine, poets continue to express themselves in the ‘romanticism of vitaism’ made famous by Pavlo Tychyna.
Poets were not the only ones to enjoy a renaissance after the war, (1920s). Alongside the likes of Teodosii Osmachka and lyricist Volodymyr Sosiura were the many who chose prose as their medium such as Mykola Khvylovy. His work was aglow with exhortations and rhetorical questions which inspired lively discussion that gave way to the creation of a new proletarian culture, proud to be Ukrainian. He was joined in this revival of national spirit and independence by Yurii Yanovsky who was known for his romantic prose and Valeriian Pidmohyiny known for writing the first Ukrainian novel. A decade of freedom and then it was 1930 and this wondrous time ended. The poets and writers of Ukraine were repressed by the cruel and brutal Communist Party.
Terror was rampant during the 1930s. Literature was dictated by the Communist Party. The Ukrainian people no longer were in control of what was published or what was read. Their groups were disbanded, their organizations abolished, 250 of their most prominent writers were killed, many were imprisoned, some were pushed to suicide. The remaining writers were allowed to publish ‘socialist realism’. Survival depended upon renouncing their previous publications and submitting to the dictates of Joseph Stalin. The muzzle of censorship that was forced upon the literary voices of Ukraine lasted until the end of 1959 with one notable exception found in the work of Volodymyr Svidzinsky. To escape the horror and death many fled to Prague. Safe in Prague and beaming still with a nationalistic fighting spirit, exiled emigres like Yurii Lypa and Oksana Liaturynska continued to write their poems. One truly individualistic poet at this time was Bohdan Ihor Antonych.
Prague was not the only safe haven for the Ukrainians during this time of exile. Those that left Ukraine before WW11 started were still active when further misplaced members of the Ukrainian literary world joined them in the camps of West Germany and Austria. Together they managed to publish once again almanacs, journals and books. An important group at this time included novelist Ulas Samchuk and linguist/scholar Yurii Shevelov as well as poet Vasyl Barka, essayist Ihor Kostetsky and author Oleh Zuievsky. A whirlwind of activity kept the homeland fires burning until the latter part of the1950s, at which time the majority of Ukraine’s writers were dead or gone to North America in search of a new beginning.
The tight life-threatening grip of Joseph Stalin and the control over literature that prevailed throughout the Soviet Union began to ease by 1957 with the publication of Oleksander Dovzhenko’s autobiographical novelette The Enchanted Desna. Yet alive were some of the contemporaries of the 1930s writers who stood ready to add their memoirs to the rise of Ukrainian literature. Yurii Smolych published his memoirs in three volumes and called them ‘the era of restlessness’. All these works had a strong positive influence on the post-war generation who were beginning to produce their own style of writing.
Within this new wave of Ukrainian literary skill and talent were poets Lina Kostenko, Ivan Drach, and Mykola Vinhranovsky. A newcomer in drama was Oleksa Kolomiiets. They enjoyed their freedom of speech for a short time. Repression returned almost immediately. Symonenko, Tiutiunnyk and Stus were three prominent authors that died in a prison camp of the Gulag. The early 1960s saw a staggering number of arrests and trials. In the year 1972 a second wave of repressive measures took place. Many were tried for ‘anti-soviet propaganda’ and found guilty, then sentenced to prisons where they were subject to harsh treatment. Many went on hunger strikes. Some maintaining freedom of conscience joined the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. established in 1975.
Czechoslovakia was again a haven for those unwilling to live under the thumb of censorship. Yugoslavia, Romania and Poland also offered freedom of expression to the writers, poets and scholars of Ukraine. Canada, United States, Australia, Germany and France soon joined the list.