The stalinist period

The renaissance of the 1920s ended abruptly and brutally. By the 1930s the Communist party had taken full control of literature; all independent organizations were abolished and writers were forced into the Writers Union of Ukraine. The great terror began, and by 1938 most of the writers had either accepted Party control or had been imprisoned, killed, or driven to suicide. It is estimated that over 250 prominent writers perished during the decade (dubbed the “Executed Renaissance”), and the shortest but most intense period of Ukrainian literary development thus drew to a close. Socialist realism was proclaimed the sole acceptable literary style.

Many Ukrainian writers were imprisoned (Ostap Vyshnia, Borys Antonenko-Davydovych, Volodymyr Gzhytsky, etc.) and then forced to stay in exile for years after their release. Manuscripts of imprisoned authors were confiscated by the secret police and their books were removed from libraries and destroyed. A period of considerable cultural isolation followed.

Authors who survived the terror (eg. Pavlo Tychyna, Maksym Rylsky, Mykola Bazhan, Yuri Yanovsky, Volodymyr Sosiura) were beaten into submission. They renounced their former literary works and wrote panegyrics to Joseph Stalin and the Party. Other themes (e.g. collectivization, five-year plans, industrialization) were enforced from above.

Between the world wars the national struggle continued to be the dominant theme in literature in Western Ukraine (then under Poland) and among the political émigrés in Prague. Most representative of the émigré group both in theme and style was the nationalist-romantic poetry of Yevhen Malaniuk. A fighting spirit and historical determinism mark the works of many poets of the nationalist school, such as Yuri Darahan, Yuri Lypa, Leonid Mosendz, Oleksa Stefanovych, Oksana Liaturynska, Sviatoslav Hordynsky, Bohdan Kravtsiv, and two who fell victim to the Gestapo terror in Ukraine, Oleh Olzhych and Olena Teliha. Teliha managed by her extreme sensitivity to soften the often-sharp edges of nationalist poetry. The most unusual poet of this period stood quite apart from the nationalist group – the imagist Bohdan-Ihor Antonych, and the pro-communist Vasyl Bobynsky.

The 1940s and 1950s in Soviet Ukrainian literature were lean years with respect to literary quality. Representative of the period were the novels of Natan Rybak, Ivan Le, Leonid Pervomaisky, Yuri Smolych, Petro Panch, Iryna Vilde and Mykhailo Stelmakh; the dramas of Oleksandr Korniychuk and Ivan Kocherha; and the poetry of Pavlo Tychyna, Maksym Rylsky, and Andriy Malyshko. The exception was the highly individualistic Volodymyr Svidzinsky.