Late soviet union (1960s – 1980s)

After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and the ‘de-Stalinization’ speech by Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th Party Congress in February 1956, controls on literature in the Soviet Union began to slacken.

A former member of Vaplite, the film director Oleksandr Dovzhenko initiated the ‘thaw’ in Ukrainian literature with the publication of his autobiographical novella Zacharovana Desna (The Enchanted Desna, 1957). The process of rehabilitation of some of the authors murdered in the 1930s began slowly. Contemporaries of the purged authors wrote memoirs (e.g. Yuri Smolych and his three volumes about the era of ‘restlessness’). The rediscovery of the 1920s had a profound influence on the generation that was born just before or during the Second World War and began publishing in the 1960s. The “sixtyers”, as they were called, were representatives of а new generation of intellectuals; in a span of 10 years they succeeded in revitalizing all genres of Ukrainian literature. They were distinguished by their liberal and anti-totalitarian views and romanticism. Although many of the sixtyers believed in Communist ideals, they were strongly disillusioned with Stalin's regime and its repression of basic civil liberties. Greater experimentation became permissible and authors began to stray from the socialist realism style.

The “sixtyers” wanted to revive Ukrainian language and culture, and spoke up for freedom of artistic creativity. Two of the best-known sixtyers were the poets Lina Kostenko and Vasyl Symonenko who spoke out against national oppression and the Russification of Ukraine. They were followed by a whole bevvy of poets such as Ivan Drach, Mykola Vinhranovsky, Mykola Kholodny, Borys Oliynyk, Vasyl Holoborodko, Ihor Kalynets, Vitaliy Korotych, Dmytro Pavlychko and others.

Prominent prose writers among the “sixtyers” were Valeriy Shevchuk, Hryhir Tiutiunnyk, Hryhoriy Tiutiunnyk, Volodymyr Drozd, Yevhen Hutsalo, Yuri Shcherbak, Oles Berdnyk.

The “sixtyers” actively staged informal readings and exhibitions, held meetings to commemorate repressed writers, artists and poets, staged plays, organized a petition in defence of Ukrainian culture. In 1960 the Creative Youth Club in Kyiv and in 1962 the "Snowdrop" club in Lviv became alternative centres of national culture. The “sixtyers” restored an inherent desire for spiritual independence, political alienation, civil society and the ideals of serving the people.

These cultural activities caused dissatisfaction on the part of the authorities and 1972 saw massive pressure being applied to nonconformist intellectuals. Magazines were closed, accusations of "formalism" and "bourgeois nationalism" were made against writers. In response the liberal ideas went underground and began to be distributed in samizdat form (underground self-publication). With the exception of Kostenko and Shevchuk, who ceased publishing for a decade, most of the authors of the 1960s and 1970s either accepted the strictures of Party control (e.g. Korotych, Drach, Dziuba and Pavlychko) or became dissidents or human rights activists openly opposing the regime, many of whom were subsequestly arrested or repressed (e.g. Svitlychny, Sverstiuk, Kalynets, Holoborodko). Symonenko died after being brutally beaten by police, while the dissident Vasyl Stus died in a Soviet prison camp.

Some writers during this time did not belong to the “sixtyers”, but wrote interesting and worthy prose. These include Oleh Chornohuz, Vasyl Chukhlib, Oles Honchar, Roman Ivanychuk, Serhiy Plachynda, Volodymyr Yavorivsky.

Despite the difficult times of the 1970s, a second generation of writers managed to appear. Most notable among them were the poets Ihor Kalynets, Vasyl Stus, and Vasyl Holoborodko and the prose writer Volodymyr Drozd.

During the 1980s some Ukrainian writers began to deviate from the officially approved literary style of socialist realism. Among these were Valeriy Shevchuk with his psychological prose and such authors of "chimeric prose" (similar to magical realism) as Vasyl Zemliak and Volodymyr Drozd. There also existed underground literary circles such as the Kyiv School of Poetry (Vasyl Holoborodko, Mykola Vorobyov, Viktor Kordun, Mykhailo Hryhoriv), and a circle of Lviv authors assembled around the samizdat almanac "Skrynia" (Hryhoriy Chubay, Oleh Lysheha, Mykola Riabchuk, Viktor Morozov, Roman Kis, Orest Yavorsky), together with dissident writers such as Ihor Kalynets. Authors belonging to the Kyiv Ironic School (Volodymyr Dibrova, Bohdan Zholdak, Les Poderviansky) are considered to be the forefathers of Ukrainian postmodernism. Contemporary Ukrainian literature was also influenced by the New York Group of Ukrainian emigre writers, who separated politics from art in contrast to the politically active “sixtyers” in Soviet Ukraine.

With advent of perestroika the pressure of censorship on writers decreased. This allowed them to turn to previously prohibited styles and themes. The populist canon of social realism was revised, the works of the "Executed Renaissance" of the 1920s were printed, including those of underground writers. In the late 1980s literature of the diaspora was allowed to be imported into Ukraine and was sold through the “Prosvita” language society in Kyiv.

The changes in the USSR in the six years before its dissolution in 1991 rekindled interest in the ‘white spots’ in Ukrainian literature — all that had been expunged since the Stalinist purges. Writers who had been absent from Ukrainian literature since the 1930s began to be republished (Mykola Khvyliovy, Mykola Zerov, Valerian Pidmohylny, etc), as well as poets repressed during the Brezhnev's regime, such as Ihor Kalynets, Mykola Vorobyov, and Taras Melnychuk.

A new phenomenon in the development of Ukrainian literature was the appearance of the urban avant-garde groups Bu-Ba-Bu (Viktor Neborak, Yuri Andrukhovych, Oleksandr Irvanets), LuHoSad (I. Luchuk, N. Honchar, R. Sadlovsky), and Propala Hramota (S. Lybon, Yu. Pozayak, V. Nedostup). Their poetry is marked by a desire to épater, and frequently resorts to parody and satire. Ukrainian prose began to depict the urban and demimonde environments and expanded lexical registers in prose works. Among other younger writers of interest are the poets Vasyl Herasymiuk, Ivan Malkovych, Ihor Rymaruk, Oleh Lysheha, and Oksana Zabuzhko.