Ukrainians in the United Kingdom
Online encyclopaedia
Ukrainian version

Literary life. This article covers the creation of literature in Ukrainian by writers in the United Kingdom, as well as literary output of Ukrainians in other languages, the translation of Ukrainian literary works into other languages and the study of Ukrainian literature in the UK.

Before 1945

British acquaintance with Ukrainian literature dates back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. In 1816 Benjamin Beresford published a collection of Russian and Ukrainian songs in London. In 1835 George Henry Borrow published his translations of Ukrainian songs from the collection of Mykhailo Maksymovych; he is regarded as the first translator, in the full sense of the word, of Ukrainian poetry into English. In 1841 the journal Foreign Quarterly Review contained a review, by an unknown author, of Mykhailo Maksymovych’s collection of songs, in which the Ukrainian Cossack dumy (epics) were discussed. The dumy were also the subject of an article by Ivan Golovin (writing under the pseudonym Prince Howra), entitled “The Songs, the History and the Destiny of the Cossacks”, which appeared in Sharpe’s London Magazine in 1856. In the 1870s some of the more important works of several Ukrainian scholars (Ivan Rudchenko, Volodymyr Antonovych, Mykhailo Drahomanov and others) were reviewed in English periodicals. The reviews covered the songs of the chumaks (17th-19th century wagoners and traders), other historical songs, Cossack dumy and their performers, folklore, as well as general information about Ukrainians. Translations of Ukrainian literature were produced at this time by William Ralston (the earliest English translator of any Ukrainian folk tale) and William Morfill (the first professor of Slavonic literatures at Oxford University). Morfill also wrote a series of articles and other works on Ukrainian language, literature and folklore. He became particularly interested in the work of Taras Shevchenko, some of which he translated, and also travelled to Ukraine. Mykhailo Drahomanov, who published articles on Ukrainian literature in English journals, also helped to generate interest in the subject in the UK at that time.

The 5 May 1877 issue of the literary weekly All the Year Round, published by Charles Dickens Jr., the son of Charles Dickens, contained the earliest article on Taras Shevchenko published in the UK. Albert Henry Wratislaw, a Briton of Czech descent was the first significant translator of Ukrainian prose into English (collection of translated folk tales, 1889). In 1894 a book by Robert Nisbet Bain entitled Cossack Fairy Tales and Folk Tales was published simultaneously in London and New York. It contained translations of 27 Ukrainian stories and was the first book of Ukrainian fiction to be translated into English. In 1897 Francis Patrick Marchant published an extensive article on Shevchenko in the Proceedings of the Anglo-Russian Literary Society. He was the first to translate the initial eight lines of Shevchenko’s Zapovit (My Testament) into English. Although he aimed to preserve the aesthetic qualities of Shevchenko’s poetry, especially its imagery, he did not translate from the original Ukrainian texts but from Russian translations. Of major significance for translators from Ukrainian was the publication of a two-volume Ukrainian-German dictionary by Yevhen Zhelekhivskyi and Sofron Nedilskyi (Lviv, 1885-1886), the earliest bilingual translating dictionary with Ukrainian as the source language. Although the value of the contributions made by British translators of the day to the popularisation of Ukrainian literature cannot be denied, the extent to which they knew the Ukrainian language and worked from Ukrainian source texts is debatable. It is also worth bearing in mind that, at a time when Ukrainian literature was becoming better known in the UK, in the Russian Empire Ukrainian language and culture were facing various forms of repression, which continued even after the Russian Academy of Sciences, in 1905, recognised Ukrainian as a language in its own right.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century the UK, particularly London, became a refuge for many socialist revolutionaries from the Russian Empire, including a number of Ukrainians. Serhii Kravchynskyi (pen name: Stepniak; author of Andrii Kozhukhov [1889], Domik na Volge [A Cottage by the Volga, 1896]) came to London in 1884 and lived there until his death in 1895. He wrote both political and fictional prose, in Russian and English. Another champion of Ukrainian folklore and literature living in London at that time was Feliks Volkhovsky, a native of the Poltava region of Ukraine and a friend of Kravchynskyi’s. Close to their circle was the writer Ethel Lilian Voynich (of Irish origin but married to a Russian) who translated the poetry of Taras Shevchenko into English and was acquainted with Mykhailo Pavlyk, Mykhailo Drahomanov and Ivan Franko. Influenced by Kravchynskyi and Volkhovsky, Voynich learnt Ukrainian. Helena Blavatsky, a native of Katerynoslav (now the city of Dnipro) and co-founder of the international Theosophical Society, lived in London from 1887 to her death in 1891 and wrote many works, including literary fiction. In 1903 the Athenaeum literary journal published an unsigned review, written by William Morfill, of a three-volume anthology of Ukrainian literature entitled Vik (The Century). Whilst English periodicals had until then contained only reviews of folklore and the works of the “poet of the people” Taras Shevchenko, Morfill’s article contained, for the first time, a wider survey of Ukrainian literature, mentioning authors such as Ivan Kotliarevskyi, Panteleimon Kulish, Oleksa Storozhenko, Stepan Rudanskyi, Marko Vovchok, Ahatanhel Krymskyi, Ivan Franko and others.

During and immediately after the First World War Paul Selver translated a number of works by Shevchenko, in particular Zapovit (My Testament) and Yakby vy znaly, panychi (If, lordlings, ye could only know). Carl Eric Bechhofer Roberts translated works by Shevchenko as well as Lesia Ukrainka’s dramatic poem Vavilonskyi polon (Babylonian Captivity). In 1921-22 Mykhailo Rudnytskyi, a literary scholar from Lviv, lived in London. He applied for a lecturer’s position at London University’s School of Slavonic Studies (with the intention of subsequently introducing the study of Ukrainian literature at the School) but failed to gain the position. Rudnytskyi published Lysty z Londonu (Letters from London, 1922) and Misto kontrastiv (A City of Contrasts, 1929), in which he described his impressions of London. In 1924 The Slavonic Review published an article by Ivan Franko entitled Taras Shevchenko in which the author discussed Shevchenko as an innovator in the context of world literature. In 1926 the same journal published a bibliography of over one hundred works relating to the Ukrainian language (history of the language and dialect studies). Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War Jack Lindsay translated a number of poems by Shevchenko. In 1939 a book entitled European Balladry by William James Entwistle, a professor of Oxford University, was published. Drawing on a mass of factual material, Entwistle analysed the features of ballads as a genre and included examples of songs from various countries. Ukrainian texts were considered both in a separate chapter on Ukraine and in the chapter on Poland, to which Galicia belonged at the time. Among the examples included were Ukrainian koliadky (Christmas carols) hahilky and vesnianky (spring round dances and songs), kolomyiky (sung comic verses), shchedrivky (Epiphany/New Year carols), harvest songs and, in particular, Cossack dumy.


After the Second World War over thirty thousand Ukrainians arrived in the UK by various routes (see Ukrainians in the United Kingdom). Literary activity among these immigrants developed on a larger scale than previously, in conjunction with other forms of cultural engagement such as drama, journalism and art. Some older authors began to write while they still lived in Ukraine. Others began in the camps in Italy where the former soldiers of the Galicia Division were interned, or in displaced persons camps in Germany and Austria. Yet others began to write after arriving in the UK. Their writing was inspired, in the main, by the realities of émigré life, such as recollections of the past struggle for an independent Ukraine, a longing for the lost motherland, and the difficulties of life in new conditions in a foreign country.

The most prominent figures in the literary sphere among the post-war immigrants (and some of their works) include the following: in poetryHala Mazurenko (Akvareli [Watercolours, collected poems, 1927], Zelena yashchirka [The Green Lizard, collected poems, 1971]), Andriy Wuruszylo (pen name: Andriy Lehit; Liryka [Lyric Poetry, collected poems, 1947], Vybrani poezii [Selected Poems, 1990]), Mykola Klymenko (pen name: Mykola Veres; V chuzhynnykh pryplavakh [In Foreign Havens, collected poems, 1967]), Borys Shkandrij (pen name: Bohdan Bora; Tverd i nizhnist [Hardness and Softness, collected poems, 1972], Buremni dni [Turbulent Times, collected poems, 1982]), Wolhodymir Shayan (pen name: Wolhodymyr; Baliada lisovoho shumu [Ballad of the Rustling Forest, collected poems, 1965], Hymny zemli [Hymns of the Earth, collected poems, 1967]), Alexander Barchuk (pen name: Olexander De; Vohon troiandnyi [Fire of the Rose, collected poems, 1970], Zhyvi lehendy [Living Legends, collected poems, 1965]), Tonia Szalapaj (Peliustky [Flower Petals, collected poems, 1981]), Vera Smereka (Prominnia [Rays, collected poems, 2003]), Ivan Sapun (pen name: Ivan Desnianskyj; Mazepa, Baturyn i Poltava [Mazepa, Baturyn and Poltava, epic poem, 1957]), Mykola Frantsuzhenko (pen name: Mykola Virnyi; emigrated from the UK in 1957), Pamfil Ses (Leleky [Storks, two-part story in verse; 1960, 1969]); in prose writing – Swiatomyr Fostun (Plemia nepokirnykh [The Insubordinate Generation, novella, 1971], Nad Halychem hrymyt [Thunder over Halych Town, novella, 1973]), Vitaly Bender (Marsh molodosty [The March of Youth, 1954]), Vera Smereka (Khrystos Voskres [Christ is Risen, short story, 1970]), Olexa Woropay (Pryhody Marka Chubatoho [The Adventures of Marko Chubatyi, novella, 1954]; also wrote under the pen name Olexa Stepovyi), Margaret Zyzka, Semen Levchenko, Alexander Barchuk; in drama – Valentyn Bokovskyi, Alexander Barchuk, Mykola Klymenko; in humourous writing – Joseph Bylo, Valentyn Bokovskyi.

In most cases the above-mentioned writers financed the publication of their works themselves. In addition, however, the works of some writers were published by community organisations. The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, in particular, published over 10 books in the field of literature (not counting books for children). Ukrainian literary activity in the UK was promoted also by the existence of periodicals such as Ukrainska Dumka and Vyzvolnyi Shliakh, in which the works of many of the above-mentioned writers were published. Demand for literary activity was also generated by the cultural life of local communities. From the very early days of their existence, communities formed drama groups and held various commemorative events, requiring writers to produce a particular kind of repertoire, largely with a distinctly patriotic subject matter.

Deserving of special mention is the work of the English poet and translator Vera Rich, who made a significant contribution to this aspect of literary activity in the UK with her translations of works by Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, Lesia Ukrainka and others – and especially with her collection of English translations of poems by Shevchenko, Song out of Darkness (1961). Ukrainian literature was also popularised in English translation in The Ukrainian Review.

In the field of literary studies, Wolhodymir Shayan (author of publications on Hryhorii Skovoroda and other writers) and Victor Swoboda deserve mention. The latter wrote several articles in English on the work of Shevchenko and collaborated with translators of his poetry. He also wrote articles on Ukrainian poets and writers for the Penguin Companion to Literature, vol.2: European Literature (1969) and Cassell's Encyclopaedia of World Literature (1973). Occasionally during this period, information about Ukrainian literature appeared also in other English publications. For example, in 1973 Martin Seymour-Smith published a Guide to Modern World Literature, in which Ukrainian literature is mentioned briefly. Notable among British scholars with an interest in Ukrainian literature was the eminent Slavonic philologist William Kleesmann Matthews. In 1951 an address delivered by him on the occasion of the ninetieth anniversary of Shevchenko’s death was published in the form of a booklet (Taras Ševčenko: the Man and the Symbol).

Ukrainian literary activity in the UK received a major stimulus from the 1960s literary renaissance in Ukraine. This coincided with the emergence of the younger generation of Ukrainians who grew up and were educated in the UK. Factors which gave a new impulse to Ukrainian literary activity in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s included the idealism of the 1960s, interaction with peers in summer and winter camps organised by the Ukrainian Youth Association and the Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organisation, as well as life in the Ukrainian Pontifical Minor Seminary in Rome (where some of the sons of post-war immigrants received a secondary education in a Ukrainian environment). At that time several second-generation Ukrainians tried their hand at poetry, including Marusia Jurkiw-Jarockyj, Jaroslaw Rutkowskyj, Wolodymyr Slez (who also translated a number of literary works) and Jaroslaw Wasyluk. Some of the second-generation writers sought inspiration from new trends in Ukrainian émigré poetry, such as the work of the New York Group of poets. They also had links with continental Europe (particularly Belgium and France) where young poets such as Roman Babowal and Lyubomyr Hoseyko were writing. The latter had an influence on their peers in the UK, both conceptually and with respect to issues of practical organisation. At this time periodicals such as Ukrainske Slovo, Ukrainska Dumka and Shliakh Peremohy began to print dedicated literature pages, where the young writers published their works. They also contributed to periodicals published by youth organisations in other countries (Avanhard, Krylati, Yunak, Smoloskyp etc.). The Ukrainian Students Union in Great Britain, which was particularly active at this time, also published magazines which featured the work of young writers. Subsequently, their work also appeared in the Vitrage journal, published through the sole efforts of individuals from the younger generation. Gatherings of young writers, at which literary activity and its possible directions were discussed, also took place at this time. Such new initiatives, however, were short-lived. In the field of literary studies, prominent among Ukrainians born in the UK is Myroslav Shkandrij, author of numerous works on Ukrainian literature and culture. His scholarly career advanced in Canada, where, for a considerable time, he was head of the Department of German and Slavic Studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. In the 1970s Bohdan Nahaylo wrote articles for the journal Index on Censorship about repressed writers and literary scholars in Ukraine, such as Ivan Svitlychnyi, Vasyl Stus and Ihor Kalynets. Selections of their work in translation also appeared in the journal.

The Society of Ukrainian Litterateurs in Great Britain (headed by Swiatomyr Fostun) was active in the second half of the 1970s and contributed to the popularisation of various literary genres within the Ukrainian community in the UK, particularly through the publication of a dedicated literature page (Literaturna Storinka) in the Ukrainska Dumka newspaper and the organising of literary evenings in community centres. Among the active members of the Society were Borys Shkandrij, Mykola Klymenko, Andriy Wuruszylo, Olexa Woropay, Tonia Szalapaj, Joseph Bylo, Valentyn Bokovskyi, Vera Smereka, Jaroslaw Wasyluk, Victoria Djakowska and Marusia Jarockyj.

Since 1991

Ukrainian independence became a stimulus for the further development of Ukrainian literary life in the UK, albeit with a change of direction. Centre stage was now taken mainly by individuals who had arrived in the UK from the end of the 1980s (some of whom subsequently left the UK), for example: Svitlana Pyrkalo (Zelena Marharyta [Green Margarita, 2000], Ne dumai pro chervone [Don’t Think About Red, 2004]), Volodymyr Oleyko (Zirky i zvuky [Stars and Sounds, collected poems, 1989]), Oleksa Semenchenko (pen name: Rio Kunder), Anna Shevchenko (English-language novels Bequest [2005] and The Game [2013]), Lesia Pankiv, Dariia Skliaryk and others. Some of the above began their literary careers while they were still in Ukraine, through involvement with literary periodicals or groups. A second category includes individuals of Ukrainian descent who grew up in the UK and whose writing is mainly in English: the authors Marina Lewycka (A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian [2005], Various Pets Alive and Dead [2012]) and Maria Dziedzan (When Sorrows Come [2014] and others), Andrew Szpuk, the poet Anna Avebury and others. Stephen Komarnyckyj has translated works of Ukrainian literature into English. Both of the above-mentioned categories include individuals who have achieved recognition in Ukraine, in the UK or elsewhere, and who continue to write.

In this period two UK-born former students of the Minor Seminary in Rome, who became priests and subsequently worked outside the UK, also engaged in writing and translation. The Rev. Ewhen Nebesniak published Nasha khata (Our House, detective story, 1997) and Smertelne penalti (Deadly Penalty, thriller, 2012). He is also the author of a number of books for children, and of a film script on the theme of the Holodomor famine of 1932-33 in Soviet Ukraine. The Rev. Rafail Turkoniak published translations of the Bible into modern Ukrainian from Ancient Greek (2000) and from Old Church Slavonic (the Ostrih Bible, 2006). For the latter, in 2007, he received Ukraine’s National Shevchenko Award. In the second half of the 2000s Vera Rich worked on the translation of a collection of 100 poems by Taras Shevchenko, which are being prepared for publication by the AUGB.

The current scene differs from the pre-Independence situation mainly in that the writers who have arrived from Ukraine in recent years continue to maintain ties with their home country, which did not apply to those who came to the UK immediately after the Second World War. The establishment of an independent Ukrainian state has also led to a greater interest in Ukraine among British scholars, including in the field of literature (Rory Finnin, Uilleam Blacker, the study of Ukrainian literature at Cambridge University). The Everyman Companion to East European Literature, published in London in 1993, contains a brief history of Ukrainian literature and entries on 22 Ukrainian authors. Within the Ukrainian community, especially in larger centres, interest in literature and the literary process is maintained through occasional events organised to celebrate the life and work of eminent literary figures, public meetings with writers, gatherings of a Literary Club at the Ukrainian Institute London etc, as well as through libraries. Since 2008 the Edinburgh branch of the AUGB has held an annual literary dinner in joint celebration of Taras Shevchenko and the Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Jaroslaw Wasyluk


Zorivchak, R., 'Ukrainsko-anhliiski literaturni vzaiemyny', in Ukrainska literatura v zahalno-slovianskomu i svitovomu literaturnomu konteksti, vol. 3 (Kyiv, 1988), pp. 88-154

Mykhailenko, A., 'Liudy z veresnia', Kyiv: Zhurnal pysmennykiv Ukrainy, 1993, no. 8, pp. 128-131

Soroka, P., Roman Baboval abo Odnokrylyi Yanhol. Literaturnyi portret (Ternopil, 1998)

Virnyi (Frantsuzhenko), M., 'Pysmennyky v Rimini', in Rimini 1945-1947: Persha ukrainska dyviziia Ukrainskoi natsionalnoi armii u brytanskomu poloni v Italii, vol. II, ed. by V. Revutskyi (Kyiv, 2005), pp. 158-169