Women's Voices in Ukrainian Literature
Oleksandra Sudovshchykova - Kosach is known in Ukrainian literature as
Hrytsko Hryhorenko, the male literary pseudonym that she chose to use. Her father, Yevhen
Sudovshchykov, was a Russian with strong pro-Ukrainian sympathies who taught in a private
school in Kyiv and undertook the writing of a Ukrainian grammar. Both he and his Ukrainian
wife, Hanna Khoynatska, a former student of his, who also became a teacher, were actively
involved in collecting Ukrainian folk materials and in enlightening the underprivileged.
Because of their involvement in Ukrainian organizations, they were exiled to northern
Russia in 1866, and it was there that Oleksandra was born in 1867.
In 1868, Hanna's husband died, and her brother was able to negotiate the
return of the young widow and her infant to Kyiv. Prior to obtaining a tutoring position,
Hanna and her daughter lived with friends, the Drahomanovs, relatives of Olha
Drahomanov-Kosach (literary pseudonym: Olena Pchilka).
Little Oleksandra was much the same age as the children of Olena Pchilka,
and she became close friends with them. She was able to maintain this friendship during
her childhood and adolescent years, as she and her mother spent their summer holidays in
the country with the Kosach family.
After completing high school, Oleksandra continued her formal education in
Kyiv and joined the Pleyada (The Pleaides), a literary circle that was organized
by the two older children of Olena Pchilka: her son Mykhaylo (literary pseudonym: Mykhaylo
Obachny) and her daughter Larysa (literary pseudonym: Lesya Ukrainka). This circle was
dedicated to promoting the development of Ukrainian literature and introducing Ukrainian
readers to the works of foreign authors by translating them into Ukrainian.
It was as a member of this group that Oleksandra became interested in
writing. She wrote poetry in Ukrainian, Russian and French, and translated Ukrainian
authors into French. Drawing on her knowledge of European languages, she collaborated with
Mykhaylo Kosach (Obachny) in translating Swedish and English authors into Ukrainian. She
also translated French authors into Ukrainian, including such works as Jules Verne's Twenty
Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
In 1893, Oleksandra married Mykhaylo Kosach who, because of political
persecution, was forced to move to Estonia to continue his university studies. For the
next twenty years, she and her mother lived with Mykhaylo in Tartu, Estonia, where he was
first a graduate student, then a professor of physics and mathematics. It was in Estonia
that Oleksandra began writing prose fiction and, in 1898, she published, under her male
pseudonym, her first collection of realistic ethnographic narratives, Nashi lyudy na
seli (The Lives of Our Peasants) in which the bleak lives of the Ukrainian peasants
Oleksandra and her husband returned to Ukraine in 1901 and settled in
Kharkiv, where Mykhaylo assumed a position as a professor at the University of Kharkiv.
Happy to be back in her native land, Oleksandra continued her writing and her translations
of foreign authors.
In 1903 she had to cope with the tragic loss of her husband. With his
death, she lost her soul mate and mentor, and found herself in the same position that her
mother had been after the death of her husband. Unable to support herself in Kharkiv,
Oleksandra and her young daughter moved to Kyiv where they lived with the Kosach family.
During this most difficult period in her life, she received encouragement and support from
her sister-in-law, Lesya Ukrainka.
Faced with the task of maintaining herself and her young daughter,
Oleksandra completed a law degree and worked for some time in a Kyivan court. At the same
time, she became involved in the women's movement, wrote a number of articles supporting
the right of women to obtain a higher education, and worked closely with an organization
that provided assistance to working women.
During this time Oleksandra became acquainted with many of the prominent
writers of the day and embarked upon a new phase of her literary career. Writing in a
modern, impressionistic style, she broadened her themes to include stories about the
intelligentsia and explored the concept of psychological individualism in her short
stories and sketches.
Dissatisfied with her work in the legal profession, Oleksandra supported
herself through writing and private tutoring. In 1917, after her daughter completed high
school, she moved with the Kosach family to the country, where she lived until her death
The greater part of Hrytsko Hryhorenko's literary legacy consists of her
early naturalistic works that were devoted to exposing the harsh conditions and moral
decay of peasant life at the turn of the century, and to detailing the desperate measures
to which the peasants, especially the women, were driven by adversity. Indeed, her works
were written with such brutal honesty, that critics and readers of her day responded
negatively to her writing, accusing her of being overly pessimistic and dwelling solely on
the dark side of life. Her later writing, in which she examined the impact of
technological and social change on individuals from all levels of society, was no less
moving and candid.
©1998 Language Lanterns Publications
ISBN 0-9683899-3-7 (v.4)
Sketch by Roma Franko; Edited by Sonia Morris
Volumes this author appears in:
From Heart to Heart
Warm the Children, O Sun
©1998-2016 Language Lanterns Publications,
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