Beyond the Trenches: Ol'ha Kobylians'ka’s Literary Response to the First World War

Yuliya Ladygina


Abstract: Ol'ha Kobylians'ka’s short stories about the First World War constitute a rare case of a Ukrainian woman writing on one of the greatest catastrophes in modern history, a subject neglected even in Ukraine. Drawing on recent scholarship on First World War literature, this research proves that Kobylians'ka’s war stories deserve a re-evaluation, not as long-ignored curiosities from the pen of Ukraine’s most sophisticated writer of the time, but as insightful psychological studies of Western Ukrainians and as valuable cultural documents that present an original perspective on the common European experience of 1914-1918. The article pays particular attention to Kobylians'ka’s creative assessment of the Austrian and Russian treatment of Western Ukrainians during different stages of the First World War, which exposes anew fatal political weaknesses in Europe’s old imperial order and facilitates a better understanding of why Ukrainians, like many other ethnic groups in Europe without a state of their own, began to pursue their national goals more aggressively as the war progressed. Alongside popular texts, such as “Na zustrich doli” (“To Meet Their Fate,” 1917), “Iuda” (“Judas,” 1917), and “Lyst zasudzhenoho voiaka do svoiei zhinky” (“A Letter from a Convicted Soldier to His Wife,” 1917), this article examines Kobylians'ka’s three little-known stories—“Lisova maty” (“The Forest Mother,” 1915), “Shchyra liubov” (“Sincere Love,” 1916), and “Vasylka” (“Vasylka,” 1922)—thus presenting the most complete analysis of Kobylians'ka’s war fiction in any language.

Keywords: Modernist Literature, Literature of the First World War, Women Writings of the First World War, Ol'ha Kobylians'ka’s War Fiction

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© 2014 East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies. Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

ISSN 2292-7956