skip to content

SL10: Studies in Twentieth-Century Ukrainian Literature and Film

Paper SL 10 explores the literary and filmic texts that accompanied the rise of Ukraine from imperial periphery to sovereign state in the 'short twentieth century' (Hobsbawm). Its chronological frame between the 1910s and 1990s, two periods marked by declarations of Ukrainian independence, offers you both a synoptic cultural history of Soviet Ukraine cast in relief and a compelling exploration of a multinational and multi-ethnic Soviet Union. Each of the paper's five sections centres on a period of artistic flourishing and considers the implications of the intersection of signification, aesthetic representation, and political power from a broad theoretical perspective. The paper will also explore these themes and topics with a view to twenty-first century developments in Ukraine, especially the EuroMaidan Revolution and the current armed conflict with Russia.

Paper SL 10 has an online course companion with an enhanced syllabus and supervision guidelines on Moodle.


Realising the ‘ancient dream’: Revolution in Ukraine

This first section lays the paper’s historical and conceptual foundations and focuses on the work of Volodymyr Vynnychenko – prose stylist, playwright, and head of the short-lived Directory (Direktoriia) of the Ukrainian National Republic.

Literary texts:

  • Volodymyr Vynnychenko. ‘Chudnyi epizod.’ Modern Ukrainian Short Stories. Ed. George S.N. Luckyj. Englewood, Colorado: Ukrainian Academic Press, 1995.
  • Volodymyr Vynnychenko.  Zapysky kyrpatoho mefistofelia. Kyiv - Liaiptsig: Kolomyia, 1917.

Film text:

  • Za dvomia zaiatsiamy, dir. Viktor Ivanov, 1961.

Recommended reading:

  • Marko Bojcun. ‘Approaches to the Study of the Ukrainian Revolution.’ Journal of Ukrainian Studies 24:1 (Summer 1999): 21-38.
  • John-Paul Himka. ‘The National and Social in the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-20: The Historiographical Agenda.’ Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 34 (1994): 95-110.
  • Ivan L. Rudnytsky. ‘The Ukrainian National Movement on the Eve of the First World War’ and ‘Volodymyr Vynnychenko’s Ideas in Light of His Political Writings’ from Essays in Modern Ukrainian History.  Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 1987.
  • Andrew Wilson. ‘The Twentieth Century: Peasants into Ukrainians?’ from The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation. New Haven – London: Yale University Press, 2000.

‘Thoughts against the current’: The Soviet Ukrainian Cultural Renaissance

This section explores the way in which literature and film were put to work in ‘Ukrainization’ (ukraïnizatsiia), an active program of nation-building mandated by the early Soviet state.  It focuses on the films and the prose of Oleksandr Dovzhenko, one of the cinematic masters of the twentieth century.

Literary texts:

  • Mykola Bazhan. Poezii (1930) from Tvory. Vol. 1. Kyiv: Dnipro, 1974.
  • Mykola Kulish. Patetychna sonata from Tvory v dvokh tomakh. Vol. 2. Kyiv: Dnipro, 1990.
  • Valer’ian Pidmohyl'nyi. Nevelychka drama. Dnipropetrovsk: Promin, 1990.
  • Ostap Vyshnia. ‘Moia avtobiohrafiia.’ Vyshnevi usmishky.  Kyiv: Dnipro, 1985.

Film texts:

  • Arsenal, dir. Oleksandr Dovzhenko, 1928.
  • Zemlia, dir. Oleksandr Dovzhenko, 1930.
  • Zvenyhora, dir. Oleksandr Dovzhenko, 1928.

Recommended reading:

  • Marko Carynnyk (ed). Alexander Dovzhenko: The Poet as Filmmaker. Selected Writings. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1975.
  • George Liber. Alexander Dovzhenko: A Life in Soviet Film. London, 2002.
  • George S. N. Luckyj.  Literary Politics in the Soviet Ukraine, 1917–1934. Rev. ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990.
  • Terry Martin. The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.
  • Myroslav Shkandrij. Modernists, Marxists, and the Nation: The Ukrainian Literary Discussion of the 1920s. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1992.
  • Serhii Trymbach. Oleksandr Dovzhenko: Zahybel’ bohiv. Identyfikatsiia avtora v natsional'nomu chaso-prostori. Vinnytsia, 2007.

‘Ukraine in flames’: The cultural legacy of World War II

This section considers the impact of World War II on Ukrainian culture, which was felt in ways symbolic and brutally physical.  Pivoting on the prose ‘film-tales’ (kinopovisti) of Oleksandr Dovzhenko, it examines various representations of warfare in Soviet Ukraine before taking up works by Ukrainian writers displaced by this violence and conflict – the members of the refugee Ukrainian Artistic Movement (Mystets'kyi ukraïns'kyi rukh, or MUR) based in Germany.

Literary texts:

  • Ivan Bahrianyi. Tyhrolovy. Detroit: Ivan Bahriany Foundation, 1991.
  • Oleksandr Dovzhenko. Ukraïna v ohni. Kyiv: Radians'kyi pys'mennyk, 1990. 
  • ----. Zacharovana desna. Kyiv: Dnipro, 2001.

Film texts:

  • Bytva za nashu Radians'ku Ukrainu, dir. Oleksandr Dovzhenko, 1943
  • Nezabutnie, script by Oleksandr Dovzhenko, dir. Iuliia Solntseva, 1967

Recommended reading:

  • Karl C. Berkhoff. Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 2004.
  • Bohdan Krawchenko. ‘Soviet Ukraine under Nazi Occupation, 1941-4.’ In Ukraine during World War II: History and Its Aftermath: A Symposium. Ed. Yury Boshyk. Edmonton, 1986.
  • Bohdan Rubchak. ‘Homes as Shells: Ukrainian Émigré Poetry after the War.’ In Jaroslav Rozumnyj, ed. New Soil--Old Roots: The Ukrainian Experience in Canada. Winnipeg: Ukrainian Free Academy of Sciences in Canada, 1983.
  • Timothy Snyder. Chapter Eight from The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999.  New Haven – London, 2003.
  • D.H. Struk. ‘Organizational Aspects of D.P. Literary Activity.’ In The Refugee Experience: Ukrainian Displaced Persons after World War II, ed W. Isajiw; et al. Edmonton 1992.
  • Amir Weiner. Making Sense of War: The Second World War and the Fate of the Bolshevik Revolution. Princeton and Oxford, 2001.

‘An awakened muse’: The shestydesiatnyky and visimdesiatnyky

This section begins with the visually-arresting films of Ukrainian ‘poetic cinema’ and considers the role of art as a form of action in defense of individual and group rights in the periods of artistic renewal before and after the Brezhnev Stagnation. It concludes with the ‘chimerical prose’ (khymerna proza) of Valerii Shevchuk.

Literary texts:

  • Oles' Honchar. Sobor from Tvory v 7 tomakh. Vol. 7. Kyiv, 1987.
  • Valerii Shevchuk. Try lystky za viknom. Kyiv: Radians'kyi pys'mennyk, 1986. 
  • Vasyl' Symonenko. Bereh chekan'. Kyiv: Naukova dumka, 2001.
  • Selections from Visimdesiatnyky: antolohiia novoï ukraïns'koï poeziï.  Ed. Ihor
  • Rymaruk. Toronto: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 1990.

Film texts:

  • Bilyi ptakh z chornoiu oznakoiu, dir. Iurii Ilienko, 1971.
  • Krynytsya dlia Sprahlykh, dir. Iurii Ilienko, 1965.
  • Kyivs'ki fresky, dir. Sergei Paradzhanov, 1966.
  • Tini zabutykh predkiv, dir. Sergei Paradzhanov, 1965.

Recommended reading:

  • Michael Browne, ed. Ferment in the Ukraine. New York: Praeger, 1971.
  • Lesya Jones and Bohdan Yasen, eds. The Ukrainian Herald, Issue 6: Dissent in Ukraine. Baltimore: Smoloskyp, 1977.
  • H. V. Kasianov. Nezhodni: Ukraïns'ka intelihentsiia v rusi oporu 1960–80-kh rokiv. Kyiv: Lybid, 1995.
  • George Luckyj, ed. Discordant Voices: The Non-Russian Soviet literatures. Oakville, Ont: Mosaic, 1975.
  • Ivan L. Rudnytsky, ‘The Political Thought of Soviet Ukrainian Dissidents’ from Essays in Modern Ukrainian History. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 1987.
  • Lesya Verba and Bohdan Yasen, eds. The Human Rights Movement in Ukraine: Documents of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group.  Baltimore: Smoloskyp, 1980. 

Soviet bureaucrats, ‘national-masochists,’ and ‘Chicken Kiev’: Ukraine in the early 1990s

This section hinges on the event of Ukraine's independence and delves into the introspective, witty, and inventive prose of two of today's most prominent Ukrainian writers, Volodymyr Dibrova and Oksana Zabuzhko. It also examines filmic portrayals of the traumas of Ukrainian history and of Ukrainian post-Soviet society.

Literary texts:

  • Volodymyr Dibrova. Pentameron from Suchasnist' 1-2 (1994).
  • Oksana Zabuzhko. Pol'ovi doslidzhennia z ukrains'koho seksu.  Kyiv: Fakt, 2007.

Film texts:

  • Holod 33, dir. Oles' Ianchuk, 1991. 
  • Tri istorii, dir. Kira Muratova, 1997.
  • Moishchiki avtomobiley, dir. Volodymyr Tykhyi, 2000.

Recommended reading:

  • Rogers Brubaker. Nationalism Reframed: Naionhood and the National Question in the New Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • David Chioni Moore. ‘Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet? Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique.’ PMLA 116: 1 (January 2001).
  • Markus Reisenleitner. ‘Central European Culture in Search of a Theory, or The Lure of Post/colonial Studies.’ Spaces of Identity 2: 2 (August 2002). 
  • Ivan L. Rudnytsky. ‘Soviet Ukraine in Historical Perspective’ from Essays in Modern Ukrainian History. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 1987.
  • Katherine Verdery. ‘What Was Socialism and Why Did It Fall?’ What Was Socialism and What Comes Next?  Princeton: Princeton University Press: 1996.
  • Serhy Yekelchyk. ‘The Location of Nation: Postcolonial Perspectives on Ukrainian Historical Debates.’ Australian Slavonic and East European Studies 11, nos. 1-2 (1997): 161-84.
Preparatory reading: 

Prior to the beginning of the Michaelmas term, the student is encouraged to read Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation by Serhy Yekelchyk (Oxford, 2007) and Chapters 4, 5, and 13 of An Introduction to Film Studies edited by Jill Nelmes (Routledge, 2003). The recommended dictionary for translation is C.H. Andrusyshen’s Ukrainian-English Dictionary (Toronto, 1981). These resources may be accessed at the MML library or purchased at

Teaching and learning: 

Paper SL 10 is taught by way of weekly lectures and fortnightly supervisions. You are encouraged to register in the Intermediate or Advanced Ukrainian open courses, held on Wednesdays during Full Term.

For the SL 10 Moodle site, please see here. The password can be collected from the paper coordinator.


Paper SL 10 is open to students of all Sections of the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and available in Part II only. Some knowledge of Ukrainian is expected.

For more information, please visit and connect on Facebook:

Course Contacts: 
Dr Rory Finnin

Keep in touch


Slavonic News

Lessons from Russian Literature: In Praise of Everyday Life

27 May 2020

Professor in Russian and Film Studies, Emma Widdis offers the latest reflection in praise of everyday life. Her most recent book is Socialist Senses: Film, Feeling and the Soviet Subject, 1917-1939 (Indiana University Press, 2017) "I had planned a term of research leave this Easter 2020. I was supposed to be in Russia...