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Cambridge Ukrainian Studies


Paper SL 9: Introduction to the Language, Literature, and Culture of Ukraine

SL9 Illustration

Paper SL9: Introduction to the Language Literature and Culture of Ukraine

This paper is designed to be a broad introduction to Ukrainian Studies for students who have no formal background in the field. It will provide instruction in the Ukrainian language and introduce students to the culture of modern Ukraine through an exploration of the formulation of Ukrainian identity across the ages that concentrates in particular on visual culture. 

Language is central to the study of Ukrainian culture. Ukrainian, spoken by over 40 million people around the world, is the state language. For centuries its very existence as a separate language was questioned by Russian and Polish elites, and official campaigns to proscribe or discourage its use were taken under Russian imperial and Soviet rule; since the 1991 declaration of Ukrainian independence, from the cafes of L'viv to the boulevards of Kyiv and Odesa, it is experiencing a revival. This paper offers an introduction to the fundamentals of Ukrainian designed for those with very little or no knowledge of the language. Twice-weekly classes throughout the academic year cover the principal grammar structures and vocabulary and allow student to acquire a basic proficiency in reading and speaking Ukrainian.

The dominance of images in the contemporary world, their individual as well as their global reach via the Internet and their video feedback in the simulated experiences of virtual reality, alert us that the contemporary world cannot be defined in purely linguistic terms. Visual culture defines today’s daily experiences. Current, post-modern, experiences of images, as well as the technologies associated with the production of images, are distinct from those of earlier periods. This paper looks at the changing role of the visual and the relationship of the visual and the written in the culture of medieval, early modern, modern and post-modern Ukraine.  Visual and written texts, form the primary interpretive materials for this paper. Both will be the focus of weekly lectures and fortnightly supervisions and both will constitute the final exam.

A single paper does not provide ample opportunity to address all the different forms of cultural interaction that engender the rich and varied identities of a nation state as large as Ukraine—the second largest country in Europe, and of a land that has been inhabited since ca. 45,000BC.  Instead, this paper will explore the interplay of words and images in select historical contexts to uncover how culture, or the way of life of given communities in Ukraine, was visualized and understood.  Addressing fluid and overlapping cultural strategies, it will use visual sources to challenge and question approaches to the culture of Ukraine based on notions of centre and periphery.  It will do so with a view to recent developments in Ukraine, including the fall of the Soviet Union, the Orange and EuroMaidan Revolutions, the current war with Russia, and present political and cultural movements.

In preparation for lectures and supervisions read:

1. Serhii Plokhy, ‘The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine’ (Penguin Random House, 2015)

3. Nicholas Mirzoeff, ‘An Introduction to Visual Culture’, 2nd edition (Routledge, 2009)

In preparation for Ukrainian language classes:

1. Learn the Ukrainian alphabet. Even if you are familiar with another Cyrillic alphabet, please still look over the Ukrainian alphabet. You can learn more about Ukrainian alphabet at this website , chapter one - “The alphabet”.

2. Familiarize yourself with the learning material we are going to use throughout the semester. We will be using the “Yabluko” textbook and workbook.  You can order “Yabluko” texts directly from the Ukrainian Catholic University. Please email Please go over the first two chapters (chapter 0 and chapter 1).

3. Learn Ukrainian words. Several lists of essential Ukrainian words have been compiled by Andrii Smytsniuk; please begin to memorize then. At the end of each chapter of the “Yabluko” textbook, there is also a short list of words that are useful. Try to translate and begin to memorize them.

4 Try to learn some Ukrainian during your free time. For that, you can start a Duolingo account to practice Ukrainian or listen to Ukrainian lessons podcasts.

The Moodle online course companion with an enhanced syllabus and supervision guidelines for SL9 is currently in preparation. 

Teaching and learning: 

Through twice-weekly classes during the academic year, you will learn the principal grammar structures and vocabulary so as to acquire a basic proficiency in reading and speaking Ukrainian. The literature and visual culture of Ukraine will be the focus of weekly lectures and fortnightly supervisions.


This paper is open to students of all Departments of the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and available in both Part IB and Part II. At Part IB the paper is available both to former post-A-level students and to former beginners. No previous knowledge of Ukrainian is expected or required.

Course Contacts: 

Course Adviser: Dr Olenka Pevny

Course Instructors: Dr Olenka Pevny and Mr Andrii Smytsniuk

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