Franko I. Y.

Ivan Yakovych Franko (1856 – 1916) was a Ukrainian poet, writer, social and literary critic, journalist, translator, economist, political activist, philosopher, and ethnographer.

Franko was born in the Ukrainian village of Nahuievychi, Galicia (now Lviv District, Ukraine). His father may have been a first-generation German immigrant, although some debate remains on the subject. Franko’s mother was of noble Polish descent. The family formed during the time, when various regions of Eastern Europe constantly passed from one governorship to another, and the subject of citizenship and nationality became highly complex. The family was generally well-to-do, had servants, some land, and enjoyed the perks of a fairly elevated status in the village.

Young Ivan attended school from 1862 until 1867. His parents’ untimely death left him alone in the world, staying with complete strangers. Nevertheless, Ivan managed to finish school and enter Lviv University to study philosophy.

At the university, Ivan Franko met political theorist, economist, historian, and ethnographer Mykhailo Drahomanov, and the encounter became crucial, setting Franko on the path of political activism he would follow for the rest of his life. While he cherished the literary and political collaboration with Drahomanov, the association had proven dangerous – in 1877 Franko and his fellow activists were arrested for keeping such socially and politically questionable company. He received his first taste of the thoroughly corrupt judicial system, being put on trial and sentenced to nine months in prison for belonging to a secret society, which did not, in fact, exist. The trial and prison term provided a great deal of material for Franko’s stories and satirical articles. After his release, Franko, with the help of other activists and writers, founded the magazine Public Friend. The government kept shutting it down, only for the publication to re-emerge under a different name over and over. The stubbornly reappearing magazine and the series of books known as Little Library bringing to light the hardships of Ukrainian peasants and workers led to another arrest on the charges of inciting public unrest and subsequent expulsion from the university. In a supreme fit of irony, Lviv University would be renamed to honor Ivan Franko after the writer’s death.

In the years that followed, Franko returned to his native village and continued writing – contributing to political magazines (sometimes anonymously), expanding his own body of work, and bringing monumental works of foreign literature such as Goethe’s Faust to the audiences in Ukraine and Russia.

He married Olha Khoruzhynska from Kyiv in May 1886, to whom he dedicated a book of poetry and verse. The couple moved to Vienna, where Ivano Franko met with Theodor Herzl and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.

In 1888, Franko’s contributions to the magazine Truth and his association with compatriots from Dnieper Ukraine led to a third arrest in 1889. After this two-month prison term, he co-founded the Ruthenian-Ukrainian Radical Party with Mykhailo Drahomanov and Mykhailo Pavlyk. Franko was the Radical party’s candidate for seats in the Parliament of Austria-Hungary and the Galicia Diet, but never won an election.

After resuming his education at Chernivtsi University and Vienna University, Franko received his doctorate of philosophy from University of Vienna on July 1, 1893. He was offered a position to teach Ukrainian history at Lviv University, but could rise no further (his ambition was to become head of the Department of Ukrainian Literature) due to severe disagreements with the more conservative colleagues.
One of the greatest crises in Franko’s life came in 1898, when his life-long friendship and collaboration with Drahomanov ended over Franko’s dismissal of Marxism as “a religion founded on dogmas of hatred and class struggle.”

In 1902, Franko’s poverty became so obvious, his students and activists in Lviv took a collection and purchased a house for him in the city. He lived there for the remaining 14 years of his life. The house is now the site of the Ivan Franko Museum.

The last nine years of his life, Ivan Franko rarely wrote himself as he suffered from rheumatism of joints that later led to a paralysis of his right arm. His sons, particularly the eldest, Andrey Ivanovich Franko, became his scribes, taking dictation and document his works.

Ivan Franko died in poverty on May 28, 1916. Those who came to pay their respects saw him lying on the table covered with nothing but a ragged sheet. His burial and burial-clothes were paid for by his students and supporters. None of his extended family came to the funeral.

Franko was buried at the Lychakivskiy Cemetery in Lviv.

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