Kobulanska O. Y.

Olga Kobylanska (1863 – 1942) was a Ukrainian writer and feminist. She was born in Gura Humorului in the Carpathian region Bukovina, which, at the time, was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her father, Yulian Yakovych Kobylansky came from a once prosperous and noble Central Ukrainian family but during her childhood worked as a modest court official. Olga’s mother, Maria Werner was originally from Germany. Having married Yulian Yakovych, out of love for her husband, she became baptized in Greek Catholic faith and learned the Ukrainian language. Olga was one of four children.

Since the small town where the family resided at the time had no school, Yulian Yakovych applied to be transferred to Suceava, where Olga’s brothers could attend a German school. While there, the Kobylanski family became friends with the family of Ukrainian writer Mykola Ustianovich. Ustianovich’s daughter, whose name was also Olga, became Kobylanska’s lifelong friend.

Until the family’s move to the town of Kimpolung in 1875, Olga was mostly home-schooled. In Kimpolung, she finished a four-year primary school, where all of the classes were taught in German. At the age of fourteen, Olga began to write poetry and keep a diary in German.

In 1891, when she was eighteen, Olga moved to Chernivtsi. While there, she met Augusta Kokhanovska, an artist and one of the founders of the feminist movement in Galicina. She also met Sophia Okunevska, the first female doctor in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and writer Natalia Kobrinskaya. Their friendship was crucial in developing Olga’s feminist outlook. Following her friends’ advice, Olga began to write in Ukrainian, which she had learned as a child at the insistence of her mother.

Over the next several years, as Kobylanska built up her body of work, she also honed her literary style and focused on her preferred themes, including feminism, same-sex relationships, and gender equality – particularly when it came to the choice of one’s life partners and sexual fulfillment. Her choice of topics, placing strong, well-educated, independent women front and center in her narratives, along with her real-life relationships had earned her a scandalous reputation, which did not deter readers from buying her books.

At the turn of the century, following Kobylanska’s meeting with fellow writer Lesia Ukrainka (Larisa Petrivna Kosach) and the ensuing intense emotional affair, her writing became even more focused on the themes of forbidden love and unrealized passion, particularly Valse melancolique and Sunday Morning She Gathered the Herbs.

With parts of Ukraine falling under the control of the Russian Empire, Ukrainian writers and poets of the period had fewer and fewer opportunities to publish in their native language and reach prominence. This makes the praise Kobylanska had received from the literary critics all the more remarkable, who noted her outstanding knowledge of folkloric themes, regional history, and narrative techniques.

Simultaneously, some of her poetic and prose works in the abstract-symbolic style were published in various local magazines such as Svit and Ukrainian Hut.
During World War I, Kobylanska traveled with fellow writers and poets, Lesia Ukrainka, Mikhailo Kotsubinsky, Ivan Franko, Vasily Stefanik, Osip Mokevey, Marko Cheremshyna, and Katria Hrynevycheva, documenting the events of the war and its impact on individual lives and families and the region in general.

During the chaos following World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Carpathian region of Ukraine, Bukovina, became part of Romania – a territorial event Kobylanska passionately opposed, which resulted in her being persecuted by Romanian authorities.

As questionable as the Soviet Union’s political motives may have been, those opposing Romanian rule, including Kobylanska, welcomed the 1940 occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Kobylanska quickly applied for Soviet citizenship and became a member of the Ukrainian chapter of the Soviet Writers’ Union. In 1941, the highly contested territory was returned to Romania, including the city of Chernivtsi where Kobylanska resided at the time. She was unable to leave due to a serious illness.

Due to Kobylanska’s support of the Soviet occupation of Bukovina, Romanian authorities charged her with treason. Her apartment was searched, and some of her papers and manuscripts were seized as evidence, never to be seen again. Kobylanska was brought before a military tribunal and was facing a lengthy prison sentence. She died on March 21, 1942, before her trial was concluded.
Local authorities allowed her immediate family to attend her funeral but kept out other Ukrainians living in the area.

Bukovina eventually became part of Ukraine once again. In 1944, a memorial museum dedicated to Olga Kobylanska’s life and work was opened in the city of Chernivtsi.

Showing the single result