Lina Kostenko

Posted by on March 27, 2023 in Blog, Dame designate, History, Literature, Politics | 2 comments

Lina Kostenko/Youtube

I can think of no greater accolade than to be blacklisted by the Secretary of the Central Committee on Ideology of the Communist Party of Ukraine. This was the fate of Lina Kostenko in 1973; she was born in 1930 in Rzhyshchiv, near Kyiv, and recently celebrated her 93rd birthday.

Kostenko has been described as one of Ukraine’s foremost poets and credited with reviving Ukrainian language poetry.  She has also been a journalist, writer and publisher, and was a key figure in the ‘Sixitiers’ literary movement in Ukraine. The members were representatives of a new generation of Soviet intelligentsia who became active in the 1950s and 1960s.  Kostenko’s works have been described as lyrical and sophisticated, yet also satirical and critical of authoritarianism.

In 1956, following her graduation, Kostenko published three collections of poetry: Earthly Rays in 1957, Sails in 1958, and Journeys of the Heart in 1961. Stalin had died in 1953, so the political climate had softened – slightly. However, while her poems were extremely popular amongst Ukrainian readers, they were censored by the Soviet authorities and in 1961 she was criticised for ‘apoliticism.’  At that time her works were mainly published and read in Czechoslovak magazines and Polish newspapers. Most Ukrainians could only access them through ‘samizdat’ routes. The word means ‘self-publish’ and was a hugely risky procedure at the time.

In 1965, Kostenko signed a letter of protest against arrests of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, and continued to stand up for blacklisted writers, speaking out at trials of cultural figures. This led to her own blacklisting in 1973, which lasted until 1979, when one of her most famous works was published. In 1979, under a special decree of the Praesidium of the Socialist-Revolutionary Guard, one of her greatest works was published, a historical novel in verse about Marusia Churai,  a 17th century Ukrainian composer, poet and folk singer.

Then in 1987 Kostenko was awarded the Shevchenko National Prize, which is the highest state award for works of culture, arts, publicity and journalism.  She continued to write collections of poetry for adults and children and in 1991, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, she moved to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, although the reasoning behind this is not clear.

In 2005, the then President of Ukraine, Victor Yuschenko, wished to decorate Kostenko as a Hero of Ukraine, which is the highest political award. However, she refused, declaring ‘I will not wear political jewellery.’  In the same year, the Andrushivka Astronomical Observatory discovered an asteroid which was named Linakostenko in her honour. Nothing like an interplanetary gong – I challenge readers to find similar cosmic awards.

You can find her works in translation if you look for them – I have added her to my reading list. At a time when the Ukrainian language has become inextricably entwined with the Ukrainian people’s fight against the Russian invasion, it seems a good time to explore the country’s literature, and Lina Kostenko remains a champion of her native language. Apparently, after the Russian invasion last year, she stated:  ‘There is, perhaps, no other such thing [as the Ukrainian language] in the whole world. The language is a nightingale, while the devil is blabbering on’.


  1. What a fascinating woman. Yes, a good time to explore Ukraine’s literature . Thanks again for introducing us to yet another vibrant personality!

    • There is no end to them it seems!

      Dame B

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