Love Ukraine as You Would the Sun: 10 Ukrainian Books Worth Reading in English (2023)

Ukrainian artists are beginning to receive recognition for their talents, not only at home but abroad; this recognition comes after a long and troubled history, making it all the more significant. In the 1920s and 30s, a generation of Ukrainian authors, which would come to be known as the “Executed Renaissance,” perished under Stalin’s regime. LesKurbas, the legendary theater director and a pioneer of the UkrainianAvante-Garde, was one of the many Ukrainians shot dead at the killing fields ofSandarmokh.Mykhaylo Semenko, the futurist poet, had met a similar fate the month prior under false charges of conspiring against the Soviet leadership. This oppression of the Ukrainian intelligentsia continued well into the latter days of the Soviet Union:In 1985, the poet and dissidentVasylStus died after declaring a hunger strike in a Russian penal colony.

Despite the challenges Ukraine has faced in the thirty years since its independencenamely, the ongoing war with Russia and ongoing sociopolitical strifethere has been a surge in national pride, and, along with it, theliterary scene. In recent years, many contemporary Ukrainian authors have addressed these issues in their work. Western readers might just benefit from reading what Ukrainians themselves have to say about the current reality of life in the country, instead of showing interest only when it relates directly to American politics—or worse, falling for the vast machinations of Russian propaganda outlets. Ukrainian history is filled with tragedy, but as the following books show, the Ukrainian spirit is filled with humor and perseverance, inspiring readers to—in the words of the lyrical poet Volodymyr Sosiura—love Ukraine as you would the sun.


Love Ukraine as You Would the Sun: 10 Ukrainian Books Worth Reading in English (1)

AndriyLyubka, trans. by Reilly Costigan-HumesandIsaac Stackhouse Wheeler,Carbide

A drunken history teacher from a small Transcarpathian town comes up with a plan to build a tunnel under the border with the European Union and smuggle the entire population of Ukraine into Europe. To make his dream a reality, he enlists the help of some local smugglers with plans of their own. This fast-paced tragicomedy takes place shortly after the 2014 Revolution of Dignity when Ukrainians gathered in protest against the corrupt, pro-Russian dictator Viktor Yanukovych, who later fled to Russia. It reflects the intensity of the current moment, in a country where people feel the albatross of the past hanging around their necks yet still desperately hope for a brighter future.

Love Ukraine as You Would the Sun: 10 Ukrainian Books Worth Reading in English (2)

Olesya Yaremchuk, trans. by Zenia Tomkins and Hanna Leliv, Our Others: Stories of Ukrainian Diversity

In poetic prose that sets the book apart from typical journalism, Yaremchuk holds a “magnifying glass” over Ukraine and its overlooked diversity. This diversity reflects the history of the region, which has often been defined by war and violence against minority groups. In the 20th century alone, parts of Ukraine changed hands numerous times, most notably under Soviet rule and Nazi occupation. From Roma encampments to the small towns in Western Ukraine that boasted large Jewish populations before the Holocaust, this book makes one reconsider what it means to be Ukrainian and, indeed, what it truly means to belong to any country.

Love Ukraine as You Would the Sun: 10 Ukrainian Books Worth Reading in English (3)

Oleg Sentsov, trans. by Uilleam Blacker, Life Went On Anyway: Stories

Oleg Sentsov became known to the world after Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula when he and several others were arrested on fabricated terrorism charges. Sentsov spent several years in a Russian penal colony, during which he famously went on a 145-day hunger strike. His essays were read aloud at international events advocating for his release and later published in English. They include somber yet oftentimes heartwarming stories from his youth leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Love Ukraine as You Would the Sun: 10 Ukrainian Books Worth Reading in English (4)

Artem Chekh, trans. by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna, Absolute Zero

Several memoirs have been published by soldiers since the outbreak of the war, but this book stands out from the rest, given that Chekh himself is a writer. Based on the diary he kept when he served on the frontlines, this book explores the banality of war. There are no depictions of battles, heroic or otherwise; instead, Chekh focuses on the moments in between. It turns out that war isn’t very interesting, neither for the soldiers on the frontlines nor for the people unaffected by it—but every Ukrainian soldier cut off from their friends and family and facing an uncertain future will emerge from the war forever changed.

Love Ukraine as You Would the Sun: 10 Ukrainian Books Worth Reading in English (5)

Vasyl Makhno, trans. by Orest Popovych, Winter Letters and Other Poems

Originally from Chortkiv, a small town in Western Ukraine, Vasyl Makhno has called America his home for the past two decades. The sense of space and time in his work is vast, as he, like many immigrant authors, has attempted to understand his new country better while maintaining ties to his homeland. From his childhood in the Soviet Union to the shores of Maine and the fast streets of New York City, this collection of poems will undoubtedly resonate with American readers who are drawn to the immigrant experience.

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Andrey Kurkov, trans. by Boris Dralyuk, Grey Bees

The villages separating the Ukrainian and Russian frontlines in Donbas have come to be known as the “Grey Zone,” a no man’s land. Sergey Sergeyich is one of the few who chose to stay behind after the start of the war in 2014. He, along with his “frenemy” Pashka are the only inhabitants left in their village—besides Sergeyich’s bees, that is. As spring nears, Sergeyich decides to seek refuge for his bees in Crimea in a warmer climate and away from the constant shelling. However, there he witnesses the oppression of the Crimean Tatars and understands that the fronts in the Russo-Ukrainian war are numerous. This touching book is described by Kurkov as a “farewell” of sorts to Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, because many Ukrainians are not sure when they will be able to visit it again.

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Oksana Zabuzhko, trans. by Halyna Hryn, Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex

Zabuzhko’s breakout hit has been called “the most influential Ukrainian book since independence.” The narrator, a visiting professor of Slavic Studies at Harvard who shares the same name as the author, struggles to understand how she ended up in an abusive relationship. As a newly independent Ukraine finds its way in the world, so does the narrator. Her native language, especially while living abroad, offers her a sense of home—but she also struggles to break free from Ukraine’s lingering culture of fear and its patriarchal grasp.

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Tanja Maljartschuk, trans. by Zenia Tompkins, A Biography of Chance Miracle

Lena, a young woman growing up in the small Western Ukrainian town of “San Francisco” (named after those who left for a better life in America) strives to live a meaningful life and help as many people as she can along the way. She is drawn to the downtrodden and speaks out against injustice, even though it does not always bode well for her. Maljartschuk raises questions about corruption, nationalism, and the ineffective bureaucracy of the state that readers from any country find worth reflecting on.

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Yuri Andrukhovych, trans. by Vitaly Chernetsky, The Moscoviad

Set during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Andrukhovych’s novel follows the misadventures of Otto Vilgelmovych von F., a Ukrainian poet studying at the Gorki Institute in Moscow. It is a phantasmagoric thrill ride that takes place over the course of one day, exploring the city at the heart of a dying empire and the oftentimes sinister people who inhabit it. And yet, there is a certain optimism at the heart of this wild novel, a biblical provenance if you will, as the prospect of a future for Ukraine separate from Russia becomes more of a reality.

Love Ukraine as You Would the Sun: 10 Ukrainian Books Worth Reading in English (10)

Serhiy Zhadan, trans. by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin, A New Orthography

Nominated for the PEN America Literary Awards for Poetry in Translation, this fifth volume of Lost Horse Press’ ongoing Ukrainian poetry series includes poems from several of Zhadan’s recent collections. The ongoing war with Russia—and how it affects the lives of ordinary Ukrainians—is the driving topic. Indeed, Serhiy Zhadan himself has said that his literary output can be divided into two distinct categories: what he wrote before the start of the war and what has been written since then.

Eastern EuropeindependenceKate TsurkannationalismSoviet UnionStalinStalinist RussiaUkraineUkrainiansVolodymyrSosiura

Kate Tsurkan

Kate Tsurkan is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Apofenie Magazine and a TAULT translator and board member. Her written work has previously appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Asymptote, The Calvert Journal, and Arrowsmith Press Journal.


Love Ukraine as You Would the Sun: 10 Ukrainian Books Worth Reading in English? ›

Who is the greatest Ukrainian writer? Outside of Ukraine, Andrey Kurkov is considered the most well-known Ukrainian writer. However, when considering Ukrainian literature from a historical perspective, Taras Shevchenko is the greatest due to his influence on the country's writing.

Who is the greatest Ukrainian writer? ›

Who is the greatest Ukrainian writer? Outside of Ukraine, Andrey Kurkov is considered the most well-known Ukrainian writer. However, when considering Ukrainian literature from a historical perspective, Taras Shevchenko is the greatest due to his influence on the country's writing.

What is the oldest Ukrainian literature? ›

In 1798, the poem Eneida by Ivan Kotliarevsky was published — it was with it that the Ukrainian literary language began.

What is one novel about Ukraine history? ›

Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine, by Anna Reid. Reid's book takes readers back centuries, including the Mongol invasion in 1240 and the Nazi occupation in the 1900s, leading up to the country's independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union fell.

What famous Ukrainian writers and poets do you know? ›

List of notable Ukrainian writers
  • Victoria Amelina.
  • Emma Andijewska.
  • Yuri Andrukhovych.
  • Borys Antonenko-Davydovych.
  • Bohdan-Ihor Antonych.
  • Ivan Bahrianyi.
  • Mykola Bazhan.
  • Vasyl Barka.

Is there a difference between Russian and Ukrainian writing? ›

They both use the Cyrillic alphabet, but slightly different versions. There are four letters in Ukrainian missing from Russian (ґ, є, і, ї), and four letters in Russian missing from Ukrainian (ё, ъ, ы, э).

What language is close to Ukrainian? ›

It's a Slavic language, which means it's related to languages such as Russian, Czech, and Polish. This is a huge language family with lots of linguistic diversity, so modern Ukrainian shares some commonalities with its closest relatives, Russian and Belorussian, and fewer with its more distant cousins (like Czech).

Is Ukrainian language older than Russian? ›

Many historic documents prove that the Ukrainian language, and Ukrainian state, appeared earlier than the Russian ones. Russian comes from the Old Slavonic language, which was introduced by Kyivan colonizers to Muscovites, who were essentially Finno-Ugric.

What was the Ukrainian language called before? ›

Ukrainian language, formerly called Ruthenian or Little Russian (now considered pejorative), Ukrainian Ukraïns'ka mova, East Slavic language spoken in Ukraine and in Ukrainian communities in Kazakhstan, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, and Slovakia and by smaller numbers elsewhere.

What was the Ukraine called in ancient times? ›

The Goths called the Ukrainian lands Oium, meaning "in the waterlands" as most of the Ukrainian population lived in rich fertile lands along the rivers. With annexed lands from the Ukrainian population, the Ostrogoths developed an empire that contributed greatly to the fall of the Roman Empire.

What is the best book to learn English from Ukrainian? ›

Preston Lee's Beginner English for Ukrainian Speakers is the absolute best way to learn English. Written by ESL specialists, Kevin Lee and Matthew Preston have taught English as a Second Language for over 20 years around the world.

Why did Ukraine ban Russian books? ›

It was in spirit the 2015 ban of 38 books from Russia with the purpose of "safeguarding Ukrainian citizens against the use of information warfare and disinformation methods, against the spread of hate ideology, fascism, xenophobia and separatism".

What is the White Book of Ukraine? ›

The White Book Information Bulletin is published according to the Law of Ukraine “On National Security of Ukraine” to systematically inform the public about the activities of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the State Special Transport Service, the status of development measures, ...

Who is the most famous Ukrainian poet? ›

Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko, (born Feb. 25 [March 9, New Style], 1814, Morintsy, Ukraine, Russian Empire—died Feb. 26 [March 10], 1861, St. Petersburg, Russia), foremost Ukrainian poet of the 19th century and a major figure of the Ukrainian national revival.

Who was Ukraine's most revered poet? ›

Taras Shevchenko is a revered figure in Ukraine for his poetry, paintings, and love for the nation. He also spent many years imprisoned for his pro-Ukrainian sovereignty activities in czarist Russia.

Who is the most famous poet in Ukraine? ›

Taras Shevchenko (1814-61) was a Ukrainian artist and writer who is considered the greatest poet of Ukraine and the founder of modern Ukrainian literature.

Who is the father of Ukrainian literature? ›

Though Ivan Kotliarevsky is the 'father' of literature in the Ukrainian vernacular, Shevchenko is the father of the national revival which culminated in an independent state in 1918 [see Struggle for Independence (1917–20)].

Who is the famous poet of Ukraine? ›

Taras Shevchenko

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