KOSTENKO, Lina Vasylivna


(b. 19.03.1930, town of Rzhyshchiv, Kyiv region)

A major poet whose works provided moral support for the Shestydesyatnyky [Sixties activists] and who herself was active in standing up for those facing persecution

Born into a family of teachers, Kostenko graduated in 1956 from the Maxim Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. Her first books “Prominnya Zemli” [“Rays of the Earth”] (1957), “Vitryla” [“Sails”] (1958) and “Mandrivky sertsa” [“The Heart’s wanderings”] (1961) provided a new voice in Ukrainian poetry returning literature from the ideological straightjacket of the “Party outlook” to the realm of art. “Kostenko is a lyric poet «inclined to philosophic meditation with her own original metaphor and subtle rhythms. Against the colourless background of socialist realist poetry her individualism and aestheticism caused her to stand out immediately and led to fierce attacks from the official literary critics” (‘Entsyklopediya ukrainoznavstva’ [‘Encyclopedia of Ukrainian Studies’]).

At the beginning of the 1960s Kostenko took part in literary evenings organized by the “Klub tvorchoyi molodi” [“Club for Creative Young People” (CCY)]. From 1961 she was attacked for being “apolitical” and a film based on her script entitled ‘Dorohuyu vitriv’ [‘On the winds’ path’] was cancelled. On 8 April 1963 at a meeting in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), the secretary for ideology, A. Skaba, echoing the slamming comments made by Khrushchev during a meeting with writers and artists[1], stated: “Formalistic tricks in using words inevitably lead to a distortion and blurring of the ideological and artistic content of the works. That this is exactly what happens can be seen in several works of the young poets M. Vynhranovsky, I. Drach and L. Kostenko”. This speech was to mark the beginning of a pogrom against the generation of the Shestydesyatnyky [Sixties activists].

In 1963, Kostenko’s collection of poems ‘Zoryany integral’ [‘Stellar integral’] was withdrawn from the printing press, while preparations to publish another book ‘Knyazha hora’ [‘Prince’s Mountain’] were cancelled. A film shot in 1964 and based on a script by Kostenko and Arkady Dobrovolsky ‘Perevirte svoyi hodynnyky’ [‘Check your watches’] about Ukrainian poets who were killed in the War, was never shown. It was so altered under the title ‘Khto povernetsa – dolyubyt’ [‘Those who return will have time for loving’] that Kostenko refused to put her name to it.

During those years Kostenko’s poems were published in Czechoslovakian journals and Polish newspapers in the translations of V. Voroshylsky, and only occasionally in Ukraine, however they were circulated in samizdat. In 1965 Kostenko signed a collective letter of protest against the arrest of members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. She took part in a protest action against the trial of Mykhailo OSADCHY, M. Zvarychevska and the brothers Mykhailo and Bohdan HORYN in Lviv. The protesters threw flowers to them and Kostenko herself tried to pass M. Zvarychevska some chocolate. Together with Ivan DRACH she addressed an appeal to the editorial board of the journal ‘Zhovten’ [‘October’; now called ‘Dzvin’ – ‘Bell’] and to writers in Lviv to speak out in support of those arrested. The writers did not risk an open statement of protest, however they did lodge a petition with the court asking for Bohdan HORYN as the youngest of those arrested to be released under their supervision. None of this had any influence on the way the court case went but it was to make a huge moral impact within society.

In the Union of Writers of Ukraine (UWU) in May 1966 during an attack on “nationalist renegades”, some of the younger writers gave a standing ovation to Kostenko who stood her ground and continued to defend Ivan SVITLYCHNY, Opanas ZALYVAKHA, M. Kosyv and B. HORYN. On 15 November 1967 Kostenko attended the trial of VIACHESLAV CHORNOVIL, and afterwards, together with I. DZIUBA, Ivan SVITLYCHNY and his sister Nadiya SVITLYCHNA wrote a letter to the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPU protesting at the nature of the trial, describing it as a flagrant violation of procedural norms. In July 1968 Kostenko again defended V. CHORNOVIL this time against defamatory remarks in the newspaper ‘Literaturna Ukraina’ [‘Literary Ukraine’] in a letter written with I. DZIUBA, Yevhen SVERSTYUK, Mykhailyna KOTSYUBYNSKA and Viktor NEKRASOV. After this Kostenko’s name stopped being mentioned at all in the Soviet press. The ‘passage of silence’, as she put it, had become absolute. She wrote now ‘for the drawer’ (i.e. with no chance of publishing her work), however remained firm and uncompromising, never writing one word in praise of Lenin or the Communist Party. She was mentioned amongst “unreliable” cultural figures in the Resolution of the Central Committee of the CPU from 3.03.1969 “On increasing the responsibility of those in charge of bodies of the press, radio, television and cinema, cultural and art organizations for the ideological and political level of their printed materials and repertoires”, adopted after a Resolution with the same title was passed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 7 January 1968.

Kostenko gradually moved away from direct involvement in the human rights movement. Nonetheless, in 1972 when the second wave of arrests of members of the Ukrainian creative intelligentsia swept the country and when I. DZIUBA, who had been thrown out of the Union of Writers, was arrested, Kostenko, V. NEKRASOV and other Ukrainian writers went to the Central Committee of the CPU to call for his release.

In 1973 Kostenko’s name figured on the ‘blacklists’ drawn up by the secretary for ideology of the Central Committee of the CPU, V. Malanchuk. It was only in 1979, after Malanchuk relinquished this post that Kostenko’s collection of poems ‘Nad berehamy vichnoyi riky’ [‘On the banks of the eternal river’] was published, as well as, following a special resolution of the Presidium of the CPU – her historical novel in verse “Marusya Churai’, which had not been published for six years. The novel was to bring Kostenko truly national fame. It was for this novel, as well as for her collection of poems ‘Nepovtornist’ [‘Uniqueness’] (1980), that Kostenko was awarded the Taras Shevchenko State Prize in 1987. A children’s book ‘Buzynovy tsar’ [‘Elder-berry Tsar’] was published, and also her collections of poems ‘Sad netanushchykh skulptur’ [‘Garden of unmelting sculptures’] (1987) and ‘Vybrane’ [Selected poems] (1989). I. SVITLYCHNY considered Kostenko as a poet to be one of the ‘stars of the first order’. Kostenko is also laureate of the Petrarch Award (1994).

She lives in Kyiv. She has two children.


L. Kostenko. Prominnya Zemli, 1957.
L. Kostenko. Vitryla, 1958.
L. Kostenko. Mandrivki sertsa, 1961.
L. Kostenko. Zoryany Integral, (withdrawn from printsetting)
L. Kostenko. Knyazha hora (withdrawn from printsetting).
Lina Kostenko and Arkady Dobrovolsky. Perevirte svoyi hodynnyky, 1964 г.

L. Kostenko. Nad berehamy vichnoyi riky. 1977.
L. Kostenko. Маруся Чурай. Роман у віршах, 1979.
L. Kostenko. Nepovtornist, 1980.
L. Kostenko. Sad netanushchykh skulptur, 1987.
L. Kostenko. Buzynovy tsar, 1987.
L. Kostenko. Vybrane, 1989.
L. Kostenko. Berestechko. Roman u virshakh [Berestechko. A novel in verse] (1999).

Viacheslav Briukhovetsky: Lina Kostenko. Narys tvorchosti [A study of her work], Kyiv, Dnipro 1990

L. Alekseeva. История инакомыслия в СССР. / The History of the Dissident Movement in the USSR. – Vilnius – Moscow: Vest, 1992, - pp. 12, 17

Г.Касьянов. Незгодні: українська інтелігенція в русі опору 1960-1980-х років. / G. Kasyanov. Dissenting voices: the Ukrainian intelligentsia in the resistance movement of the 1960s to 1980s — Kyiv: Lybid, 1995.— pp. 17, 19, 24-26, 52, 55-57, 61. 67, 70, 73, 74, 81, 82, 105, 114, 115, 137, 145, 172.

Khto ye khto v Ukraini [Who’s who in Ukraine]. — Kyiv.: К.І.С., 1977.— С. 244.

Entsiklopediya Ukrainoznavstva, V. 3, Lviv, Molode zhyttya 1994, p. 1147

I. Rapp. Supplemented by V. Ovsiyenko in June 1998

[1] The meeting took place in March 1963 in the Kremlin. Krushchev position was clear: “We are against peaceful co-existence in the area of ideology”.

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