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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

My Lina Kostenko

25 March, 2008 - 00:00

For many people Lina KOSTENKO embodies an alternative, the real Ukraine — that dimension and system of coordinates from which, lamentably, a large part of our society is retreating. As a spectacular representative of the Shistdesiatnyky (Sixtiers) phenomenon, which has still not been fully understood, she is a powerful magnet keeping the Ukrainian world in one piece. A wise and prophetic contemporary, she has sent us warning signals many times, particularly in her novel in verse Berestechko. In Dvi Rusi, one of the books in The Day’s Library Series, she writes: “... little depends on mankind. They delegate powers to their governments and presidents, and then political mechanisms on which mankind has minimum influence are activated, especially considering who is at the helm of global politics. The age of great personalities seems to be over, and increasingly often proteges of large clans come to power, whose practices are devoid of the ethics of the philosophy of existence...”

There are many people whose hearts are warmed by the knowledge that Lina Kostenko lives and works in Kyiv.

The great poet’s birthday was marked on March 19. The following article is part of a supplement to our issue as a way of joining in the festivities, which we hope the reader will accept as our present to them. Since Kostenko’s books long ago became bibliographic rarities, the editors decided to include a collection of her poems lovingly selected by the poet’s daughter Oxana Pachlovska. These are poems that we love and know by heart, and which we would like our young people to know and love. Without them, there is no continuity of generations. The Day’s writers and experts were also invited to share their ides, impressions, and reflections. Their comments have not been edited because they reflect each contributor’s individual perception. Happy birthday, dear Lina Kostenko!

Prof. Volodymyr PANCHENKO, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy:

Yevhen Malaniuk has several entries about Kostenko’s poetry in his Notebooks, which have just appeared in print (Ye. Malaniuk, Notatnyky (1936-1938), Kyiv: Tempora Publishers, 2008). I think the following one, dated Sept. 20, 1966, is especially interesting; “Even Drach betrays servile or subservient overtones. Others, too, even Rylsky. Even Khvylovy! With Symonenko it’s a ‘cry of rage of a slave who has seen the light.’

Lina was born of the war, like Zerov, Narbut, Yanovsky, Antonenko, Bazhan, and Pidmohylny. Here is our goal: SPIRITUAL SOVEREIGNTY, Ukraine in our hearts and minds. They won’t forgive Lina for this.”

Malaniuk was clearly aware of the dramatic history behind Kostenko’s collection of poetry Zorianyi intehral (Stellar Integral, 1963), which was never published because the composed type was “scattered.” This led him to the logical conclusion that there was a conflict between the poet and the regime. He attributed it to the poet’s “spiritual sovereignty,” the absence of servile blood in her creative veins, and the profound Ukrainian spirit of her poetry.

Back in 1966, Malaniuk placed Kostenko on what was, to him, the highest level, where every name was a “mark of quality” in Ukrainian literature, even with all the correctives to the dramatic zigzags in the creative destinies of Yurii Yanovsky, Mykola Bazhan, or Maksym Rylsky. Every name mentioned by Malaniuk was recognized as belonging to a great talent. He also understood that everything Ukrainian, if it was talented, was dangerous to the regime — dangerous because it strengthened that “spiritual sovereignty” in others; because it made national culture a serious rival to the imperialist culture; and because it challenged those in power and shamed those who were primitive.

Time, a harsh judge, will introduce correctives to current assessments, but I think that even this judge will not be able to cover with rust the good volume of the poet’s lyrical verse and her novel in verse Marusia Churai. Her poems “Skifska odisseia” (Scythian Odyssey), “Duma pro brativ neazovskykh” (The Duma of the Non-Azov Brothers), and the collection Sad netanuchykh skulptur (The Garden of Unmelting Sculptures) also have “that which does not perish.” I think that these historical-philosophical works have yet to be fully comprehended. History — mostly but not just the history of Ukraine — comes alive in them. The Odyssey’s main source is Herodotus’s history, the parable-like Garden conveys us to medieval Italy, yet both poems are also about Ukraine. (When Aleksandr Blok was reciting his “landscape” poems, he was asked to recite a poem about Russia. “Everything I write is about Russia,” he replied. Likewise, everything Lina Kostenko writes is “about Ukraine.”)

However, “how” is more important than “about.” We should doff our hats to Malaniuk, who 40 years ago had the perspicacity to place Kostenko on the highest creative plane; he probably understood that every poet also experiences things that are not destined to outlive their times.

Today she is accused of “Sovietism” (not ideological but sentimental). I must admit that I was amazed to find a perfectly biased view of Lina Kostenko’s poetry in Oksana Zabuzhko’s book Notre dame d’Ukraine. It is true that no one is beyond criticism, just like it has long been known that “children” in literature are always very harsh in their attitudes to their “parents” (they tend to feel more respect for their “grandfathers,” who do not interfere with their self-assertion). Nevertheless, I fail to find a sufficiently rational approach in Zabuzhko’s aggressive attitude, not even so much when she scolds the author for certain works, like the poem “Berestechko,” in which Bohdan [Khmelnytsky] appears as an “overtly parodic” hero, as when she offers, if you will pardon my saying so, a nervous “broad’s” generalizations that have nothing to do with literature, for example, “Who would ever think of referring to Lesia Ukrainka, even in thought, as a molodytsia (young married woman), a baba (grandmother, or old woman), or even a titka (auntie, or a middle-aged woman)? But you can do this as much as you want with regard to Marko Vovchok or Lina Kostenko!” This is a strange juxtaposition based on arguments that are best known to the author.

Likewise, it is anyone’s guess what led Zabuzhko to the conclusion that the “nativist” Lina Kostenko (is being nativist bad?) “corresponds ideally to all the stereotypes of a matriarch of a ‘peasant nation,’ which are associated with the portrait gallery of nativist Marusias, Horpynas, or Katerynas.” Is there anything rustic about Marusia Churai, which Zabuzhko describes as “a signal novel of the Soviet period?” This work reveals precisely the kind of cultural finesse that attracts Zabuzhko to Lesia Ukrainka.

Surprisingly, she makes no mention of Kostenko’s noteworthy study of Lesia Ukrainka, entitled Poet, shcho ishov skhodamy hihantiv (A Poet Who Climbed the Titans’ Stairs; see Lesia Ukrainka, Dramatychni tvory, Kyiv, 1989, pp. 5-58). This can be described as a scholarly shortcoming on Zabuzhko’s part; her monograph burns with polemical passion aimed at such insignificant targets as an old textbook written by P. Khropko for tenth-graders or the speeches of Oles Honchar, who never pretended to be an expert on Lesia Ukrainka, while ignoring Kostenko’s works in which she interprets Ukrainka’s dramas in a number of innovative respects.

This edition of Lesia Ukrainka’s dramas with a foreword by Lina Kostenko may have become “submerged” in the social eddies at the turn of the 1990s. It is a shame that Kostenko is not publishing or reissuing her works (her poem “Berestechko,” about a defeat that has been overcome, appeared in print in 1999). For many people, including me, her silence is a mystery. I understand what she is silent about: about that which is written in her unpublished works. But why are they hidden in a drawer? There was already a long interruption in Lina Kostenko’s creative biography, in 1963-77, but it was understandable because it was caused by external reasons. That silence was very expressive. Today’s silence is not; it may be caused by inner reasons. Which ones? I don’t know. This is the riddle of Lina Kostenko.

Vadym SKURATIVSKY, art historian:

Ukraine is a very interesting country, in a special way. Throughout the centuries, including the last one, it has produced a great deal of what clever people call myths — in other words, falsehoods. This is the fault of not only those who ruled our country, but also those who worked in literature and the field of humanities. In this sense, I regard Lina Kostenko as a phenomenon that is an alternative to this falsehood. Frankly speaking, it is a unique phenomenon in both Ukrainian and world literature. Well, there is nothing to be done about this. Big “patrons” were capable of stumbling and telling lies. Kostenko always spoke the truth as a poet and as a citizen. Looking at this unique phenomenon, one is reminded of Shevchenko’s “We two have never left our pathway rough, /Have gone straight forward, and no man can find /One grain of falsehood that we’ve left behind....” Lina Kostenko could have been the co-author of these meaningful lines.

Atena PASHKO, poet:

Lina Kostenko and I live practically next door. We don’t meet often, but we feel that we’re on the same wavelength. Whenever I think of her, I am reminded of my good friend Volodymyr Ivanyshyn, a gifted literary scholar, who was tortured to death by the totalitarian system in the 1980s. He wrote: “There are times when the earth speaks and then military leaders hasten to it; sometimes the soil cracks from thirst, as though desperately waiting for the tiller’s salty sweat. There are also times when the earth is filled with pain: then poets come to transform this pain into the lasting energy of words.” Ivanyshyn wrote this about Stefanyk, although the same applies to Lesia Ukrainka, Olena Teliha, and Lina Kostenko as figures that are symbolic of their eras, who made very timely appearances among the Ukrainians, dispersing the darkness of the times with the energy of their poetry and bringing cultural enlightenment.

Existentially, my Lina means years of repressions against the Ukrainian intelligentsia, when she wrote the collection On the Banks of the Eternal River (1977) and Marusia Churai (1979). Kostenko’s poetry was perceived as more than talented lyrics or a highly creative historical novel in verse. She was writing about us, our moral choice, the arrests and trials, the nobility of some and the baseness of others. I visited my husband Viacheslav Chornovil in prison with Lina’s collection of poetry and copied entire chapters from Marusia Churai in my letters to him. Others did too.

In the times of atheism Lina Kostenko’s poetry restored people’s belief in words, revived notions such as honor, national dignity, and self-respect, built up their confidence, and inspired hope. Through her life and conduct she has been an example of nonconformity and valor. May she live a hundred years!

Yaroslav YATSKIV, full member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAN) of Ukraine and head of the Academy’s International Committee on Science and Culture:

I had the honor of making Lina Kostenko’s acquaintance in November 1999, when our International Committee on Science and Culture, which I headed, invited her to address a meeting of the Elitarna svitlytsia (Elite Salon) at the Teacher’s House in Kyiv, to discuss the problems of preserving the Ukrainian cultural heritage in the Chornobyl Zone. We believed that her lines, “How fearfully plows the historical plough! /What treasures we possessed that are no more! / Our hearing sharpens in time of deafness, /In the age of glasnost everyone got used to everything...” were in harmony with the topic that was being discussed.

Picture this: the Salon’s meeting in the grand conference hall of the Teacher’s House on Nov. 3, 1999. The parterre and balcony (more than 500 seats) were packed, and more people were still coming in. Finally, there was no standing room left. The maximum capacity according to fire safety regulations had been reached, and the doors of the Teacher’s House were closed with apologies to those who were left outside. A lot of people who wanted to hear Lina Kostenko remained outside the hall. The meeting and discussion were extraordinarily interesting. I don’t want to use cliches, but her speech was straightforward, honest, and uncompromising, without the slightest attempt to please the audience. It was like a gust of cool wind, like cold spring water for people exhausted by heat or thirst. Toward the end of the meeting, in response to numerous requests, Kostenko read her new poems, and it was moving to see the way she was turning the small sheets of paper filled with poems written by hand.

In 2000-01, when I was working for the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, I tried to help her and her “team” save relics of daily folk life in the Chornobyl zone.

This extraordinary woman and her associates did something that seemed practically impossible: they amassed a collection of Chornobyl relics. Writing these lines, I am perplexed to realize that once again there is a risk of losing this unique collection.

Dmytro DROZDOVSKY, departmental editor of the journal Vsesvit and press secretary of National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy:

I will never forget the first time I met Lina Kostenko. It happened on March 18, 2005, during a roundtable at the academy entitled “The Poetry of Lina Kostenko in Transitional Times and Eternal Ones.”

Lina Kostenko is one of those poets who emerge in order to change the world. To do this, these people are given the most important thing, a strong knight; in other words, a guardian angel that protects the most vulnerable soul with his wings. A poet’s soul is special. Those who are capable of surpassing the limits of black and white truths and stealing words, like Prometheus, who stole fire from Olympus, have special souls that are in permanent communication with the world, even though this world often turns a deaf ear to their words.

In one of his short stories Julio Cortazar writes about an obscure Latin American, who visits Paris to watch a guillotine execution. This image conceals the author whose prose is the world of Argentinian music, tangos, rhythms, and magic. This is the trace of a great master. Milan Kundera says that in Kafka’s novels the city (Prague) has no memory, and here and there one finds solitary heroes (Jozef K.) who don’t seem to know anything about their own lives. Kafka is a master of the psychology of lost memory and the philosophy of discovering that space where it has been hidden from the eyes of the average individual. It is precisely the philosophy of the quest as an experience of existence, which will remain in the history of world culture and be associated with the name of Franz Kafka.

The world of Lina Kostenko is a world of deep Ukrainian layers that lie beneath the earth, and which now and then emerge to the surface through poetic visions. This is a world of national memory as a force that is capable of snatching part of space from inexorable chaos and preserving it in time.

At first glance, Kostenko’s path appears uncomplicated, but only to those who have no desire to perceive the imperceptible, to see the invisible. Concealed behind her aphoristic constants is a fearful animal that is observing all of us but does not approach each one of us. This animal is dying in its cage. In Kostenko’s poetry there are traces that direct us into a world of ethical harmony and aesthetic delight. This is not a cold glass tower, nor is it a struggle between light and darkness. It is contemplation, a fading away. This is the only way one can spot two wary eyes peering through the thickets of the subconscious. I will not tell you who is hiding there. Each person can identify this timid being.

In The Space of Literature the prominent French writer and literary critic Maurice Blanchot writes that poetry is linked to words that cannot be cut short because they do not speak: they exist. Poetry is not words, it is the beginning, whereas words never begin but always speak differently and always start from the beginning. A poet is one who can hear these words, who is in accord with them, a go-between who, by uttering these words, forces them to become silent. Poetry is an experience connected to the living approach to things, with a movement that is carried out in the solemnity and work of life. In order to write a poem, it is necessary to exhaust life. To write a poem, it is necessary to exhaust art, to exhaust all life in search of art. For me, this is the best definition of Lina Kostenko.

I wish that faith in her strength will never leave Lina Kostenko. Words, which are bestowed on a poet, are the words that roam the world for all time. Everything else is incidental. I believe that these special words will soon be uttered, perhaps not in poetic form but in other forms, because the Ukrainian world has long been waiting for this. The angel will protect her.

On this day I wish her light, harmony, beauty, and health!

Lina Vasylivna, may you live a hundred years!

Olha BOHOMOLETS, chief physician of the Laser Medicine Clinic at the Institute of Dermatology and Cosmetology and bard:

I regard Lina Kostenko as the highest standard, an ideal, an indicator of the cultural purity of my own life. But these epithets are not enough to describe this individual. I often ponder my actions, asking myself how she would have acted in one situation or another, and this allows me to remain in harmony with my conscience.

In the early 1980s, I came across a large volume of her lyrical poems. I remember it was a hardcover, and both of its covers were blue. I opened it at random and saw her poem “Osinnii den” (Autumn Day). I read it and realized it wasn’t a poem but a song. That was the first song I ever wrote. To be more precise, I didn’t compose it, I simply heard the music in Kostenko’s poem. After that I set many other songs to her poems. There were many victories during Ukrainian and international original song competitions. All these victories were possible because Kostenko’s lyrical poetry awakened this music in me. Then I met the poet for the first time. It is a great honor for me that she attends my concerts and that I have the opportunity to talk to her.

Lina Kostenko is a personality that does not allow me to err in life, especially when it comes to public and political activities (sometimes it is very difficult to act according to the dictates of one’s conscience rather than by the generally accepted rules. The fact that I’m still setting songs to her lyrical poems is proof that my soul and conscience are in absolute harmony with her creativity.

From the bottom of my heart I wish Lina Kostenko good health and lasting creative inspiration.

Academician Ivan DZIUBA:

Lina Kostenko’s earliest collection of poetry was proof that an extremely powerful poetic personality had joined Ukraine’s literary community. Her organic estrangement from all vain “topical issues,” her sensitive perception and experience of important moral and civic problems, the demands of the era, the natural purity of her lyrical world, the culture of her writing, her independent voice, and the clearly apparent creative scope instantly attracted readers. This impassioned attention and care from her readers have not abandoned her for half a century, because they find supreme understanding in her work.

In the poetry of Lina Kostenko the alarmingly tense world is marked by the seal of singular individual experiences. These are words of destiny, not biography. Destiny speaks in terms of eternal universal realities of human life and spirit. Here you can find the boundlessness of the individual, which continues to be created, which endures and continues to endure, which changes and continues to change, asserting itself in the course of spiritual growth. Here one finds creativity refusing to succumb to whatever trials that destiny — or more prosaic forces, philosophical issues, and psychological nuances of daily realities — may have in store for them. Here one finds an apology of wholeness and the will to be oneself, which is germane to Kostenko (seldom encountered in our age of transitions from internal turmoil into internal laceration). All these and other spiritual stratagems are overgrown with subtle variations in the infinite variety of lightning-quick contacts with the flow of contemporary life.

For Kostenko, literature and art are the most sensitive nerves of the social organism. It is that structure which is capable of detecting all its emanations and influencing its health or illness. Her greatest fear is whether Ukraine will be adequately recreated in the immortality of words, for “Only threats revealed in words / Can live a worthy life on earth.”

We find countless examples in history. Kostenko is writing a “Great Book of Our People” with her poetic epos, dramas in verse, and popular writings. Since people are expecting new words of truth from her, they are imminent. Of this I am certain.

Larysa KADYROVA, People’s Artist of Ukraine:

I am happy to be able to communicate with Lina Kostenko. I have lived a long life, but I am always learning from her. I am learning to understand people, the stylistics of conduct in communication. She is my spiritual tuning fork.

I love Kostenko’s poetry for its swift brilliance. She formulates thoughts so adeptly that they are profound, wise, and tactful. At the same time they are fashioned out of ordinary words that fall softly into your soul: “Sometimes beauty blinds me. / I stop, not knowing what this wonder is...” My in-law, who is a parish priest, recites these lines when he joins a young couple in marriage. These lines are meant to encourage love for our land and its people.

Whenever I see that my students are capable of understanding Kostenko’s poetry, I encourage their interest. That was how a composition based on her work Marusia Churai came to be, with Marusia portrayed as a lyrical, dramatic, singing, and loving image. There were seven Marusias, revealing the multiple facets of the Ukrainian woman.

When I read Lina Kostenko, Lesia Ukrainka, Taras Shevchenko, and Ivan Franko, I enrich myself. I love showing Lina Kostenko my new works. Even though she does not know all the secrets of the theater, she is keenly aware of them and never fails to pinpoint shortcomings in a production.

I have been friends with Lina Kostenko for a long time, when I was still with the Maria Zankovetska Theater in Lviv. Since that time, the beautiful filament of our friendship has been very dear to me. Extremely refined pieces of intellectual designs, ideas, and emotions may be embroidered with this thread.

Mykola ZHULYNSKY, academician:

Lina Kostenko is a position, a proud national position. I am turning the pages of her first collection of poetry, Prominnia zemli (Rays of the Earth), with a profound sense of human dignity. She declares her independent stand in these lines:

I shall not beg people to give me strength,
I have never begged for anything in my life...

The poet reaffirmed her ethical credo during the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy roundtable “The Poetry of Lina Kostenko in Transitional Times and Eternal Ones” where she declared that “Whining and complaining means the absence of dignity.”

Indeed, none of those who have known her well in all the past dramatic years of her creative life (she was not published for 16 years, yet no one ever heard a word of complaint from her). Meanwhile, other people filed complaints against her. One of them was the artistic director of Kyiv’s State Philharmonic Society, who complained to the culture minister of the Ukrainian SSR on Feb. 1, 1982, that Kostenko had slapped him in public, accusing him of damaging her human and professional dignity after he canceled the literary soiree featuring her novel in verse Marusia Churai, and in retaliation for his boorish treatment of Nila Kriukova, Merited Artist of the Ukrainian SSR, who was supposed to read from this work.

This was a position, the “sole tested method of self-protection” and, at the same time, a challenge to the system, which through the hands of out-and-out bureaucrats, was doing its dark deeds by engaging in administrative meddling in the creative sphere. Some will say that Lina Kostenko is silent. No, she is not. Her voice is heard in the lasting confrontation between the genius and the mob (Marusia Churai), the pitched encounter between the human soul and the sinful world; the confrontation between things harmonious and disharmonious (“Snowfall in Florence”), in her memories, dreams, in Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s nightmares (Berestechko).

Kostenko the poet is in constant dialog with history, the present day, and future realities. She is living up to her own image of the “pilgrim of ages,” who journeys along the paths of history, heading toward her Word. This is likely the only way of experiencing freedom. Not coincidentally, Lina Kostenko once said about herself, “Sometimes I am the silence of a free person who has been strangled.” But words are not silent; these silver birds vitalize the Universe.”

Leonid FINBERG, director of Dukh i literatura Publishers:

Dear Lina Vasylivna:

You have been gifting your readers — all of Ukraine — with the great poetry of hope that rescued us in what seemed to be the hopeless years of Soviet stagnation. You taught us the wisdom of Marusia Churai in the years of disillusionment, and we have preserved the faith together with you. You taught our children the pure Ukrainian word with The Lilac Emperor, and they followed you gladly.

We need your words so badly these days!

Marichka PROKOPETS, second-year student majoring in Document and Information Processing at Ostroh Academy National University:

“...To do something, leaving something of ourselves behind, /But we shall pass like shadows, / Just so that the blue eyes of the sky /Can see this earth in bloom ...” (Lina Kostenko)

The name of our poet Lina Kostenko contains the Ukrainian spirit, Ukrainian conscience, and Ukrainian national history. Her pen has touched the sanctum sanctorum — our memory that was killed for decades and which is in our genes. No matter how life tried to break the tender Lina, sometimes proffering success and recognition, she always remained true to herself. Her world was exposed to all the headwinds. Lina Kostenko’s tender strength and infernal obstinacy poured out of her reflections on mankind’s destiny (“Oi, ni, shche rano dumaty pro tse”; It is too early to contemplate this), her fear of the disappearance of humaneness from humans (The Garden of Unmelting Sculptures), man doomed to fight wars (“Tut obeliskiv tsila rota”; Here is a Whole Company of Obelisks; “Pastoral XX storichchia”; XX Century Pastoral), the Chornobyl disaster, and the gradual oblivion into which folk culture is falling.

As an honest and uncompromising poet, Lina Kostenko upholds universal human values, urging us not to forfeit out national dignity: “We must temper our voices not with luxuriant and colorful empty words.” These lines from Kostenko’s poetry are like guidelines for the younger generation:

...Fear not the biting line,
Fear not truth, however bitter,
Fear not sorrows
Though they be like rivers.
Man, fear deceiving your soul:
For if you act against it,
It will be forever!

Wise people have said that a nation cannot exist without creating great things that profess nobility of spirit, fidelity, justice, love, truth, and the colors of Ukrainian embroidery. We are alive because we have our pride: our Lina Kostenko! Her creativity is the road that my Fatherland, my people, and I are taking.

Serhii STUKANOV, graduate student in Philosophy, Donetsk National University, and member of the Ostroh Free Youth Intellectual Exchange Club:

The Ukrainian word for “artificiality” (shtuchnist) comes from the noun shtuka, meaning art, but it signifies incompatible notions: as soon as art appears, artificiality disappears. Lina Kostenko, being aware of the consequences of her (artificiality) emergence, wrote about her poetry: “If they are sad, let them be sad, / As long as they don’t laugh with artificial laughter.” This contrast between artificial laughter and (sincere) sorrow does not seem coincidental because, in my opinion, Lina Kostenko reaches the summits of verisimilitude in her love lyrics, which are often enveloped in profound sorrow. Her love poems, born of love or other related sentiments, are strikingly refined. Every word, especially what you can read between the lines, the overtones (“...what was not said was left unsaid...”) acquire “immortal sense,” and a yearning for it runs through her entire body of work.

Kostenko’s poetry, while lyrical and sensitive in form, remains philosophical in content. Almost always her poems have something to do with topics relating to eternity (and transience). Fully aware that I cannot elucidate this aspect in a single paragraph, and that attempting to do this would look absurd at the very least, I will still try to emphasize a certain aspect linked to love.

Love in Kostenko’s poetry emerges as a domain in which the contradiction between the subject and the object of love is overcome: falling in love means being loved in return: “I am a tree, I am snow, / I am everything I love.” This identification of the one who loves and the one who is loved (“I am what I love”) makes it possible to assume that “I am who I am because I am in love.” In other words, love is what forms me as an individual. Kostenko writes: “I am a tree, I am snow, / I am everything I love, / This is perhaps my supreme essence.”

Along with love poems, an essential part of Kostenko’s creative heritage is comprised of works from such genres as civic poetry, the historical novel, and poems about nature. But for me she is primarily a true singer of love; therefore, she knows how to love and be loved in return. Feelings precede their embodiment in poems just like a pony whinnies amidst the tall grass, although there are no longer any melodies.

Olha RESHETYLOVA, member of the Ostroh Free Youth Intellectual Exchange Club:

I became acquainted with Lina Kostenko’s poetry in the fifth or sixth grade. Our teacher, fresh from the university, was telling us about modern Ukrainian literature. One day she recited a poem that would become the motto of my life. I forgot the poet’s name at the time, but I told myself that I would learn it by heart. Now and then I wake up with these lines running through my head: “Words are terrible when they are silent...”

I am not a poet, so I will repeat “...the words that already belonged to others...” To me, your creativity paradoxically combines a woman’s wisdom and childlike naivete; frankness and a deep subtext; the extraordinarily melodic nature of your language and the iron clanging of the 20th century. It cannot keep one constantly captivated; one has to approach it each time with a new perception of the surrounding world. However, your words cannot “be terrible.” They are never silent because “poetry” is in them, “some invisible touch on the soul...”

Olha HULKO, second-year student majoring in Ukrainian Philology, National University of Ostroh Academy:

One time an organizer of a public meeting said that “the rebellious Lina Kostenko” had also taken part in it. What does the word “rebellious” mean? The dictionary gives the meaning as “recalcitrant,” “seditious.” People say that these epithets accurately describe Lina Kostenko.

That is the way I see her, in the rays of her struggle, her desperation, her entire spiritual effort to act, convince, and do something that make people awestruck. This is what the author of Rays of the Earth, Wanderings of the Heart, On the Banks of the Eternal River, Originality, and The Garden of Unmelting Sculptures should be like.

Lina Kostenko is a personality capable of leading millions to follow her in order to cleanse their souls of moral decay. Like the phoenix, she constantly rises from the ashes of pain, shame, and envy. She is our Joan of Arc, who hears the voices of truth and faith. She is also the prototype of Marusia Churai, who sang her songs so that our people would not forget their history, who called for taking up arms to prevent the enemy from interfering with the life of the Ukrainian people, its strength and creativity, so that we could strengthen our power.

This is what Lina Kostenko means to me; this is what the poet can be to anyone who opens his heart to the struggle, fraternity, and glory of the Ukrainian nation.

Liudmyla MASYK, M.A. student in Ukrainian Philology, National University of Ostroh Academy:

Being uncompromising has two aspects: a clear conscience and the ability to make the right choice. Sometime this uncompromising stand can be art — after all, there are a million shades even between black and white, and between “yes” and “no” there can be as much silence as can be contained in the starry sky and mirrored in lovers’ eyes. Choice, then, is the tender music of someone’s soul, a soul that seeks purity. I would call the poetry of Lina Kostenko “music of the pure soul.”

I have been studying Lina Kostenko’s creative heritage since my second year at university. I started by studying her occasional vocabulary, and later the historicism of her creative thought. Now I am studying the specifics of her creative heritage. Sometimes it seems as though Kostenko’s creative world is a small planet where you are granted or denied entry. There is no alternative. It is impossible to see it from a distance, like another star, or visit it now and then. You are either on that planet or outside it.

Lina Kostenko’s writing has style, charm, and authentic women’s energy. It is permeated with that intriguingly tart tenderness of a woman who “simply wants some happiness, taut and sweet, like chocolate.” It is a shame, though, that happiness and the refusal to compromise are two different notions that are very difficult to combine even with the musical chords of a pure soul.

Natalia ANTONIUK, fourth-year student at Ostroh Academy’s Law Faculty:

Quite often, understanding of certain things, which at first glance are not very important but which have an impact on the essence of our life and everyday routines, comes with the aid of unique promptings. Such “hints” to solutions of problems always come out of the blue, at a moment when nobody is thinking about them, out of the mouths of people who have nothing to do with our life. Truth is often close by in words, sounds, or the movements of someone who is nearby. Truth comes in the form of silence, paper, or lyrical lines.

Lina Kostenko and her poetry always open my eyes to things that have special importance. It seems that every line of her poetry has a special encoded content and a particular solution to a very troubling problem. Love, the struggle for truth, the eternal desire for freedom, and the maintenance of Ukrainian traditions that were being subordinated to certain standard cliches — one finds all this in the poetic works created by this intrepid woman.

Oleksii KOSTIUCHENKO, M.A. student in Document and Information Processing, National University of Ostroh Academy:

In our day there are few individuals with as many talents as Lina Kostenko. Frankness, sensitivity, high erudition, and intelligence are the epithets I can use to describe her. Her poems are like prayers from which you derive life-giving energy and which help you to grasp many important things. I am more than convinced that her work will be immortal because the problems of good and evil and the problems of human relations, which the poet raises, are always topical, and will be even in the distant future.

Dmytro STUS, Candidate of Philology, editor of the journal Kyivska Rus’, and winner of the Taras Shevchenko Prize:

“My Lina Kostenko” may not be the real Lina Kostenko, but she is a symbol of Ukrainian women. She is a nonconformist, womanly, and sensitive. She is an absolutely complete personality. To use modern terminology, this is a woman who knows what love is; she feels it, and is absolutely indifferent to what is being advertised in the media and which can be described by the word “sex.” This is a person that does not simply disrespect, but disdains everything that is artificial and synthetic.

Ihor PASICHNYK, rector of National University of Ostroh Academy:

Lina Kostenko’s creativity is a reflection of an entire era. It is a shame that to this day her poetry has not been widely translated into English, because then the whole world could admire her talent.

Lina Kostenko is our only female contemporary who truly deserves being nominated for the Nobel Prize. I am ashamed that neither our government nor her fellow Ukrainians have done anything to popularize her works internationally to pay tribute to a woman who is a symbol of Ukraine.

Serhii BUKOVSKY, film director:

The topic of “My Lina Kostenko” is something personal, like poetry in general. I would even describe this as something intimate. A good friend of mine once said that she cried when she read Marusia Churai. This is something that only close friends can share, people who really understand each other. So I’m sorry, but I’m not prepared to share something like this with your readers. Not so long ago I was able to discuss the 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone with Lina Kostenko. Our impressions are very similar. I’m looking forward to producing a documentary about the Chornobyl Zone. Maybe my dream will come true.

Lina Kostenko was born in the springtime. That’s a very good sign for all of us. I often visit my native village, passing through the Kaniv hills and Rzhyshchiv, then down to the Dnipro River, past the old moorage, the bay, and the Mirage Bar with its expressive name. Lina Kostenko was born in Rzhyshchiv. Happy birthday, dear Lina Vasylivna! We love you!

Petro KRALIUK, first vice-rector of National University of Ostroh Academy:

Lina Kostenko represents and symbolizes the Sixtiers movement with its sincere quest for national truth, intellectualism, and philosophical nature. At the same time, it was characterized by a certain naivete that frequently betrayed its members, preventing them from “fitting into life.” Marusia Churai, who also did not “fit into” the whirlwind of life, was probably a unique “artistic portrait” for the poet.

Lina Kostenko is a great poet. You will not find any pompous verbiage in her works, pathos, or symbolism that probably dates back to Shevchenko’s times. Instead, you will find “poetic magic” that will capture you and against which you are not capable of struggling even if you reject Kostenko’s truths.

She was not allowed to speak in the 1960s and 1970s. That was probably when her poetry could have caused the biggest reverberations. What about now? Today most Ukrainians admire Verka Serdiuchka and the heroes of Russia’s TV series, and Lina Kostenko is no longer topical, unfortunately.

Viacheslav BRIUKHOVETSKY, honorary president of National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy:

A poet is destined to ruthlessly and prophetically sense the truth with his heart where others do not even suspect anything. One could write an essay tracing how Lina Kostenko defines the dominant features of time through the very flesh of her creative world. The imagistic fabric of her poetry “materializes” through her aphoristic penetrations into the essence of phenomena. While we were groaning beneath the heavy yoke of communist-socialist censorship, Kostenko was writing: “Seek thy censor in yourself.” She not only proclaimed this principle, she adopted it as an unwavering creative and moral postulate. Eventually, having proudly bypassed all those real ignoramuses, the censors, she made her final diagnosis through one of her characters, an itinerant deacon:

They keep writing to please someone or other,
But they all want lentils, like Esau.

Let us recall more recent times, when we were celebrating our long- cherished freedom that has been reborn today as all-permissiveness and the base luxuriant lives of arrogant little people without talent; little people for whom the concepts of empathy and justice, the torments of creativity and conscience do not exist, for whom the greatest advantages (no matter what kind), and the faster the better, are the main thing. The poet warned us: “Neo-cynicism is nigh, I do not exist in it.” Then she fell silent into trembling pain.

I don’t know whether this is the best way to combat the new plague of spiritual amorality, but this was Lina Kostenko’s decision and I respect it.

Yet I am painfully aware of the excessively long wait for the poet’s new works, her poems and prose. This has turned into fearful expectation, which at times appears hopeless. It is disgusting to be surrounded by elderberry-smoking moral mongrels, all those ravens soaring above carrion. Dear Lina Vasylivna! A horse is alive when his hooves ring out over the vast fields, his ears pricking.

Since my student years I have recited your line like a prayer: “You, dark forces, will perish before this horse falls...”

Viktor PUSHKIN, chairman of the Department of History and Political Theory, National Mining University (Dnipropetrovsk):

Borys Oliinyk once aptly described people like Lina Kostenko as “the pillars of the nation.” She is strong and independent, immune to flattery and earthly temptations, and has a brilliant command of the language. She is a small part of her long- suffering people that never loses its optimism; she is its pain and conscience. With her brilliant knowledge of real history, Lina Kostenko indefatigably reminds us of how dangerous it is for a nation to lose its ethical guidelines and allow itself to be ruled by greedy and unprincipled people. The tragic destiny of such unique personalities is that they are respected by everyone but are heard and understood by few. Their earthly mission is to be heard.

Vasyl VOVKUN, Minister of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine:

Only God knows Lina Kostenko. Her Vasyls and Oksana also know her. But we are completely incapable of understanding her, so we often fail to understand ourselves. Maybe she is with us to make everything happen through her.

God bless you! May you live a hundred years!

Lina Vasylivna! In the distorted mirrors of contemporary reality you may well be the only individual who has remained herself and unattainable with your pure conscience, which you inherited from or were given by our people to keep it safe.


Recently, my friend and colleague, a Polish historian who is a visiting lecturer at the University of Rome, expressed the regret that Lina Kostenko has not visited his country in a long time. He also said that the special atmosphere of my meetings with his fellow countrymen exists because all these people want to “touch the legend” through me. This legend is my mother. I told myself: “For heaven’s sake, what is happening to these people? Is it nostalgia, a need for poetry, solidarity, or the noble onset of relations among individuals and among nations, which is carried inside a poet who has survived the living hell of totalitarian rule without ever breaching her own moral code?

I constantly hear such reactions and reverberations wherever I go, and what happiness this is! I remember my encounter in Florence — after the fall of the Berlin Wall — with Giancarlo Vigorelli, the former president of the European Writers’ Union, which had disbanded itself in protest against the Soviet occupation of Prague. He told me that Lina Kostenko’s protest against the deployment of Soviet troops to Czechoslovakia was regarded as the moral salvation of Ukraine. At the time Soviet Ukraine did not seem to exist for the rest of the world. Then it emerged through the resistance of its intellectuals. And in order to know about this protest, establish contacts among intellectuals throughout the world no television, promotion campaigns, or spin doctors were needed, only the electric arc of ethics.

It is difficult to write about someone who is your flesh and blood, who makes you travel the distance between the history of culture and the history of your love for this person, or to be more precise, when the history of culture becomes the “inner history” of relations. Then you have tea with that “legend” and grumble about the need to put on warm clothing when it’s cold outside. At the same time, you know that everything that nurtures anyone in daily life turns into poetic words, passes into a different dimension, and begins to exist in a different time. You know that your mother is here beside you, but that she is also omnipresent: “I am a tree, I am snow, / I am everything that I love, / This is perhaps my supreme essence.” This is an unconquered elemental force, iron discipline, a laser-sharp view of things, prophetic statements, almost like the Cumaean Sibyl.

Sometimes I tell her not to rock the boat. I ask her what will happen and she will tell me. And things happen precisely as she told me. During the era of naive hopes and general euphoria, my mother said, “I don’t want to play any role in this satanic show... “Neo-cynicism is nigh. I do not exist in it.” And she kept her promise. And next to all this there are irony and fantasy, perception of the world throughout her being, love for the subtlest movement of the human soul, the tiniest manifestation of nature, for that little mushroom that is getting ready to grow. Mama would cover it with fallen leaves so that it would grow in warmth. “Since childhood all trees have loved me / And Mr. Elder understands me...”

Therefore, I will simply say: Dear Mama, together with Slava, Vasylko, and his little ones, I wish you a Happy Birthday. Greetings to us too, because you are our beloved Mama. We greet you and ourselves and all those who love you on your birthday, when you came into this world in order to create your own. We wish you sunny energy for your work, which means joyful tranquility for completing the work that you have begun and quiet joy for starting a new work. Your freedom resides in your words; your words are your freedom. I often ponder what Giovanni Francesco Rustici says in your “Snow of Florence”: “Maybe I want to draw birds on a linen cloth with a silver pencil!” We wish you to always have time to draw such birds despite international and local political and moral chaos. “At night, from the chaos of insomnia, /When my Universe comes alive, / My unconquered words fly out / Like silver birds.” May the light of these unconquered “silver birds” of your poetry keep flying, shedding light and helping people to live, love, and be free.

God bless everything your hands and your soul touch.

Yaroslava Francesca BARBIERI:

Dear Mama Linochka:

Your Slava sends her greetings. You know that I love you and always will; that memories of you and all our joys and sorrows are alive in my heart. They have always been there, when I was a toddler and now that I am in my teens. You left love in my genes — love of true things and of poetry. It is an invaluable gift, and I thank you for being with us.

I started reading your work about the “nightingale with a bad cold” that “lies underneath a plaid” and “drinks hot tea with honey.” This nightingale will always fly in my thoughts, and I will keep dreaming with him and searching for the truth. Thank you for always being near us, for giving wings to this disobedient teenager, who loves you so much.

Like that “soul of the ages that seeks itself in words,” I am looking for “unforeseen words” while writing my own words, and I want to hear that “Someone is dictating from above this world,” in your Universe, which is also my Universe.

May you and all of us always have that little nightingale “with a cold” and that “soul of the ages.”

I remember when I was a little girl, how you and I would wave a bunch of parsley and yell Forza Italia! Forza Ucraina! I have lots of forza from my Mama Linochka!

I wish you good health and strength that would match my love for you, as well as fiery creativity, because according to your horoscope you are a Fiery Horse.

Love and kisses. I want to sign my name the way I did when I was a little girl:

“Your beloved Slavochka.”