Happy Women’s History Month. Given the ongoing devastation happening in Eastern Europe, we thought to turn our attention to appreciating the women that paved the way for Ukrainian feminism. Every country has its own group of incredible women that revolutionized the feminist movement, and Ukraine has some icons to offer. From theatre to poetry, Ukraine’s female history is enriched with arts and culture.
Ukrainian feminism originated in women’s organizations primarily focused on self-help and community. It was not at first about women’s liberation, but in fact, a response to the needs of the entire community as Ukraine experienced oppression under consecutive colonial rules. Women’s organizations popped up everywhere and soon evolved into the women’s rights groups we know today. Despite 100s of women and girls being involved, there were some clear pioneers worth celebrating!
Nataliia Kobrynska (1855-1920)
Natalia created the Society of Ruthenian Women in Stanyslaviv in 1884. The society’s mission was “to promote women’s ideas via literature, for the latter is the best way to show the bright and dark sides of our social system, its requirements, and drawbacks.” She was humiliated in her lifetime and appreciated after her death – now, she is considered the pioneer of the Ukrainian feminist movement.
Maria Zankovestska (1854-1934)
Maria was known as a legend of Ukrainian theatre. She played more than 30 roles during her life, mainly consisting of dramatic heroines. She challenged the status quo and promoted local art and literature in times of strict censorship. Alongside director Nikolay Sadovsky, Zankovestska opened the first repertory theatre. After 40 years in the industry, she was the first person to be awarded by the government the high title of the People’s Artist of the Republic!
Olga Kobylianska (1863-1942)
Ukraine’s feminist movement would not have been the same without the writer Olga Kaboylianska. Through her skill with words, she articulated society’s problems in her time and shaped a new view of life. She was one of the first to embrace feminism in Ukrainian literature and raise women’s voices. One of her early works was titled “Something about the idea of the feminist movement.” Her house in Chernivtsi is now a memorial museum.
Sofiia Okunevskaya (1865 – 1926)
Sofiia was the first female doctor (and graduate) in the Austro-Hungarian empire at a time when women could not go to university, let alone be a doctor. She traveled to Switzerland to get her medical qualifications, but it took a long time before a university in the Austro-Hungarian empire recognized her diploma. After that, she made waves, established a school of obstetricians and gynecologists, and took part in the women’s movement alongside friends Olga Kobylianska and Nataliia Kobrynska.
Milena Rudnytska (1892-1976)
Between WW1 and WW2, Milena became one of the leading activists of the women’s movement in Western Ukraine. She was an executive member and then president of the Union of Ukrainian Women and one of the First Ukrainian Women’s Congress organizers in 1934. She also represented Ukraine at international women’s conferences and founded the Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance! She left a far-reaching legacy and permanent impression on women’s rights in Ukraine.
These women shaped the women’s rights movement in Ukraine; we all have a long way to go with gender equality; still, it’s important to celebrate the wins of the past. Which historical female figure inspires you? What rights did women get because of their actions? How did they revolutionize gender norms in their society, era, or field?
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