Holding Ukraine’s colorful banknotes is a history lesson in the country’s struggle for independence. A dear friend had brought me the new notes on her return from Ukraine’s most recent fight to keep its border intact from its aggressive northern neighbor, Vladimir Putin’s Russia. They were beautiful, fragile and striking. I was drawn to Ukrainian poet and dramatist, Lesya Ukrainka, who appears on Ukraine’s 200-hryvnia note over a century after she inspired millions with her patriotic writing. The new currency was created in 1992 after Ukraine declared its independence from the former Soviet Union. For the first time in over eight decades, Ukraine could announce its separate identity to the world and chose to do so honoring its freedom fighters and literary giants. Lesya Ukrainka is the sole woman. That is impressive considering a country as democractic as the United States still has to acknowledge one of the many women who built her history. When New York Times conducted a poll on what women to put on the U.S. $20 bill, feminist author Gloria Steinem suggested Sojourner Truth, who fought against racism and sexism, and writer Gish Jen offered up Harriet Beecher Stowe, another abolitionist and feminist. Social media chimed in with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt garnering a high number of votes, and even Kim Kardashian getting in the mix (to my horror).
And so my journey began with Lesya, reading about her life and her work, and beginning to translate her writings for a new era. My goal now is to spread her words widely on this side of the ocean, her words which are beautiful and uplifting in times of turmoil. Check back on my translation progress!