Outstanding representatives of the culture and literature in Ukraine include novelist Nikolai Gogol, poet Taras Shevchenko, poet Ivan Franko, Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem (1859–1916) and dramatist Lesya Ukrainka, their works have become symbolic of literature in Ukraine.
Ukraine has a rich literally tradition having produce numerous notable authors; to Ukrainians, literature is a form of entertainment, expression and a lifetime passion, although the growth of the Ukrainian literature was hard due to constant foreign domination over Ukrainian territory.
In the past, oral literature, such as Cossack epic songs, where passed on by word of mouth during generations until they were ultimately committed to written form. As a result, many old Ukrainian legends and stories proliferate in printed Ukrainian literature today.
The origins of Ukraine’s national literature go back to Kyivan Rus’ time; the first manuscripts talk about religious events, biographies, and chronicles of historical events; the poetic masterpiece of this period is the anonymous epic poem Slovo o polku Ihorevim (The Tale of Igor's Campaign), a pride of the Slavic people written at the end of 12th century. The legal code of Kievan Rus or Rus'ka Pravda is another good example of ancient Ukrainian literature.
The first book printing and book publishing was established in 1574 by Ivan Fedorovych.
The baroque period put great emphasis on metaphors, hyperboles, and antitheses, principal authors in this period were Meletii Smotrytsky (1577–1633), Ioanikii Galiatovsky (?-1688), and Dymytrii Tuptalo (1651–1709). Poet and philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda (1722-94) marked the beginning of modern Ukrainian literature in the mid-18th century; he traveled throughout Ukraine and countries of the Central Europe to get to know the real people.
A leading early figure in the modern Ukrainian literally revival was Ivan Kotliarevsky (1769-1838), he wrote the 1798 epic poem "Eneida" (based on the Roman classic, Aeneid, Kotlyarevsky transformed the original Trojans into Ukrainian Cossacks) and the operetta Natalka Poltavka. His works absorbed the Ukrainian humor and reproduced the lively folk way of life, now these works became part of Ukrainian classical literature.
Classicism predominates in the writings of the novelist Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko (1778-1843) and in the plays of Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-1852).
In the 1830s, a group of Galician writers comprised by Markiian Shashkevych (1811–1843), Ivan Vahylevych (1811–1866) and Yakiv Holovatsky (1814–1888) and known as the Ruska Triitsia (Ruthenian Triad) published a literary collection under the title Rusalka Dnistrovaia (The Dniester Nymph, 1836). This endeavor used vernacular Ukrainian language and was focused on folklore and Ukrainian history.
Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861) launched a golden age of Ukrainian literature; his 1840 collection of poems Kobzar and other poetic works reflected the hopes and aspirations of the Ukrainian nation and became a declaration of the literary and intellectual independence of the Ukrainians. Taras Shevchenko became the symbol of Ukrainian culture in the world.
In the second half of the 19th century, Ukrainian writers under the Russian Empire developed a realistic style in their writings. Marko Vovchok (1833–1907), and Panas Myrny (1849–1920) were masters of realistic prose.
The end of the 19th century has seen the emergence of some well-liked writers and poets such as Ivan Franko (1856-1916) and Lesya Ukrainka (1871-1913). Ivan Franko is often referred as the most talented and prolific writer of the early 20th century in Ukraine, comparable to Shevchenko, his work spanned fiction, poetry, drama, philosophy and children’s stories, he was the first who began translating the books of the world literature into Ukrainian. Lesya Ukrainka enriched the Ukrainian creative writing with her neo-romantic poems and dramas.
During the 1920's, Ukraine saw a flowering in literature, many literally organizations were formed and new writers appeared. This renaissance was short lived. By the 1930's, Ukraine become under the control of the Soviet regime. Many Ukrainian writers choose exile; this allowed them to write with a independence that would be not possible under the Soviets. Most well-known among them were Yurii Lypa (1900–1944), Olena Teliha (1906–1942), Yevhen Malaniuk (1897–1968) and Oksana Liaturynska (1902–1970).
During 1938 to 1954, many Ukrainian writers were killed, deported or driven to suicide. Poet Maksym Rylsky (1895-1964) and Yevhen Pluzhnyk (1898-1936) were arrested and humorist Ostap Vyshnia (1889-1956) spent 10 years in labor camp. Hryhoriy Kosynka, theorist of neoclassicism Mykola Zerov (1890-1937), dramatist Mykola Kulish (1892-1937), and Mykhailo Semenko (1892-1937) were all shot. Others were forced to write on themes suitable for the Communist Party
In 1960 to 1970 a powerful artistic movement of writers known as the "Shestydesiatnyky" ("The Sixtiers") revitalized Ukrainian literature opening new horizons, some representatives of this movement were poet Lina Kostenko (1930-), screenwriter Ivan Drach (1936-), poet Vasyl Holoborodko (1945-), writer Valerii Shevchuk (1939-), writer Hryhir Tiutiunnyk (1931-1980), literary scholar Ivan Dziuba (1931-), dissident Poet Vasyl Stus (1938-1985), poet Ihor Kalynets (1939-), Vasyl Symonenko (1935-1963) and Dmytro Pavlychko (1929-). Unfortunately, many of them were accused of anti-soviet propaganda; denied permission to publish, or refused to do so; others were not published again; others were arrested and punished with long sentences.
Modern Ukrainian literature is being made today by Andrey Kurkov, Yuri Andrukhovych, Oksana Zabuzhko, Vasyl Shklyar, Yevhenia Kononenko, Ivan Malkovych, Bohdan Zholdak, Serhiy Zhadan among many other talented writers and poets.