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Who is doctor Franko?

Ukrainians, like any other nation that was long enslaved, are inclined to the mythologizing and even canonizing its national heroes; as a result, they are destined in the postcolonial time to again and again tear masks and labels off someone they themselves had put on a pedestal. The figures that had been put and forgotten are in fact live and true people, like Skovoroda, Shevchenko, Lesia, Franko…

There was time when Ivan Franko’s name thundered across Europe, primarily thanks to his sharp journalistic articles and feuilletons in leading magazines of the end of XIX – the beginning of XX century, e.g. in Viennese Die Zeit. Nowadays, his name is familiar to every Ukrainian, while he himself slyly glances at us from the 20-hryvnia bills almost every day.

Faust in an embroidered shirt


In the village of Nahuyevychi, Drohobych district, in the family of blacksmith Yakiv Franko and Maria from the Kulchytsky family, the firstborn son Ivan was born


First surviving poetry and dramatic attempts


Entry to Lviv University.


First poetry collection "Ballads and Stories" and first novel "Petriyas and Dovbushchuks"


Married Olga from the Khoruzhynsky family

1887, 1889, 1890, 1892

Birth of children - Andriy, Taras, Petro and Hanna


Co-founder and first chairman of the Russian-Ukrainian Radical Party, the first Ukrainian political party.


Defense of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Vienna


25th anniversary of his creative activity


Settles with his family in his own house in Lviv, now the Franko House


The poem "Moses"


Exacerbation of the disease (infectious rheumatoid polyarthritis)


40th anniversary of his creative activity


Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature

May 1916

Died at his home, buried at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv

So what is he like – our Ivan Franko?

When a young 19-year-old provincial, a Drohobych gymnasium graduate, and a one-minute-away-from-being university student stepped for the first time on Lviv cobblestones, little did he know that just in a year he would publish his first collection of poetry and his first novel, edit a popular magazine and become a local celebrity. He was also ignorant of the fact that just in two years, instead of being a decent Austrian citizen and a gifted young man with great prospects and a soon-to-be wedding, he would suddenly turn into a prizoner of the Austrian prizon, and after being released in nine unbearably long months, he would feel like an outcast, a pariah, completely lonely without any hope for personal happiness. Those several arrests drastically complicated his further academic and political career, and undermined his health forever, too. As not only did he get one of the strongest life experiences out of these arrests, leaving deep marks on his creative work (speaking of their influence on the reader), but he also was attacked with a rheumatoid arthritis, that would finally paralyze both of the writer’s hands.

Ivan Franko was undoubtedly a grand figure of the cultural community of that time.

Doctor F., Doctor universalis, Ukrainian Faust, Kameniar, Moses, and Self-Made Man, whom his contemporaries and descendants regarded as their genius and prophet.
Surely, time and place also played their role in the fate of this giant of the spirit. Being a subject of Emperor Frantz Joseph I, Franko was lucky enough to avoid the suffocating atmosphere of the Russian empire of evil, which he described as “the dark kingdom”. Franko grew, studied, lived and worked in a multinational European country; he could freely travel across the Eastern Europe, actively publish his works in numerous periodicals in different languages (including the capital Viennese ones), directly communicate with outstanding European intellectuals of his time and was deeply and seamlessly rooted into the cultural context of the Western civilization, that was actually experiencing the era of intense modernization.

However, Franko’s story, like that of most of Ukrainian successful people, was the story “despite”. In this changing and fluid coordinate system, Franko clearly defined his national identity, choosing not to be Austrian, German or Polish. In this changing and fluid coordinate system, Franko clearly defined his national identity, choosing not to be Austrian, German or Polish. He consciously chose to be a Ukrainian – at the time when it demanded considerable intellectual courage and personal dedication.

He was not to become either a professor, official-bureaucrat, member of parliament, or office plankton. Rather than that, he managed to become himself, by working with volcanic energy, beyond measure and possibility. Бо працював з вулканічною енергією, понад міру і понад можливості. And when he was once presented with a laurel wreath at an anniversary celebration, the leaves from this wreath ended up in a borsch cooked by his wife Olha.

He also managed to preserve himself. As each of these descriptions has Franko inside it.
“A forest soul”, that wandered for days among bushes and trees, looking for interlocutors – where the animals could talk.

A fanatical mushroom picker and fisherman, who knew mushrooms better than the Carpathian mountaineers, and could catch an eely trout from cold mountain streams with his bare hands.

A real prodigy with phenomenal memory, who could repeat the teacher’s lecture word for word, even if he listened to it out of the corner of his ear, who started to earn money early by tutoring and writing creative works for his classmates.

A polyglot, translator-record holder, who consciously built “golden bridges of understanding and empathy” among various cultures by means of translation. Thus, thanks to him, more than 200 authors from 20 languages and over 40 national literatures and folk traditions – since the most ancient times till the beginning of XX century – became closer to the Ukrainian reader. Through Franko, classics of the world literature started speaking Ukrainian.
A passionate bibliophile that eagerly collected his library since the gymnasium, often depriving himself of food, but never sparing any money on books. Until the end of hils life, he had collected a unique collection of more than 12 thousand volumes from all knowledge domains, types and genres of literature (the price of his personal library could be compared with the price of his house in Lviv, but he refused to sell it, declining even the offer from Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytskyi!).

One of the main creators of the modern Ukraininan language. And not only the language of literary or journalistic art, but also scientific terminology of various fields.

He was most attracted by literature, though. First and foremost, he wished to be not just an erudite reader, but an independent author-creator.
Therefore, he actually became the first Ukrainian professional writer, who earned his living exceptionally with his literary work. At the same time, Franko equally effectively demonstrated his talents in various forms and genres – as a poet, prose writer, playwright, and publicist.

He wrote 10 collections of poetry (Ballads and Stories, From the Peaks and Valleys, Withered Leaves, My Emerald, Semper Tiro and others), 50 poems, over 100 short stories and fairytales, that comprised 18 collections of short prose, and 10 works of large prose genres – novellas and novels (Boa constrictor, Zakhar Berkut, For Home Hearth, The Crossroads and others), more than a dozen plays and countless number of sketches, articles and essays.
He was nominated for a Nobel prize in literature back in 1915 (the first Ukrainian, by the way!), but did not receive the prize due to his untimely death.

Franko is not only one of the most productive, but also one of the most famous Ukrainian writers of all times. The key here is not only the amount of his works and the scale of his deeds.

Franko-writer still never leaves the reader indifferent. And that’s not because he is a programmatic author today, universally recognized classic from a school textbook, but primarily due to the “liveliness”, relevance and attractiveness of his texts.
The main Franko’s secret lies in the fact that, despite a colossal, simply superhuman polytextuality of his legacy, the most interesting of his works is himself. Because even with paralyzed hands, Franko continued to create to the last, mostly dictating texts to his secretaries, and sometimes clutching a pencil or pen in his messy left hand and writing each letter separately, as in children’s handwriting, or as if carving it into granite or marble or his heart.

Franko writer still does not leave us indifferent. And not because today he is a programmatic author, a universally recognized classic from the school textbook, but primarily because of the “vitality”, relevance, and appeal of his texts. Franko’s main secret is that, despite the colossal, superhuman multitextuality of his work, the most interesting of his works is himself.