Mykola Riabchuk is a Ukrainian poet, translator, prose writer and essayist, the president of Ukrainian PEN-center and a senior research fellow at the Institute of Political and Nationalities’ Studies of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Born in 1953 in the city of Lutsk, he spent his adolescent years in Lviv. In 1970-1973, he studied in the Lviv Polytechnic Institute but was expelled for the unauthorized literary activity, and had to take various odd jobs – of a railway builder, theater electrician, loader at a book factory and alike.
In the 1980s, as perestroika advanced, he made his M.A. in the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow, and took position of an editor in the Kyiv-based journal of international literature “Vsesvit” where he was promoted eventually to the rank of a section editor and the deputy editor-in-chief. His numerous articles in the best Ukrainian and Russian journals brought him a fame of the leading Ukrainian literary critic and publicist. At that time, he received a number of awards for the best articles of a year, starting from Literaturna Ukraina (1981) and Literaturnoe obozrenie (1984, to Ukrainska kultura (1988) and Suchsnist (1993). Perestroika enabled also publication of his earlier works disseminated in the 1970s – early 80s illegally, in samvydav.
In 1997, he co-founded (with the Harvard professor George Grabowicz) the “Krytyka” monthly and managed it as the executive editor till 2000. Since then, he was increasingly engaged in the academic work as both a lecturer and researcher, defended his Ph.D. in political sciences, and published a number of scholarly works – primarily in Ukrainian but also in Polish, English, Russian – three other languages that he is operational.
His many books include a collection of poetry “Winter in Lviv” (1989), two collections of literary criticism – “The Need for a Word” (1985) and “Sisyphus and Rocks” (2016), three collections of short stories – “Elsewhere, Just Not Here” (2002, second edition 2017), “Previous Life” (2013, Polish translation 2018), and “Hundred Anecdotes” (2014), and many collections of essays, in particular – “From ‘Little Russia’ to Ukraine” (2000, Polish translation 2002, French and Serbian 2003), “Dilemmas of the Ukrainian Faustus” (2001), “Two Ukraines” (2003, Polish translation 2004, second edition 2006), Die reale und die imaginierte Ukraine (2006), Metternich’s Garden (2008, Polish translation 2010), Mrs. Simpson’s Favorite Gun (2009), Postcolonial Syndrom (2011, Polish translation 2015, Hungarian 2016), “Gleichschaltung. Authoritarian Consolidation in Ukraine” (2012, in both Ukrainian and English).
He was distinguished with the POLCUL award in 1998, Polish-Ukrainian Capitula award in 2002 (with Jacek Kuron) and the Bene merito medal of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2009 for his contribution into Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation. As a Fulbrighter, he taught at Pen State University in 1994-95, University of Texas at Austin in 1996, and carried out research at George Washington University in 2016. He was a visiting professor at Columbia University in 2006 and University of Alberta in 2007-2008, and recurrently, since 2002 till present, at the University of Warsaw.
Since 2014, he heads the jury of the Angelus literary award endowed by the city Wroclaw for the best book by a Central East European writer published in Poland, and the Yuri Sheveliov national award for the best essays, endowed by the Ukrainian PEN-center.
He demonstrates a high level of analytical thought – still rare, it must be admitted, in his native country. He does not hesitate to break historical myths, always animated by an intellectual joy that makes the pages we are going to read so stimulating. His irony and freedom of tone remind me of the best of recent Polish literature. He jostles the usual categories, the most inveterate clichés. The picture of the country he paints, looks very dire and the prospects disturbing. But the very existence of such free and intelligent minds in Ukraine provides a good reason not to lose hope.
Alain Besançon, preface to Mykola Riabtchouk’s “De la petit Russie à l’Ukraine” (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2003)
The reading of Riabchuk’s book is a valuable experience. The essays it includes are, without a doubt, great pieces of analytical work and reveal the masterful style of the author’s essayist skills. Importantly, the conclusions presented in the book are a result of Riabchuk’s own reflections and observations, but are also a part of the wider, international debate, on the current political system in Ukraine […] This feature of the book puts it on the wider spectrum of international discourse on political systems in Eastern Europe, and allows us to hazard a guess that it will probably be regarded as one of the key texts on Yanukovych’s regime.
Maryana Prokop, New Eastern Europe, no. 2, 2013.
Mykola Riabchuk, one of several excellent Ukrainian essayists…
Ryszard Kapuscinski, Imperium, Knopf, 1994.
Mykola Riabchuk’s book should be definitely translated [into Polish] and become the must-read for everybody who is interested in Ukraine.
Piotr Pogorzelski, Nowa Europa Wschodnia, nr. 1, 2010
…the excellent political commentator Mykola Ryabchuk…
Alexander Motyl, World Affairs, August 12, 2011
Mykola Riabchuk constructs his texts very skilfully and attractively. In a sense, they resemble a chess game where every next step (a narrative twist, an argument, an example) is neither random nor incidental but rather a part of a well-conceived strategy of engagement.
Roxolana Sviato, Litakcent, no. 2, 2008
The articles by Mykola Riabchuk are a “must read” for anyone wanting to understand the political-sociological situation in Ukraine.
Will Zuzak, GRC Report, 2.03.2011