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The Ukrainian Collections at the Library of Congress

Bohdan Yasinsky
Former Ukrainian Area Specialist


Ukraine, as a central Slavic country, plays a significant role in the development not only of its own language, but in that of other Slavic languages spoken in neighboring or nearby countries: Russian, Belarussian, Polish, Slovak, Czech, and even Serbo-Croatian. Thus publications in Ukrainian are also important for the study of other Slavic countries, especially those bordering on Ukraine.

Ukrainian books and periodicals in history, geography and culture are especially important for Belarus and Russia, since for centuries (i.e., the 10th-13th centuries) these countries were under the influence of Ukrainian (called at that time Kievan Rus') culture and church activities.

Ukrainian art ranges from that of Kievan Rus' (architecture and icons) to Cossack State (particularly Cossack Baroque, in architecture, painting and literature), to the 19th Century Romanticism associated with such representatives as Taras Shevchenko -- the greatest Ukrainian poet and painter, and sometimes called "Rembrandt of the Slavic world." Other prominent Ukrainian writers and scholars include Izmail Sreznevs'kyi, a noted scholar, Mykola Kostomarov, leader of the first political party in the Russian Empire, the Cyril-Methodius Brotherhood in Kiev, and Panteleimon Kulish, an important member of Osnova, an organization based in St. Petersburg that published a scholarly and literary periodical of the same name.

There are also many primary Ukrainian sources relating to the October revolution in Ukraine, especially in such major cities as Kiev, Kharkiv, Sevastopol', and Odessa. Other sources deal with Soviet policies and actions in Ukraine, particularly the artificial famine in Ukraine of 1932-1933, and with World War II, when Ukrainian territory was occupied by Nazi Germany.

Periodicals (official and unofficial) published in Ukraine during Glasnost and Perestroika provide important information on this particular period in Ukrainian history as well on developments in other parts of the USSR in the late-Soviet period. Finally, Ukrainian publications in the period of independence are major sources about important policy issues, e.g., the Crimea question, Chornobyl, and the development of independent Ukraine's relations with the outside world.

In addition to Ukrainian works published in Ukraine, books by authors from the Ukrainian diaspora have played significant roles in the development of Ukrainian science and scholarship in general. Works by diaspora authors in various languages are well-represented in the Library of Congress.

Ukraine at the Library of Congress

Before World War I Ukraine for all practical purposes did not exist in the Library of Congress as an East European nation with its own territory, people, and linguistic, cultural, historical, and political identity. The Ukrainian lands were under the political and administrative control of Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Romania. Thus in the l9th and early 20th centuries Ukrainian materials were treated as "Russian", "Austro-Hungarian" or "Romanian" in the Library's collections. For example, the Ruska chytanka dlia nyzhshoi gimnazii [Ukrainian Reader for Lower Classes of High School], published in Vienna in 1852, was catalogued as Russian. There were no specialists in the Library in 1870, when the book was acquired, to explain that in Austria- Hungary the term "ruskyi" was used instead of Ukrainian or Ruthenian (the official Austria-Hungarian name of that time) to denote a language spoken in Austrian-ruled Galicia, Bukovyna and Carpatho-Ukraine.

It was not until 1902 that a Slavic specialist was engaged to work on Slavica in the Library. At that time Alexis V. Babine was added to the staff of the Catalog Division. Babine was instrumental in bringing, in 1907, the Gennadii Vasil'evich Yudin collection from Russia. Among its eighty thousand titles there were several Ukrainian books, e.g., Taras Shevchenko's Kobzar', published in St. Petersburg in 1860. Although written in the Ukrainian language by the greatest Ukrainian writer, it was considered by Babine, and consequently by the Library, as a Russian accession.

In June 1917 a Slavic Section was organized within the Semitic and Oriental Division. Its first head was Dr. Peter A. Speck, who served until October 1927, when he was succeeded by Babine. In 1929 the Slavic Section was made independent of the Semitic and Oriental Division, and was reorganized as a Division of Slavic Literature. After Babine's death, Nicholas R. Rodionoff took over the Division. Rodionoff initiated early efforts to distinguish the Ukrainian holdings from the Russian.

As the result of a general reorganization of the Library in mid- 1940 by Librarian Archibald MacLeish, the Slavic Division was transferred to the Reference Department. The new Librarian devoted considerable thought to Slavic material and outlined a program in this respect that included three main points: (1) incorporation of Russian and other Slavic books into the general collection instead of maintaining them as a separate section under the Slavic Division; (2) the organization of a Slavic Center whose purpose was to "supply learned counsel and advice" to the users of Slavic books; and (3) "extending the Library's Russian holdings to cover the entire field of Russian publishing activities."

Organization of the Slavic Center was repeatedly postponed, until it finally was decided to establish the Slavic and East European Division. The new Division came into being in May 1953, with its first chief Dr. Sergius Yakobson. Yakobson had a longstanding interest in Ukraine. In cooperation with Francis J. Whitfield he compiled a booklet entitled Ukraine - A selected list of publications in English and other Western languages (Washington 1940). In 1942 Yakobson reported that the Library, "through grant funds from private organizations and foundations," was "able to utilize the services of five refugee scholars of distinction" (Report of the Librarian of Congress for 1942, p. 44). During his tenure as Chief of the Slavic and Central European Division of the Library from 1953 to 1971 -- and later as Honorary Consultant to the Division -- he demonstrated a sound, apolitical, and scholarly approach to the Slavic world. Among other things, he was instrumental in arranging for the first, albeit preliminary, survey of Ukrainica in the Library, which was conducted in 1956.

The Collections

The Library's Ukrainian collection began with the acquisition of Thomas Jefferson's personal library in 1815. Although his chief European interest was France, Jefferson collected works from or about other European countries. The Library's earliest Ukraine- related book was a three-part history of different parts of Ukraine written by Comte Jan Potocky: Historie ancienne du gouvernement de Cherson (St. Petersburg, 1804); Historie ancienne du gouvernement de Podolie (1805); and Historie ancienne du gouvernement de Wolhynie (1805). A copy of the book was presented to Jefferson by the author, and was sent through Levett Harris, the United States Consul in St. Petersburg, on August 10, 1808.

An important compendium in the field of lexicography that deserves mention is the Linguarum totius orbit vocabularia comparativa by Peter Simon Pallas, first published in 1786 and 1789. This dictionary contains 130 Ukrainian (called "little Russian") words of 18th century Ukrainian. A third example of early Ukrainica in the Library of Congress is a book by Petro Ivanovych Poletica (Pierre de Poletica), Sketch of the Internal conditions of the United States of America and their Political Relations with Europe, which was published under the pseudonym "Russian" in Baltimore in 1826. It is an English translation from the French original.

Apart from a few such early items, the first books on Ukraine reached the Library of Congress in the late 1860s. In his history of the Library of Congress, David C. Mearns furnished evidence that some publications from Russia came directly to Washington as early as 1868 since, at that time, many Ukrainian books were published in Russia proper (e.g., in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov, and other cities). Early acquisitions worth mentioning are the Malorusskii literaturnyi sbornik, edited by D. I. Mordovtsev (Saratov, 1859); O narodnoi odezhde i ubranstve rusinov, by I. F. Holovats'kyi (detached article from an unknown magazine of the 1870s); and the journal Pravda, published in L'viv in 1868-1880.

At this time some Ukrainian publications, including several periodicals, arrived at the Library of Congress via the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Deposit included some very valuable publications printed in Western Ukraine that were accessioned by the Library in the second half of the 19th century. Among them are I.F. Golovatskii (Holovats'kyi), O narodnoi odezhde i ubranstve rusynov ili russkikh v Galichine i Severno-vostochnoi Vengrii; and Etnografichnyi zbirnyk of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in L'viv, the first volume of which was accessioned in June 1900.

By 1901 there 569 "Russian" books in the Library some of which -- for example V. Koval'skii, Ruska chytanka dlia nyzh'shoi gimnazii (Vienna, 1852) -- were written in Ukrainian and dealt with Ukrainian subjects. Other books on Ukraine came into the Library before 1901 from Western Ukraine (Galicia, Bukovyna, the Carpathian Ukraine), which at that time was under Austro-Hungarian control.

Ukrainica in the Library of Congress got a major boost in 1906-1907 when the Yudin Collection was purchased. This collection became the nucleus of the Russian and Ukrainian accessions of the Library of Congress. Among the Yudin books were several publications pertaining to Ukraine printed in Church Slavonic. The Library of Congress has several rarities of this kind, mostly printed at the Kiev Monastery of the Caves and the Monastery of Pochaiv. Particularly notable are the Euchologion albo molytvoslov ili trebnyk, edited by Petro Mohyla, Metropolitan of Kiev, 1646; and Myr z Bohom, by Innocentius Gisel, Abbot of the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, 1669.

Valuable 19th century publications concerning Ukraine also were included in the Yudin Collection, such as the complete set of an important journal of Ukrainian history, literature, folklore, and language, Kievskaia Starina. The Library of Congress is the only library in the Western hemisphere in possession of a complete set of Kievskaia Starina with Index. Other noteworthy serials are the Chteniia Istoricheskogo obshchestva Nestora Letopistsa and the Chteniia Moskovskogo obshchestva istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh pri Moskovskom Universitete. The latter publication has three volumes of indexes for the years 1882-1901.

Other interesting items from the Yudin Collection regarding Ukraine are N.I. Kostomarov, Bogdan Khmel'nitskii (St. Petersburg, 1884); T. G. Shevchenko, Poemy, povesti i razskazy pisannyia na ruskom iazyke (published by Kievskaia Starina, Kiev, 1888); T. G. Shevchenko, Chigirinskii Kobzar' na malorusskom narechii (St. Petersburg, 1867); M. Kropyvnytskyi, Povnyi zbirnyk tvoriv, (Kharkiv, 1895); F. Pyskuniv,Slovnytsia ukrainskoi (abo iuhovoi rus'koi) movy (Odessa, 1873); N.I. Petrov, Ocherki istorii ukrainskoi literatury XIX st. (Kiev, 1884); M. Levchenko, Opyt russko-ukrainskago slovaria (Kiev, 1874); and I. Kotliarevskoho, Eneida, second edition (St. Petersburg, 1808).

The history of Ukraine is represented in the Yudin Collection by Istoriia Malorossii by N. A. Markevych (Moscow, 1842); Ukrainian ethnology is covered by the same author's Obychai, pover'ia, kukhnia i napitki malorossian (Kiev, 1860). P. O. Kulish's important book on Ukrainian folklore and history, Zapiski o iuzhnoi Rusi, 2 volumes (St. Petersburg, 1856-1857) is also in this collection. The Yudin Collection also included many descriptive and historical books in French and German relating to Ukraine, such as the 17th century Description de l'Ukraine by Beauplan. The Library has the 1861 edition, as well as an English translation from 1732 and a translation into Russian by F. Ustrialov, published in St. Petersburg in 1832.

Among the most valuable books of Yudin's collection are the Ukrainian classics in their early editions. Starting with the national poet Taras Shevchenko, the Library has his Kobzar' (St. Petersburg, 1860), a publication sponsored by a prominent Ukrainian patron, Platon Semerenko, and printed by the famous Ukrainian author Panteleimon Kulish (St. Petersburg, 1857); Chigirinshi kobzar', also printed by Kulish, (1867); Illiustriovannyi Kobzar', with illustrations by the prominent artist M.I. Mikeshin (1896); and Trizna, published in Russian in 1844 and dedicated to Princess Barbara Repnin. Yudin's collection did not include the first edition of Kobzar', although it did have the first bibliography of works by and about Shevchenko: T. Shevchenko v literaturie i iskusstvie; bibliograficheskii ukazatel" dlia izucheniia zhizni i proizvedenii T. Shevchenka, compiled by Mykhailo Komarov and published in Odessa in 1903.

The Library also has first editions of Kulish's own historical novel, Chorna Rada, (St. Petersburg, 1857), and of its translation into Russian by the author himself, as well as many early editions of works by Skovoroda, Kotliarevskyi, Kvitka, Marko Vovchok, and other Ukrainian classics. Indeed, the Library is probably the only place in the Western hemisphere where so many of these works are found.

Ukrainian historians also are rather well represented in the LC collections, although some works are available only in recent editions or photoreproductions, e.g., Mykhailo Hrushevskyi and Dmytro Doroshenko, Istoriia Ukrainy-Rusy (New York, 1952-1956). Of approximately 700 books on history in the collections, more books are devoted to the most glorious period in Ukrainian history -- Cossackdom and the Hetmanate -- than to any other period. The Library of Congress has practically all of the fundamental works on this subject, including those by D.N. Bantysh- Kamenskyi, M. Kostomarov, and D. I. Evarnitskyi, as well as numerous works by other prominent Ukrainian historians and foreign scholars, e.g., Joachim Pastorius, Franciszek Gawronski and Pedro Pellicena y Camacho.

Some historical books are important not only for their scholarly value but also because of their rarity, as they were published in comparatively few copies during the period of Ukrainian independence in 1917-1921, for example Ukraina na perelomi, 1657-1659, by Viacheslav Lypynsky (Kiev, 1920). Several of these publications were among the library holdings of the diplomatic mission of the Ukrainian People's Republic in Washington and were transferred to the Library of Congress at a later date, following Ukraine's integration into the Soviet Union.

Many Ukrainian scholars have excelled in the study of folk art, customs, proverbs, songs, dances, and related topics, and works on these subjects are well-represented in the Library of Congress. Prominent Ukrainian folklorists represented in the collections include Michael Drahomaniv, Academicians Volodymyr Hnatiuk and Fedir Vovk, Victor Petrov and others. Moreover, the Library of Congress is richer in Ukrainian material than it may seem at first glance, as many monographs of great importance are contained in serials that have not been fully analyzed, Thus each of the many volumes of Zbirnyk Istorychno-filologichnoho viddilu UAN that were published in the 1920s was devoted in full to a certain work of some prominent Ukrainian scholar, and some of these works are even multivolume. Several of the Ukrainian scholars whose works appeared in this journal later were later killed or repressed by the Soviet regime, and their writings do not appear in other editions.

A major event in the history of LC Ukrainian accessions took place in 1958, with the acquisition of the Ostrih Bible of 1581. This was received on exchange basis from the Lenin State Library in Moscow. Production of the Bible was underwritten by Prince Konstantyn Ostroz'kyi (1526-1608), and it was printed by Ivan Fedorovych (Fedorov) (1525-1583). It is one of three copies in North America, the others being held in Canada. The Ostrih Bible thus became the oldest Ukrainian book in the Library, a distinction previously held by Petro Mohyla's Euchologion of 1646.

Efforts to enlarge the collection of Ukrainica in the Library have continued more or less successfully in the 1960s-1980s. Ukrainian dealers in North America were most helpful in building up the collections, as were private collectors in the United States and Canada.


The Ukrainian material in the Geography and Maps Division of the Library of Congress includes many noteworthy maps representing the territory of Ukraine from Russian, Polish, Austrian, and other sources. Some maps (e.g., Beauplan, Homann, and others) date as far back as the middle of the 17th century.

Also in the collection is the first Ukrainian map of Ukraine, the 1:2,000,000 scale map published by the Government of the Ukrainian National Republic in Kiev in 1919. It identifies railroads, highways, mines of iron and salt mines, as well as the location of oil and other natural resources. Executed under the title Ukraina: Karta z zaliznytsiamy, shliakhamy, kopal'niamy zaliza, soli i nafty by G. Freitag Berndt of Vienna, it has both historical and cartographic value.


The Law Library contains many materials relating to Ukrainian law, some of which has been catalogued as belonging to Ukraine proper (Ukraine, Laws and statutes), and some of which is associated with other countries that held different parts of Ukrainian territory at various historical periods. Much of this material is important; in some cases it is unique. The Foreign Law Section of the Law Library has a fairly up-to-date collection of materials in the field of Ukrainian law.

The Old Rus' law is represented by several editions of the principal work of that time, Rus'skaia Pravda, which was compiled in the 11th-12th centuries and is the oldest East European code. The laws in force in Ukrainian lands under Polish-Ukrainian domination (1340-1648) are collected in the so-called Lithuanian Statute. This was also used in Ukraine during the Cossack State under Kmel'nyts'kyi and other hetmans. LC also has both of the two Ukrainian judicial dictionaries: one Russian-Ukrainian by A. Kryms'kyi, and the German-Ukrainian dictionary of K. Levyts'kyi, Nimets'ko-ukrains'kyi pravnychi'slovar, 2nd. edition (Vienna, 1920).

Concluding Note

Locating materials relating to Ukraine can be difficult, owing to the turbulent history of the country and the confusing terminology sometimes used. Authors often use the term "Russia" in cases that do not concern Russia proper but rather present-day Ukraine. They very often use the term "Russia" or "Russian" to designate the Medieval Kiev state which was called "Rus"' but situated on the territory of present-day Ukraine. In addition, the terms "Russia" and "Russian," when used in reference to a political rather than an ethnic entity, were used for all territories of the prerevolutionary Russian Empire in the period from Peter the Great to the Revolution of 1917. These factors explain why one can find a wealth of material concerning Ukraine and Ukrainians under the headings or titles "Russia" and "Russian".

In older bibliographies and indexes much information on Ukraine and Ukrainians also can be found under the headings "Little Russian" and "South Russian," both of which are translations of obsolete Russian territorial designations for Ukraine. Needless to say, much information on Ukraine and Ukrainians also can be found under the heading "USSR." This is especially the case with regard to various reference tools such as bibliographies, directories, indexes and gazetteers, in which information on Ukraine is included in chapters on the USSR.

Finally, because parts of Ukraine belonged at various times to Austria-Hungary and later to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Hungary, much material concerning Ukraine and Ukrainians can be found under the headings "Austria-Hungary," "Poland," "Czechoslovakia," "Rumania," and "Hungary" in works on these countries. Material also can be found under headings such as "Galicia," and information concerning Carpatho-Ukraine can be found under the headings and titles "Carpathia", "Carpatho-Ruthenia", or "Carpatho-Russia" used in various non-Ukrainian publications.

All of this can make searching for Ukrainica in English language sources difficult. For those not familiar with these problems, the European Division can provide a number of bibliographical aids to research.

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  November 26, 2019
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