Olena Pchilka is the literary pseudonym of Lesya Ukrainka’s mother Olga Petrivna Kosach (nee Drahomanova). ОІenа Pchilka was one of the foremost Ukrainian suffragists, a woman who during the long span of her life proved her proficiency in many fields of action. She was a writer and excelled as a journalist, she carried on researches in Ukrainian folklore, and above all was a model of a wife and a mother of six children.
She was born in 1849 in Ukraine, then under Czarist Russia. The years of her childhood were the period of spreading of liberal thought in Russia. True, the Czarist regime was still potent, however the liberation of serfs was drawing near, for they were set free in 1861. From the age of twelve, Olga Drahomanova studied at the Kyiv Boarding School for Noble Girls.
Her father sympathized with the movement and her brother Michael. Drahomaniv was animated and elated at the prospect of freedom for peasants. Thus the young girl had already learned in her family home the meaning of misfortune of fellow men as well as of labor to overcome their distress.
In 1868 she married Petrо Kossach, a judge, and their life was very
happy. She had been busy taking care of the household and rearing
her children, still she has always had in mind the object which s’he
fixed in her youth — to work for the cause of the oppressed Ukrainian people. To this cause she devoted all her skill and ardent spirit. At the start she tried at literary ventures — poems, essays, novels, translations. While studying the folklore, she collected many folksongs, proverbs and tales which she printed in scientific editions. She had been readily
contributing her own funds to ward the expenses for publishing
the material. Later on she turned to publishing and editing her own newspaper “Ridny Kray” (Native Land) which continued for 8 years with the supplement for children under the title of “Young Ukraine.”
After World W ar I she was employed at the Academy of Sciences in Kyiv. She died in her 82 year, alert and eager for work to the last day of her life.
In the course of her work, of her -tireless efforts, Olena Pchilka initiated a field of activity which afterwards unfolded gradually, until it grew into prominence. While studying the life of her people, she was moved and inspired by the beautiful Ukrainian folk art.
She soon realized that this art is valuable only in its originality of design which must be studied and shown at home and abroad. Hence she started to collect the copies of designs of embroidery and Easter eggs which she edited and published in 1875. This work became the basis for further explorations and studies. It has been recently re-іssued in Germany and is still indispensable to those who wish to acquaint themselves with, the originality of design of Ukrainian embroidery.
Olena Pchilka merited the gratitude of Ukrainian women because it was through her persuasive inducement that the folk art which was already declining and on the verge of vanishing — had soon developed into a carefully cultivated field and has embellished the expression of Ukrainian life. Yet we failed to mention Olena’s other great achievement which elevates her to great distinction among our prominent women. She not only served her people with her talent and deepfelt patriotism, but also presented it with a precious lasting gift— with the greatest Ukrainian poetess. Her daughter, Lessya Ukrainka, is one of the leaders of Ukrainian artistic creation. It was her inspired motherhood which inculcated in her daughter and other children lofty ideals and this was perhaps her greatest contribution. She adopted a fitting pseudonim, “pchilka,” which means little bee, a little worker among small creatures that tirelessly works and assembles. Her spirit evolved the spirituality of her daughter which remains like a culmination of her own lifelong striving and labor.
Our Life, 1953, №4.
Look also: Леся Українка – лицарівна Belle Epoque