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Ivan Franko

Ukrainian poet, writer, doctor and activist was a political radical. Born in 1956, Franko was a founder of the socialist movement in Ukraine and wrote several detective novels and much-loved poems in the Ukrainian language. 

He is widely appreciated as having a great impact on modern Ukraine, not only thanks to his valued translations of globally-known works from Shakespeare, Dante and Victor Hugo but also because of his active political contribution and ability to present his ideas in a clear manner. 

Dr Huk shares his thoughts on the influence of Ivan Franko – 

“I remember the giant of Ukrainian literature Ivan Franko with a special emotional lift. Maybe also because I, like Ivan Yakovlevich, also decided to go to Vienna, the capital of Austria (the former imperial capital). Only one difference – I was able to finish Medstudio and went to Vienna as a doctor, while Franko, as a student, was running away from the Polish police in Lviv, who wanted to arrest him for his political beliefs.

In Vienna, Maria Hrasch-Nakoneczna a young student of Germanic Studies, told me about her acquaintance with Ivan Franko.

I received a priceless treasure from her, an original edition of Faded Leaves (Lviv, 1900). This collection has accompanied me all my years in the Viennese cosmos. Every person who lives and creates in the ‘city of the century’ (as English-speaking journalists call Vienna) will understand my admiration for Ivan Franko and my gratitude to the Viennese for the memory of him.

How Franko arrived in Vienna

In the morning at the Northern Railway Station a stranger – a medium-sized man in an elegant black cloak, with a hat and tie, with a large suitcase in his hands – was spotted. Ivan Franko had arrived in Vienna.

The main purpose of his visit to Vienna was the university, one of the major scientific centers of Europe. So from the University of Lviv, which is now named after Ivan Franko, the student Ivan Franko was turned away, and all roads to his academic career there were blocked. For the ‘socialist process’ of the Austrian bureaucracy, Franco was not allowed to graduate from the university.

Already after his arrival at the University of Vienna, they agreed on the topic of his doctoral dissertation – “Varlaam and Joasaph”. Franco saw the doctorate as a different prospect: ‘The doctorate was important to me at least because it gave me political rights.’

Having read various books, at one of the examinations Franco remembered the so-called ‘golden and silver Latin’. And this was just the topic of the doctoral dissertation of the professor who was taking the exam. He, of course, began to question him. Franco later recalled, ‘I was ashamed, but somehow I got out of it. He got in.’

In May 1893 he was appointed to defend his dissertation. Franco wrote to his wife: ‘I did not want to write to you until I finish my work, but now, thank God, finished and give it now. Happened. Defended. Brilliant.’

After defending his doctoral thesis Franco visited Vienna several times: in 1895, 1896, 1898, 1900, 1902. The last time Franco visited Vienna was in the spring of 1909 on a trip to the spa town of Lovranj on the Adriatic Sea. The then-ill writer was trying to recover from paralysis of the arms which was incurable at the time. By the same route, exhausted by the disease, accompanied by his hastily summoned from Lvov son Andrew, he returned home – through Vienna. 

M. Prypchan, Y. Yatskiv, V. Stepova, A. Pshiviy at the opening of a memorial plaque of I. Franko at the University of Vienna in 1993

In 1997, Ihor Huk, together with Yaroslav Yatskiv, Juliana Besters-Dilger and Science and Education minister Dr. E. Busek managed to open a faculty of Ukrainian studies at the University of Vienna. Many famous Ukrainian writers have been guests of the Faculty of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Vienna, including S. Zhadan, O. Zabuzhko and Y. Andrukhovych.