Ivan Franko (August 15, 1856 – May 28, 1916) was a Ukrainian poet and writer, social and literary critic, journalist, economist, and political activist. He was a revolutionary democrat, and a founder of the socialist movement in Ukraine. In addition to his own literary work, he also translated the works of William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Dante, Victor Hugo, Goethe and Schiller into the Ukrainian language. Along with Taras Shevchenko, he has had a tremendous impact on modern literary and political thought in Ukraine.
Franko was born in Nahuievychi, in the Drohobych county of eastern Halychyna, Galicia (which is today part of the Lviv Oblast in Ukraine) and was the son of a village blacksmith, of German ancestry, original surname was Frank. He attended school in the village Yasenycia Silna from 1862 until 1864, and from there attended a Basilian monastic school in Drohobych until 1867. In 1875, he graduated from the Drohobych gymnasium (a secondary school) and continued on to Lviv University, where he studied classical philosophy and Ukrainian language and literature. It was at this University he began is literary career, with various works of poetry and his novel Petrii i Dovbushchuky published by the students' magazine Druh (Friend), whose editorial board he would later join. In 1876, Lesyshyna Cheliad and Dva Pryiateli (Two Friends) were published in
the literary almanac Dnistrianka. Later that year he wrote his first collection of poetry, Ballads and Tales. His first of the stories in the Boryslaw series were published in 1877.
It was at Lviv University where he was introduced to Mykhailo Drahomanov, with whom he shared a long political and literary association. His socialist political writings, along with his association with Drahomanov, resulted in Franko's arrest in 1877 along with, among others, Mykhailo Pavlyk and Ostap Terletsky. They were accused of belonging to a secret socialist organization, which did not exist. However, his eight months in prison did not discourage his political writings and activities. In prison, Franko wrote the satire Smorhonska Akademiya (The Smorhon Academy). After his release, he studied the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, contributed articles to the Polish newspaper Praca and helped organize workers' groups in L'viv. In 1878 he and Pavlyk founded the magazine Hromads'kyi Druh. Only two issues were published before it was banned by the government; however, the journal was reborn under the names Dzvin and Molot. Franko published a series of books called Dribna Biblioteka from 1878 until his arrest for arousing the peasants to civil disobedience in 1880. He was sent to the infamous Siberian prison compound of Kolyma where he spent three months. His impressions of this exile are enumerated in his novel Na Dni (On the Bottom). Upon his release, he was kept under police surveillance and he was kicked out of Lviv University (ironically, the university would be renamed the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv after Franko's death).
Franko was an active contributor to the journal Swit (The World) in 1881. He wrote more than half of the material, excluding the unsigned editorials. It was in this journal the novel Boryslaw Smiyetsia (Boryslaw Is Laughing) was published. Later that year, Franko moved to Nahuyevychi where he wrote the novel Zakhar Berkut, translated Goethe's Faust and Heine's poem Deutschland: ein Wintermarchen into Ukrainian. He also wrote a series of articles on Taras Shevchenko, and reviewed the collection Khutorna Poeziya by P. Kulish. Franko worked for the journal Zorya (Sunrise) and became a member of the editing board of the newspaper Dilo (Action) a year later.
He married Olha Khorunzhynska in May 1886, to whom he dedicated the collection Z vershyn i nyzhyn (From Hills and Valleys), a book of poetry and verse. His wife was to later suffer from a debilitating mental illness, one of the reasons that Franko would not leave Lviv for treatment in Kyiv in 1916, shortly before his death.
In 1888 Franko was a contributor to the journal Pravda (not to be confused with the Soviet newspaper Pravda), which, along with his association with compatriots from Dnieper Ukraine, led to a third arrest in 1889. After this two-month prison term, he co-founded the Ruthenian-Ukrainian Radical party with Mykhailo Drahomanov and Mykhailo Pavlyk, the latter with whom he published the semimonthly Narod from 1890 until 1895. Franko was the Radical party's candidate for seats in the Parliament of Austria-Hungary and the Galicia Diet, but never won an election.
In 1891, he attended Chernivtsi University in 1891 (where he prepared a dissertation on Ivan Vyshensky) and afterwards attended Vienna University where he defended his doctoral dissertation on the spiritual romance Barlaam and Josaphat under the supervision of Vatroslav Jagic, who was considered the foremost expert of Slavic languages at the time. Franko was appointed lecturer in the history of Ukrainian literature at Lviv University in 1894; however, he was not able to chair the Department of Ukrainian literature there because of opposition from Vicegerent Kazimierz Badeni and Galician reactionary circles.
One of his articles, Sotsiializm i sotsiial-demokratyzm (Socialism and Social Democracy), a severe criticism of Ukrainian Social Democracy and the socialism of Marx and Engels, was published in 1898 in the journal Zhytie I Slovo, which he and his wife founded. He continued his anti-Marxist stance in a collection of poetry entitled Mii izmarahd (My Emerald) in 1898, where he called Marxism "a religion founded on dogmas of hatred and class struggle." His long time collaborative association with Mykhailo Drahomanov were strained due to their diverging views on socialism and the national question, and Franko would later accuse him of tying Ukraine's fate to that of Russia in Suspil'nopolitychni pohliady M. Drahomanova (The Sociopolitical Views of M. Drahomanov), published in 1906. After a split in the Radical Party, in 1899, Franko, together with the Lviv historian, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, founded the National Democratic Party where he worked until 1904, when he retired from political life.
In 1902 students and activists in Lviv, embarrassed that Franko was living in poverty, purchased a house for him in the city. He lived there for the remaining 14 years of his life. The house is now the site of the Ivan Franko Museum.
In 1914, his jubilee collection, Pryvit Ivanovi Frankovi (Greeting Ivan Franko), and the collection Iz lit moyeyi molodosti (From the Years of My Youth) were published.
He died in poverty at 4 pm on May 28, 1916. Those who came to pay their respects saw him lying on the table covered with nothing but a ragged sheet. His burial and burial-clothes were paid for by his admirers, and none of his family came to visit him. These events caused Heinrich Wigeleiser of the Academic Gymnasium to tell his Ukrainian students: "Go and see him lying – as poor as your entire nation is. You did not prize him when he was alive and you do not prize him now, when he is dead". Franko was buried at the Lychakivskiy Cemetery in Lviv.
Franko depicted the harsh experience of Ukrainian workers and peasants in his novels Boryslaw Laughs (1881-1882) and Boa Constrictor (1878). His works deal with Ukrainian nationalism and history (Zakhar Berkut, 1883), social issues (Basis of Society, 1895 and Withered Leaves, 1896), and philosophy (Semper Tiro, 1906)
He has drawn parallels to the Israelite search for a homeland and the Ukrainian desire for independence in In Death of Cain (1889) and Moses (1905). His is best known for Stolen Happiness (1893), considered a dramatic masterpiece. In total, Franko has written more than 1,000 works.
In 1962 the city of Stanislaviv in western Ukraine was renamed Ivano-Frankivsk in the poet's honor.