restricted access KOBRYNSKA, Natalia (born Ozarkevych) (1851–1920)
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244 KOBRYNSKA, Natalia (born Ozarkevych) (1851–1920) Ukrainian feminist writer, publicist and social /political activist, founder in 1884 of the Tovarystvo Rus’kykh Zhinok (Association of Ukrainian women). Natalia Ozarkevych was born on 8 June 1851 in Beleluia, in the Halychyna Province of the Habsburg Monarchy (Galicia), to the Reverend Ivan Ozarkevych (1826–1903) and Teofilia Okunevska . She was the eldest of five children. At her death, the territory of her birth was being contested among Poles, Ukrainians and Russians. Kobrynska identified with Ukrainians, who sometimes still used the older name Rusyn or (in the Latinized version) Ruthenians. Galician Ukrainians recognized a kinship with Ukrainians then living in the Russian Empire but denied being Russian and bitterly resisted Polonization . Ukrainian democratic forces in Halychyna were trying to wrest political power from the Polish nobility, which controlled local government there. Natalia Ozarkevych was educated at home, benefiting from close interaction with her four university-educated brothers. (Although they too were active in Ukrainian community life, none of her four brothers was as prominent as Kobrynska.) Her father , a social and political activist who lobbied the Austrian Parliament in Vienna for higher education for women, encouraged the participation of his daughter in public life. He, like his forebears, was a priest of the Greek Ukrainian Catholic Church (which had special relations with the Papal See) and could marry. Many of these priests actively promoted educational and social progress as leaders of a western Ukrainian upper-middle class that possessed intellectual aspirations and a social conscience . In 1871, Natalia married Teofil Kobrynsky (1852–1882), who also became a priest. Kobrynsky was very supportive of his wife’s views on women’s liberation, to which cause the couple dedicated themselves: they decided not to have children and worked jointly on a Ukrainian translation of J. S. Mill’s On the Subjection of Women (never published). After Kobrynsky’s death, Natalia did not remarry. Both her family and married life were marked by close and happy relationships. The family home served as a center for social life, in particular as a meeting place for democratic- and socialist-minded youth. With the exception of a short period in Lviv, travels in West- 245 ern Europe and a trip to the Ukrainian lands in the Russian Empire, Kobrynska spent her life in the picturesque low Carpathian towns of Beleluia, Bolekhiv and Sniatyn. She lived modestly, and what little she had she channeled into publishing on women’s issues. Physically, Kobrynska was attractive: relatively tall, with dark abundant hair and a stately bearing. She was eloquent and seemed aloof. Her rejections of marriage proposals from her socialist colleagues were considered a sign of her class superiority. Although she paid de riguer intellectual respect to contemporaries such as writer Ivan Franko (1856–1916), like many women of her generation who were largely self-taught and who grew up surrounded by strong women, Kobrynska insisted that she had arrived at her own ideas by her own efforts, through her own life and experiences “without the help of men” (Kobrynska 1980, 402). While her social and political views were formed under the direct impact of socialism , both directly through the works of Marx, Engels and Lassalle and through their Ukrainian interpreters, Kobrynska was a practitioner of democratic liberalism. She remained firmly committed to persuasion and gradualism as guarantors of genuine systemic change. Kobrynska felt that social and civic consciousness would be best promoted through literature, and for that reason she channeled her energy into journals that addressed a primarily middle-class female readership, in contrast to the socialists who agitated for direct action in the villages. Kobrynska thought of middleclass women as transmission belts of new ideas and as the most effective agents of change in the villages. Her refusal to see the family as purely an object of oppression and her arguments against ‘free love,’ seeing in the practice merely new ways of exploiting women, made her relations with socialists difficult. Moreover, she maintained that women should articulate their own philosophical space, since all existing philosophical theories had hitherto overlooked women. “It is a pity that the age-old slavery of women is etched like a scar in the way men think. Since that is the case, women must struggle not only against the social order, which keeps them in slavery, but against concepts articulated by men” (Kobrynska 1895, 10). Yet her belief in the power of ‘human will’ remained undaunted: “Weakness and despair are the worst enemies of humanity...