Shakespear contest | UNWLA - Ukrainian National Womens League of America

Looking back at the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine beginning in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk in 2022, Ukraine suffered immense cruelty. Millions of human destinies changed, lives destroyed, cities and villages disappeared, universities, museums, libraries and innumerable cultural institutions were bombed to ruble. Every Ukrainian family has felt the pain of this horrible war.

But even in the conditions of this genocidal war when air alarms

can last 18 hours a day, when rockets can fly to any region, when lights and the internet constantly disappear, Ukraine lives. Thanks to our brave Armed Forces of Ukraine, Ukrainians continue an active life with schools open, sometimes in the strangest places, such as in a subway station. In Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv or Kherson, children study online. Theaters continue to stage

performances even in bomb shelters or in the basements of libraries. 

Presentations of new books, poetry evenings or musical performances continue.

During the war, as the Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan said in one of his performances, “culture cannot be put on hold.”  The Shakespeare Competition, named after Vitaly Kejs shows how Zhadan’s inspiring words take this spirit to action during the full-scale war.

Started in 2010, this annual competition under the auspices of the Ukrainian Women’s League of America, initiated by Prof. Vitaly Kejs, strengthens

Ukrainian identity, providing an important social role since the 19th century.

By translating Shakespeare’s works and staging theatrical performances, Ukrainians expressed their affiliation to western civilization, espousing western spiritual values, not those of imperial russia. During this war, Shakespeare intensifies Shakespearean studies in Ukraine, attracting talented, creative young people, developing resilience to their circumstances.

During the competition, students from almost 40 universities participated in our nation building project. One of the tasks of the modern generation of Shakespeare scholars is to continue to enrich the tradition started by Ukrainian giants, such as Mykola Kostomarov, Mychajlo Starytsky and Pantelemoj Kulish. They were forbidden by the  Emskyj Ukaz (1876) to translate Shakespeare into Ukrainian.

Theatre giant Les Kurbas ended up in Soviet concentration camps for his translations. Ivan Franko and Lesia Ukrainka clearly declared the importance of Shakespeare for Ukrainians, for self-determination of its nation.

Advocacy flyer 1 | UNWLA - Ukrainian National Womens League of America

One of the tasks of the modern generation of Shakespeare scholars is to continue their direction. To realize this mission the Ukrainian Shakespeare Center formed which unites all Shakespearean scholars, and initiates and implements the annual All-Ukrainian Shakespeare Festival competition of student research and creative projects named after Vitaly Kejs. The competition jury consists of world-renowned experts from literary studies, theater studies and artistic studies. Annually six of the best entries receive monetary rewards from UNWLA.

Most winning projects this year related to the ongoing war. Some wrote of Shakespeare’s vision of war or the use of Shakespeare’s works during war. Others

highlight Shakespeare as instrumental in providing therapeutic help in fighting stress. These projects are actively used in study lessons and highly appreciated by


The fact that for thirteen years in a row the UNWLA continues to support this contest can be attributed to the diaspora’s appreciation of their role in contributing to the formation of an intellectual elite in Ukraine. This support is especially significant in this time of war as it serves to stimulate and encourage the student participants, while providing inspiration for the organizers.

Professor Torkut Nataliya Mykolaivna, head of the jury, head of the Ukrainian Interuniversity Center, honorary senior researcher at the Shakespeare Institute (Stratford-on-Avon