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Early Ukrainian Women Scientists: Part 1 – From Fossils to the Planets and Back

This 3-part series covers a small selection from the massive legacy of early Ukrainian women scientists’ science, initiative, and courage – 15 amazing people born before World War 2, coming in groups of 5, in birth order. Each bio begins with a very short summary, so you can scroll through the pictures and summaries to get a quick impression of their lives and achievements.

These first 5 women, all born in the 19th century, came from 5 different physical and natural sciences, studying fossils, the human body, space, and mathematics.

Usually, when I write these posts I’m talking about the barriers of gender and racial discrimination people faced. The scientists in this series also worked and lived through unimaginably perilous times. As usual, though, great barriers to people in life often translates into the iniquity of historical erasure. Wikipedia is making an important difference. In case you might be interested in pitching in, I note these scientists’ status on Wikipedia. For all the women in this series, there are articles that are thin or missing in English or Ukrainian – and all can be improved.

Maria Vasilievna Pavlova (1854-1938, aged 84) – Paleontologist

Maria V. Pavlova studied at the Sorbonne and lived in Moscow after marrying a Russian paleontologist. She became a professor at Moscow University, collected over 10,000 fossilized bones and teeth from across Eurasia, and named and described several species. Her work established a critical change to the understanding of the ancestry of horses in Eurasia.
Photo of Maria Pavlova
Maria V. Pavlova in 1874 (via Wikimedia)

Maria V. Pavlova (née Gortynskaia) was born in Kozelets in 1854, when it was part of the Russian Empire. It’s a town a bit north of Kyiv on the Dnipro River. Her father was a doctor, and she was home-schooled until the age of 11. She went to high school in Kyiv, graduating when she was 16. She was married for 7 years, and widowed in 1880. That year, she moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, graduating in natural history in 1884.

In Paris, she met Russian geologist and paleontologist, Alexei P. Pavlov, and moved to Moscow after a short time back in Ukraine. She married him, and lived in Moscow for the rest of her life. He was a professor at Moscow University, which gave her more access to the collections there than a woman was usually allowed. She worked there, without payment, until after the Revolution, when she became a Professor in 1917 after gaining a doctorate in 1916.

Pavlova traveled to study museum collections around Russia as well as western Europe, including collecting fossil bones to add to the Moscow collection. By 1912, she had collected over 10,000 fossilized bones and teeth. She began publishing extensive and influential articles on the paleontological history of hoofed animals in French in 1887. She named and described several species of extinct animals. One of her descriptions for an extinct rhinoceros, P. transouralicum, which she named in 1922, has been used to re-create the animal. Pavlova also wrote and translated books about paleontology for general audiences, as well as a 2-volume textbook on Paeleozoology.

One of her major achievements was in the ancestry of horses. The origin of horses in Europe was thought to be the arrival of the Hipparion, a small three-toed horse from the Americas, via the Bering Land Bridge in the Miocene. Pavlova showed that the development of the Eurasian Hipparion’s tooth structure and foot that it was a side branch of the horse family, not the direct ancestor of the modern horse. After she finished studying horses, she turned to elephants and mastodons. She and her husband established a museum at the university, which was named after them.

In 1921 she became a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, and in 1930, an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Her last geological expedition was in 1931, at the age of 77 – and she brought more bones back.

There are photos of Pavlova in 1880, at her desk with fossil bones in 1910, and in the museum with her husband in 1920 in Bessoudnova (2006) – as well as some quotes from her memoirs.

Sources: English and Ukrainian Wikipedia pages, The Role of Women in the History of Geology, Ladies in the Laboratory, and Zoya Bessudnova’s 2006 article – if you want to read more about her, that’s the article to read.

Wikipedia notes: Medium-length article in English, less in Ukrainian, 5 other languages.

Sofia Okunevska-Morachevska (1865-1926, aged 59)Medicine

Sofia Okunevska-Morachevska was the first female medical doctor not just in Ukraine, but in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Her gender and activism limited her prospects in medicine and science. She practised charitably in various places, including a Lviv hospital for the poor, and was an early advocate of radium treatment for cervical cancer.
Sofia Okunevskaya-Morachevskaya (via Wikimedia)

Sofia Okunevskaya-Morachesvskaya was born in 1865 in Dovzhanka, a village in western Ukraine. That region was then part of the Austrian Empire, soon-to-be Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was then briefly independent, before becoming a Polish territory until World War 2 and Soviet rule. Her father was a doctor, and her mother died when she was 5 – she was raised in the family of a priest.

Education for Ukrainians was banned at that time, but she got permission to enter Lviv Academic Gymnasium (high school), which, according to Stytsiuk and colleagues, “caused a sensation throughout Galicia”. Morachevskaya then graduated from the University of Zürich in 1896 – the first female medical doctor in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She had married while at the university (in 1890) – to Vaclav Morachevskaya, a Polish physician, chemist, scientist, and literature critic. The same year she graduated, she published her doctoral dissertation on blood changes in anemia, and gave birth to a son. The couple’s second child, a girl, was born 2 years later.

In 1900, the family moved to Karlovy Vary, a spa town in Bohemia – now part of the Czech Republic (Czechia). Morachevskaya couldn’t get a job because of her gender. She practised medicine as charity, in areas that are now Swiss and Czechian, as well as in the People’s Hospital for the Poor in Lviv, Ukraine. She used Marie Skłodowska-Curie’s radium treatment for cervical treatment, which was radical then. She also organized training courses for midwives and obstetricians, created a Ukrainian dictionary of medical terminology, and she was one of the founders of a doctors’ union. Morachevskaya challenged government abuse of Ukrainians, and in World War 1, treated Ukrainians in Austrian camps. The combination of her gender and activism limited her prospects in medicine and science.

Morachevskaya died in hospital of prurulent appendicitis.

Sources: Ukrainian Wikipedia, and Natalia V. Stytsiuk & co’s 2021 article in Wiadomości lekarskie, Women’s modernism in medical science of Western Ukraine.

Wikipedia notes: Stub in English, longer in Ukrainian (with additional photos), 4 other languages.

Valentyna Vasylivna Radzymovska (1886-1953, aged 67)Biochemist and physiologist

Valentyna V. Radzymovska was a scientist who was also politically active in Ukrainian and social democratic issues from high school age on. She produced dozens of scientific publications and a physiology textbook, and taught at many institutions, against a background of political persecution and multiple migrations to gain refuge in and after World War 2.
Valentyna V. Radzymovska in 1905 (via Wikimedia)

Valentyna V. Radzymovska was born in 1886 in Matyashivka, a village near Lubny, south-east of Kyiv. It was then part of the Russian Empire. Her family included several writers, and her mother was writer and feminist, Lyubov Yanovska. She was home-schooled before going to high school at the Lubny Gymnasium. In high school, she became involved in Ukrainian nationalist and social democratic political groups.

Radzymovska graduated in medicine from the University of Kyiv in 1913, and then joined the faculty in the Department of Biochemistry, becoming head of the Department of Physiology from 1924-1928. Around then, she had an internship in a German hospital.

In 1930, she was arrested and imprisoned by the GPU (Soviet secret police), part of a mass purge of intellectuals in the period leading up to the Holodomor genocide. She was released after the intervention of an academic she had collaborated with in special education, Ivan Solyansky. However, she remained under surveillance and repression, and lost her academic positions. Her application to the Academy of Sciences was rejected.

In 1939, she was invited to become the head of the Department of Physiology at the Melitopol university, in south-eastern Ukraine. During the war, Radzymovska moved from Kharkiv to Kyiv, working with colleagues to try to revive scientific institutions repressed during German occupation. As the Soviet front moved across Ukraine, she moved further west to Lviv, given the likely persecution she would face, working in the Department of Physiology at Lviv Medical University.

As the Soviet front approached Lviv in 1944, Radzymovska moved to Bratislava in Czechoslovakia, where her daughter Olga passed her medical exams, and her son Eugene, a mechanical engineer, gained an academic position. As the front approached there, the family sought refuge in Germany in 1945. She became a professor in physiology at the international university in Munich and then moved back to Czechoslovakia, to a veterinary department of physiology at a Ukrainian institute there. In 1947 she became a professor at the institute, and in 1949, dean. In those years, she wrote a 2-volume physiology textbook and supervised more than a dozen doctoral post-graduate students.

Her mother had died of a stroke, and Radzymovska had what sounds to me like a stroke, too, that affected her speech and memory in 1949. In 1950, her son gained an academic post at the University of Illinois, and his mother and sister moved to the US with him. (There’s a photo of her with him in 1930 in his Wikipedia page.) She became involved with UVAN, an association of scholars promoting the advancement of Ukrainian studies and culture in the US. Radzymovska died in the US in 1953, aged 67.

Through all that persecution and dislocation, Radzymovska continued to teach and conduct experiments. She produced dozens of scientific publications, many listed here. She specialized in clinical physiological and biochemical studies of the blood and tissues, across a range of conditions.

Sources: English, German, and Ukrainian Wikipedia pages, article by Alla Dovzhik (2016) (which also has more photos).

Wikipedia notes: Small article in English (with “more footnotes” needed banner), longer in Ukraine, 4 more languages.

Praskovja Georgievna Parchomenko (1887-1970, aged 82 or 83) – Astrophysicist

Praskovja G. Parchomenko forged a career as an astrophysicist, publishing internationally, observing several eclipses, and identifying some minor planets. After being arrested for pro-Ukrainian and anti-Soviet positions, however, her progress was repressed. An asteroid is named in her honor.
Photo of a group of people, all but 2 men outside
Observers of a total solar eclipse in the Kherson region of Ukraine in 1914: Parchomenko seated, wearing hat (via Wikimedia)

Praskovja G. Parchomenko was born in 1887 in Zinkiv, northeastern Ukraine, when it was part of the Russian Empire. Her father was a paramedic. Normal university admission wasn’t an option for women then, but she started to attend women’s classes in physics and mathematics in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine in 1914, in her late 20s.

That year, she joined the expedition pictured above – astrophysicists from the Kharkiv Observatory traveled to Henichesk on the coast in Kherson Oblast to view the solar eclipse. One of them was a prominent astrophysicist, Boris P. Gerasimovich, in whose honor a crater in the moon was later named. Among other contributions, she drew a series of sketches of the eclipse that are held at Kharkiv National University, including some notes of what she observed. On her return, she worked at the Observatory – as a woman, that was unpaid.

She entered graduate school at the university in Kharkiv in 1923, began publishing her work, and speaking at departmental meetings. In 1927, she observed a total lunar eclipse. While on trips to other observatories, she identified 2 new asteroids. In the years before the Holodomor genocide, she participated in the Ukrainization of scientific activity in Kharkiv, translating materials into Ukraine and contributing to the development of Ukrainian astronomy terminology.

In 1934, Parchomenko attended the first regional conference of astronomers in Moscow. That year, she was expelled from the university for anti-Soviet activity. She was re-instated after persistent advocacy from Gerasimovich, who had become the Observatory’s director in 1933, but continued to face career obstacles from then on. In 1936, the university nominated her for a PhD with some others, noting that they had met all requirements. Even though she had multiple international publications and the others did not, they were granted PhDs and she was not. She was also excluded from the official expedition to the Caucasus for the 1936 solar eclipse, so she traveled there in a personal capacity.

While writing a dissertation for another attempt at the PhD, but the path was conflict-ridden, including over choice of examiners. Gerasimovich wasn’t able to intervene, as he was arrested and executed in Stalin’s purge in 1938. Her closeness to him probably doomed whatever chance she had at being awarded a PhD. She didn’t get the PhD, but published articles in international journals.

Parchomenko left Kharkiv, and went to an observatory in Crimea, where she lived a very solitary life. She died in a nursing home in 1970. In 1971, Tamara Smirnova from the Crimean observatory discovered an asteroid orbiting between Jupiter and Mars. She named it in honor of Parchomenko (1857 Parchomenko).

Sources: English and Ukrainian Wikipedia articles, M. Balyshev’s 2018 article (includes a faculty photo with her in 1935).

Wikipedia notes: Very brief stub in English with no photo, longer in Ukrainian with photo, 9 other languages. And for her professional ally, Boris P. Gerasimovich: Very brief stub in English, medium-length in Ukrainian with a portrait, 8 other languages.

Claudia Yakovlevna Latysheva (1897-1956, aged 62)mathematician

Claudia Y. Latysheva is the first Ukrainian woman to gain a PhD in mathematics and physical science, and she made major contributions to theory about differential equations. The first woman mathematics professor in Ukraine, she advanced to dean of the faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics at the National University of Kyiv.
Postcard of National University of Kyiv
Postcard of National University of Kyiv early in the 20th century (via Wikimedia) – by the 1950s, there were trees at the front.

Claudia (Klavdiya) Y. Latysheva was born in Kyiv in 1897, when it was part of the Russian Empire. She was the daughter of a member of the Imperial Russian Army. After graduating high school in 1916, and completed a degree in the physico-mathematics division of Kyiv’s higher education institution for women in 1921. In 1925, she went on to post-graduate studies t the National University of Kyiv, where she spent the rest of her career.

In 1936, Latysheva became the first Ukrainian woman to gain a PhD in the mathematical and physical sciences. Her doctoral supervisor was Mikhail P. Kravchuk, who will appear again in a later bio in this series. In 1938, he was arrested in the same Stalinist purge as Gerasimovich (above). Kravchuk was sent to a gulag (forced labor camp) in Arctic north-eastern USSR, where he died in 1942. (He was posthumously cleared of all charges.)

Kravchuk primarily studied differential equations, and Latysheva continued that interest. Her dissertation was on analytical theory of differential equations. In a series of 12 articles published between 1946 and 1952, she developed a method for solutions to differential equations now called the Frobenius-Latysheva method, as well as extending other theorems related to differential equations. She also worked on other areas, and published 2 books as well as many papers.

Latysheva was also the first Ukrainian woman to become a professor of mathematics, and she was the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics from 1952 to 1954. She died in Kyiv aged 62 in 1956.

Latysheva is one of the scientists featured in She Is Science, an awesome project featuring Ukrainian women scientists, to promote science to girls – there are another 2 later in this series. The She is Science exhibit has toured Ukraine and internationally, and you can read more about the ongoing major Stem is Fem project here. As a result of Latyshenko’s inclusion, there’s a stamp in her honour. (She’s the first one shown.) You can see the representation of her by Jenya Polosina that was used for the stamp here – illustrating the inspiring essay about the Latysheva by Yulia Pavlenko, one of the winners of the She is Science essay contest for young girls. From Pavlenko’s essay:

We, young mathematicians, participate in academic competitions every year, and my achievements at these academic competitions have given me many opportunities. Claudia Latysheva was the one who gave us this opportunity because, in 1936, she was one of the organizers of the First All-Ukrainian Academic Competition on Mathematics.

Students can see her work and achievements everywhere.

Yulia Pavlenko

Sources: English and Ukrainian Wikipedia articles, STEM is Fem, Chronicle of the Institute of Mathematics, Mathematics Genealogy Project.

Wikipedia notes: Medium-length article in English, similar length in Ukrainian, 3 other languages.


Observers of a 1914 total solar eclipse
1914 eclipse expedition (Wikimedia)

More in this series:

  • Part 2 (Mariya Y. Zerova, Antonina F. Prikhot’ko, Dariya N. Dobroczayeva, Kateryna L. Yushchenko, Anna Z. Osychnyuk)

Science For Ukraine is a forum for finding, sharing, and offering opportunities and assistance for Ukrainian scientists affected by Russia’s war on the country. (On Twitter.)

Carathe Council for At-Risk Academics – is also active in supporting Ukrainians needing help, as well as Russian academics at risk because of their opposition to the war. Cara continues to support academics at risk globally. (On Twitter.)


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