Review 09:07 10 Dec 2020

What Ukrainians were Nobel Prize winners? We answer

On the occasion of Nobel Day, we gathered all people of Ukrainian descent, awarded the world's most famous prize

Photo: nobelprize.org

For almost 120 years, every December 10, Stockholm has celebrated a national holiday — Nobel Day (Nobeldagen), commemorating the award ceremony of the Nobel Prize winners. This award for breakthrough scientific discoveries and inventions, outstanding cultural achievements, and public service is considered the most respected and influential on the planet.

Selecting Nobel Prize winners takes place in advance. It involves about 300 professionals of the highest category, scientists, and organizations around the world. The winners are awarded in five categories: physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine, literature, and peace promotion around the world (Peace Prize). Adjacent to this list is the Nobel Prize in Economics, launched by the Bank of Sweden in memory of its founder Alfred Nobel.

This year, they changed the usual order of awarding the Nobel Prizes because of the pandemic. In Stockholm, the traditional Nobel Prize ceremony and the banquet in the city hall have been canceled. They'll be replaced with a television ceremony with inclusions from several countries. In Norway, where the Peace Prize is awarded, they moved the ceremonial events from the City Hall to the University of Oslo. Last, its walls saw the event 30 years ago. However, the awards are still happening, since Nobeldagen is one of the most principal and anticipated events in the intellectual life not only of Sweden and Norway but also of all progressive humanity.

The prestigious award was created under the will of the Swedish scientist and philanthropist, industrial magnate and inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel, who sent all his money to its prize fund. Carrying out the patron's last will, annually on the day of his death, the managers of the Nobel Foundation award honorary prizes and cash prizes to "to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind."

The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901. Today, about a thousand people and organizations are on the list of Nobel laureates.

Альфред Нобель і його заповіт

Alfred Nobel and his Will

So far, Ukraine doesn't have a single Nobel Prize winner.

In the past, the primary reason for Ukrainians being absent in the Nobel lists was one condition for official participation in the competition for world intellectuals. The condition was the statehood of the people, whose representatives claim a top award, i.e. what our country was deprived of for many decades. We shouldn't forget that nominating Ukrainian laureates in literature negatively influenced the impending sword of the punitive totalitarian regime. Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko aptly remarked on this: "Let us not forget that Ukrainian authors until recently couldn't participate. As soon as the Nobel Prize was looming, the nominees were killed by disinterested parties, extremely careful the Nobel Prize, the loudest microphone in the world, didn't fall into the hands of Ukrainians. The fate of Vasyl Stus isn't the only example. In fact, it's a big reason Bazhan refused the nomination. He wanted to live a little longer."

Today, Ukraine has restored independence, so its citizens can enter the privileged circle. Although it's unrealistic to discuss the near future of Ukraine's claims to the Nobel Prize now. Lack of proper conditions for scientific research, insufficient funding for science, meager salaries and pensions, lack of interest in new research and projects by the Ukrainian government and society make Ukrainian scientists uncompetitive in the global "scientific market," prevent modern science from developing in Ukraine and cause an outflow of brains to highly developed countries with better living and working conditions. Ukraine needs fresh ideas, new initiatives, and substantial financial investments in the intellectual field more than ever. There's hope that current conditions won't be the final verdict, because, despite everything, our scientists are actively involved in international scientific life.

Though we don't have our own Nobel laureates yet, Ukraine can still be rightfully proud of its Nobel Prize-winning children as citizens of other countries. These are scientists and writers of Ukrainian descent, born in our country, who studied and began their activity or lived and worked in Ukraine for a long time.

Нобелівська премія

Prize in Physics

"The greatest achievement of human genius is its ability to understand things that it can no longer imagine." Leo Landau

Лев Ландау

Lev Landau

Physics was the area of prizes that Alfred Nobel first mentioned in his 1895 will. In the late nineteenth century, many people considered physics to be the most advanced science, and perhaps Nobel also agreed. His own research was also closely related to physics. During the entire award's existence, 9 scientists with Ukrainian ancestors received the award in physics.

  • Isidor Rabi (1898-1988) was an American physicist born in the Lemko region, in the town of Rymanów (now Poland). He received the Nobel Prize in 1944 "for resonance method for recording the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei."
  • Polykarp Kusch (1911 – 1993) was an American physicist of Ukrainian descent, a native of Germany; a descendant of Ukrainians. He was a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1955. In co-authorship with Willis Eugene Lamb, he received the Prize for "accurate determination that the magnetic moment of the electron was greater than its theoretical value."
  • Igor Yevgenyevich Tamm (1895–1971) was a theoretical physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1958. From 1898 to 1913 he lived and studied in Kropyvnytskyi (Yelisavetgrad), later entered the University of Edinburgh, completed his first year, and later returned to his homeland.
  • Lev Landau (1908-1968) was one of the most famous physicists of the Soviet era, taught and conducted research at the Ukrainian Institute of Physics and Technology, Kharkiv University, and Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute. He received the Nobel Prize in 1962 "for his pioneering theories for condensed matter, especially liquid helium."
  • Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was an American theoretical physicist of Jewish descent. He was a son of Ukrainian immigrants: mother was from the village of Basaltove, Rivne region; father was from Chernivtsi. He was a laureate of 1969 "for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions."
  • Pyotr Kapitsa (1894-1984) was a Soviet physicist. The scientist's father, Colonel Leonid Kapitsa, is a Volyn native of Ukrainian-Polish origin. His mother came from the Ukrainian nobles, Stebnytskys. He was a laureate of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 "for his basic inventions and discoveries in the area of low-temperature physics."
  • Heorhyi Kharpak (Georges Charpak) (1924-2010) was a French physicist from Dubrovytsia in the Rivne region (born into a Jewish family). He is considered one of the most talented experimental scientists. He was a winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multiwire proportional chamber."
  • David Gross (1941-) is an American physicist. The scientist's mother was born in Ukraine. His father is the famous scientist Bertram Myron Gross, the son of immigrants from the Zakarpattia region. He was a laureate of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004, for the "discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interactions" (with Frank Wilczek and H. David Politzer).
  • Serge Haroche (1944-) is a French physicist. The scientist's mother, Valentina Rubleva, is from Odesa. He was a winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics (with David Wineland) for "ground-breaking experimental methods to measure and manipulate individual quantum systems."

Prize in Chemistry

"If you want to make an excellent gift for your children or grandchildren, buy a stereomicroscope. If you want to make a gift for your school or university, buy a stereomicroscope." Daniel Shechtman

Ден Шехтман

Dan Shechtman

Chemistry was an important component in Alfred Nobel's work. The development of his inventions, and the technological processes he used, were based on knowledge of chemistry. That is why chemistry was the second area that Nobel mentioned in his will. Six chemists, descendants of Ukrainian immigrants, won this prestigious award.

  • Herbert Charles Brown (1912-2004) was an American chemist of Jewish descent, the son of a Zhytomyr native. He was a laureate of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1979.
  • Roald Hoffman (1937-) was born in Zolochiv in the family of engineer Hillel Safran, a graduate of the Lviv Polytechnic, and Clara Safran, a teacher. He was a laureate of the Nobel Prize in 1981 for the "theories, developed independently, concerning the course of chemical reactions." The words "Ukraine–a land of contentment of my heart" belong to him.
  • Sidney Altman (1939-) is a Canadian and American molecular biologist of Jewish descent, son of Victor Altman, a collective farmer from the Ukrainian village of Chornyi Ostriv, who emigrated from Ukraine in 1934. He was a laureate of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (with Thomas Cech).
  • Irwin A. Rose (1926-2015) was an American biologist of Jewish descent, the son of Harry Royze, a native of the Odesa region, and his wife, Ella Greenwald. He was a laureate of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, co-authored with Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover for ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis.
  • Walter Kohn (1923-2016) was an American theoretical physicist and chemist. His mother was born in Brody in the Lviv region. He was a laureate of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1998, for the creation of electron density functional theory.
  • Daniel Schechtman (1941-) is an Israeli physicist and chemist, the grandson of a native of Bila Tserkva. He was a winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2011, "for the discovery of quasicrystals."

Prize in Physiology and Medicine

"Man can use science to correct the imperfections of his nature." Illia Mechnykov

Ілля Мечников

Illia Mechnykov

Alfred Nobel stressed that prizes should be awarded for scientific work that gives maximum benefit to humanity. The Nobel Prize medal in physiology or medicine depicts an allegorical figure of "Medicine" holding an open book on its lap. In another hand, it holds a bowl into which water pours from a rock. Nearby, a girl is suffering from thirst. The inscription in Latin says: "Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes." This line is taken from Virgil's poem "Aeneid" and can be translated roughly: "They who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery."

Masters of medicine who had ancestors from Ukrainian lands:

  • Illia Mechnykov (1845-1916) was a Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine. Ukrainian scientist, author, and founder of many theories and scientific teachings in biology, who graduated from Kharkiv University.
  • Selman Abraham Waksman (1888-1973) was an American scientist, a native of Nova Pryluka village, Lypovetsyi Uyezd, Kyiv Governorate (now the Vinnytsia region). The 1952 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for his discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis."
  • George Wald (1906-1997) was a scientist in the fields of physiology and medicine. George Wald's father was born in a Ukrainian village near Przemyśl. He was a winner of the Nobel Prize for discoveries related to the primary physiological and chemical visual processes of the eye, with Haldan Keffer Hartline and Ragnar Granit in 1967.
  • Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (1921-2011) was an American biophysicist. The family of the scientist's father Simon Sussman emigrated from Ukraine. She received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1977, "for the development of radioimmunoassays of peptide hormones."
  • Cesar Milstein (1927-2002) was an Argentine immunologist of Jewish descent and the son of migrants from the Podolsk governorate. He was a laureate of the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1984 "for theories concerning the specificity in control and development of the immune system and the discovery of the principle for production of monoclonal antibodies."
  • Eric Kandel (1929-) is an Austrian and American neurobiologist, psychiatrist, professor of biochemistry. Son of Ukrainian immigrants: scientist's mother was from Kolomyia, Ivano-Frankivsk region; father was from Olesk, Lviv region. He was a laureate of the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology "for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons."
  • H. Robert Horvitz (born May 8, 1947, in Chicago, United States) is an American biologist whose grandmother was born in Novgorod-Siversky, Ukraine. He's a winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 2002, "for the discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death" (with Sydney Brenner and John E. Sulston).
  • Ralph Steinman (1943 – 2011[13]) was a Canadian and American immunologist and cytologist of Jewish origin, son of Stary Ostropil native, Khmelnytskyi region. He was a winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine (with Bruce Butler and Jules Hoffman) "for his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity."

Prize in Literature

"I think a hero is someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom." Bob Dylan

Боб Ділан

Bob Dylan

Alfred Nobel's personal library numbered thousands of volumes of specialized and fiction literature in various languages. In his final years, he tried his hand at not only being a scientist but also a writer, writing fiction. Literature was the fourth area mentioned by Nobel in his will.

The generous Ukrainian land has given the world an entire galaxy of Nobel Prize-winning writers who have discovered their creative potential in other countries.

  • Ivan Bunin (1870-1953) first lived and married in Odesa, then lived in Poltava. For over 14 years, Bunin lived directly on the territory of modern Ukraine. The writer spent much of his life in the Ukrainian ethnic lands of northern Slobozhanshchyna. He felt a constant connection with Ukraine and its people, as he repeatedly noted. Bunin spoke Ukrainian and translated works from other languages, in particular from Ukrainian. Prize of 1933 in literature "for the strict artistry with which he has carried on the classical Russian traditions in prose writing."
  • Boris Pasternak (1918-2008) was a Russian writer, son of Ukrainian Jews from Odesa. Laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958.
  • Mikhail Sholokhov (1905-1984) was a Russian writer, a native of the Don region; his mother was Ukrainian. His mother, Anastasia Danilova Chernikova, was the daughter of a serf who came to the Don from Chernihiv. Laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1965.
  • Shmuel Yosef Halevi Agnon (actual name Czaczkes) (1888-1970) was born in the city of Buchach in the Ternopil region, in a wealthy and educated Jewish family. For his two most famous novels, The Bridal Canopy and A Guest for the Night, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966 (along with Nelly Sachs) "for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people."
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was a Russian writer; his mother was Ukrainian. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.
  • Saul Bellow (1915 – 2005) was an American writer, a native of Canada, the son of Odesa immigrants. Winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."
  • Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) was a Russian and American poet of Jewish descent, a descendant of Ukrainians. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987.
  • Harold Pinter (1930-2008) was a British playwright, poet, director, and actor of Jewish descent, the grandson of an Odesa native. Laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005.
  • Robert Dylan (actual name: Robert Allen Zimmerman) (May 24, 1941-) is an American poet, composer, singer, and guitarist of Jewish descent. From his lyrics, many catchphrases were borrowed. His music has influenced the work of numerous composers and songwriters. He won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." His ancestors are from Ukraine: his paternal grandparents left for the United States from Odesa in connection to the Jewish pogroms of 1905.
  • Svetlana Alexievich (May 31, 1948-) is a Belarusian Russian-speaking writer, born in Stanislav (now Ivano-Frankivsk) in a family of Belarusians and Ukrainians. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time."
  • Olga Nawoja Tokarczuk (January 29, 1962, Sulechów, Poland) is a Polish writer, essayist, screenwriter, poet, psychologist, and winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize "for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life." She received her Nobel Prize in 2019. She was born and raised in Sulechów (Poland) in a family of Ukrainian immigrants, a Pole and a Ukrainian (also Olga Tokarczuk) from the Ternopil region.

Ivan Franko was also a nominee in literature. The archives of the Swedish Academy contain a 1915 document, where Franko is listed №4, but in 1916, he didn't become a laureate. In November 1915, Dr. Yosyp Zastyrets, a UGCC priest from Vienna, nominated Franko for the prize. Dr. Harald Hjärne of Uppsala supported the writer's candidacy. Unfortunately, the letter of submission from Zastyrets arrived in Stockholm late. The question of the winners had already been resolved, and the list of candidates had already been approved. In 1916, Franco died, and according to the rules of the Nobel Committee, the prize is awarded only to living applicants.

Among Ukrainian dissidents and political prisoners, Ivan Bahrianyi and Vasyl Stus were nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1963, a branch of the Democratic Union of Ukrainian Youth in Chicago began organizing work to nominate Bahrianyi for the Nobel Prize, but the writer's sudden death didn't allow them to nominate him officially for the award.

Vasyl Stus was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1985 by Nobel Laureate Heinrich Böll. But his appeal to Moscow didn't receive any reaction. Stus was in prison at the time and died soon, never learning that he had been nominated for an honorary award.

Peace Prize

"One side is enough for war. Two are needed for peace." Yitzhak Rabin

Іцхак Рабін

Yitzhak Rabin

Creating his will in 1895, Alfred Nobel was guided by a deep faith in humanity. The Peace Prize was to be awarded to the one who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

Ukraine has always strived for Freedom. Those who breathed its air as a child have contributed to the establishment of peace and justice on Earth.

  • Menachem Begin (1913-1992) was the 7th Prime Minister of Israel (June 1977 to 1983), winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. He was born into the family of a Jewish community secretary in Brest (Ukrainian ethnic territory, now territory of Belarus).
  • Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995) was an Israeli politician, Prime Minister of Israel (1974-1977, 1994-1995). The politician's father is a Kyiv native, born in the village of Sydorovychi, now the Ivankiv district of the Kyiv region. He was a laureate of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. He died at the hands of a religious and political extremist in 1995.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-) is a Russian politician. His mother, Maria Hopkalo (1911-1993), was Ukrainian. Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, who had been a dissident and human rights activist in the Soviet Union since the 1960s, has been nominated for the Peace Prize three times (in 2009, 2011, and 2014).

He spent 15 years in Soviet camps, fighting for the right of his people to return home from the places of Stalin's deportation. The Crimean Tatar national movement, led by Dzhemilev, achieved this goal exclusively by peaceful means.

In September 2018, at the suggestion of Polish President Lech Wałęsa, the Ukrainian parliament nominated Oleh Sentsov, an illegally convicted and imprisoned Ukrainian director, for his heroic non-violent protest against the occupation of Crimea, Sevastopol, and parts of Donbas and his willingness to sacrifice his life for the freedom of others.

Prize in Economics

"Freedom of speech has always existed; the price was different. For the same statement, they burned in the XVI century, excommunicated from the church in the XVIII, call out in a duel in the XIX, and criticized in the newspapers in the XX." Robert Fogel

Роберт Фогель

Robert Fogel

In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (Central Bank of Sweden) established the Alfred Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. The Prize in Economics is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences under the same principles as the Nobel Prizes, awarded since 1901.

  • Simon Smith Kuznets (1901-1985) was an American economist of Jewish descent who received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1971. He was educated and started working in Kharkiv, after which he moved to the United States. He was half-Ukrainian by nationality.
  • Robert Fogel (1926-2013) was an American economist; son of Odesa natives. He was a laureate of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1993, (with Douglass North) for "renewed research in economic history by applying economic theory and quantitative methods in order to explain economic and institutional change."

And we hope that soon the world will learn about the Nobel Prize winners from independent Ukraine! The foundation for this to happen is strong.


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