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Olena Teliha was born Elena Shovgeneva in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her father was a notable Russian civil engineer. In 1918, she moved to Kyiv with her family, where they lived through the years of Russian Civil War. When the Bolsheviks finally took over, her father moved to Czechoslovakia, and the rest of the family followed him in 1923. After living through the rise and fall of Ukrainian National Republic, Olena took an avid interest in Ukrainian language and literature. In Prague, she attended a Ukrainian teacher's college where she studied history and philology. She met a group of young Ukrainian poets in Prague and started writing poetry herself. After marrying, she moved to Warsaw, Poland, where she lived until the start of the Second World War.

In 1941, Teliha moved back to Kyiv, where she continued her work as a cultural and literary activist, heading the Ukrainian Writers' Guild and editing a weekly cultural and arts newspaper "Litavry". A lot of her activities were in open defiance of the Nazi authorities. She watched her closest colleagues from the parent-newspaper "Ukrainian Word" ("Ukrayins'ke Slovo") get arrested and yet chose to ignore the dangers. She was finally arrested by the Gestapo and executed in Babyn Yar in Kyiv along with her husband. In the prison cell where she stayed, her last words were scribbled on the wall: "Here was interred and from here goes to her death Olena Teliha".

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