The Annals of the Ukrainian Academy, pp. 426-428

 

NATALIA OSSADCHA-JANATA

(1891-1982)

 

Natalia Ossadcha-Janata, a full member of the Academy - botanist, long-time student of the use of plants in Ukrainian folk medicine and contributor to the establishment of Ukrainian botanical nomenclature—died in New York City on April 9, 1982. The lives of Ossadcha-Janata and her family reflected the fate of Ukrainian intellectuals in modern times. At the turn of the century, her parents—each in his own way—struggled for the liberation of their native coun­try; her husband, active in the renaissance of Ukrainian culture in the 1920s, perished in the Kolyma camp. As the wife of "an enemy of the people," Ossadcha-Janata was not granted the opportunity to develop her talents and knowledge fully.

She was born on May 19, 1891 in Kherson where her father, Tykhon Ossadchy, worked at the Zemstvo (Agrarian Council). An economist and writer, he was an active promoter of the cooperative movement in Ukraine, and in 1917-1918 became a member of the Ukrainian Central Rada (Council). When Natalia was nine years old, her mother Maria was arrested for participating in underground revolutionary work and spent five years in exile. After serving her term, she entered medical school and became a physician at the age of forty-five.

In 1908 Natalia Ossadcha graduated from a gymnasium, and enrolled in the Biology Department of the Higher Courses for Women in Kyiv. In 1910 she married Oleksander Janata, then a student at the Agricultural Department of the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, and later a prominent botanist, an organizer of agri­cultural research in Ukraine, and a promoter of the Ukrainianization of scientific institutions and schools of higher learning. In 1918 Natalia graduated from the Higher Courses for Women with a major in botany. In 1922 the couple was invited by the Institute of Ukrainian Scientific Language of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences to work on the dictionary of Ukrainian botanical nomen­clature. Ossadcha-Janata was put in charge of the ordering and editing of 66,000 cards with plant names collected since 1910 by volunteers throughout Ukraine; sometimes different names had been applied to the same plant in various regions of Ukraine, and in other cases several plants had been given the same name. The final decision in selecting the proper plant name for the dictionary, and hence for standard Ukrainian usage, was taken by the Botanical Section of the Natural Science Department of the Institute. Ossadcha-Janata presented materials at twenty-six conferences devoted to this problem. In 1926, she resigned from the job because of illness caused by overwork. Slovnyk botanicnoji nomenklatury: projekt (Dictionary of Botanical Nomenclature: A Project, 313 pp.), was pub­lished by the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in 1928.

In 1926 Ossadcha-Janata moved to Kharkiv to study the distribution of medicinal plants in Ukraine and their application in folk medicine. In 1927-1933, she worked as a research associate at the Ukrainian Institute for Applied Botany, and led expeditions throughout Ukraine, seeking out village practi­tioners of folk medicine and recording their legends. She would also record the local plant names from the Ukrainian vernacular. In total, she investigated the folk practices of medicine in 144 villages.

In 1933 Oleksander Janata was arrested and sentenced to imprisonment in forced labor camps. He died in 1938 in the Kolyma camp. Ossadcha-Janata was discharged from the Institute as the wife of a political dissident. Her expertise, however, was of crucial importance to pharmacy: in 1934, the All-Union Insti­tute of the Essential-Oil Industry commissioned Ossadcha-Janata to carry out a botanical study of the azalea (Azalea pontica L.) in the Ukrainian Polissja. Later she worked as botanist for the Ukrainian Institute of Experimental Medi­cine and subsequently for the Ukrainian Institute of Experimental Pharmacy. As a result of her field work, pharmacological experiments and clinical studies, the plant Peganum harmala L. was introduced into Soviet pharmacopoeia for the treatment of some nervous disorders (see Gosudarstvennaja farmakopeja [Government Pharmacopoeia], Komissariat Zdravookhranenija RSFSR, Moscow, 1946, 8th ed.). Ossadcha-Janata submitted a dissertation on wild medicinal plants in Ukraine, but as the "wife of an enemy of the people" she was forbidden to defend it.

In 1943 Ossadcha-Janata emigrated to the West. In 1944-45 she worked at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute fur Kulturpflanzenforschung in Vienna. After the war, she lived in the DP Camp Ettlingen in West Germany, and continued to work on materials collected during her expeditions, which she managed to take out of the Soviet Union. She was closely associated with the Free Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, and in 1947 was elected Chair of its Botanical Group.

Ossadcha-Janata came to the U.S. in 1950, and settled in New York City. In 1951 the Research Program on the USSR granted her a research fellowship which enabled her to work at the New York Botanical Garden for nine months. She devoted much time to the expansion of her dissertation. She also prepared an abbreviated version of it, in order to put her research on public record. In 1952 it was published by the Research Program on the USSR under the title Herbs Used in Ukrainian Folk Medicine (114 pp.). David D. Heck, Head Curator of the New York Botanical Garden, wrote in the Foreword: “This draft is much shorter than the original, but it is hoped that the more significant findings of the author’s Ukrainian expeditions have been included. It is certain that this original data could not now be gathers again in Ukraine, for the practices that are covered here were already on the wane fifteen to twenty years ago when the information was collected, and since that time the full impact of the collectivization of the country has been felt”. Excerpts from this work were published in The Garden Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, vol. 2, No.6, 1952, pp. 171-172, 188; vol. 3, No. 1, 1953, pp. 19-21.

Ossadcha-Janata participated in the work of the Academy from the time of its founding. In March 1952, she was elected a full member. She presented eleven papers at scholarly conferences of the Academy. In 1961-1974 Ossadcha-Janata was Chair of the Academy Audit Committee. In the years 1965-1975 she headed the Doroshenko Relief Committee at the Academy which collected donations and distributed funds among needy émigré scholars and their families. Her book Ukrajins'ki narodni nazvy roslyn (Plant Names in Ukrainian Folk Language) (176 pp.) was published by the Academy in 1973. It gives the Ukrainian names of 810 plant species, supplementing Slovnyk botanicnoji nomenklatury. The research for it is based mainly on material recorded by Ossadcha-Janata in 158 Ukrainian localities. Ossadcha-Janata was a full member of the Shevchenko Scientific Society and of the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America.

In July 1974, at the age of 83, Ossadcha-Janata broke her hip, and after that time rarely left her apartment. She died of heart failure, at her home in her ninety-first year.