Kateryna Yushchenko was a Ukranian female Computer Scientist who developed one of the world's first high-level languages using indirect addressing (also known as pointers), called the Address programming language. Yushchenko was the first woman in the USSR to become a Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences in programming.
Image of Kateryna Yushchenko at Samarkand University in Uzbekistan
by Samoylen, CC BY-SA 3.0
Harold Lawson is upheld as the inventor of pointers in 1964 however it could be argued that actually Kateryna Yushchenko had already invented them in the 50’s in Ukraine.
It is fair to say that Kateryna Yushchenko was born into turbulent times in Ukraine on Dec 8th 1919. In 1917, in the midst of World War 1, the February Revolution in Russia saw Tsar Nicholas II deposed and he and his family later assassinated. The interim government were usurped by Lenin’s Bolsheviks during the October Revolution of the same year. In the middle of this Russian unrest the Ukrainian War of Independence began on June 10th 1917 resulting in the establishment and development of the short lived Ukrainian People’s Republic 1917 – 1920 which proclaimed its independence from the Russian Republic on 22 January 1918. In 1920 just after Kateryna’s birth the whole of the Ukrainian territory fell into Bolshevik hands. In 1921 on 18th March the Peace of Riga Treaty between the Second Polish Republic, Soviet Russia (acting also on behalf of Soviet Belarus), and Soviet Ukraine sealed the fate of the Ukrainian People's Republic and the Ukrainian War of Independence ended. The Ukrainan Peoples Republic was officially re branded Ukrainian Soviet Republic and then the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic one of the co-founders of the Soviet Union.
In 1922 Dec 19th the USSR came into being. In the early years of the Soviet Ukraine when Kateryna would have been a child, there was a revival of Ukrainian culture due to Bolshevik policies known as the policy of Korenization (indigenisation). This was possibly to boost overall support for the Soviet system. By 1928 Stalin had consolidated power in USSR and started an abrupt reversal of the Korenization policy. In 1930 when Kateryna was 11 yrs old, Ukraine and presumably Kateryna and her family would have experienced the Holodomor or Terror Famine. According to the findings of the Court of Appeal of Kyiv in 2010, the population losses due to the famine amounted to 10 million, with 3.9 million direct famine deaths, and a further 6.1 million birth deficits. Some scholars believe that the famine was planned by Joseph Stalin to eliminate a Ukrainian independence movement and possibly ethnic Ukrainians via genocide. Others suggest that the man-made famine was a consequence of Soviet industrialisation. Some believe it was to simply push Ukrainian peasants into submission, drive them into the collectives and ensure a steady supply of grain for Soviet industrialization. The first reports of mass malnutrition and deaths from starvation emerged from two urban areas of the city of Uman, reported in January 1933. This is 3 and a half hours from where Kateryna lived in Chyhyryn. Kateryna would now have been 14 yrs old. It would have been a time of unbelievable suffering. More than 2,500 people were convicted of cannibalism during the Holodomor.
In 1937, when Kateryna was 17 yrs old and had just started her Undergraduate Degree at Kyiv University her father, a Geography and History teacher, was recognized as a Ukrainian nationalist by the Soviets and was arrested. Kateryna’s mother, a housewife, tried to prove her husband’s innocence by showing the secret service agents the documents testifying to the fact that he had participated in the revolutionary movement. Sadly, she did not return. She was sentenced to a 10-year imprisonment and the evidence she brought was burned in front of her. Kateryna was then expelled from University. Who can imagine how this 17yr old girl who had lost both parents and had her education taken from her felt. Incredibly she carried on and was determined to continue her studies. The only institution that accepted her, with a scholarship, food and accommodation provided by the State, was Samarkand University in Uzbekistan, which was 2422 miles away (3895 km). To put this into perspective the distance between London and Kyiv is 1496 miles and it is 1784 miles from London to Moscow.
“After all the misery and humiliation of trying to continue pursuing science, it seemed to be possible salvation. I was completely devoted to studying... The opportunity to finally complete my education has given me the strength to survive the grief that came. But I always remembered my parents and such a distant Ukraine.” Katrina Yshchenko
In 1939 World War 2 broke out and she would not return to the Ukraine until after the war.
After World War 2 the Institute of Mathematics of the USSR Academy of Sciences was opened in Lviv. Kateryna met Boris Gnedenko (then almost head of the Institute), who saw her diploma and recruited her to the department of probability theory. She was engaged in special problems of probability theory and worked on areas which are important for the development of quantum mechanics today. In 1950, when Kateryna was 30 yrs old, the Institute moved to Kyiv and Kateryna moved as well. Under the direction of Boris Gnedenko, she obtained a Ph.D. She was the first woman in the USSR to obtain a Ph.D. in Physical and Mathematical Sciences in programming. For a period of seven years, Yushchenko held the position of Senior Researcher of the Kiev Institute of Mathematics of the Ukrainian SSR Academy of Sciences (1950–57)
In 1952 The Institute purchased a set of computer analysis machines for research, and Kateryna was appointed head of this laboratory. In 1952, the first MESM computer in continental Europe was transferred to the Institute of Mathematics for scientists, including Yushchenko, to use. MESM was the first universally programmable electronic computer in the Soviet Union. The device was inconvenient as it worked slowly, acted up due to its vacuum tubes, and its memory consisted of only a few bytes! In the process of working with MESM, it became clear that the more complex tasks were difficult to solve by writing simple machine programs. There was a need to develop a high-level programming language and Yushchenko created the Address Programming Language in 1955 which used indirect addressing (aka pointers). It is thanks to its address language that the dependence on the location of the program in memory has disappeared. She wrote many books about address programming. Her invention was two years ahead of Fortran, three years ahead of Cobol (which was developed in part by Grace Hopper who created the first compiler and coined the term computer "bug"), and five years ahead of ALGOL. It was a breakthrough! Yushchenko’s invention began to be used in most Soviet and later Chinese-made machines. Address programming language became the first fundamental achievement of the Soviet School of Theoretical Programming. 1961 she co-authored the book “Elements of Programming”. The book was used across the USSR and countries from the Eastern Bloc. She continued to work at the Institute for 40 yrs which would have been until she was 70, supervising 56 PhDs. She died at the age of 81 in 2001.
The MESM computer was operated until 1957 https://habr.com/en/company/ua-hosting/blog/387837/
By Mrs Staves