Chytomo Picks

‘They are fighting not only for our land.. but also for our culture’ A Ukrainian literary critic reflects


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When Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine began, Bohdana Romantsova — a literary critic, journalist, publisher and representative of Tempora book publishing house, wasn’t sure how to continue her work, especially while her friends and family were fighting at the front. But with time came clarity. 


“For the first few months we were afraid that our profession was lost for society because we can’t do anything with our hands. Like helping people, like having a weapon… So for me it was useless for a period of time,” she told Chytomo. “And then I understood that culture also matters and they are fighting not only for our land like soil, but also for our culture. And we should propose something that is worth fighting for.”


As time passed, Romantsova noticed an increased public interest in the type of in-depth, intellectual literature that Tempora specializes in.


“After a while they (Ukrainian readers) felt a need to immerse themselves in something, to feel the story, not like a quick or no flashes, but the whole story.”


She also found that Ukrainians wanted to not just read, but write. She teaches creative writing classes in Kyiv, and noticed a spike in enrollment, particularly among women and displaced individuals from other parts of Ukraine.


“There is a strong need to reflect what you have felt,  to show it. I think it can be like  therapy. That’s why the courses where I’m a lecturer are becoming more and more popular. We are dealing with hundreds of people every year who are eager to write novels.”


Romantsova also feels compelled to promote Ukrainian literature internationally Part of that work, she explains, is working against stereotypes of Ukrainian art as being about village life, when the reality is that Ukrainian literature, such as classics like Lesya Ukrainka (who Romantsova featured for Chytomo here) to more contemporary writers like, is both modern and urban.  Another barrier to notes is the lack of sufficient translations into English and other languages. 


“My mission as a literary critic in a country that is in a state of war is to promote my culture in every way I can find. I’m ready to sit in buses and just give some paper, saying “People, Please, please read anything. I’m from Ukraine!”


When she thinks of the responsibility she feels as a cultural advocate, her thoughts turn to her father, who is currently serving with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.


“All of the people closest to me are serving at the frontline or near it. So they are responsible for me and I’m responsible for them. And every day I’m trying to do my best to work as much as I can, to be as perfect as I can. It’s much more difficult for them than for me to sit in Kyiv, in a safe flat and try to edit some things. That’s why I feel this responsibility.”


See her full conversation with Chytomo here:


More about current translation of Lesia Ukrainka you can find in our previous article: ‘Whoever liberates themselves, shall be free’. Lesya Ukrainka’s life and legacy


The best Ukrainian literary classics available in English translations 


More articles and interviews on the visibility of Ukrainian literature abroad you can find in other articles of the project Chytomo Pics.


The publication is a part of the “Chytomo Picks: New Books from Ukraine” project. The materials have been prepared with the assistance of the Ukrainian Book Institute at the expense of the state budget. The author’s opinion may not coincide with the official position of the Ukrainian Book Institute.