bridge of paper

‘Bridge of Paper’ festival in Uzhhorod: military topic in the air and German-Ukrainian relations


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The Bridge of Paper (text in Ukrainian and German) literary festival took place in Uzhhorod between Sept. 27-29. This annual event, which has been held since 2015, is a part of a German-Ukrainian intellectual initiative led by Verena Nolte, a curator, translator and writer from Munich. Over the years, the festival has been to Mariupol, Kharkiv, Lviv, Weimar, Munich and other cities. This literary and artistic project brings together authors from Germany and Ukraine and is aimed at fostering extensive cultural exchange between the two countries.


Ukrainian authors amidst war


Of course, the full-scale invasion put the Bridge of Paper festival under the risk. In 2022 it was organized in Weimar, Germany. The organizers stated that back then Ukrainian literature was presented mainly by Ukrainian writers who were forced to move to Germany. However, after having evaluated the situation and all the possible risks, they decided Uzhhorod would host the festival this year. A significant focus was placed on Ukrainian writers who went to the army, but the program also included civilian writers who remained in Ukraine.


The Bridge of Paper festival also honored the memory of Victoria Amelina, Ukrainian writer and volunteer, who was killed by Russians during a missile attack in Kramatorsk this year, and the poet Nazar Honchar, who tragically died in Uzhhorod in 2009. The festival featured texts by Victoria, and ones dedicated to her or marked with quotes and allusions to her work. Andriy Lyubka and Oleksandr Havrosh shared recollections about the last day of Nazar Honchar’s life, sparking discussions about creating a memorial in Uzhhorod to commemorate the poet. Nazar Honchar’s widow, Khrystyna Nazarkevych, a translator and literary scholar, and regular festival attendee moderated this heartfelt memorial segment, setting the tone for the festival.



Fragments of texts by Ukrainian writer and journalist Artem Chekh and Artem Chapeye, a Ukrainian writer, reporter, translator and activist, who are both currently serving in the army and could not come to Uzhhorod, were read at a separate event. Additionally, Bohdan Kolomiichuk, a soldier in the Ukrainian army and author of historical and adventure novels, was present at the festival, where he read his historical prose and shared his personal experiences of the war.


It’s no surprise that many of the festival’s Ukrainian participants often chose to read essays, diary notes, or their testimonies instead of poetry or prose. The theme of war, its description and understanding was after all not even a dominant topic — it was the very atmosphere in which everything took place.


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The readings of Oksana Stomina’s painful diaries were particularly intense and emotional. She survived the siege and assault of Mariupol, and her husband, a city defender, remains in Russian captivity. Yuriy Durkot’s diary entries, addressed to the German-speaking audience, were filled with crystallized bitter irony. Similarly, the essays by Yuri Andrukhovych (who as well read a piece from his Radio Night novel) and Andriy Lyubka, revolved around the theme of the first days of the full-scale invasion and the days leading up to it, marked by plans, fears and chaos.



There was poetry: metaphorical poems by Yulia Stakhivska and plot-driven poems by Grigory Semenchuk; and prose: in addition to the already mentioned military prose writers, Oleksandr Havrosh read his texts imbued with a distinct Transcarpathian flavor. Bandy Sholtes, hailing from Uzhhorod, also contributed, offering his charismatic mythologizing of (un)ordinary adventures.


The German participants were attentive and complimentary to Ukrainian texts.


“If my generation is to play any role in the history of this century, it is that of allies,” said Ulrike Almut Sandig, a writer and performer.


“The “Bridge of Paper” meeting of writers became a great gift, allowing me to get acquainted with the creative works by my Ukrainian colleagues. Unfortunately, only few Ukrainian authors are published in Germany, but this has to change. I see that we, German authors, have a duty here. We must demand from our publishing houses and agencies for Ukrainian literature to finally take the place it well deserves. Otherwise, we are losing a lot,” Sandig added.
These words are not just a sympathetic courtesy of the guests. Ulrike Almut Sandig is an active participant in the German-Ukrainian literary dialogue. She organized the “Landscape” events together with Hrytsko (Grigory) Semenchuk (poetry, electronic music, hip-hop, video poetry), and also made German cover versions for Ukrainian songs for the Foxtrot project.



German point of view


“Bridge of Paper” is, first of all, a Ukraine-centered festival. It was created to support Ukrainian writers, to promote connections and mutual understanding between Ukrainian and German intellectual spaces. This year, however, the special interest was directed to German participants. The fact that people from calm and quiet countries were not afraid to visit our stereotyped “war ghetto” (a more pleasant part of it though) was interesting indeed.


The experiences shared by German participants at the festival were intriguing, especially as their literary texts were often unexpectedly often linked to the Russian-Ukrainian war and the threat of expanded aggression from Russia. I suspect that the themes of training for air raid alerts and difficult conversations with children about “are we safe” can claim the status of a recurring motif in the most recent German texts. The readings of German-language literature, after all, (readings at the festival were bilingual) served as a reminder of the ongoing intercultural connections and purely literary contexts that exist and do not cease even amidst fighting and war crimes.



“The significance of the Bridge of Paper festival is not only related to the war,” says Yulia Stakhivska, festival participant and poet. “Regardless of the war, multiethnic Uzhhorod is an appropriate and worthy place for intercultural contacts. Let’s say, not only “ethnographic” events, related to the communities of Hungarians, Romanians or Slovaks living in Zakarpattya, but also, for instance, the connections of contemporary literature. A lot is said about the results of the elections in Slovakia these days. But what do we know about contemporary Slovak literature? How many names can we recall? Germans came to Uzhhorod, showing interesting examples of contemporary poetry, prose and essay writing,” she said.


The poet adds that any international literary event featuring Ukrainian participants is more than a one-way dialogue. It’s not only sharing stories about us and our life amidst the war, but also introducing audiences to the diverse world of other literatures.



Marcel Beyer, German writer from Dresden, read an excerpt from his book “Silent Voices At the Sight Of the Dead On the Streets of Bucha.” This rich psychologized narrative shows the war through the perspective of animals forced to suffer because of human outrages. A seagull flying through the shot of a missile explosion. A dog whose muzzle was carved with the letter Z by the occupiers. Another scene depicts a dog whose owner seems to be covering his eyes and ears, or maybe just petting him, to calm him down… Prose by Dagmar Leupold from Munich is dramatic and mosaic-like, venturing into the absurd. Another Munich-based writer, Thomas Lang, focused on the paradoxes inherent in long, detailed narratives. Kerstin Preiwuß from Leipzig presents her “auto-analytical” prose full of cataloging and cultural allusions against the background of horrors of war, coupled with hermetic poems featuring complex associatively images and intriguing searches for archetypes. Ulrike Almut Sandig, Berlin, likes to embellish her poems, both spectacular and metaphorical, with a multimedia dimension and performative performance.


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It is worth mentioning that the Bridge of Paper festival also offered an array of lectures beyond its focus on fiction literature. Munich-based lterary scholar Alexander Kratochvil presented his vision of the Transcarpathian topic in Czech literature of the 1920s and 1930s. Ethnologist Pavlo Lenio (Uzhhorod) provided insightful analysis on the Hutsuls, especially those from the Transcarpathian region, using both scientific and popular science materials. . Translator and essayist Yurko Prokhasko (Lviv) gave a presentation on the difficulties of perceiving the Ukrainian patriotic cultural and political tradition in Germany. The participants also had tours of Uzhhorod with Pavlo Khudish and Lina Degtyareva.



Almost the entire festival, with the exception of the big final readings at the Bavka puppet theater, was hosted at the ILKO Gallery, a well-suited location for such events. The Bridge of Paper received its primary sponsorship from the German Federal Foreign Office and philanthropist Reinhard Gorenflos. Notably, the festival was regularly visited by German media expert and former MEP Rebecca Harms and diplomat Peter Schmal. On the Ukrainian side, the festival was coordinated by Natalia Shymon and Iryna Rybko.


Natalia Shymon said she was happy that this year the project was implemented in Ukraine, thanks to Verena Nolte, who is the main organizer of the Bridge of Paper festival. It is becoming more and more difficult to find funds for such events from year to year.


“Our city lacks such kinds of cultural events. This is another reason and my personal motivation for organizing the German-Ukrainian writers’ meeting. We’ve been thinking about Uzhhorod for a long time, even before the full-scale invasion, and now the Bridge of Paper has finally come here. Some of the Germans traveled to Ukraine for the first time, which is especially dear to us during the war. I hope we have managed to build a bridge of understanding primarily through personal contacts and our own experience, which certainly “work” better than any ministry,” Shymon added.



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Image: Volodymyr Khyla


Chytomo spotlights:Ukrainian culture on and after frontline” project. The project is funded by the Stabilisation Fund for Culture and Education of the German Federal Foreign Office
and the Goethe-Institut.