Russia's crimes

Destruction of Ukraine’s biggest children’s hospital no longer “big news” for many foreign media, says writer Artem Chekh

09.07.2024

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On July 8, the day of a massive Russian missile attack on Kyiv that destroyed a children’s cancer hospital, the London Ukrainian Institute held a meeting with writer, screenwriter and soldier Artem Chekh. Chekh discussed the devaluation of tragedies, his new novel and literature’s inability to help with the trauma of loss. Olesya Khromeychuk, director of the institute and author of “The Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister,” hosted the meeting.

 

Artem Chekh prefers to be known primarily as a writer, and secondly as a soldier. “My military service is a coincidence and a necessity,” he says about the war, which has consumed 3.5 years of his life. Chekh has just released his new historical-adventure novel, “Song of the Open Road.”

 

However, he’s coming back to the topic of war. Chekh notes that the character of the army remains largely unchanged, but the nature of war and circumstances have shifted. “It’s now a war for survival,” he says, recalling his intense experiences near Bakhmut.

 

According to him, ten years ago, soldiers thought more about daily life, but now those who have been fighting for three years since the escalation of the war in 2022 only think about how to survive. “You devalue the scale of the tragedy,” says Artem Chekh. “Earlier, the death of one soldier you served with would be written about by everyone. Now you can lose half a company, and the loss has become the norm. This is very scary.”

 

At the same time, despite the “devaluation” of losses which is a survival mode for Ukrainian soldiers, Artem Chekh notes the downplaying or even ignoring of Ukrainian tragedies by foreign media. A few hours before the event, the writer was monitoring the media coverage of today’s Russian attack on Ukraine, particularly the largest Ukrainian and European hospital for children with cancer, Okhmatdyt.

 

In the international media space and local media markets, the event was in many cases downplayed to a routine news item, merely mentioned in passing among hundreds of other stories. “Just a simple typeface: ‘Missile hits hospital.’ That’s it. Earlier, this would have been big news. But now, it’s just like that. That’s why all our voices are important,” says Artem Chekh, whose voice is abruptly cut off a few minutes later due to a blackout in Kyiv.

 

Artem Chekh is a Ukrainian writer, journalist and screenwriter. He serves in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. His novel, “Absolute Zero,” was translated into English by Elena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna and published by Glagoslav Publications in 2020. The novel, “Who Do you Think You Are?” was adapted into the film directed by Iryna Tsilyk, “Rock. Paper. Grenade.”

 

“Song of the Open Road” is a latest novel by Artem Chekh inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name from the collection “Leaves of Grass.” The novel follows a former Ukrainian serf who fights in the Crimean War, then joins the North in the American Civil War alongside his friend Sam, a former slave. They travel across America together. This book marks a departure from Chekh’s previous works, which he completed after the full-scale invasion. When asked about literature’s role in coping with loss, Chekh believes it has a minimal impact. 

 

The Ukrainian Institute London is an independent charity that champions Ukrainian culture and shapes the conversation about Ukraine in the UK and beyond. It engages experts, creatives, policymakers, and active citizens to explore Ukrainian perspectives on global challenges.

 

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Copy editing: Mark Klenk