Russia's crimes

‘Her new sisters will grow from the earth, and again will sing joyfully of life’: How Victoria Amelina’s endeavors live on


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It has been a year since Victoria Amelina was killed on July 1, 2023. Ukrainian writer and journalist, public figure, wife and mother, owner of a white dog named Vovchytsia… is gone.

On July 1, Russia’s missile attacked the Ria Pizza pizzeria in Kramatorsk. Amelina sustained a life-threatening injury and left us. But her sisters and brothers continue pursuing the causes she believed in, fought for, and inspired others with.


What books by Victoria Amelina were published this year without her?


Books authored by Amelina were translated into foreign languages even before her death. The rights to publish the novel “Dom’s Dream Kingdom” were sold to Poland (to Wydawnictwo Warstwy under the title “Dom dla Doma”) and Spain (to Avizor Ediciones as “Un hogar para Dom”). She and her literary agent, Emma Shercliff, had negotiated an English translation agreement at Macmillan. After her death, a Bulgarian translation of her novel “The Fall Syndrome, or Homo Compatiens” was published by Colibri. 


Amelina’s children’s books are published by Ukrainian publisher the Old Lion Publishing House, which translated “Someone, or the Water Heart” into Slovak and “Eeeeeeeeevil Eka’s Excavator Stories” into Ukrainian-English and Ukrainian-German. 

A few months after Amelina’s death, her book “Nothing Bad Has Ever Happened: A Bouquet for Victoria Amelina” was published in the United States. The book’s title is also the title of one of Amelina’s essays: American writer Askold Melnychuk decided to collect the memoirs of Victoria Amelina’s closest friends and colleagues and create a book compilation from them. In Germany, a collection of Amelina’s poems “Translating the war. Poetry from Ukraine,” edited by Claudia Dathe, Tania Rodionova, and Asmus Trautsch, was also published.


Victoria wrote prose but, with the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, began writing poetry. Victoria called it “non-poetry.” She felt that it was “as if a missile hit the language.”


In 2023, Victoria read one of her poems, “Sirens,” at the International Book Arsenal Festival in Kyiv. After a missile strike at a pizzeria in Kramatorsk, a city in Donetsk Oblast not far from the frontline, where she was having lunch with Colombian colleagues, the poem began to resonate as prophetic:


Air-raid sirens across the country

It feels like everyone is brought out

For execution

But only one person gets targeted

Usually the one at the edge 

This time not you; all clear

(Victoria Amelina, translated from Ukrainian by Anatoly Kudryavitsky. First published in “Invasion: Ukrainian Poems about the War,” ed. by Tony Kitt; SurVision Books, Dublin, Ireland, 2022)

Testimony” by Victoria Amelina (Ukrainian edition book cover)


A year later, at the Book Arsenal, friends and colleagues of Victoria Amelina presented her first poetry collection, “Testimony.” Without her.


At the same festival, Amelina’s voice was scheduled to join the voices of various writers from the “Words and Bullets” collection. This collection of interviews, produced by Chytomo journalists and writers, was printed and published by Factor Druk on the day Russia destroyed the publishing house. The print run of “Words and Bullets” was decimated along with hundreds of thousands of other books. (Read our conversation with Victoria Amelina “Victoria Amelina: No words are needed after a tragedy, all words slide into a whirlpool.”)


Next year, a non-fiction English edition of the book “A War & Justice Diary: Looking at Women Looking at War” is set to be published in the UK by one of its largest and most well-known publishers, St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers.


According to Amelina’s plan, “A War & Justice Diary” was intended to be a collection of reportage stories about Ukrainian women who have documented Russia’s war crimes since 2014. Victoria managed to complete 60 percent of the book.


The rights to the text have already been sold to the United States, France, Italy, Georgia, and even South Korea.

Amelina’s friend and executive director of PEN Ukraine, Tetyana Teren, noted that over time, Amelina’s use of literary genres and writing style grew more complex as she wove in fragments of diaries, essays, and recorded interviews.


“The editorial team’s task was to interfere with the text as little as possible and leave it the way Victoria created it,” said Teren, on behalf of Amelina’s unfinished work “A War & Justice Diary: Looking at Women Looking at War.”

Teren continued, “Victoria’s most important goal was to show that Russia’s crimes against Ukraine and their policy of genocide against Ukraine and Ukrainian culture have been going on for centuries. That is why she so clearly draws a connection between different periods in Ukrainian history—first and foremost explaining the period known as the ‘Executed Renaissance,’ when Ukrainian dissidents of the Soviet era and the Ukrainian Sixtiers were prolific.



How Victoria documented Russia’s war crimes, and the impact it has had


To Amelina, it was crucial for her to be useful to her country. She volunteered, helped evacuate people, and revealed truth to the world about Russian crimes against Ukraine. She gave interviews and spoke extensively at international events, voicing the testimonies of eyewitnesses and victims.

Since the beginning of 2022, she worked with Truth Hounds, a Ukrainian legal organization investigating war crimes. Victoria served as a documentarian who participated in numerous field trips, mostly to Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts. Amelina documented targeted armed attacks by Russian Federation forces on cultural heritage sites in the Kherson region. In the Kharkiv region, she documented a huge number of testimonies of illegal detention, murder, attacks on civilians and civilian objects, torture, and more.


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Amelina initiated the investigation of the murder and torture of Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vakulenko and other civilians in the village of Kapitolivka in the Kharkiv oblast as a separate case. She was concerned about Vakulenko’s family and helped organize support for his underage son. With the help of Vakulenko’s father, she found his hidden poems and diary entries buried under a tree.


In April this year, the Truth Hounds team released the results of this investigation, which proved that the Russian military gave orders to murder the writer.

Victoria Amelina holding Volodymyr Vakulenko’s diary.

The story collection “Three Snowy Stories” by Volodymyr Vakulenko (Ukrainian edition book cover)


While collecting this evidence, the Truth Hounds team did not know that their work would come full circle in just a few months with a published investigation into Victoria’s death.


Investigating this attack has become our top priority for the next few months and we have managed to establish who was behind the launch of this missile, which unit of Russia’s army. It is the 47th Rocket Brigade,” said Roman Koval, head of the Truth Hounds investigation team.


In April this year, a local who gave coordinates for the Russian Iskander M missile system to be launched at a pizzeria in Kramatorsk was given a life sentence in prison.


July 1 remains not only Volodymyr Vakulenko’s birthday, but also the day of Victoria Amelina’s death.



Teenagers from New York in Donetsk oblast are finally in the Carpathian Mountains


Victoria founded the New York Literary Festival in 2021 as an act of support for the people of the village of New York in eastern Ukraine, Donetsk oblast, and all those living on the front line. Guests of the festival were writers from Ukraine, the United States, and France. 


It is now impossible to organize the festival in New York—the village of New York is in the direct line of fire. The cultural house where the first festival was held has since been destroyed: the Russians dropped a guided aerial bomb onto it. 

No less important are the festival’s projects, including the educational program for children and teenagers in New York that Victoria initiated last March. After Amelina’s death, the festival team brought it back to life. Victoria wanted to take the New York teenagers to the Carpathian Mountains because the Carpathians are the farthest part of Ukraine from the front, and the safest. These teenagers have grown up in a completely different landscape: Some of them had never seen mountains. Truth is, realizing Amelina’s dream for their mountain visit gives these teens the sole opportunity for an experience outside their war-dominated childhood and adulthood. 


Victoria Amelina dreamed that they would be able to relax, study, and meet famous artists. This has all happened through the newly established New York camp.


Olya Rusina, a writer, journalist, friend, and organizer of the camp for teenagers, hopes to realize a full-fledged festival in New York:


“We all dream of the day when we can return to New York after the war and hold a festival in memory of Vika. This is what she really wanted… and she said that even if everything is destroyed there, we will go to the riverbank and read poetry.”


Currently, the Russian army is shelling New York with artillery and launching guided aerial bombs.


Invisible bridges with which Victoria connects us


The cultural community of Ukraine has been feeling Amelina’s invisible, lingering presence all year. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky awarded her the Order of Merit “For significant achievements in strengthening Ukrainian statehood, courage and selflessness” of the III degree. This high honor was awarded posthumously.


The school in Lviv where she studied now has a plaque in her honor. The plaque was unveiled by Victoria’s mother and supported by her friends and colleagues.

Chytomo, a media platform for books and culture, awarded Victoria Amelina the Chytomo Award at the Frankfurt Book Fair “for continuing to connect people and communities with invisible bridges, and for setting the directions in which the Ukrainian cultural community continues to move.”


Victoria’s attitude and truthfulness united the world’s intellectual community. In November 2023, various events took place around the world in memory of Victoria Amelina, that included London, Dublin, Venice, Paris, Barcelona, Stockholm, New York, Burgos, and Vitoria. Every event was dedicated to Victoria Amelina, her work, and her words.


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The Norwegian Writers’ Union awarded her the Freedom of Speech Prize. This is the first time in prize history that the award has been given after a writer’s death. An issue of the Italian literary magazine K by Linkiesta was dedicated to her. Later, a public library in Milan, Italy, opened a hall in her name.


In one of her verses, Victoria Amelina foresaw:


Her new sisters will grow from the earth

And again will sing joyfully of life…


(this excerpt is from “Poem About a Crow,” inspired by her work interviewing women who lived through Russian occupation. Translated by Uilleam Blacker)


We continue to read Victoria’s books and poems. We continue to nurture her initiatives. Even though it is impossible to fully cry out the pain of loss.



This article was published with the support of the n-ost NGO, which supports media professionals.



Copy editing: Olena Pankevych, Terra Friedman King