How Ukrainian artists react to Masha Gessen’s statement about PEN America being “blackmailed” by the Ukrainians


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Recently, Russian journalist Masha Gessen resigned from PEN America due to the cancellation of an event with the participation of Russian writers at The World Voices Festival. It was canceled because Ukrainian writers Artem Chekh, Iryna Tsilyk, and Artem Chapeye refused to participate in the festival, which included Russians.

In an article for The Atlantic, Gessen said that they could understand “the [Ukrainians’] desire to be cruel to Russians” and that Ukrainians were “blackmailing” PEN America. Chytomo collected the reactions of Ukrainian writers, intellectuals and journalists to this situation.

Volodymyr Yermolenko, President of PEN Ukraine, writer, philosopher: “More and more, the ‘Russian liberals’ are using the narrative of a ‘double victim’. They are not only victims of the terrible putin, they are already victims of “cruel Ukrainians.” And now the entire Western world, which is concerned about freedom of speech, must defend Russians from these “cruel” Ukrainians. The fact that the path to “their” “democratic” Russia today is physically laid through Ukrainian bodies does not bother them at all. You can fight with other people’s hands and other people’s lives, and at the same time call those who fight ‘Nazis’. Or at least ‘cruel’.”



Victoria Amelina, poet, founder of the New York Literary Festival in Donetsk region: “Suddenly I felt like having a T-shirt with the inscription ‘Cruel Ukrainian writer’. Based on an article in The Atlantic.”


Iryna Slavinska, writer, executive producer of Radio Kultura: “And here we go again: an event with good Russians (which was added to the program at the last minute), canceled by the organizers for their own reasons, and hate is directed at “bad Ukrainians” who dared to dislike Russians”.


Haska Shyyan, translator, writer: “They say that the creators of Russian senses feel uncomfortable and unusual at small tables. But my meningococcal brain told in Hunt, doctor, hunt back in 2014 that this is where they belong. Only the table should be on the international stage. Thank you, Artem Chapeye, Artem Chekh, Iryna Tsilyk, Olena Huseinova, Anna Gruver, for achieving your goal, because, frankly, we were already desperate. We were all exhausted from explaining why Russian culture needs to be quarantined, and then suddenly it worked.”


Kateryna Mikhalitsyna, poet, volunteer: “When Ukrainians refuse to perform at the same venue as Russians, then for some reason it is the Ukrainians who are accused of cruelty, issuing ultimatums, and other nonsense. As Tetyana Teren reasonably says, “Russian intellectuals do not want to do their job – instead of reflecting on Russian imperialism and the imperial essence of their culture, they are actively engaged in discussions about why Ukrainians, these “cruel Ukrainian authors,” refuse to participate in joint events again and again.” Statement by the Executive Board of PEN Ukraine on the situation around the PEN America World Voices Festival”.


Ostap Ukrainets, writer and translator: “Once again, the evil Ukrainians are guilty of persecuting the unfortunate, oppressed Russians. I’m waiting to see who will stand up for Masha Gessen there.”


Daria Hirna, journalist, director of the Center for Research on the Liberation Movement: “Another good Russian is making ‘Nazis’ out of Ukrainians in the West. Masha Gessen. Let’s remember these cannibals.”


Kateryna Avramchuk, head of the first Ukrainian audio bookstore Abuk: “There is a recent article in The Atlantic that contains a lot of comments by Russian Masha Gassen, who accuses Ukrainians of manipulation, blackmailing and cruelty. What did the Ukrainians do: they simply warned the festival that they could not afford to go against their principles. The article is extremely manipulative. Russian liberals are using the rhetoric that they are now victims not only of the terrible putin, but also of the “cruel Ukrainian author.” Because they don’t want to perform on the same stage as Russians. Cruel Ukrainian authors…”


Paul Shapoval, historian, journalist:


Valeria Prorizna, creative producer and director:


Maria Sonevytska, Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley:


Read also: Russian journalist resigns from PEN America because they were removed from the literary festival because of Ukrainians


Photo: Jan Woitas/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images