Chytomo Spotlights

Meridian Czernowitz literary festival: a resilient celebration of poetry, culture and wine during wartime


You see an error in the text - select the fragment and press Ctrl + Enter

Editor’s note: Meridian Czernowitz is an international literary festival held annually in Chernivtsi, in Western Ukraine, since 2010. The festival attracts well-known poets from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, Romania, and Ukraine, who are of significant interest to the audience. However, the city itself is the festival’s main highlight, hosting a variety of events including poetry readings, lectures, discussions, book presentations, literary walks, music and poetry evenings, wine and poetry evenings, and theater performances.

Amidst the full-scale invasion, the festival was conducted in both September 2022 and 2023. Our report aims to detail and illustrate how it unfolded this year and to discuss the significance of festivals during times of war.


This year, Meridian centered on showcasing books about Russia’s war against Ukraine by authors serving in the Armed Forces or actively involved in volunteering efforts. This focus explains the inclusion of Yaryna Chornohuz, Artem Chekh, and Oleksandr Mykhed among the festival’s participants.


This year Meridian was focused on the presentations of this year’s books about Russia’s war against Ukraine, written by authors who serve in the Armed Forces or are active in volunteering. That’s the reason you see Yaryna Chornohuz, Artem Chekh and Oleksandr Mykhed among the participants of the festival.


Book’o’Wine — new format that took 14 years to develop


The format of this year’s Meridian Czernowitz International Readings underwent notable changes, as discussed with Svyatoslav Pomerantsev, the president of the festival. He noted that traditionally, Meridian has always been a festival where poetry and red wine went hand in hand. However, the concept of the festival has shifted since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. It is no longer just a festival, but a poetry reading during wartime, aimed at supporting the Armed Forces in every way possible. This year, the organizers made several significant changes to the format, such as “legalizing” wine at the events, and presenting them as wine and poetry tastings.


Svyatoslav Pomerantsev explains that this initiative is part of his aim to acquaint Ukrainians with high-quality domestic wines, which he asserts are equal to any foreign counterpart. He also believes that the wine and poetry readings will merge two distinct audiences “People who come for the poetry will naturally be drawn to good wine and delicious snacks, and those who come to the tasting will invariably develop an appetite for intellectual nourishment and will find themselves engaged with our authors.”



Building on this idea of cultural interconnection, Pomerantsev shares a perspective rooted in his family’s history and Ukraine’s geography and history.


“Ihor Pomerantsev, my uncle, always maintained that Ukraine, with its access to the Black Sea and historical ties to Hellenes, can be considered part of the Mediterranean. Here in Chernivtsi, we are demonstrating this once again,” he added.


It’s noteworthy that eight Ukrainian craft wine producers showcased their products at the wine and poetry tastings, with wines from Bukovyna occupying a particularly special place. Attendees who paid for entry to the readings received a guest badge featuring a specific number of glasses illustrated on it, indicating the amount of wine they could sample during the tastings.


RELATED: Literary translator Daisy Gibbons explains why cultural work is vital for Ukraine now



Meridian classics and newcomers


Residents and guests of Chernivtsi were treated to poetry readings of German-speaking authors from Germany, Austria and Switzerland.



As Meridian Czernowitz tends to focus on German-language poetry, and Paul Celan, a German-speaking Jewish man from Bukovyna, became its patron. Israeli poetry is also annually presented at the festival, usually symbolically recited in the old synagogue in the former Jewish quarter, which was part of the Chernivtsi ghetto during World War II.



The festival’s second day traditionally begins with a lecture by Josef Zissels, a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner, executive co-president of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (Vaad of Ukraine), executive vice president of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine, and a member of the 1st December Initiative Group. His talks, known for extending beyond their scheduled time, are a staple of the festival. The 14th Meridian was no exception, with Zissels’ lecture drawing in those eager to understand the interplay between war and identity. He presented various potential outcomes of the war and multiple scenarios for Ukraine’s victory, ranging from the ideal to those less favorable.



Ukrainian military poet Yaryna Chornohuz, who was attending the festival for the first time, appreciated the event.: “Every presentation and conversation at the festival was eye-opening for me, following years of military service. It felt like a form of rehabilitation. It’s crucial for people to grasp and empathize with the experiences of war through authors. Maintaining our intellectual engagement during the war is vital; it aids in understanding many aspects. Josef Zissels’ lecture was particularly impactful for me. His comprehensive and coherent delivery provided answers to all questions raised. He articulated the shift from Russia’s imperialistic war to a civilizational conflict, where democratic and authoritarian countries stand on opposite sides of the conflict.”



Yaryna presented her poetry collection, [dasein: defense of presence], as part of the focus program at the festival. The event was moderated by Yevhenia Lopata, a Ukrainian cultural manager, translator, and the festival director. Yaryna pointed out that the festival’s book presentations by various authors offered a chance to compare the perspectives of military and civilian authors. “It helped me find many similarities with the book by Katya Mikhalitsyna, despite the apparently different subject matter,” she observed.


Kateryna Mikhalitsyna also made her first appearance at the Meridian this year, where she introduced her new poetry collection, “Broken People.” The conversation was moderated by Khrystia Venhryniuk, a writer and volunteer from Bukovyna. The atmosphere of the presentation was notably warm and familial, creating an impression that the two authors had a deep connection, as each complementing the other’s words seamlessly.


Reflecting on the event, Kateryna remarked, “I think the energy of the audience showed that the conversation was successful. Honest communication through poetry is very necessary nowadays.”



Ukrainian writer, art project curator, and literary scholar Oleksandr Mykhed was among the notable new authors at Meridian Czernowitz. He presented his latest prose work, “Job’s Call Sign. Chronicles of the Invasion,” at the festival, with the session moderated by writer and volunteer Andriy Lyubka.


During his presentation, Oleksandr Mykhed shared that he had finally “lived, served, and written” enough to participate in the Meridian Czernowitz International Readings. The discussion with Andriy Lyubka spanned both past and present. Andriy reminisced about the first days following the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion when writers converged in Chernivtsi to strategize support for their peers. At that time, Sashko (Oleksandr) Mykhed was constantly typing on his laptop. This continuous typing was the genesis of “Job’s Call Sign. Chronicles of the Invasion,” a book Mykhed was crafting in real-time, documenting the immediate events and chaos surrounding the early weeks of the invasion.


RELATED: Yaryna Chornohuz: It’s not putin, prigozhyn or the Russian army who fight us, it’s the entire Russian people



During the festival, Yuri Andrukhovych, Andriy Lyubka, and Khrystia Venhryniuk engaged in a thought-provoking discussion about the anthology “Martial Law,” a collection of war poetry compiled by Andriy Lyubka and Yevhenia Lopata, with a foreword by Commander-in-Chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi. The conversation, moderated by festival director Yevhenia Lopata, centered around the ongoing relevance of the 50 essays selected by the compilers.


Yuri Andrukhovych expressed his belief that his contribution remains pertinent, as it “is not about the first days of the full-scale invasion, but its anticipation, when the clouds were gathering over us.” Khrystia Venhryniuk pondered the significance of literature in times when pain is not diminishing but escalating. Andriy Lyubka moved the audience with his candid recounting of a friend’s experience — an artist who narrowly escaped danger but tragically passed away recently. He emphasized, “They should not be reduced to mere numbers or names on mass graves. Each individual should be honored and remembered.”


(Not) bad timing


Andriy Lyubka shared his experience. He said, for instance, that the anthology “Martial Law” sold very well and became known both in Ukraine and internationally. The inclusion of a foreword by Commander-in-Chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi marked a unique precedent, something previously unheard of worldwide.


Reflecting on 2022, Lyubka noted it was his most successful year in terms of sales, “We’re living in a time of war, people have limited funds, yet there’s been a surge in reading, particularly of Ukrainian authors. Many have discovered the existence and diversity of contemporary Ukrainian literature, leading to increased circulation and sales – a cultural phenomenon in itself.”



Continuing, Lyubka expressed his personal conflict: “I communicate with many military, and I know many people who have to live their lives and not be there in the war against Russia. When some of them die, I feel disgusted with everything I do. Why do we need literature if the person no longer lives?” he pondered.


Responding to a question about the necessity of readings and festivals in the current climate, Andriy Lyubka replies that without them, writers lose the minimum chance of being heard, and their words often resonate with those who share similar sentiments but have never found a way to express their emotions.


Yaroslav, a repeat attendee of the Meridian festival, concurred with Lyubka. He applauded the addition of wine tastings to the festival program, observing that “standing still and not changing anything is like taking a step backwards.”



Image: Meridian Czernowitz, Olena Lysenko



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.