Arrowsmith Press

Review: ‘Nothing Bad Has Ever Happened. A Bouquet for Victoria Amelina’


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From page one, this book is a quiver full of arrows. Each short chapter is an arrow written by someone who knew Victoria Amelina. The bow was obviously pulled tight because the preface itself shot the first bullseye. I felt it. I think it is still there, lingering along with the other chapters, which drove deep into me. 


This collection of recollections are personal tales of how people remember their experiences with Victoria. It felt very awkward not having known her and writing the world about the stories told by people who intimately knew her. But the magic of this book is that each page cries out “Герої не вмирають!” (Heroes do not die!) The reader feels part of their past and starts to remember her as the authors remember her. The common thread of each chapter is that Victoria left an impression. Her spirit of activism flowed over the borders of Ukraine throughout the world. She was full of humor, vivid yet shy, alive, thoughtful, giving, smart, and had a huge heart. In this book, and from personal stories I have heard of her, they all speak unanimously of her empathy and selflessness. With this much vibrance, it is no wonder that she still lives in each person who experienced her. Ping! Yes, I feel how the book still shoots its arrows, even from the shelf in my living room.


Not only do the impressions of Victoria make this book dynamic, but also the wording of the individual contributors. They speak hard truths about life and war, and also Victoria’s inspirational spirit of martyrdom and cause, which she expresses clearly in her text “Nothing Bad Has Ever Happened Here.”


Héctor Abad Faciolince, a Colombian author, was Victoria’s colleague at Truth Hounds, the group she joined to document Russian war crimes. Héctor was in the café with her as she died from their rocket attack in Kramatorsk. He said: “A couple of days ago, I had no idea what an Iskander cruise missile was … I am the ultimate pacifist: a coward.” He goes on to describe what the rocket weighs, looks like, and how much destruction it can do. She was fatally wounded during the time they were talking together over coffee.


“Victoria looked at my glass,” he writes and says that she joked that his apple juice looked like whiskey. “And [she] smiled. At that moment, the Iskander — hell — fell from the sky.”


His pain flows out of the pages and whispers doubts about whether he is still a pacifist or not. 


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Michael Judge, poet and publisher of “The First Person with Michael Judge,” reveals that she was always tender when speaking of her son. Her desire was to keep him safe. As he heard of her death, his heart was broken. Michael spoke out with a voice for all of Ukraine’s children:


“I grieve most for her son, who— like the nation he was born into—will have to channel his fury in a manner that doesn’t destroy his heart.”


Her son is as old as his son. The devastation he felt made him think about how he should react. What do you say to a child who just lost its mother? “I’m certain of is the overwhelming love she had for her son, her nation, and the truth — without which she would not have been who she was. If I ever meet her son, hopefully in a free and wholly restored Ukraine, that is what I will tell him.”


Michael was also a pacifist. Quoting Askold Melnyczuk, creator of this book and founder of Arrowsmith Press, he explains why Russia’s war on Ukraine ended his pacifism: 


“Pacifism in the face of tyranny will only encourage, not halt its spread. Pacifism in the face of tyranny doesn’t work unless you are willing not merely to exchange liberty for slavery, freedom of thought and expression for a soul-withering silence, and suppression of all natural human responses to brutality: You also consent to the destruction of your culture.”


There are many arrows of truth in this quiver. Victoria’s selfless dedication is a common thread that connects each chapter. It was moving to read how she helped find the children’s author Volodymyr Vakulenko’s diary after he was found in a mass grave near his home in Kapytolivka. Not only did she find the diary documenting the horrors caused by the Russian invaders, she did not stop supporting Volodymyr’s parents and his autistic son. “In May 2023, Vakulenko posthumously was awarded a special prize from the International Publishers Association. Amelina accepted the award on his behalf at the ceremony in Lillehammer, Norway … Later that month … she brought the award to his parents. His mother embraced the plaque and wept. His father closed his eyes and spoke to his son, as if he was still in the room. ‘We are so proud of you,’ he said in a broken voice. They huddled with Amelina, who wiped away her own tears.


“Every time, when they talk about their son, they are crying again,” she said.” No awards can substitute for your child.” The three then walked to a large garden dedicated to Vakulenko at the entrance of the village. They planted more flowers there together.


This book is one powerful story after another about Victoria, one who personifies the heart of Ukraine. It was an amazing read. Even though I am now shot full of arrows, they are not heavy. They are truth. Because of them, I now know Victoria. Герої не вмирають! She now lives on in me, too.


Now Victoria resides in heaven. Not heaven in the Christian or Muslim sense, but rather in that immaterial, mental and very human heaven that we call memory,” wrote Héctor Abad Faciolince with his final words of his recollection of knowing Victoria. 


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Having known Victoria personally, Askold Melnyczuk of Arrowsmith Press invests everything he is into letting the world hear about her. This book can be bought online, at stores, and the ebook version (PDF) is available for free.



Copy editing: Benjamin Maracek, Terra Friedman King