The empty chair family


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and all of its dead are my dead

and all the survivors are my sisters

Victoria Amelina

translated by Larissa Babij,


On the third day after the Kyiv Book Arsenal, on the 27th of June 2023, I was already on the bus back to Kassel. I remember talking to my mom on the phone, “It was a very nice festival, no one got hurt”. Two hours later, my colleague texted in the editorial chat Victoria Amelina and a delegation of intellectuals (which included the writer Hector Abad, the journalist Catalina Gomez, and the politician Sergio Jaramillo) got under attack by the Russian missiles in Kramatorsk. Tragically, Victoria passed away a few days later, on the 1st of July.


The last time I saw her in Kyiv, she interrupted my endless questions, “Why do you ask so much about work? We are here (at Kyiv Book Arsenal) to hug each other. Let’s hug.” But there was just too much to ask about we were just after the presentation of the diary book of another Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vakulenko, who was found murdered by Russian soldiers near Izium city, in a collective tomb. Moreover, back then, Victoria was working for Truth Hounds (a Ukrainian non-profit organization working on documenting war crimes and human rights violations) and, at the same time, writing a new book, the content of which was“a documentary detective story about the search for justice by Ukrainian civil society, a diary about documenting war crimes in Russia, about advocating for international justice, about working with survivors and witnesses.” Victoria shared with me that she would have very soon visited the writers’ residence in Paris such that “it will be my turn to ask “how are you” during the bombardment”. We laughed and ran in different directions, the festival in Kyiv was overwhelmed with people whom we wanted to meet and hug. The funeral of Victoria, a week later, was full of people too not only friends and family but also many writers, managers, curators, and journalists. Just like the second Book Arsenal itself.


The memory of Victoria is indelibly preserved by her people and by her books, and the same follows for the memory of other Ukrainian writers killed by the Russians in this war. The young writer Ihor Mysiak just published his deputy novel a year ago. He sent his book to my editorial Chytomo, and, a few months later, he died on the battlefield. 


The memory of killed people and unfinished books, not the archive, but the memory, oral storytelling, is what is forming Ukrainian literature today because archives do burn well. In this regard, it is crucial to keep in mind that during the full-scale invasion of Russia, around 607 libraries were destroyed by Russian missiles.    


There is a real threat that Russians will successfully execute another generation of Ukrainian culture – this time by missiles and bombs,” wrote Victoria in her essay a year ago, linking to the current situation another period of Ukrainian literature The Executed Renaissance, in which a generation of writers and intellectuals of the 1920s and early 1930s who were executed by Soviet regime. By execution, what is meant is that around 192 writers were sent to the Gulag or executed, while eight of them committed suicide. Among them, it is possible to mention prominent modernist writers and artists, such as Valerian Pidmohylny, Yevhen Pluzhnyk, Mykhaylo Semenko, Mykola Khvylovy, and many others. Victoria herself wanted to document the murder of Ukrainian creatives in her book-to-be.


Preserving the memory of the Ukrainian writers killed in this war, as well as preserving the memory of each victim in Ukraine, becomes a new responsibility for this and the next generations. During Christmas in Ukraine, we have a tradition of serving the table not only for living members of the family but also for those who passed away. The growing number of empty chairs in Ukrainian literature and in Ukraine is showing a scale of how many talented people were, and how their impact formed the culture, though their voices are silent. We keep these chairs in memoriam for their heritage and to ensure justice.




The German version of the article is available here