Liuba Iakymchuk

The endless and innocent birdsong of sky is for you: the newest Ukrainian war poems


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The war has become the title of the conversations and of the silence of all the Ukrainians. In between of this silence and spells, these experiences of strength, anger, despair, courage, and the unspoken, we selected 15 new war poems. 

Previous poetry selections are available here and here, the Ukrainian version of this selection is available here.

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And now this spring – the one that no one has wanted to meet.

The shadows of birds are hiding around the wounded roads.

The cities stand still, not waiting for rain to fall on the street,

but being palsied with grief for all the deceased souls.

A fog full of blood will be spreading among the dark trees,

And plants springing up in the fields will deliver black seeds.

Though this is the spring that will take away what it needs.

And this very spring will give all it shall give, by all means:

by shedding the light of bright golden rays that can heal

each chest that is aching, each heart that is shrinking with pain.

The future will come, it’s for sure, and the sky will be clear.

And those who survive will be living for those who aren’t here.


Translated by Yulia Didokha

the return


we want back home, where we got our first grays

where the sky pours into windows in blue rays

where we planted a tree and raised a son

where we built a home that grew moldy without us


but the road back home blossoms with mines

needle grass and fog cover the open pits

we come back bitter, guilt-ridden, reticent

we just want our home back and a little peace


if only to go there, to breath in the scent of mold

pulling yellowed photographs out of the family albums

we’re going home where we won’t grow old

parents and graves and walls waiting for us


we will walk back, even with bare feet

if we don’t find our home in the place where we left it

we will build another one in an apricot tree

out of luscious clouds, out of azure ether


Translated from the Ukrainian by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky. From poetry collection Apricots of Donbas.



This is the house that Jack built,

or rather a small flat in Irpin.

Everything he was able to afford after Donetsk,

where he fled from eight years ago due to the war.


His wife works in the same house in a beauty salon,

every morning he goes to Kyiv in his small car —

picks up passengers on the newly built highway

and takes them home one by one every night.


And though every day is so much like another,

like all giraffes, аnd though they fall asleep tired,

the sun always rises over Lavina Mall, bright

and the night sky turns red over Hostomel. 


But one day the city would be shelled

and people would have to hide in cellars.

Lightning never strikes the same place twice,

but the bridge to the city is blown up already.


Translated by Tanya Rodionova

Who said that the words have no value now?

Our words that are being written in the air

with an incandescent iron of breath,

that are clotted like blood on the pale lips,

are biting into the soil under our feet,

settling down on our clothes and shoes

like dust from the ruined homes.


Our words

are stretching to our dear ones – to everyone who is scattered

all around the country’s map that’s shot through,

along the tough connection wires attached to the heart,

along the tight ropes of co-lasting.

How much we can love together.

How much we can hate.

The words we put into the backpack

just before leaving.

The words we grab

to maintain who-knows-what balance,

when the ground is beaten from under our feet, like a rickety stool. 

The words we are pressing to a gaping wound, 

the torn tender belly of safety,

still in their teens.


Our words, hard and protuberant from rage,

black from grief,

like a concrete ceiling of an old bomb shelter.

There is nothing more durable than them,

nothing more everlasting.



Translated by Ella Yevtushenko


to be a refugee:

to sleep badly

to wake up in anxiety

to scroll pages

to hate russnya more than yesterday

to wake up not having slept enough

to hug your kids

to scroll pages

to hate russnya

to prepare breakfast

to scroll pages

to hate russnya with all your heart

to try to work

to scroll pages

to hate russnya

to prepare lunch/dinner

to scroll pages

to hate russnya

to ask your dear ones how they are

to hug/to put your kids to sleep

to cry

to scroll pages

to hate russnya even more

to try to sleep

to believe that tomorrow you will manage

to produce something else than

the hate towards russnya


Translated by Ella Yevtushenko


either them either not either go away from the window

shadow is right near the door in the shelter doesn’t hear but responds no

not them and in the night over the city

in despair is feeling is screaming



cities and bridges


the city

and to the suburbs

and through the city

because inside them has burst out

rotten impotent grudge and rancor

are falling in soil but it is bursting out in bracken


at our war

in silence

is sprinkling with the pieces of the cross-sealed windows

with the pieces of the shot down rocket

it has lost the ability to kill

this is it

this is not

go asleep

we are the one siren of anxiety

don`t sleep

the alarm siren

don`t sleep

The East


are the unbroken undivided



a cry breaks out from the rubble of brick

for faith give faith for peace give peace

let the hostile disoriented ship

be crushed in our soil

bloody wet soil

foreign for its soil

call all our names: Mariupol, Bucha, Irpin,

Mykolaiv, Kyiv, Cherson, Kharkiv, Lviv and

and when the world sees us on the newspaper’s pages 

You – do close over us

sky do close over us

for the sky sake

do close

the sky.


Translated by Victoria Feshchuk


my great-grandfather arrived

it was a hot summer of 1993

I just turned five

we were sitting at the table staring at each other

I was wearing just my shorts

my great-grandfather was wearing a uniform and black leather gloves

“vova,” I said to my great-grandfather

-I was not the politest one since my childhood-

“why are you wearing gloves?”

my great-grandfather didn’t answer

my great-grandfather gifted me two books

the one is green, the other is black

the green one was about the adventures of baron munchausen


my parents served buckwheat soup to us

I didn’t take my eyes off my great-grandfather

I felt anxious for the first time in my life

his gloves are the bluebeard’s door

he takes them off, and here comes the death

he took one glove off

I felt relief

we were eating soup

I asked

“vova, what is the black book about?”


my great-grandfather finished his buckwheat soup and took the other glove off

“about the war,” my great-grandfather answered


I reached out for touching his prosthesis

-since I was not the politest one since my childhood-

“vova, why do you have a piece of iron instead of your arm?”


and my great-grandfather told me a story

long ago in the times when people had wars

he and his three friends were in a tank

shining in the sun, the tank exploded

a suicide dog was sent underneath it


the losses of four officers:

one is dead, one is unharmed, one had his leg torn off

my great-grandfather lost his arm


how come the losses are so different in one burning tank

Mariupol and Uzhhorod

Kharkiv and Frankivsk

Bucha and Vasylkiv

Sumy, Kherson, Chernihiv


later I’ve learned to read

and discovered how baron munchausen

made a fox jump out of his skin

threw an ax to the moon

transferred a castle with a balloon

shared his advice on crafting wings

caught a bear by making him gulp shafts covered with honey

carried a chariot on his back and horses under his armpits


or maybe that book was called the adventures of AFU


Translated by Odarka Bilokon

She came to the radio in tears

clutching a note in the palm of her hand.

The broadcast was about refugees.

By some miracle she fled to the Czech Republic

from Kryvyi Rih.

Behind the glass of the studio

next to the producer

two little girls waited for her.

I poured water for her into a paper cup.

Because of the tears we had trouble recording.

She showed me the note.

Some Czech person gave her this note,

hearing how at the bus stop

she spoke Russian to her children.

In a note, in crooked block letters,

was written:

“Russian scum.”


Translated by R.B. Lemberg





That’s not rain.

That’s my poplar crying

under the window.

And I don’t know

how to console her.

I tell her:

— It’s already spring,

it will be warm soon.

But she

cries even harder,

cries so hard she’s choking.

My dear heart,

sister mine,

my sweet silver poplar!

I hug her,

and she trembles,

trembles crying.

I will not open my arms

until she’s done weeping.

And then the two of us, together

will get to patching the sky

shot up by the enemy horde,

and from our fingers

blood will drip –

drop after drop,

until all of it drains


and from it will sprout

a child poplar, tiny sapling,

first one, then another one, third,

a hundred of them, a thousand, a million…

And then it will rain –

a real Ukrainian rain

that won’t forget even a single tear

that fell from the eyes

of the poplar, and of the smallest person

in this land.




Beloved, my beloved –

can you imagine? –

every night now,

I go to sleep

with a machine gun in my hands.

Really? – you laugh

from your heaven of heavens. –

With a machine gun?

You didn’t even pluck

a single flower,

didn’t step

on a single ant,

didn’t pass a single tree

without hugging it.

Why do you need a machine gun?

But I’m not laughing,

I’m not holding back my rage anymore,

I’m not even speaking,

I’m yelling:

— To kill the monster

that’s destroying our world!

This world,

in which it was so good to live

for the flower

     and the ant

          and for every tree

which finally made it to spring

but cannot feel joy.

That merciless monster

which fouls up everything

it sets its eyes upon.

Beloved, my beloved,

you are now closer to God

than I am,

so ask him, please,

why an old woman

takes up a machine gun

and he only looks down and says,

“Everything that happens is God’s will”?..




I miss…  oh, how I miss…

your eyes and your hugs

in this crowded bomb shelter.

It’s suffocating here without them,

but I’m still breathing.

I smile at someone on autopilot,

now I go, now I return,

now I’m doing something –

not what I would like to do,

but what I must,

and all the time I’m afraid

that the defenseless sun will perish in the sky.

I miss…  oh, how I miss…

our endless conversations

and those funny pet names

you made up for me,

as if it were a joke –

and I accepted them,

like that was what was needed.

And now, sometimes, when I think I hear them,

I smile, this time not on autopilot,

but with some unconscious hope

that the defenseless sun won’t perish in the sky…

I close my eyes – and hear them again…

and again… and again… and again…

This is something I can’t tell anyone,

for who can understand

the speech of two lovers,

like some kind of Esperanto?

Maybe only the wind

but even the wind only pricks the ears

stealing after us into the bomb shelter.

I miss…  oh, how I miss…

even the shortest moment

which, still so recently

         was known as happiness.



Translated by R.B. Lemberg



the sanctions are harnessed in dogs

motorbikes are like aircrafts


the alerts are like from Louis de Funès movies

some alerts disappear others appear

the hierarchy of alerts


kill the oldest one like a mosquito


I washed my face with rusty water

the iron rider


drag the photos and videos to your side


Apollo with a defective



Translated by Ella Yevtushenko

those who are reading the news

those who are living the news

those who feel guilty each morning to live with the news —

this half of sky is for you

that half of sky is for you

the endless and innocent birdsong of sky is for you


house with a hole in the world

to dress them — to drive them — to warm 

little girl stroking a cat (it looked so forlorn)

snow over survivors falls fast 

white upon black it is cast

the deer on the wall rug is staring from ashes and dust


sun is now crossing to spring

horizon baptized by the trees

soft hands are mastering crafts we did not know in peace

in each an avenger is born

tell me your secret, my god,

is it scary to die for someone who will soon be reborn? 


a river, a puppy, a gran,

he never cried, little one,

the black road, invader, won’t give you a sign

signposts had been sawn down

(that little boy never cried)

this simple passphrase remember forever, my sky


thickens and coarsens the skin

of a thousand-armed beast within

of a thousand-eyed stubborn wise beast that rises within

each one surviving this war

each one with rage at our core

each gets according to faith – and this faith is our lore:


the city where we lived and died

with its many voices so bright —

its memories into our cut braids are now woven tight

white apricots of the night

torturer, you had no clue –

we will withstand you

outgrow you 

survive —


and we will avenge us!


Translated by R.B. Lemberg


I just want something simple human

just to stay together a bit

together with carefully collected library

together with stuff cherished for years

together with passports lying god knows where

with dresses for spring


just to stay together not

touching fatigue to touch

the body not

touching tobacco to touch

the air not touching

to move against the air


to turn off the taps, to roll anxiety and cigarettes

to lower your voice and the sounds of sirens


to rewrite dictionaries for the words

also have their expiration date and ours

need to be replaced madly


first we said that we are okay

then that we are safe

now we say first of all



I want to have some achievable goals which

I can easily measure


almost the same as the distance to the cities

where the dictionaries are being rewritten 


Translated by Tanya Rodionova

a plane in the sky

an insect on the cold skin

it hurts

blood gets dried by blast furnaces

of the soviet past

and the most delicious plombir is so greasy

that it doesn’t burn in a fire

it doesn’t melt

the melted cheese called druzhba

the melted cheese called druzhba

the melted cheese is fake

the brain is melting

cheap sausages are dancing the cancan

I used to be at wakes in my childhood

all the meals for the repose started with this course

they took some water and put biscuits into it

and ate it as zupa

or soup as my relatives from Naddnipryanshchyna say 

that course was called somehow 

and I only heard the cancan word



a canon at every wake

oliver kahn in a square

a red-head goalkeeper of bayern munich

where my great-grandfather comes from as a legend says

a wehrmacht officer

a man of a germanic tribe

a conqueror a defeater of my great-grandma

I wonder how she made a career in a communist party

I was in her room

I slept in her room

I ate apples and listened to fairytales in her room

she had hutsul carpets

a shepherd’s ax

an old black and white tv

and a jar of bitter water on a furnace

she always spoke ukrainian with a carpathian accent

they tried to beat me for that

since I was also speaking the language of my great-grandma

they were saying ain’t you russian

they were crying ain’t you russian

they were singing at school disco parties ain’t you russian 

and I was answering them

you just haven’t read the history of Ukraine-Rus’ by Mykhailo Hrushevsky

you just always thought Dostoevsky is so deep and philosophical

but in fact Raskolnikov just killed an old lady with an ax

he just killed an old lady with an ax

nothing more

he just killed an old lady with an ax

nothing more

you’re proud of your plants and rockets

we’re crying on hungry graves

you’re proud of plombir and sausage

we’re crying in the slovo building

in the beginning was the word

then there was the hunger

then there was siberia

then there was the war thaw stagnation reconstruction

a plane in the sky

an insect on the hot skin

the dead resurrected

they took roots as stigmas

stigmas get dried by the bird’s tears

we are the order of the phoenix

it is crying

it means we will win


Translated by Odarka Bilokon