Chytomo Spotlights

TRANSLATORIUM – why we look for words after silence


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TRANSLATORIUM is the only literary and translation festival in Ukraine. In 2023, relaunched after a two-year pause. Despite being postponed due to financial constraints, the event place from Oct. 27-28.. We spoke to director Tania Rodionova about the festival’s activities over the past couple of years, it s alternative projects and residencies, and the impact of translation in times of war.



Chytomo: The last time the TRANSLATORIUM festival was held was in 2021. Why was there no festival in 2022? Was it a conscious decision or was it compelled?


Tania Rodionova: We started thinking about canceling the festival at the team’s strategic session back in December 2021. Our team was feeling quite exhausted, so we needed to take a break from the festival reality. Once the full-scale invasion began, it became evident that we won’t do the festival in 2022.



Chytomo: Therefore, is this year’s festival theme, ‘Through Silence to Conversation,’ inspired by this necessity for silence?


Tania Rodionova: Throughout the 2022, our team frequently went on business trips abroad. During these visits, we encountered challenges in conveying Ukraine’s experiences to foreigners. This sometimes led to a conversational impasse or a deliberate choice of silence.


And we realized that despite the fact that we talk about Ukraine so much, we have accumulated a lot of internal silence. It’s not about emptiness, but about the silence that contains many experiences and an inner dialogue that seems to be unable to find its interlocutor. All of this is an integral part of us and this conversation that has to happen and is finally starting to happen.


Translationale Berlin 2022, 30.09.2022


Throughout the years of the festival, we have chosen different topics to talk about the fact that translation is not only about working with different languages, but also about perceiving the world and its phenomena. Now we are largely talking about translating Ukraine for the world.



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Chytomo: How was this pause useful for the festival?


Tania Rodionova: Our organization had been engaged in diverse projects up until the 2022, but we perceived them as supplementary to the festival itself. For instance, in 2019, we organized a week-long residency in Khmelnytskyi. However, during our strategic session in 2021, we made a decision to transform into a non-governmental organization dedicated to ongoing activities, seeking to move beyond a festival-centric approach. Our goal was to initiate additional artistic projects aimed at advancing translation as a profession and bolstering the translation community.


In 2022, we organized a translation residency in the Carpathians, curated small Ukrainian program at the Berlin festival translationale berlin, participated in the professional program at the Swiss festival ‘Babel,’ and conducted events in various Ukrainian cities where our team members relocated following the onset of the invasion.


Translationale Berlin 2022, 30.09.2022


Chytomo: What challenges are highlighted in the translation landscape by the war? How does it change the profession? And how do translators find a balance between meeting the demand for war-related translations and maintaining their regular work, such as literary translation?


Tania Rodionova: Firstly, volunteer translation has seen a significant surge, especially in translating news into English. At a time when media outlets were publishing around 30 news pieces daily, translators were working non-stop, and it was exhausting. Moreover, requests for translations extended to various materials such as medicine descriptions, weapons manuals, and more. It was physically difficult to combine this with commercial translation.


As a translator, I faced the fact that for a long time I did not understand why I should translate fiction or other texts not related to the war. However, my perspective shifted in March 2023 when I participated in a translation residency in Warsaw.


Some translators were retrained as fixers. Many encountered difficulty concentrating, particularly since translating fiction demands deep immersion. Additionally, individual experiences related to the war, such as moving abroad or serving at the front, added to the challenges.



“Finding a balance remains a significant challenge. I believe everyone has their own unique approach. For me, things became clearer when I acknowledged my proficiency in certain aspects and realized that I could contribute more professionally in those areas. I believe that everyone should work in their respective fields for as long as they can contribute effectively.”



Chytomo: What was the TRANSLATORIUM residency like in 2022? Why was it more relevant than the festival then?


Tania Rodionova: At the onset of the full-scale invasion, many cultural figures struggled to comprehend the purpose of our skills. Initially, our primary objective was to establish a refuge for the translation community in Ivano-Frankivsk, given that there was a part of our team there and relative safety.


But while we were trying to find partners and money for this, this primary need was met, and we realized that now people need support, a place to work and a place to get away. Consequently, in late August and early September, we established a residency in the Carpathians that spanned two weeks. During this time, ten participants cohabited, dedicating their efforts to their projects. They also had a lot of conversations, attended psychological sessions, practiced yoga and explored the mountains.





Chytomo: This year, TRANSLATORIUM organized the BAZHAN residency for the first time. Why did it come up now?


Tania Rodionova: When I discovered that Mykola Bazhan was born and lived his first six years in Kamianets-Podilskyi, I decided that this local story deserved greater attention and popularization. Neither Khmelnytskyi nor Kamianets have a vibrant literary life, and Kamianets, in particular, offers an ideal setting for residencies. The old town’s a different world with a very calm environment.


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We started thinking about this idea before the invasion, but we found a partnership thanks to last year’s trips abroad. The Versopolis International Poetry Network wanted to support Ukraine through the support of the poetry community.


The BAZHAN residency caters not only to poets but also to poetry translators. We’ve combined these two facets, considering Mykola Bazhan’s legacy as both a poet and a translator.


In Kamianets-Podilskyi, the house where Mykola Bazhan lived still stands, as well as a memorial plaque, which was unveiled by Drach and the entire group of writers of that period. We gathered in the courtyard of Bazhan’s former home with every new resident, telling the stories of his family and sometimes engaging with locals to discuss his legacy.



Unlike the previous collective residencies, this program offered individual residencies, providing each participant with their own apartment, personal space, focus, and environment that encourages poetry. Our aim was to establish residency in Ukraine, allowing men with fewer opportunities to access foreign residencies and providing a comfortable alternative for artists uncomfortable to travel abroad because of the current circumstances. Additionally, priority was extended to participants from at risk territories, so we had people from places like Bucha, Kyiv, Dnipro and more.



Chytomo: What projects were the BAZHAN residency participants involved in?


Tania Rodionova: We gave the participants absolute freedom. Their projects didn’t have to center on translation or book writing, it also could be poetry performances. Some residents delved into translations, others composed their own texts, and a few organized compilations of their own already written works. For instance, our recent resident, Oleh Kotsarev, not only worked on his original pieces but also focused on translating the works of Miłosz, whose writing, dating back to the war and interwar period, holds particular relevance today. Furthermore, Anna Yutchenko made a video poem based on Bazhan’s text, which will soon be available on our YouTube channel.





We organized events with each of the residents. For instance, the music and poetry project Podilski Haiku with Max Lyzhov, who writes haiku in Ukrainian, and Yana Shpachynska, a musician from the Zapaska band. Yana performed ambient music she had composed while Max recited poetry, complemented by a visual sequence.


We also created an exhibition of visual poetry by Lesyk Panasiuk. This exhibition aimed to introduce poetry in an alternative format—posters—to an audience less accustomed to viewing poetry beyond its classical form.





The residency lasted from June to September, involving eight participants for two-week sessions. Currently, we are thinking about how to make the residency permanent, aiming to extend it into the following year, possibly offering month-long opportunities for participants.


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Chytomo: What is poetry in war? How can it be helpful now?


Tania Rodionova: We’ve been recording short interviews with each participant, forming part of our video series, ‘Poetry during the War.’ Videos with Serhii Prylutsky and Lesyk Panasiuk have already been published. They delve into what poetry signifies for them now.



In the war’s early days, I tried to write a diary, but the prose format felt incomplete and almost absurd. It just chronicled events without truly encapsulating what I was genuinely feeling in those moments.


That’s when I turned to writing poetry, despite not having done so for quite some time. I dated each piece, and now I have a modest collection of poems that vividly recalls those precise emotions and events.



For me, poetry is a record of experience. Simultaneously, reading poetry allows me to connect with shared experiences that cannot be read through news reports or historical facts.



Chytomo: What is the need for a translation festival now?


Tania Rodionova: People lack shared cultural experiences, travel and conversations. The continuous support from our friends, participants, and partners in our festival reaffirms this necessity.


Actually, after the residence in the Carpathians in 2022, we noticed a consistent need for collective activities among its participants. They sought shared engagements such as poetry readings and other events. While we initially believed that people were seeking solace during those times, it turned out they were seeking connection and solidarity. And someone joked that we just made a festival for two weeks.





During the first year of the war, we have been learning to adapt to today’s objectively frightening realities. This is still true, but we are ready and understand what we need to do. We are already used to air raids and the understanding that everything can go wrong and some events can’t take place. But it is important for us to show the adaptation of festival culture.


Chytomo: What is the most challenging aspect of organizing the festival now, and how do you navigate these obstacles?


Tania Rodionova: For our team, the most challenging aspect has always been finances, as we are a niche festival, limiting our ability to showcase big figures for donors. This year, we experienced a general decrease in funding from international grants; we received rejections from new international competitions without clear explanations. It appears that priority now leans toward social projects, leaving us uncertain about the festival, so we postponed it from its original schedule at the end of September to the end of October.


Ultimately, we received support from the International Renaissance Foundation, our long-term collaborator, albeit with a reduced budget compared to previous years. At the municipal level, cultural spending is also cut, and the city cannot invest much in the festival.



Another issue is the logistics of teamwork, given that our team members are spread across different cities and countries. For instance, our co-founder Veronika Yadukha is currently abroad. She is less involved in the organization of the festival, and we are redistributing responsibilities.


Additionally, the psychological problems associated with living in times of the war also have an impact.


Chytomo: How will the festival be different this year? Will there be any new event formats?


Tania Rodionova: I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we won’t face air raid alerts during our festival, similar to the period during the Critics’ Week (International Film Festival held in Kyiv from 12th to 18th October). In fact, the big change is that we have to keep safety in our minds all the time. Unfortunately, finding a location in the city that’s both completely safe and comfortable for events is a challenge. However, we have identified shelters near our venues and will provide specific information so that visitors know where to go in case of missile attacks. If such attacks occur, some events might have to be canceled.


We’ve made changes to the festival schedule. Previously spanning three days, this year’s festival will run for two days with 15 events. Additionally, we’ve kept Sunday as a spare day, allowing us to potentially reschedule any events that might be canceled due to unforeseen circumstances.



Chytomo: What are you planning for the festival itself, what will be the program and main points?


Tania Rodionova: The theme for this year’s festival is ‘Through Silence to Conversation.’ Throughout the events, we aim to create discussions about the war from various perspectives and angles. Many events will adopt a conversational format, emphasizing the necessity of collectively addressing this unspoken internal dialogue.


Additionally, the festival will feature art projects such as an exhibition of visual poetry by Lesyk Panasiuk and Daryna Hladun. There will also be a choreographic performance inspired by Ostap Slyvynsky’s book ‘Dictionary of War,’ where dance serves as a medium to interpret the text into a more universal language. This year’s music segment will be highlighted by the TUCHA project and local DJs.





Chytomo: What are your expectations from this ‘conversation’ at the festival as an organizer?


Tania Rodionova: I want our festival to serve as a platform for fostering understanding, offering a space to express oneself, and to provoke contemplation on what our next steps should be, how to articulate our experiences, and what lessons to draw post-war.


Our discussions will delve into the translation of complex literature that tells about a war. While these stories might pertain to different wars, literature helps to understand what is happening or to get used to this experience so that we do not feel alone in it.


Furthermore, I would also like to talk about the work of translators, who immerse themselves deeply into texts. Translating complex pieces can be a paradoxical journey. Translating poems about war often means allowing them to pass through you, and this can be physically painful. Yet there’s a sense of reassurance and comfort drawn from the realization that this work is necessary and relevant.





Main photo: Khrystyna Kulakovska

Photos in the article: Tibias Bom, Nadiia Kuryliak, Yuliia Didokha, Oleksandr Makanyk, Daryna Deineko-Kazmiruk



This article is part of “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.