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Ukrainian books about the war for urgent translation06.03.2022
Considering the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world wants and needs to understand what this war is really about. What does Putin, the aggressor, want? What do the separatists want? And, most importantly, what does Ukraine want? Over the last decade, numerous important nonfiction works, novels, memoirs, plays and even children’s books were published in Ukrainian to explain the reality of the situation. Below you can find our selection of these books which we would recommend to be translated into other languages in order for the world to gain the better understanding.
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Artem Chekh «Zero Point» / Артем Чех «Точка нуль»
Artem Chekh (real name Artem Cherednyk; born in 1985 in Cherkasy, Ukraine) graduated from the National Academy of Culture and Arts Management (Kyiv) in sociology, but instead of working in this field, he used to work as an actor at the Cherkasy drama theater, as a guard, as a store clerk, as a promoter, as a copywriter, as an artist at a model-making department, as well as a senior rifleman and gunner on an armored troop-carrier in the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Artem Chekh’s book «Zero Point» (2017) is dedicated to his experience of being a soldier in the armed forces in 2015-2016 (including 10 months on the frontline) in Donbas. This book received the International Ukrainian-Belarusian prize «Warrior of Light» (2017), as well as the Ukrainian prize LitAccent of the Year (2017) and the Ukrainian State prize named after Mykola Gogol (2018).
Some of the works by Artem Chekh already have been translated into German, English, Polish, Czech and Russian and published in foreign periodicals and almanacs.
Tamara Horiha-Zernia «Daughter» / Тамара Горіха-Зерня «Доця»
Tamara Horiha-Zernia (actually Tamara Anatoliivna Duda; born 1976 in Kyiv) is a Ukrainian writer known for her volunteer work.
The events in her debut novel «Daughter» take place in 2014 during the Russian-Ukrainian war in eastern Ukraine. Since 2014, a lot has been written in Ukrainian literature about the war against the Russian occupiers, responding to the need of both readers ‘and writers’ this comprehend the new traumatic experience. However, working with any trauma, and even more so with the trauma of war, is a long process, and words for its understanding do not come immediately. «Daugther» is a novel that found a language for this trauma, showing the war in Donbass through the eyes of a woman witness. Well-known writer and publicist Oksana Zabuzhko was the first to point this out, drawing the attention of her readers to the author, as well as to the young and then little-known publishing house «Bilka», which published this novel in 2019.
After that, this (debut!) novel unexpectedly became one of the most widely read books about the 2019 war among literary critics, and quite unexpectedly won the 2019 BBC Book of the Year Award and the LitAccent of the Year Special Jury Award. Today this novel is being prepared to be translated into English and adapted to the screens in Ukraine.
Serhiy Zhadan «Internat» / Сергій Жадан «Інтернат»
Serhiy Zhadan is a popular Ukrainian poet, novelist, essayist, and translator, born in Starobilsk (Luhansk Oblast) in Ukraine.
The translation of Zhadan’s novel «Internat» from Ukrainian into German by Sabine Stöhr and Juri Durkot was awarded the Leipzig Book Fair Prize in the «Translations» category in March 2018. Dirk Kurbjuweit called the novel «a small masterpiece».
About the book: Pasha is a Ukrainian language teacher from eastern Ukraine. He does not watch the news, is not interested in the political life of the country and generally takes the position of a person without political position. Suddenly, he has to pause his quiet and inert life, going «the other way» to take his nephew Sania or «little one» home from the boarding school. So he goes to Donbass in winter of 2015 to travel not only across the physical border, but also the internal border, facing the war. The novel takes place in a usual space for Zhadan – on the road, but now this road stretches through the ruined world of checkpoints, homeless dogs and homeless people who seem to be waiting to be taken away, like Sania. In 2017, this novel was called «the main novel about the war» in Ukraine. And indeed – the war in this book breathes like a dragon, but somewhere in the background, because this novel is not directly about feats or fighting. It is rather a text about the rear, the everyday life and people who are still on the way to forming their identity.
Andrii Kurkov «A Diary of Maidan and War» / Андрій Курков «Щоденник майдану та війни»
Andrii Kurkov (born 23 April 1961 in Leningrad, USSR) is a Ukrainian novelist and an independent thinker who writes in Russian. He is the author of 19 novels, including the bestselling «Death and the Penguin», 9 books for children, and about 20 documentary, fiction and TV movie scripts. His has been translated into 37 languages, including English, Spanish, Japanese, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Swedish, Persian and Hebrew, and published in 65 countries. Andrii Kurkov is also the current president of PEN Ukraine.
Andrii Kurkov’s «Diary» is exactly what its title promises: a thorough chronicle of the Revolution of Dignity and the war with Russia with – from today`s point of view – insightful predictions. A well-known writer in Ukraine and especially abroad, Andriy Kurkov in 2013-2014 often met with the Ukrainian political elite in Europe, closely watching the change in its moods and statements at the beginning of Euromaidan and during the war. The author of the diary observed Euromaidan directly: both as a participant in the Revolution of Dignity and as a person who lives with his family in the center of Kyiv, 500 meters from the Maidan. Andriy Kurkov’s «Diary» for Ukraine is a documented testimony of an eyewitness to well-known events, and for the Western world it is a critical, unadorned explanation of the «unknown» that is happening in his country, and a very important national voice in the war pf information with the Russian enemy.
Oleksandr Mykhed «I’ll Mix Your Blood with Coal: Understanding the Ukrainian East» / Олександр Михед «Я змішаю твою кров із вугіллям»
Oleksandr Mykhed is a writer, curator, and author of seven books. Selected essays and fragments of his works have been translated into ten languages. The books «Astra» and «Pontianism» were included in the long list of the BBC Ukraine Book of the Year Award, and the project Amnesia was recognized as one of the best at the «SOUNDOUT!» festival for new ways of literary presentation in Berlin, 2014. Oleksandr has been a participant of literary residencies in Finland, Iceland, USA and France. He is the main screenwriter of the animated series Travelbook: Ukraine and the author and host of the Station 451 podcast. The rights to the book I Will Mix Your Blood With Coal were sold in German and English (ibidem Verlag, Germany). The book was published in German in November 2021.
In 2016-2017, the author Oleksandr Mykhed took part in the Metamisto: East program. He visited the cities of Dobropillya, Kostyantynivka, Lysychansk, Severodonetsk, Bakhmut, and Pokrovsk, and after his trip, he wrote about his impressions and observations. The author tells us how the people of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions live and what they believe in: like a detective piecing together clues, he also tries to comprehend their essence through highlighting famous people from the region, but also by depicting the lives of ordinary people.
Denys Kazansky, Maryna Vorotyntseva «How Ukraine Has Been Losing Donbas» / Денис Казанський, Марина Воротинцева «Як Україна втрачала Донбас»
Denys Kazansky has been working in the field of journalism since 2011. Until 2014, he lived and worked in Donetsk. He is an investigative journalist, video blogger, and TV presenter. Denys is the author of the book Black Fever (2015), in which he talks about illegal coal mining in the Donbas. In 2020 he was invited to the Tripartite Contact Group to discuss the war in Donbas as a representative from the Donetsk region.
Maryna Vorotyntseva has been working as a journalist since 2003. Until 2014, she lived in Luhansk. She was the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online media platform Vostochny Variant (Eng. East Variant). Additionally, Vorotyntseva has headed the communication departments of state structures and private companies and continues working with politicians. She has extensive experience in managing media projects concerning the selection, development, and implementation of marketing strategies in business.
This journalistic investigation explores how the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine erupted and how Russia managed to occupy part of eastern Ukraine. Why did the Russian Federation attack Donbas and not another Ukrainian region bordering it – why not Chernihiv or Sumy?
Undoubtedly, the war in Donbas would never have erupted without military intervention, but the emergence of Russian troops was made possible due to the struggle of local clans led by oligarchs who pursued their narrow financial interests. The events leading to the start of the war are presented here in chronological order.
Natalya Vorozhbyt «Bad Roads» / Наталя Ворожбит «Погані дороги»
Nataliia Vorozhbyt is a Ukrainian playwright, director, screenwriter, and curator. She graduated from the Gorky Literary Institute. Previously, she worked as the editor-in-chief at STB. At the start of the Russo-Ukrainian war, she co-founded the Theater of the Displaced with German film director Georg Genoux, where refugees from Donbas could tell their stories. Vorozhbyt is also a co-curator of the DonCult and GOGOLFEST festivals and is one of the Topical Play Week drama festival’s founders.
She is the author of 15 plays, the most notable of which are «Viy: Docudrama», «The Grainary», «Bad Roads», and «Sasha, Take Out the Garbage». Some of her works have been brought to the stage in Russia, the UK, Poland, the US, and Latvia. She was awarded the Verona Film Club Prize and Film Circle’s Opening of the Year Award for the film adaptation of «Bad Roads» (2020).
Nataliia Vorozhbyt became famous when she worked as a screenwriter on the cult TV series To Catch the Kaidash, based on the life of the Ukrainian classic writer Nechuy-Levytsky, and even played a role in it as a supporting actress.
Her play Bad Roads was written for the Royal Court Theatre in London; it was also performed by the Kyiv Academic Theatre of Drama and Comedy and later adapted into a hit film.
Bad Roads consists of six episodes: they are the stories of ordinary men and women whose fate brought them to Donbas during the Russo-Ukrainian war. Some episodes have even shocked audiences, like the episode where a naked eighth-grade schoolgirl is found in a military dugout. Disputes over Bad Roads are still raging, but they only manage to increase interest in Vorozhbyt’s work.
Oleh Sentsov «Chronicle of a Hunger Striker: Four and a Half Steps» / Олег Сенцов «Хроніка одного голодування. 4 з половиною роки»
Oleh Sentsov (born in 1976 in Symferopol) is a Ukrainian film director, writer, and activist. He is a recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, and the Taras Shevchenko National Prize of Ukraine. In May 2014, Sentsov was unjustly imprisoned by the Russian Federation and sentenced to 20 years in a penal colony. He was freed in 2019 during a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Since then, several of his books have been published, including «Chronicle of a Hunger Striker», which details his hunger strike in the Russian penal colony, and the science fiction novel «The Second One’s Also Worth Buying». He recently directed the film «Rhino», about Ukraine in the 1990s, which is now making the rounds at international film festivals.
This book is based on Oleh Sentsov’s notes from the day he began his hunger strike. He recounts the monotonous days he spent in his cold cell and how he tried to find comfort in books, newspapers, and letters from his loved ones. Exhausted by insomnia, he recalls his mistakes in life, endures visits from «good» police officers and doctors, avoids the ever-constant temptation of food, and grapples with the prospect of his declining health. This book also includes a collection of fifteen stories about some of the prisoners he met there, as well as insight into the terrible rules and customs of the environment where Sentsov spent more than five years of his life.
Stanislav Aseyev «The Torture Camp on Paradise Street» / Станіслав Асєєв « Світлий Шлях. Історія одного концтабору»
Stanislav Aseyev (born in 1989 in Donetsk) is a journalist, blogger, and member of PEN Ukraine. In the early years of the Russo-Ukrainian war, he wrote articles describing the on-the-ground reality in occupied Donbas for media outlets under the pen name Stanislav Vasin. In 2017, he was kidnapped and wrongfully imprisoned by Russian forces. He was held captive in the notorious Isolation prison camp for more than two and a half years before being freed in a prisoner exchange. Aseyev is the author of «The Melchior Elephant, or The Man Who Thought», a collection of poetry and a play. In 2020 he won the Free Media Award and the National Freedom of Expression Award. In 2021 he won the Taras Shevchenko National Prize, Ukraine’s most prestigious literary award, for his journalistic writings.
Since 2014 the «Izoliatsiia» (Isolation) prison has been operated by the occupiers in the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Kremlin-backed pseudo-state in Eastern Ukraine. Separatists converted the former artspace into a modern-day concentration camp, where innocent Ukrainians are routinely tortured, raped, and killed. The author of this book, journalist and author Stanislav Aseyev, recounts how he spent nearly three years in the secret facility on false espionage charges, the horrors he witnessed there, and how he survived.
«Girls cut their braids»
The book «Girls cut their braids» is a memoir of 25 women soldiers who participated in the Russian-Ukrainian war in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and volunteer units in 2014-2018 as shooters, machine gunners, medics, mortars, snipers and others.
The memoirs include military operations of different years in Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the liberation of Ukrainian towns and villages from the occupiers, memories of comrades, local residents, military life, as well as reflections on the position of women in the Ukrainian army during different periods of the war. The stories are supplemented by photos from the war zone.
These stories were recorded from November 2017 to July 2018 by military correspondent Yevhenia Podobna.
The collection of memoirs «Girls cut braids» was prepared within the project of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory «Oral History of the ATO».
Serhiy Saigon «Dirt» / Сергій Сайгон «Грязь»
The book by Saigon (which is his pseudonym and his call sign) is a collection of unique military stories written by an author who experienced the anti-terrorist operation and, as he himself says, «mixed mud in Donbas». This is the book that will not leave anyone indifferent. Fear and humor, and sadness, and simply the truth of that life during the anti-terrorist operation about which we, civilians, know nothing. All stories are written by the author on a smartphone during his service.
Leshchenko Serhiy Serhiyovych (pseudonym Serhiy Serhiyovych Saigon) (born November 29, 1985, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast) is a Russian-speaking writer from Ukraine, a veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Since April 2020, he has been a member and adviser on the internal security of the Demsokir party. The Ukrainian translation of Leshchenko’s other novel, «Yupak», won the BBC Book of the Year 2020 award.
Valerii Ananyev «Footprints On The Road» / Валерій Ананьєв «Сліди на дорозі»
Valeriy Marcus, also known as Valeriy Ananiev (born 1993 in Pervomaisk in Mykolaiv Oblast, Ukraine) is a Ukrainian military veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war, writer, blogger and traveler.
He served in the Armed Forces for five years, two of them in the combat zone in Donbass. He served in the 25th Airborne Brigade.
«Footprints on the Road» is his debut novel, part of which takes place in the Donbass during the Russian-Ukrainian war. The book became one of the most popular in Ukraine in 2019.
Halyna Kyrpa «My Father became a Star» / Галина Кирпа «Мій тато став зіркою»
Halyna Kyrpa (born 1950 in the village of Lyubartsi, Boryspil District, Kyiv Oblast) is a Ukrainian poet, novelist, translator, and literary editor. Member of the National Union of Writers of Ukraine (1986). Author of poems and prose for children and adults.
«My Father Became a Star» is the story of a girl whose father died on the Maidan. Flipping through the memories of her father, the young heroine recounts the events of that winter: how her father did not return for the first time because he was needed on the Maidan; how he and his mother came to him at the barricade, how he hugged her and said «We will win»; as her mother eventually announced that my father would not come again.
And all of a sudden it got more serious: even the games with her cousin Pavlus turned into exciting conversations about dads, the stars, the war, which can not just be erased like words in the sand. Despite the grief and pain of loss, the life of the small family did not stop. Of course, it will not be the same as before, but important people will live with us as long as our memory lives on: «I see my dad more often than ever. I see him whenever I want. All I have to do is close my eyes as he appears in front of me».
A number of these books have already been translated into other languages thanks to the grants given by House of Europe, by Translate Ukraine, and by many international embassies. They regularly announce new grants which can be found on their websites.
This war is also a war of information. And it is of the utmost importance to hear Ukrainian voices all around the globe.
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