russian-ukrainian war

Valeriy Puzik: The war is when everyone does what it takes


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A military in the wartime is not just about a beautiful uniform, thankfulness of the people and heroic elimination of occupants. Quite often it is all about discomfort, fear, pain and losses. We have spoken to Valeriy Puzik, a writer, artist and director about the duality of war and the people in it, how to stick to “yourself” in war conditions and why it is important to write about current events even if you find it senseless. Not for the first time in his life Valeriy lives the war at  point-blank range, and turns his experience into texts, paintings and movies. The talk was held in the framework of a special project «Слова і кулі» / Words and Bullets, realized by Chytomo and PEN Ukraine.


– Your military experience started long before the full-scale invasion. In January 2015, during the second year of the war with Russia, you volunteered to go to the frontline. What encouraged you to join active fighting then and what motivated you in March 2022?


– Protection of my family from the aggressor. That is my only motivation.


– How much has the big war changed the situation and atmosphere in the army in particular and in Ukrainian society in general?


– No doubt there are changes for the better. They are not fast and universal, of course, but the dynamics are more positive than negative. There are still problems with discipline in the army, there are “avatars” (soldiers who abuse alcohol – Ed.), incompetent commanders, unclear communication of orders and services that are underperforming, including logistics. Well, as usual. To fix this “machine”, we require fundamental changes and appropriate management. But war is hardly the right time to do this now.


At the same time, we have the best people, volunteers, who can find literally anything in a matter of hours. From feet warmers so that soldiers could put them into their boots and don’t freeze their fingers to any kind of equipment. If it wasn’t for them, things would have been much worse.


– Who are these people? How do you communicate with them?


– I’m grateful to everyone who helps us: Zoia Kasanzhy, Oleh Kadanov, Iryna Nechytaliuk… This list could go on forever. In the morning you write and ask, in the evening they write and ask you where to send things you had requested. I’m ashamed to call them by a common term “volunteers” because they all have a name, and these names mean a lot to me.

Photo courtesy of Valeriy Puzik


There’s Darya, for example. She moved to the U.S, a month before the start of the big war. And now, together with Bohdan, my cousin, they constantly help our unit with various things. They provided us with the first first-aid kits, tourniquets, plate carriers, summer sleeping bags, military uniforms and warm clothes. In early March, 25,000 tourniquets were transferred to the Come Back Alive Foundation. I cannot understand where they draw resources from: eleven months of non-stop searching, finding, building logistics, sending: from hand to hand, across the ocean, then across several borders until the required things reach their final recipients.


But it’s not just about individual volunteers. The whole country is working for the victory.



This is when everyone does what it takes.

This is when people make combat boots under the shelling in Kharkiv craft shop.

This is when the requested things are handed step by step by the route Charlotte – New York City – Paris – Warsaw – Ternopil during 24 hours and in another 24 hours they are handed to recipients in Odesa, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Kyiv and Kharkiv.

These are the drivers who like blood in the veins circulate the roads all around the country and drive people and help.

These are the people who do have your back and when you need it they manage everything in a matter of hours. 

This is when a car stops at a checkpoint and a woman hands you a vacuum flask with coffee, and children bring you sandwiches afterwards.

These are the children who role play soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and go to military positions to enlist territorial defense forces at the age of 11.

These are “iron people” of Ukrainian Railways who work 24 hours a day and 7 days a week non-stop. 

These are the mothers who cherish their children and sing the lullabies being far from their homes. They smile when all they want is to cry.

These are the fathers and mothers who fight till the end.

These are the liberated cities and villages.

These are the people who raise the Ukrainian blue and yellow flag right in front of a column of armed occupants.

This is invincibility in the darkest hour.

This is when one says “Glory to Ukraine!” and millions respond “Glory to heroes!”

This is the land of people of great hearts.

These are the guardian angels one can hug.

This is UKRAINE.

These are WE.


We shall prevail.


– We all feel this consensus when fighting against the enemy. At the same time, you once wrote that “the war sifts everyone through a fine sieve, and only the best remain”. Who has the war “sifted” out of your life?


– War is a catalyst. Back in 2015, a significant number of people I called friends at the time were sifted through a sieve. Only the closest ones remained by my side. War shows true faces, all masks come off. The full-scale invasion showed who is who. I don’t want to talk about the ignobility, betrayal and filth that surrounds us. I’ll never tell anyone. This war reveals the true nature of people. Some cowards came to make money, others — to assert themselves at the cost of other people’s health and lives. Some are being broken and humiliated. War is dirty, war is disgusting.

Photo courtesy of Valeriy Puzik

– How would you describe your comrades? Who are these people?


– It is a man from next door, a driver of a trolleybus on fire. They often reveal themselves in the most touching moments. I try to write about them. For example:


Yura comes in and says:

“There you go! I cleaned your palette knives. Could not sleep at night.”

“Oh and I was wondering where they were.”

“I took them. It was me,” and he gives me shining clean palette knives. 

”Thank you. Would you like some coffee? The kettle has just boiled.”

“No,” he said. “I have high blood pressure. I don’t drink coffee.”

Yura is above fifty. He’s a bee-keeper. In spring, summer and autumn he was very worried about his hives. “How are they doing without me? Will they survive through the winter?” Yura is tired, his eyes show the lack of sleep.

“Will you draw me a field? I’m gonna hang it on my wall. A field of buckwheat, white with blossom. Bees love buckwheat. And honey is lip-smackin’ good. Will you?”

“I will.”


– Our project’s title is “Words and Bullets”. Together with its heroes we try to understand if words have any value when bullets are whistling overhead. In your “War Notebook” you wrote: “I have no words. I do not know what to write anymore. I see no sense in writing. My words are forceless. They do not stop bullets.” What do you think about it now?


– It’s all the same. Words don’t change anything. I force myself to write. Everything is forgotten over time, and I want to preserve some moments, to record people’s stories, their narratives, situations that happen to us. But words won’t change anything, won’t heal trauma. They will reflect, yes, they will definitely record but there’s nothing they can change.

Photo courtesy of Valeriy Puzik


Read also: Dmytro Krapyvenko: it is important to talk about the losses in order not to get delusional and think that there are some immortals fighting on our side


– With a hashtag #зошитвійни (#warnotebook) you mark some of your posts on Facebook. You were a co-author of a movie with such a title two years ago. What will happen later to this Facebook diary?


– The “War Notebook” is a temporary title for all the texts I write after the full-scale invasion. A kind of patchwork quilt. I didn’t know how to call the folder with the texts and I couldn’t think of anything better than to ask Roman Liubyi, the director, if I could use the title of the film. He said I could.


Selected texts from the “War Notebook” became the book “Love. Daddy!” which has already been published by the Laboratory Publishing House. I haven’t held the book in my hands yet, and probably will not be able to do so any time soon. This book is very personal. It’s an attempt to imprint myself in this reality, to talk about things that are important for me, together with letters to my son and wife. There are also poems. I have long wanted to combine different literary genres under one cover.

Photo courtesy of Valeriy Puzik


The texts of March and April are included into “Anthology 24”, a collection that is distributed among theaters in Ukraine and abroad. The texts have already been translated into English.


The “War Notebook” reading was held at the Theater of the Playwrights last December. It was directed by Oksana Artemenko.

– You’re also waiting for another collection release – “Three Medals in the Drawer”…


– Yes. It contains poems from different years, from 2014 to 2022, and consists of three sections-cycles. The title of one of them gave the collection its title. The project is being implemented by the ACCA Publishing House. And, if all goes well, it will be realized this year. The texts are currently edited and the book’s layout is being prepared.

– Except for writing, you manage to draw a lot now. You presented many paintings to your acquaintances and volunteers, and give many to auctions for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Is there any work you would never give to anyone?


– The story with the paintings is very strange. I didn’t think that so many people would find out about them and that they would be sold at auctions in different countries around the world. I painted to thank people who helped us in the spring of 2022. Then, together with Zoia Kasanzhy, we organized the first auction to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The art work I painted in 2015, when I was in the ranks of the DUK PS (the Right Sector Ukrainian Volunteer Corps), went there. The bulk of the funds was used to buy optics for Odesa air defense unit. Several such auctions have taken place so far, two of them in the USA.


A painting I would not give to anyone hangs in my house and is called “A Hundred of Dawns Without You, Dear Heart”. I painted it on the hundredth dawn of separation from my family. At home, in an empty apartment, when I had a leave, the day before my family returned to Odesa.

– How do literature, painting, movie and photography entwine in your creative work? Are they complementing or rather being interchangeable – according to certain time and conditions of creation?


– For me, it’s part of the same whole. Text and image are the basis of cinema. Once I wanted to separate all this, to put it on the shelves but realized that it was a bad idea. I like to move in all directions at the same time.


I write poetry to capture an emotion or a state. Sometimes it is turned into stories. This is how I created “Perishable Adam” – about the Revolution of Dignity. Perhaps three years passed between the writing.

Photo courtesy of Valeriy Puzik


The collection “Monolith” is illustrated with photographs I took in 2015 in the war zone, and they are an integral part of the book. That is they are on the same plane for me, although they are not direct documentary illustrations.


If you insert QR codes with links to video fragments into the novel “The Mine”, the book will become even more volumetric because many episodes are not described there. One day, when I have time, I will do it. People who have read “The Mine” and watched the “War Notebook” movie will obviously recognise some of the episodes described in the book. Actually, everything is pretty much intertwined.

Photo courtesy of Valeriy Puzik


Read also: Oleksiy Sinchenko: The war makes you forget everything you have learned before, and begin from scratch


– Your book “Love. Daddy” («З любов’ю – тато!») is devoted to your six year old son Orest. How do you explain to him what is going on now? What do you think is better to tell or avoid when telling children about the war?


– Orest knows too much for his age. Sometimes it seems like too much.


He loves history. He asks about the Revolution of Dignity and the Russian-Ukrainian war.


Children should be told about everything as simply and clearly as possible. One of the questions my son often asked was: “Why are the Russians doing this?” I explained that Russians are jealous barbarians and thieves, and that they need to be beaten.


– What keeps you and your family together at distance in these darkest times?


– Love.

Photo courtesy of Valeriy Puzik


– What astounds you most in this war?


– Things that russians leave after them. Devastation, plundered houses, crippled children, adults shot in the forest. Where the russians were, everything was gray, people were gray. They try to smile but are afraid.

Photo courtesy of Valeriy Puzik


– One of your painting’s title is “Dreams about the Crimea”. What do you dream about now?


– I had various dreams before the full-scale invasion. Then they started to come true. The past year has been a complete déjà vu. Sometimes I think that these dreams are route markers. The last thing I remember is the road. A long, very long road. Where does it lead? I have no idea. Home, maybe?


Words and Bullets is the special project by Chytomo and PEN Ukraine about Ukrainian writers and journalists that joined the army or started volunteering when Russia invaded Ukraine in February this year. The name of the media project symbolizes the weapon used by the heroes and heroines of the project before Feb. 24, which they were forced to take up after the outbreak of a full-scale war with Russia. The special project is being implemented with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).


Also read: Soldier Artem Chapeye: If I hadn’t gone the first day, I would have gone a week later


Translated by Iryna Savyuk