four Ukrainian writers recount two years of war

As the conflict enters its third year, franceinfo asked Ukrainian authors to share their feelings about the morale of Ukrainian society today.

On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Two years later, the situation on the front is bogged down and the country is wondering about its future. To understand how Ukrainian society lives after two years under bombs and a daily life marked by conflict, franceinfo gave the floor to four representatives from the world of culture. Whether they still live in Ukraine – like the writer Oleksandr Mykhed, the filmmaker Iryna Tsilyk and the poet Luba Yakymtchouk – or whether they have been living abroad for years – like the historian Olesya Khromeychuk – these authors have become , for two years, true spokespersons for their people to the international public. They deliver here their view on the state of mind of Ukrainian society today and their analysis of the current situation.

“Feeding the monster doesn’t stop it”

Iryna Tsilyk is a Ukrainian filmmaker, writer and poet, winner of the Best Director award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Her husband, writer Artem Chekh, joined the Ukrainian armed forces in 2015.

“If last year we talked a lot about resilience, in this third year of war we must focus on endurance. Western weapons are slow to arrive and we are filling the lack of equipment with human resources, with our men and our women who give their lives for their homeland. I attend more and more funerals of close people. The other day, there was a minute of silence for the writers who died at the front, and it lasted a good two or three minutes, the list that passed before our eyes was so long. I counted fifty names, and they were only people from literature!

“For children growing up during war, this reality has become a new norm.”

Iryna Tsilyk, filmmaker and author

at franceinfo

My husband is in the army, and I see how my son now chooses courses related to drone construction or military analysis. He is 14 years old, but I don’t know what will happen to Ukraine when he grows up.

I don’t like it when we talk about a victim position. Yes, we are victims of war, but we are also a strong nation that knew how to defend itself.

“When we are asked to cede territory, I would like people to understand that this would mean betraying the Ukrainian population living there.”

Iryna Tsilyk, filmmaker and author

at franceinfo

Westerners have no idea what Russian occupation is. In the occupied territories there is torture, rape, not even to mention murder. Ukrainian men under occupation are forcibly mobilized into the Russian army. They have no choice, they are trapped, because otherwise their family will be killed. If Europe allows Russia to swallow Ukraine, it would mean that Russia will increase its army with Ukrainian soldiers and go even further. Feeding the monster doesn’t stop it.”

“Russia stole my gift of imagination”

Oleksandr Mykhed was bornUkrainian writer, author of ten novels. His essays on the Russian invasion have been translated into ten languages. He is a member of PEN Ukraine, an international writers’ association established to protect freedom of expression and authors’ rights.

Oleksandr Mykhed recounts two years of war in Ukraine.  (VALENTIN KOUZAN)

“Today we have no choice but to continue fighting. We must persevere until the threat of destruction of Ukraine and each of us disappears. Russia wants we are disappearing. And our daily task is to try to prevent this from happening.

Russia has stolen and destroyed many things in my personal life. On a material level, for example, our family home in Gostomel was hit by a Russian shell during the first week of the invasion. Russia stole my gift of imagination. I can no longer imagine the future.

“I can no longer dream, fantasize. I no longer know how to invent. And without these elements, fiction is impossible for me. Consequently, the only thing I can do as a writer is to ‘write a chronicle of the invasion.’

Oleksandr Mykhed, writer and essayist

at franceinfo

With my latest book [The Language of War, non traduit en français], I want to explain to the world why Putin must be stopped and why the war is not just Putin’s war. It is the war of all Russians who are responsible for what I consider to be a genocide of Ukrainians. It is a horror and a crime that Russians must atone for with decades of courts, guilt, reparations, economic crisis, shame, cultural censorship…

Today, everyone joins the Ukrainian armed forces : artists, actors, musicians, writers, athletes, economists, drivers, tractors, unemployed people, pizza makers, baristas, air conditioner salesmen. Profession doesn’t matter. We are all united by the fact that it is simply impossible to do otherwise. The question is whether our country will still exist.”

“I feel guilty for not being in the army”

Luba Yakymtchouk is a poet, author of the collection Apricots from Donbassan audio version of which is read in French by Catherine Deneuve.

Luba Yakymtchouk recounts two years of war in Ukraine.  (DIRK SKIBA)

“For a long time, Ukraine was colonized by Russia. It found itself in the shadow of Moscow and no longer had its own voice. When I learned that Catherine Deneuve was going to read the translation of my poems, I thought it was a miracle in the middle of the war. When our voice is carried by powerful personalities, Ukraine regains its culture on a global level and with that the country regains its sovereignty.

We are faced with a situation where many Ukrainians have had drastically different experiences since the Russian invasion : some joined the army, others lost their loved ones, but there is also those who went abroad.

“We need to find common ground to prevent the gap between the Ukrainians who stayed and the Ukrainians who left from widening.”

Luba Yakymtchouk, poet and author

at franceinfo

When the war started in my region in 2014, I considered going to the front myself. Many women went there. The only thing that stopped me was that I had a small child. Today, his father is in the armed forces, and I feel guilty for not being there too. I am engaged in literary work, I represent Ukraine abroad, but it seems to me that this is not enough.

In 2014, Ukraine could have communicated more. On many occasions, I had to explain to Westerners during my travels that this was not a civil war. I was in Donbass in 2014. I saw the Russians arriving with my own eyes. Believe me, the worst thing that can happen to a people is Russian occupation. This is what the Russians are doing to the Ukrainians. The worst thing is not to die for Ukraine, but to live under Russian occupation. Death by missile is quick. And what they can do if they come back to kyiv, where I live at the moment, I can’t imagine this horror.”

“Culture is a question of security”

Olesya Khromeychuk is historian, she directs the Ukrainian Institute in London. She has lived in the UK for 20 years. She is also the author of The Death of a Brother (ed. Seuil), an autobiographical book on the death of his brother at the front in Ukraine.

Olesya Khromeychuk recounts two years of war in Ukraine.  (NATHALIE GODEC)

“For a long time, the West did not trust the Ukrainians. There was little support for us because they did not know us. Traditionally, countries with a long state tradition like the United Kingdom and France listen to others country with a long state tradition, like Russia. But we must not forget if Russia has a long state history, it is mainly thanks to its imperialism, while Ukraine had to fight for its sovereignty for centuries . And our experience is extremely valuable. It doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us stronger. It explains why we fight so tenaciously. And today, we are finally heard.

“I’m often asked about Russia and how to save it. People read Dostoyevsky to understand Russia, but they don’t read anything to understand Ukraine.”

Olesya Khromeychuk, historian and writer

at franceinfo

This is why education and culture are a question of security. Imagine, until recently, Ukrainian was taught in only one university department in France. In the UK, I taught Central and Eastern European history and only had one module on Ukraine. I was almost ‘smuggling’ Ukraine to class. Ukraine was in the gap between Europe and Russia. Today, that is changing, and for the better.

I was asked why I didn’t join the army. And I answer : ‘Because I still have the privilege of not doing so, I live abroad’. This can change quickly. I too was a civilian woman who lived 2 000 km from the front, whose life had radically changed due to the aggression of an imperialist dictatorship. I talk about it in my book. War is closer than we think and can affect anyone at any time.

“In the West, the war is still seen as a series on Netflix. People were waiting for a new season about the counter-offensive, but it didn’t happen.”

Olesya Khromeychuk, historian and writer

at franceinfo

The same thing happened during the events in Israel. This passive consumption of conflicts is very worrying, especially in this global election year where the stakes are crucial. People must realize that their vote could determine the winner of the war in Ukraine.”

source site-25