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Ukrainian Literature: Talking about the war – culture

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A few weeks ago, in January, when Russian troops were concentrated on Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine, Serhiy Zhadan wrote in an article for “FAZ” that for him the war had been going “in one way or another since 2014 “. “even if some people tend not to notice it.”

Now the whole world has noticed the Russians’ violent incursion into Ukraine on February 24, and Zhadan, who was born in Luhansk in 1974, has been hanging out in Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, ever since, working, arranging transport Helpful and trying to support. he and his family protect themselves.

If you want to know what’s going on in Ukraine right now, how the war has invaded daily life there and what it’s doing to the people, and not just for the last two and a half weeks, that it’s hard to get a complex picture of the many short media streams you can, should, read Zhadan’s books, his poems and novels, which can sometimes be described as war poems or war novels.

Soldiers at every step

Like his latest novel “Internat”, which tells how Pascha, who is a teacher by trade, tries to get his 13-year-old nephew out of boarding school because there is a war. For three days, the Russian-speaking Ukrainian professor moves through a nameless city ruled by war, where his life is in constant danger and he meets soldiers at every turn: “But there are an incredible number of people here, and they emit such an indefinable smell, of dirt and iron, tobacco and dust”.

But Pascha meets not only soldiers, but also women and children who want to flee, people sitting in cellars, doctors treating the wounded and dead. Pasha is a civilian, he doesn’t belong to any war party, he thinks he can stay out of it and when he finally ends up in boarding school, one of the teachers there asks, “And if someone shoots your nephew, then aren’t you on the side?” from no one?”

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Even before this novel, Serhiy Zhadan had written a volume of “war poems and prose” about his travels in beleaguered eastern Ukraine, “Why I’m Not on the Internet” after the 2015 publication of his declaration of love. to Kharkiv. , “Mesopotamia”. This volume was followed by another in 2020 with “Antenna”. In it he works, on the one hand, on the death of his father, on the other hand, he tries once again to capture the war with language.

“We consider it negligent to keep silent about ourselves”

One of the poems is called “Three years ago we talked about the war”, and the second stanza also begins with this sentence, in which it continues: “We have learned to talk about our past / and about the war. / We learned to make plans based on / war. / We have words to express our anger. / We have words to express our piety. / We have words to show our contempt. / We have words for curses, for prayers, / We have all the words necessary / To speak of ourselves in times of war. / It is very important for us / to talk about ourselves in times of war. / We cannot avoid talking about ourselves in times of war. / We consider it negligent to keep silent about ourselves.”

Serhij Zhadan writes about the feelings of helplessness, the threat, about the illusions one has in times of war despite everything, about the words one tries to formulate, the language one may no longer have.

There is also something desperate, extremely disappointed, not least in his own interest and that of his great deceased colleagues, when he once said: “Who cared for your words? / It is useless to hide behind the great / dead literature / in front of people / who are dying. / Hopeless, / unjust.” And yet one gets the impression that Serhij Zhadan’s books are visionary, finds that they formulate everything that is happening in Ukraine these days.

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