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Stanzas for Ukraine – 16

The Dead Flowers of Forgetting by Iya Kiva, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj

I am often asked how I accepted the decision to leave Donetsk. Yes, I know that in Ukrainian the verb has to be ‘approved’, but there was neither approval nor acceptance of the choice I made. I left my home over eight years ago, but I still haven’t accepted that fact although, until recently, I thought otherwise.

It’s strange that it never occurred to me to answer their question with ‘how would you like to live under Russian occupation?’ I never responded like that because it transpired that I never reflected on that experience. On the contrary, I closed the door on it, just like I closed the door to my home. To the very idea of home.

I wonder if they asked Adam and Eve how they accepted the decision to leave Paradise. I wonder too if they answered. And if Russian missiles strike paradise too. During a meeting I had with readers in Vienna, some girl said that her home in Luhansk is in a prohibited area. Somewhere behind barbed wire. A zone. What was a space of comfort and safety therefore, when occupied by external forces, becomes a space of predatory danger. And now not going there even in your thoughts is a question of survival. There is, after all, a trap in our mental journeys that you don’t really notice, the possibility that you won’t return.

I tried to accomplish the Sisyphean labour of honest forgetting, constructing a fence in my head behind which my home is almost invisible. I tried to forget in the same way that a painkiller would ease pain. However, situations, such as peritonitis, occur when no painkiller can help. The only exit from the pain then is simply to surrender, falling into something between darkness and sleep, at once warm and repellent like vomit hurling from your head.

Forgetting your home is a game of impossibility, like running on the spot with an inevitable loss in the final race. Furthermore, the home always catches up with you in this game. Panic attacks occur in the most unsuitable locations and circumstances. A persistent insomnia in the whirlwind of your work tasks. Or, on the contrary there are nightmares with a repetitive plot that you dream every day. This continues month after month. When memory suddenly pulls some trinket from my pre-war life out of a pocket, I refuse to understand its language. I cover my face with my hands. Throttle myself. I seem to have been found too quickly again in this game of hide and seek.

In December 2022, I found out that a shell had landed near my home. I don’t know what kind. I’m not even sure I am terming what happened correctly. On the Donetsk Telegram channels I subscribe to, they refer to the ‘consequences of shelling’ there. However, they don’t provide any clarifications or details. There is only one video about the building where my home is. I have watched it countless times. The walls ruptured with shrapnel, broken glass, windows skewed, a balcony roof that looks as if it’s been chewed upon for a long time and spat out because it couldn’t be swallowed. This is what my apartment looks like viewed from the outside. The neighbours have told me that inside, the radiators have leaked. This means that representatives of that unknown authority in charge of that area will inevitably go there and it’s impossible to know what they will do. Looting? Cold? Damp? Mold? My imagination sketches all this for me both together and separately. However, I would of course be glad if I were mistaken. Although, if you preserve your sobriety in hell, it’s unlikely that someone apart from me will replace the glass in my windows.

The home in which I lived for 25 years stands with smashed windowpanes like a bewildered blind man at an unfamiliar crossroads. Donetsk is gripped by frost and it’s snowing. I can’t even go here. And I can’t really help my home with anything. I don’t have any children but somehow it seems to me as if this is how it feels when it’s impossible to help your child, safeguard and defend them. It’s apparent that when they told us our homes are fortresses, they spoke insincerely. Our homes are children whom we cannot protect from the war, and compelled and forced resettlement albeit this, does not occur in every generation.

Every day I close my eyes and see strangers entering my apartment. They rifle through my things. They discuss my apartment as if it were the body of a beautiful woman. They probe it with their fingers. Guffawing. They leave the filth of their undesired presence on the floor. And it makes me sick. Literally and metaphorically. It makes me sick, sick, sick. It seems that nausea is my new home. It’s not as if there is anything valuable in my apartment except for a few suitcases with photographs, you can’t buy new ones in the shop there and this feeling that my home is ruined is as physical as if we were talking about rape.

It seemed to me, strangely enough, as if I had already lived through this experience of saying farewell to my home. However, it transpires that working through my grief has only just commenced. The demonic wheel of history has rotated once more, and I am in the same place I was previously. Holding the flowers of forgetting in my hands and they are all dead.

Heigh-ho, shall we have yet another turn of the wheel?

16 December 2022

Poems by Ilya Kiva


так розрослася шипшина у цьому місті
що в темряві від загрози не відрізнити

тихо торкаєшся ніжності – кров простромлює горло
падаючи під ноги вишитим з болю серцебиттям
тінню тіней що непомітно виколюють очі

пісні троянд осипаються квітками снігу
і застигають в червоних горщиках здичавілості
наче лють – хліб наш щоденний – на піднебінні

так крик стає ремеслом
а поезія – теслею
кущ стає деревом
а гілки – гачками колючого дроту

і всі разом чіпляються за повітря
як птаха крилом за краєчок свободи

хапають материнську грудь грудневого неба
немовби не хочуть приймати це переродження
як діти любові з полишеного раю

шипшина тим часом продовжує оповідь


The wild rose grew in this town so
That in the dark it’s indistinguishable from some threat,

And you quietly touch its tenderness,
Blood streaming to your throat
Falling beneath the legs of a heartbeat
Embroidered with pain;
With the shadow of shadows imperceptibly
Pierced by  your eyes

And the song of roses deluged with flowers of snow
Stiffened in red pots of savagery
Like rage, our daily bread now, on the palette.

So the cry becomes craft
And poetry, carpentry
And the bush, a tree,
Its branches barbed wire thorns

All together catching at the air
The way a bird catches the verge of freedom
With its wing:

They grip the maternal breast of the December sky
As if they do not want to accept this rebirth
Like love’s children from an abandoned paradise

While the wild rose continues the story.



так десь поміж ребрами раптом з’являється вістря
загострений промінь жовтня стає катівним знаряддям надії
поки ліси закривають нам очі листям завмерлим

час – це дитина яку ми носимо за плечима
немовби грудки землі до яких любов прив’язана мотузками
щоби в дорозі до річки сіль на щоках не згубити

однак слова колискової що її бабуся співала після війни
ми забули – крізь белькотіння крові у горлі
чуємо власний голос немовби рипіння дверей
які нам вибили з пам’яті разом з порожнім містом довіри

так дивно розносити квіти слів між небіжчиків
немовби дешеві товари на приміському вокзалі
яких ніхто не купує – але хтось же має доглянути сад
наших печалей що ростуть тепер скрізь мов лабуззя

хтось же має тепер немов той собака в човні
перейти поле надламаних соняхів щоб запалити
вогник життя між деревами ночі й неспокоєм забуття
щоби згодом назвати це місце перелітною птахою дому

щоб записати – ненависті бруд не впущу собі навіть під нігті
хоч би як довгі тіні цих днів в’їлись у шкіру буття –
у щоденнику який не збережеться при переїздах

So a point suddenly appears between the ribs
October’s sharp ray becomes that torturer’s tool, hope
While the forests cover our eyes with dead leaves,

Time is a child we carry on our shoulders,
Like a clod of earth to which love is roped so not to lose
the salt on  the jowls on the road to the river,

Although we have forgotten the words of a lullaby
Grandma sang to her after the war
Through the blood gurgling in our throats we hear our voice
Like the creaking of a door we erased from memory
Along with the empty city of trust:

It is so weird to distribute these flowers of words among corpses
Like cheap goods, which no one buys at some suburban station
However someone has to take care of the garden of our sorrows
Which like weeds sprout everywhere

Someone, like that dog in the boat must cross
The field of broken sunflowers to kindle life’s fire
Between the trees of night, the restlessness of forgetting
So that we might later call the migrant bird’s nets home,

And to record: I will not allow the dirt of hatred to lodge
Even under my fingernails however the long shadows of these days
Eat into the skin of being-

Into a diary that will not be saved as I keep moving.


Iya Kiva

Invitation to Write by Elzbieta Wojcik-Leese

Stanzas for Ukraine: Let’s Write with Ukrainian Authors

In the manner borrowed from the Poetry School’s ‘Transreading’ practice, this blog series invites us to write in conversation with Ukrainian authors. Our close readings and our new texts are also gestures of our support and appreciation. As writers, we too can learn from our Ukrainian colleagues and their international translators.

‘our homes are children’

Invitation to write by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

‘It’s apparent that when they told us our homes are fortresses, they spoke insincerely,’ concludes Iya Kiva. ‘Our homes are children we cannot protect from the war and forced resettlement.’ What is your home to you or the speaker of your poem? Is it still a fortress? Or is it perhaps also a child in need of protection? Has the image that helps you/your poem’s speaker to understand the present home, moved radically away from the image you were encouraged to form? If that’s the case, what are the qualities that require rethinking?

You’re always welcome to invent your own writing games in response to the presented poems. Share your texts with our writing community here.

The fifteen previous invitations to write can be found here.

Invitation to Donate

This project aims to support refugees displaced by the conflict through raising funds for the World Central Kitchen. Please consider donating via their site here.

This project aims to support refugees displaced by the conflict through raising funds for the World Central Kitchen. Please consider donating via their site here.


Iya Kiva was born in 1984 in Donetsk – a prolific and award winning poet, journalist, critic and translator – her work is replete with vivid and emotionally precise imagery. She is currently in exile from her home region of Donetsk, due to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Poetry School is proud to have partnered with tutors Steve Komarnyckyj and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, and PEN International’s Judyth Hill to publish Stanzas for Ukraine.

Every fortnight we publish a blog written by some of the most significant contemporary Ukrainian poets, who will reflect upon the more than 300 years of historical conflict their country has endured, the on-going struggle, and highlight poems and voices from the past and present. This will launch a new strand of Poetry School work, giving voice to those globally who are being silenced and providing a platform for those suffering forced migration. Future strands will include Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and more.

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