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Stanzas for Ukraine – 14

The ‘Fraternal’ War[1] by Lana Perlulainen, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj.

This war wasn’t a surprise for me. I happened to be living with my husband and son in Novosibirsk when the August Putsch of 1991 occurred, followed by the collapse of the unbreakable Union and Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence. Suddenly, Large-State chauvinism began to manifest itself among those we considered friends and with whom we had stood shoulder to shoulder at a demonstration against the Central Committee of the Communist Party. They would pat us on the back and say, ‘you will crawl to us on your knees you “independent people”’. My now deceased husband, the writer Yevhen Zapeka, who was once incarcerated for Ukrainian Nationalism and founded the Ukrainian society at Novosibirsk Academic Campus, was fired from his post. They even tried to set us at odds: I am a Russian according to my passport although, in reality, I have Finnish and Polish roots. So we decided to return to Ukraine.

I can’t say that it worked out well because they automatically allocated Russian citizenship to us, and it took us until 2002 to rid ourselves of it and become Ukrainian citizens. However, that’s not the point. Why did I swap to writing in the Ukrainian language when I had already published two books in Russian? Because I firmly resolved that I would live here, so why would I use a language which is foreign to Ukrainians? I have not written a single line in Russian from that point onwards. Initially, of course, I sat with dictionaries to hand and checked practically every word. Now, however, I even edit and correct other people’s texts. It’s not difficult to master the language if the desire to learn it is present.

So, to reprise, I had smelled the stench of this future war in 1991. However, the majority of the population were optimistic (in spite of Dzhokhar Dudayev’s warning that Ukraine would be one of the next countries to be attacked by Russia)[1] and stubbornly believed in the friendship of the ‘fraternal’ Russian and Ukrainian peoples.

In 2014 then, the population was in shock when the Russians attacked. Some even suggested giving the Muscovites Crimea and Donbas, saying ‘let them choke on it, most of the people there are supporters of the “Russian World”’, we will be better off without them.[1] As if the gluttonous ‘Older Brothers’[2] would stop there… Others called for communication with the Easterners in Russian: they said ‘they are patriots; they should not be cast aside’. At that point I said, ‘I didn’t switch to Ukrainian to degrade the language now’. We must maintain a linguistic front so that the Putinists do not have an excuse to ‘liberate’ us.

I don’t want to write about the ruling elite – a lot has been said about some of its members having financial interests in a neighbouring state… Those people for whom ‘Ukraine above all else’ holds the line of defence and I never lost faith in our victory.

Although the Racist onslaught was anticipated and predicted, the large-scale invasion took me by surprise and, in reality, not on February 24 but a day earlier when I read that mobile phones were being confiscated in the occupied territories. I immediately thought ‘well, today they’ll celebrate and tomorrow they’ll advance’. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wrong – it would appear that, having lived among them, I had to have learned about the ‘ruszian character’. But what the hell! Like everyone else I was shocked by the bestial atrocities, especially those involving children. And I can’t get my head around the fact that there are some ethnic Ukrainians firing at Ukrainian cities. Such a darling son flying over his native home and waving the wings of his plane; ‘hi Mum! Here’s a little present for you!’ and unleashing a missile.

I am in relative safety now: I haven’t fled Lviv. I have internet access; the electricity is rarely cut off and even the air raid sirens don’t sound every day. However, Lviv says farewell to her sons and daughters almost daily. There are ever more graves on the Alley of Heroes… and ever more orphans.

I have no complaints about my imagination. Nevertheless, I still cannot feel what people endure under the rubble of destroyed buildings or while being shelled at the front. They will write about it themselves. It’s a time for documentary literature, even if there are obsessive authors manqué converging out of every cranny. Worthwhile and truly artistic novels will be written later, after Ukraine’s victory.

 Lana Perlulainen, Lviv

Poems by Lana Perlulainen


Переклади мене на всі вітри
або прибий дощами до бруківки.
Тікає простір в прохідні двори,
як фотокор, який рятує плівку.

Чужий будинок з вікнами на схід,
і саксофон випльовує бемолі,
і осінь каву попиває під
червоним кока-кольним парасолем…

Translate me to all the winds
Or nail me with rains to the sidewalk,
Space flows into the alleyways
A photo journalist saving their film.

An alien building windows to the east
A saxophone spitting out flats,
And Autumn drinking coffee under
A coca cola umbrella.


День мемуари пише
десь на горищі.
Кішка ганяє тишу
з-під шафи – під ліжко.

Час з долоні – в долоню,
ніби кінець – в початок.
Поодинці холонуть
Кава – моя і чай – твій.

The day writes its memoirs
Somewhere in the attic.
The cat chases silence under the bed
From under the wardrobe

Time goes from palm to palm
As if the end were in the beginning,
And, cooling separate and solitary,
Your coffee and my tea.


По вулиці Дудаєва
прогулюється лютий,
студенти повертаються
усталеним маршрутом.

Далеко до Ічкерії,
далеко до Росії.
По різних кафетеріях
розходяться месії.

На вулиці Дудаєва
будинки, як фортеці.
За віденською кавою
сидить інтелігенція.

Тут — Каїни, там — Авелі
сидять і розмовляють.
На вулиці Дудаєва
наразі не стріляють.

February meanders
Along Dudaeva street
Where students return
By their determined route.

It’s a long way to Ichkeria
A long way to Russia.
The Messiahs disperse
To various cafeterias.

The buildings like fortresses
Along Dudaeva street
The intelligentsia sits at ease
With its Viennese coffees.

Here the Cains, there the Abels
Sit and converse by their tables
And no one fires guns- yet-
Along Dudaeva street.

* * *

Вчорашнє свято дощик змив,
і небо прапором обвисло.
Із придорожньої корчми
виходять п’яні кипариси.

Наводять різкість, бачать: Львів.
Їм, п’яним, осінь по коліна.
Смичок тролейбуса повів
струну між тактами зупинок.

Кістлявий жовтень по кущах
останні яблука збирає.
Все в парасолях і плащах —
від обрію до небокраю.

Від небокраю до зими
тече приречена дорога.
І кипарис біля корчми
собі об Львів зламає ногу.

І крізь вікно байдуже what?
шпурнуть тверезі інтуристи.
І молодий екскурсовод
розставить скрізь свої ітизи.

Yesterday’s holiday washed away by the rain
The sky with a flag hung
And, from the roadside Inn,
Drunk cypresses emerging.

They focus and see: Lviv
Before them, drunk, Autumn to their knees,
The bow of the trolleybus guides the string
Between the bus stops’ rhythm.

This boney october among shrubs
Gathers the last apple,
Everyone with coats and umbrellas
From the horizon to the sky’s rim

From the sky’s rim to winter
The doomed road flows
And the cypress by the Inn
Breaks its leg against Lviv.

The foreign tourists throw
An indifferent what? Through the window
And the young guide places this phrase
Everyhwere. It is…


Біля вокзальних колій
йдуть серпневі дощі.
Простір жує бемолі,
випльовуючи ключі.

Біля вокзальних колій
живе бездом’я моє.
Це подібно до долі,
якщо вона справді є.

The Autumn rains pass
By the rail tracks.
Space chews the flat notes
Spits out the keys of music.

My homelessness dwells
By the rail tracks.
This resembles destiny
If that exists really.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj. Follow him on twitter here:


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.

‘autumn drinking coffee under a coca cola umbrella’
Invitation to write by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

What else do you think might happen in the scene where autumn is enjoying one brown drink under the umbrella coloured by/tasting of another brown drink? Lana Perlulainen’s poems encourage us to imagine different coffee-drinking scenarios. Consider these two alternatives: ‘The Messiahs disperse/To various cafeterias’ and ‘Here the Cains, there the Abels/Sit and converse by their tables’. Whom would you invite into your coffee-drinking scripts – into conversational spaces around coffee tables? What would they talk about? (Under what umbrellas?)

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 thirteen 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.


Lana Perlunainen, the pen name of Svitlana Zhemchuzhina (1958), is a Ukrainian poet who began as a Russian language author but became a passionate advocate of the Ukrainian language. She has won numerous literary awards including the Vasyl Stus Premier for her multi-layered poetry which explores and celebrates both the city of Lviv with its coffee culture and the tangled legacies of the Russian empire.

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.

[1]   This view is incorrect but reflects the attitudes of some in Ukraine who wanted to avoid war. The majority of the population in these areas would not have voted for a union with Russia, and there was great hostility towards the occupation particularly in rural Ukrainophone areas of the Donbas and among the Crimean Tatars.

[2]   The phrase ‘Older Brother’ is used by Russians to refer to Russia in relation to Ukraine even though, of course, Kyiv is far older than Moscow.

[1]   Dzokhar Dudayev (1944-1996) led Chechnya’s fight for independence from Russia and, in a prophetic video, warned that Ukraine would ultimately be attacked.

[1] Since this blog was written, Russia has launched a new campaign of missile attacks which threaten energy and water supplies to all of Ukraine and are affecting Moldova.

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