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Stanzas for Ukraine – 19

The Poetry of Displacement by Darya Zorina, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj

Forced displacement is a theme which has not been picked up by Ukrainian poetry. This is the literary genre, however, which is usually the swiftest and most sensitive to respond to all that happens in the country and to every mass mood and emotion. War has been an inevitable literary topic in Ukraine from 2014 when Russia annexed part of Ukraine’s territory. However, as of 24 February 2022, in the year following Russia’s full-scale invasion, a huge volume of poetic texts have been written on many aspects of the war. However, if you compare ‘war’ poetry before and after the invasion you may observe a rather weird fact. Very few Ukrainian poets touched the topic of displaced people who were compelled to leave the occupied territories and seek a place to live elsewhere before 24  February 2022. The theme of displacement is ‘drowned’ in a pile of poems  with varying degrees of pathos covering military operations and themes etc. The tragedy of the situation, which is deemed worthy of capturing in poetry, seemingly ends where people ended up far from the front line and began establishing and leading ordinary lives significantly different from those of other Ukrainians.

If we look back into history the theme of mass emigration or resettlement caused by socio-political phenomena has only rarely emerged in Ukrainian poetry. The waves of emigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were not overlooked by prose authors (we can recollect here the textbook prose of Stefanyk) but the emigration of Ukrainians to Canada and the USA for a better life was not widely reflected in the poetry of that time.

The 20th century history of Ukraine as a part of the USSR was brimming with stories of the compulsory or even forced displacement of the population.  These include the dekurkulisation with the subsequent deportation (to exile) of Ukrainians to the Russian territories of Siberia, as well as the republics of the Asian part of the USSR (in the 20-30s), and the two Holodomors, after and during which peasants tried to escape to big cities and again to those Russian territories that were not subjected to artificial famine. Subsequently during the Second World War, a large number of the Ukrainian population evacuated, and never returned, or returned to other settlements outside Ukraine. We will also include the constant internal migration from villages to cities, a process which particularly intensified when collective farm workers received internal passports. This provided them with the opportunity to study and work in cities, while receiving state housing there (private housing did not exist). Why is there so little Ukrainian poetry about all these events? The answer lies in the harsh Soviet censoring and repression of poets who raised topics which were ‘inconvenient’ for the authorities. Those who could have written were destroyed or intimidated.

However, let’s return to our time and the current generation of poets. At a point during in 2014-2015, the ‘first wave’ of emigrants were a significant source for poetry. They had not yet settled in their new homes, they needed help and sought understanding, when conflicts and the rejection of these seeming ‘foreigners’ were unfolding between them and local residents where they settled. The poets of the ‘first echelon’ of Ukrainian poetry reacted to this topic with several texts. There was, for example, Serhiy Zhadan, whose work is characterized by topicality (‘Where do you come from, black flock, flight of birds? We, chaplain, are residents of a city that does not exist…’). Lyubov Yakimchuk is a native of the Luhansk region, who wrote about her nostalgia for the abandoned land of her childhood in the collection ‘The Apricots of Donbas’ (2015).

The topic seemed to exhaust itself, migrants rented apartments, found jobs, young people among them entered educational institutions and even graduated. The integration period which was of sufficient scale to involve the whole Ukrainian state passed successfully. That emotion which might have translated into poetry lost its significance. What was there to write about at this stage? The exhausted and no longer estranged home made in apartments with changing tenants, the experience of being turned down by estate agents, broken friendships, neighbourly resentments when possessions had not been taken out, which have not yet been replaced with new purchases? I am also one of the people who had to relocate from Donetsk, at some point after 2016.  It became a little awkward for me to write about this topic and once again draw out the theme of the abandoned city and its mutilated destiny in my poetry. Ultimately, I didn’t want these texts to feel like thematic self-repetitions or simply unsuccessful attempts to ‘hype’ events , which have long since faded and lost their formerly acute relevance.

There are, fortunately, authors within Ukrainian literature who didn’t lose contact with the topic of resettlement as if it were a living and painful nerve. Iya Kiva, from among the poets who themselves became internally displaced persons, sustained the theme of the fate of displaced person’s expulsion from one’s home-town in her texts throughout all these years (her cycle ‘People of Donbas’ is well worth reading). There were other displaced poets including Oleksiy Chupa, Tetyana Kovalevych, Leviza Nikulina, Serhii Piddatii.

What changed after 24 February, 2022? The new mass wave of immigrants is the largest in the entire history of Ukraine’s independence. There are countless stories, of leaving under fire, of leaving the occupied area on foot, of everyday tragedies. The departure of several million Ukrainian men and women who fled abroad in the early spring of 2022. There are millions of testimonies, for which documentary rather than poetry would be a more appropriate medium. Migration has ceased to be a detail in individual private biographies and become a reality that these same millions of Ukrainians live with.

The emigrants and refugees in this wave included Ukrainian poets and poets whose personal experiences spilled into poetry. There are, for example, Daryna Gladun, Asya Shevtsova, Dina Chmuzh, Anton Polunin (I recommend his text ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you a resident of Ivano-Frankivsk…’). It can’t be claimed that this experience will form ‘poets of the single theme’ in Ukraine. However, for now we have received an array of multifaceted strong texts, which will subsequently become significant in the poetic picture of today. There are, in addition, authors for whom this is not a personal experience (see for example, Maryna Ponomarenko’s text ‘Maria from Mariupol’) who took up the task of understanding refugees, and their texts became popular because anyone could relate to them.

It should be recognised that the interest in the subject of emigrants will eventually subside again. The constant dramatisation makes literature monotonous, and living people are no longer just present as meek, tearful wretches with one battered suitcase. No one will force poets to extricate the ‘necessary’ texts. That’s why the future production of emotional laments, vivid self-documentations of the author’s experience, and ironic texts will engage readers interested in Ukrainian poetry.  All that remains for us is to read and wait.

Poems by Darya Zorina, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj


колись мешкали у безпечному світі

потім опинилися у безпечній країні

потім у безпечному місті

потім у безпечному районі

потім сиділи у безпечному домі

потім у безпечній кімнаті

під безпечною стіною

а потім перебиралися до безпечного дому

до безпечного району

виїжджали до безпечного міста

і до безпечної країни

а у безпечному світі було зачинено

21 березня 2022 р.

once they dwelled in a safe world

then they arrived in a safe country

then in a safe city

then in a safe area

then they sat in a safe house

And then in the safe room

By a safe wall

and then they moved to a safe house

And to a safe area

which they left for a safe city

and to go to a safe country

and in the safe world they were shut.


середньостатистичний українець впродовж життя
не проживає чотириста двадцять вісім життів

для українки цей показник дещо вище
шістсот сорок дев’ять життів яких не було

життя шосте]
я народилася у берліні
мене зовсім не били діти
я стала носити одяг який подобався
вчителі відзначали що я креативна
однокласники не питали скільки це коштує
батько сказав що отак і підемо провідати дідуся
в універі я одружилася
за три роки моя дружина померла від онко

[життя сто п’ятнадцяте]
я народилася в гомелі
вступила до художнього вузу закінчила монументалку
захистила диплом з відсилками до сецесії
восени двадцятого року робила розпис у коридорах відділення хірургії
пацієнти із щелепно-лицьовими мовчали але ходили подивитись як стіни стають садами
один неходячий був у кровопідтьоках
ультрамарин і кадмій
пригостив мене яблуком гмикнув

розписали так розписали
навпроти його палати виросла яблуня
потім я вийшла заміж
мій чоловік служив у ракетно-якійсь-то частині
дуже мене любив
до землі і назад

[життя двісті двадцяте]
мене знайшли у грибному кошику на станції святогірськ
був пізній ранок люди чекали дизеля дитячий галас мало хто чув
згодом бабуся навчила мене шукати гриби у вологій глиці
дивись дитино головне не підводь голови
спочатку ти дивишся потім вже ставиш ногу
я помітила ту розтяжку
усі вийшли до наших

[життя триста двадцять четверте]
я народилася у донецьку
у підлітковому віці мама вмовила мене на брекети
за два роки їх зняли
на світлинах я посміхаюсь від вуха до вуха
у вересні чотирнадцятого мене встиг  попередити друг
я встигла дізнатися хто з колег увійшов в мій фейсбук з робочого ноут
автівку на виїзді з міста зупинили на третьому блокпості
у паспорті я не всміхалась

[життя п’ятсот двадцять третє]
я народилася у маямі
моя прапрабабуся була з алжира
в крові мого батька було щось іспанське чи португальське
я закінчила коледж
маю роботу п’ять днів на рецепшні готеля
менеджерка принесла жовто-блакитну стрічку півроку тому
сказала дивися на неї й всміхайс
якщо гості спитають чи ти розумієш російську

[життя шістсот друге]
я народилася у лисичанську
найстрашніше мені було
коли спускалася з терикону а з-за схилу вибігла зграя собак
але все обійшлося
терикони обходжу десятим колом
ніхто не помер

15 лютого 2023 р.

the average maleUkrainian throughout his life
does not live four hundred and twenty-eight lives

this index is somewhat higher for a Ukrainian woman,
she lives through six hundred and forty-nine lives that did not happen

[sixth life]

I was born in Berlin
the other children did not beat me at all
I started wearing clothes that I liked
my teachers noted that I was creative
my classmates did not ask how much this costed
my father said that we would go to visit grandfather
I got married in university
and three years later, my wife died of cancer

[life one hundred and fifteen]
I was born in Gomel
I entered an arts institute and graduated from the monumental school
defended a diploma with references to secessionism
in the autumn of the twentieth year, I painted the corridors of the surgery department
the maxillofacial patients were silent but walked them to look at how the walls became gardens
one immobile patient was bloodshot
in ultramarine and cadmium
he treated me to an apple and grunted
I painted thus I painted
so an apple tree grew opposite his ward
then I got married
my husband served in a missile unit
he loved me very much
to the earth and back

[life two hundred and twentieth]
I was found in a mushroom basket at Svyatohorsk station
it was late in the morning, people were waiting for a diesel train, and few heard a child’s clamour
later, my grandmother taught me to look for mushrooms in wet earth
look Child, the most important thing is not to let your head hang
you look first, then you set your foot down
I noticed a tripwire
everyone came out to ours

[life three hundred and twenty-four]
I was born in Donetsk
when I was a teenager, my mother convinced me to get braces
they were removed two years later
in the photos I smile from ear to ear
in September of the two thousand and fourteen a friend managed to warn me
I was find out able to find out which of my colleagues logged into my Facebook from a work laptop
the car was stopped at the third checkpoint on the way out of the city
I didn’t smile in my passport

[life five hundred and twenty-third]
I was born in Miami
my great-great-grandmother was from Algeria
there was something Spanish or Portuguese in my father’s blood
I graduated from college
I had a job for five days at the hotel reception
where the manager brought a yellow and blue ribbon six months ago
she said look at that and smile
if guests ask if you understand Russian

[life six hundred and two]
I was born in Lysichansk
it was the worst thing for me
when she was descending from the slagheap

and a pack of dogs ran from behind the slope
but everything worked out
I go around the slagheaps in the tenth circle
no one died

February 15, 2023


в мене постійно псуються фрукти і овочі:
це тому, що вони мені дійсно подобаються —
всі ці гогенівські кольори,
фактури кераміки із поливами,
аромати  полінезії й середземномор’я;
вся ця хтивість і лемент.

після купівлі їх боязко їсти —
надто швидко відбувається перетворення;
надто помітні втрати смаку і форми;
надто шкода помилок.

поки я жила з мамою і купувала фрукти, мама казала —
я що, працюватиму на смітник?
тепер я сама вже достатньо років працюю на той смітник.
і мій хлопець працює на спільний з моїм смітник.

і нікуди не дітись від риторичних питань —
чому я не з’їла ті сливи, вони ж були.
а огірки могла б засолити.
а помідори краще б долежали без пакету.

коли я стала дорослою, я зрозуміла ще дещо —
мені не хочеться від коханців того, що діло дурне нехитре.
насправді, я просто хочу їх не боятись.
з’їдати одну бездоганну цитрину ночі, —
і не викидати сотні прийдешніх, вкритих підступним слизом.

мої ідеальні коханці — це імпотенти.

моя ідеальна країна — у визнаних лініях мапи.

мої ідеальні плоди — воскові.

20 жовтня 2022 р.

my fruits and vegetables are constantly going off:
it’s because I really like them –
all those Haugen colours,
textures of ceramics with streaming,
the aromas of Polynesia and the Mediterranean;
all of this lust and lamentation.

after buying, I am afraid to eat them –
the transformation occurs too quickly;
the too noticeable loss of taste and shape;
too regrettable for the errorss.

while I lived with my mother and bought fruit, my mother said –
what, will I work in a rubbish tip?
now I  have been working in that tip myself for enough years.
and my boy works at a joint tip with me.

and I do not shy away from rhetorical questions –
why didn’t I eat those plums, they were there.
and the cucumbers could be salted.
and the tomatoes would do better without a bag.

when I became an adult, I realised something else –
I don’t want from lovers that the affair is stupid and simple.
in fact, I just want not to be afraid of them.
to eat one flawless nocturnal lemon, —
and not to throw out hundreds of future ones covered in treacherous slime.

my ideal lovers are impotent.

my ideal country is within recognised lines of the map.

my ideal fruits are wax.

October 20, 2022


чистота це форма насильства

людина зобов’язана бути чистою
а більш нікому нічого не зобов’язана

простирадло можна збруднити один раз в житті
коли чоловік його винесе до гостей після першої ночі
на білому тлі буде чиста кров

як же без крові

у оголошеннях про оренду пишуть люблю чистоту
люблю так що викину ці герані
люблю так що вижену кішку з хронічним цистітом
люблю більше за трьох- й семирічну дитину
люблю більш за життя

вибір завжди поміж газових камер і душових

один знайомий розповідав
у їхній квартирі були окупанти
так от вони не заходили у взутті
знайшовся вимитий ними посуд
напівспорожніла пляшечка фейрі
віник не на своєму місці
здавалось що він якось їх виправдовує
напевно вдома вони привчають дітей роззуватись
купують для них шампунь що не щипле очі
і читають їм мойдодира

іноді про них пишуть російською
але це набагато краще за відсилки до сексуальних практик

мені в дитинстві казали
ти ж хочеш жити серед людей а не в лісі
дорослою я розлюбила ліс за неможливість помитись
і невитравний запах багаття від всього шмоту
втім і людей я все ще не полюбила

коли хазяйка повернеться
вона знайде бруд
сама випере ковдру від поту і сперми
пропилососить килим від плям і волосс
довго провітрюватиме від залишків наших дихань
і щороку приходиме прибратися у могилок

9 серпня 2022 р.

Cleanliness is a form of violence

a person is obliged to be clean
and not to owe anything to anyone anymore

a sheet can be soiled once in a lifetime
when the husband takes it out to the guests after one night
there will be clean blood on a white background

how could it be without blood

In the rental ads, they say I like cleanliness
I love it so much that I will throw away these geraniums
I love it so much I will throw out a cat with chronic cystitis
I love it more than a three and a seven year old child
love it more than life

the choice is always between gas chambers and showers

one acquaintance told me
there were occupiers in their apartment
that did not enter in shoes
cleaned with spit
the dishes washed by them were found
a half-empty bottle of fairy
the broom is out of place
it seemed that this somehow excused them
they probably teach their children to take off their shoes at home
they buy a shampoo that does not sting their eyes
and read Moidodir to them

sometimes they are written about in Russian
called dirtyarses
but this is much better than references to sexual practices

I was told as a child
that you want to live among people and not in the forest
as an adult, I fell out of love with the forest because of the impossibility of washing
and the unendurable smell of the campfire from all the clothes

however, I still did not love people

when the hostess returns
she will find dirt
she will wash the blanket from sweat and semen herself
vacuum the carpet from stains and hair
will air the place for a long time from the remains of our breaths
and will come to clean the graves every year

August 9, 2022


володіти речами соромно

кащей над златом
переїжджа сваха
представниця суспільства переспоживання

легше верблюду увійти в вушко голки
ніж тобі пояснити нахіба тобі ще одна куртка
що ти з нею будеш робити
невже те саме що з усіма попередніми
особливо із тою що досі лежить без змійки
і тою з шкірзаму яку ти вже рік не носиш

щастя не у речахщастя коли близькі люди близько
а далекі далеко
і ніхто з них
сука ніхто
не чіпає твої речі

яка різниця скільки років твоїм кедам
якщо ти йдеш ними по пшемишлю
в тебе внутрішній паспорт старого зразка
двоє котів в переносках
огидно ниючий зуб
і кеди в тебе єдині

грець тобі а не почуття легкості

дін моріарті не збирав домашню бібліотеку від шевченка до жадана
григорій савич сковорода не купляв ортопедичний матрац
хокусай обходився без графпланшета

щастя це
бачити ще один їбучий світанок
пити каву з німецької гуманітарки
намагатися вимити чашку у правильний спосіб
чути живих
пробачати мертвим
дякувати ненародженим

тут і зараз

5 червня 2022 р.

owning things is shameful

porridge upon gold
the matchmaker moves
a representative of the overconsumption society

it is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle
than to explain to you that you need another jacket
what will you do with it
is it the same as with all the previous ones?
especially with the one that is still lying without a zipper
and the leather one that you haven’t worn in a year

happiness is not in things
happiness when people close to you are close
and distant ones are distant
and none of them
no bitch
touches your things

what difference does it make how old your sneakers are
if you walk Przemyśl in them
you have an old-style internal passport
two cats in carriers
a shoulder bag
a disgustingly aching tooth
when you have only one pair

Let it be  thus with you, and not a feeling of lightness
and mobility

Dean Moriarty didn’t gather up his home library from Shevchenko to Zhadan
Hrigoriy Savych Skovoroda did not buy an orthopedic mattress
Hokusai did without a tablet

this is happiness
to see another fucking dawn
drink coffee from a humanitarian German woman
try to wash the cup in the right way
hear the living
forgive the dead
and thank the unborn

here and now

June 5, 2022


що б не відтяла від тіл польова хірургія,
що б не видрукували удари безкістних пальців,
чого б не вихаркали у приміських та далекобійних —

залишися зі мною, тиша, — скляний сухостій.
залишіться зі мною, ім’я молока та ім’я води.
залишися зі мною, небо — папір самокруток.
залишіться зі мною, безсоння тирсові голови.
залишися зі мною, окраєць заплічної цегли.
залишися зі мною, пам’ять — жереба кобила.
залишися зі мною, полинне дихання плоті. 
залишіться зі мною, гончарні доторки болю.
залишися зі мною, щербатий півмісяць слова.

8 березня 2022 р.

no matter what field surgery cuts from the bodies,
no matter what the blows of boneless fingers imprint,
whatever they spewed out in suburbanand long range weapons-

stay with me, silence, – dry glass.
stay with me, name of milk and name of water.
stay with me, roll your own ciggarrete paper.
stay with me, you sleepless sawdust heads.
stay with me, edge of the cornice brick.
stay with me, memory a pregnant mare.
stay with me, wormwood breath of the flesh.
stay with me, potter’s touches of pain.
stay with me, jagged crescent of the word.

March 8, 2022

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.

‘six hundred and forty-nine lives that did not happen’

Invitation to write by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

‘[T]he average male Ukrainian throughout his life/ does not live four hundred and twenty-eight lives,’ Darya Zorina establishes her poetic statistics. ‘[T]his index is somewhat higher for a Ukrainian woman,/ she lives through six hundred and forty-nine lives that did not happen.’ Not surprisingly, some of these lives do happen in Zorina’s poem, which rehearses possible life scenarios: painful, exotic, familiar, promising. What lives could your protagonist (the speaker of your poem) try on? What props, events, companions could help you sketch such alternative lives in a few lines? Why would you ask your protagonist (your poem’s speaker) to live through such lives and how many would be available in the scope of your text?

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 eighteen 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.


Darya Zorina, whose real name is Darya Blinova, was born in Donetsk in 1988 and is a poet and literary translator with numerous awards. Her work remains seriously playful in the face of one of the darkest moments in recent European history and refuses to surrender the imagination’s right to transform her response to Russia’s war into poetry.

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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