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Stanzas for Ukraine – 21

Hatred by Halyna Huliieva, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj

The subjects and themes of my writing didn’t fundamentally change after 24 February 2022. The war as far as I and many other Ukrainians were concerned didn’t begin last year (and ultimately probably not nine years ago) because I studied history and somehow always knew who our enemy was. This became one of the key themes in my creative work after Russia’s invasion of the Donbas in Ukraine. Although my collection From The Nerves does not consist exclusively of war lyrics, the emotional stimulus for writing most of the poems was my emotions concerning my father who fought on the front lines near Marinka in 2016. My father, of course, did not have to go to war, no one forced him. This is especially true because, living in West Ukraine, we were always remote from the front line. However, at that time he took a firm decision that ‘it’s better I go today so that tomorrow my son doesn’t have to’ (my brother was eight years old then).

From that point onwards I have used a small portion of my publicising work (public performances and evenings focused on art) almost exclusively to remind my audience behind the front lines about those to whom it owes the opportunity of calmly enjoying music, poetry and wine: of the heroes both living and dead. I was consequently perceived, on occasion, as too depressive and paranoid.

It was symbolic that my father returned from the war on 14 October, the day of the Intercession of the Theotokos[1]: as if the Madonna herself, the patron saint of Ukrainian Cossacks and soldiers, bore him from heavy battles unscathed and brought him home. This weird but beautiful coincidence subsequently inspired me to write a poem.

After the beginning of the full-scale war, my father planned to return to the front, but his poor health wouldn’t allow him to go. In February this year he suffered a huge heart attack which totally incapacitated him from working at all. The first thing he said to me when I made it to him with every lie and truth in the intensive care unit was ‘I probably won’t be able to sign a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the summer. Unfortunately.’

So, my war poems ended up being exclusively for and about my father, my personal hero. Although, as should be the case with metaphorical poetry, I didn’t speak about him directly. One way or another I tried to imbue the stories I heard from my father and other eyewitnesses of this real, non-cinematic, war with a new, atypical sound. These tales were not so much inspiring (because how can war inspire you?) as they were confusing and impactful. They wouldn’t let me rest until I wrote them down on paper, in my own specific metaphorical manner of course. There is, for example, one particular ‘ATO’[1] legend which was told to my father by his brothers in arms: it concerned a commander who sold out to the enemy and betrayed his own troops, sending them to certain death. Those who subsequently returned to the commander, having miraculously survived, were shot at point blank range with no trial and no investigation. I don’t know how much of this is true and how much is really a legend but I couldn’t think of anything apart from this story until I wrote it down in a poem (I called it ‘Farewell to the Captain’ and it speaks directly of the sea, but no less indirectly of the front line).

I tried in addition to draw with my trembling, uneven (in all senses) handwriting to portray life on the frontline which is not at all poetic. I remember long ago in some lesson on foreign literature (I don’t now remember in the context of what text) we touched on the topic of war. I was struck by the words of my teacher then: he said that war was not only about ‘running and shooting’ as shown in the films but primarily about guts scattered everywhere, about bodies devoured by dogs, because no one ever removes them from the battlefield. Later, when I looked in the eyes of those who had returned from the front, I was completely convinced that there is no poetry in war. Everything I write about it will be emotionally weak and inadequate in those eyes. However, unfortunately, writing is the only way I can cry out about this war. Sometimes I even ‘shout’ loudly enough to be heard somewhere in the world. I think it is extremely important now that we, Ukrainians, are heard and, above all, understood.

On 24 February 2023 when I learned what an air raid siren sounded like (because the Russians began bombing even cities so far to the rear of the front like my own Ivano-Frankivsk) I really thought that any poetry in my life was over. However, it transpired later, that it was all the other way round. Those stories that baffle and devour from your innards until you write them down have increased. They are, unfortunately, mainly tragic tales. Incidentally I am currently preparing material for my next poetry collection: even before the full-scale invasion I submitted a grant application, the main award being a book publication and learned that I had been successful after 24 February. In different circumstances there would be a completely different conception of this poetry collection. There would, of course, still be poems about the war. Because they haven’t ceased being written by me over the past nine years. Because the war in my poetry isn’t a fashionable pathos but my personal drama. However, if previously my war lyrics were mainly silent tears for lost heroes, and a heart-rending prayer for the living ones, they are now pure dark hatred for the occupiers.

Poems by Наlyna Huliieva, translated by Stephen Komarnyckyj


Так-бо в сітях очей б’ється срібна рибина сльози. Я
видивляюся: ніч – ікона. Бліда, непорадна
Богородиця на закривавлених простирадлах
притуляє до уст німоту, мов нового Месію.

Я зриваюсь: внизу живота гострі камені спазму.
Ходить коло вікон тихий сон, ніби сонм убитих.
Ось – один з чотирьох – чорний вершник. І під копитом –
місто/серце. Як лезо – межа, за яку б не упасти.

І тримаюсь межі – обома. Аж дивуюся: я чи
хтось чужий? На долонях – стигмати, що дикі рожі.
Я тепер не боюся нічого, хіба порожніх
коридорів, де тиша відлунює криком дитячим


So that tear silvery as a fish twitches in my eye.
I look out. Night- an Icon. Pale and helpless
Madonna lays on the bloodied bed linen,
Presses muteness to her lips a new Messiah.

Torn. Spasms, sharp stones, pierce my guts.
A quiet dream passes the pane, the murdered dead,
So many, with a dark rider of the four, whose hoofs
Maul the City/Heart. A razor’s edge sets a limit

Beyond which you must not fall. I stand fast to both
And am surprised: am I me now or a stranger?
The stigmata on the palm are wild roses.
I am afraid of nothing now except empty corridors

Where silence echoes with children’s cries.


Той, хто прийшов убивати мене, лежить.
Аж в узголів’ї терен гіркий поспів.
Горлиці поперек горла – ножі, ножі:
висне кривавим місяцем піснеспів.

Хрестик на полотнищі – і меч мій, і щит.
Довго його в приціл розглядав, і от –
той, хто хотів розстріляти мене, мовчить:
чорним червивим яблуком стався рот.

Той, хто мою погибель, мов торбу, носив,
раптом упав, не втримавши тягаря.
Темне нутро його виїли дикі пси.
Зимні зірки, що люстри, над ним горять.

Грім понад ним наростає, як Божий гнів.
Руки його і ноги його – трава.
Той, хто прийшов убивати мене, зогнив.
А  я – жива.

The one who came to kill me lies down now
Oh where the thorn head lies a bitter song.
Knives, knives across the turtledove’s throat:
Song hung with bloodied moon.

The cross on the linen is my sword and shield.
I viewed him in the cross hairs for so long
Then he who yearned to shoot me is silent
His mouth a black wormed apple became.

He who bore my death like a plain bag
Fell suddenly, unable to hold the burden.
His dark innards devoured by wild dogs.
Above him chandeliers of winter stars burn

And thunder grows like divine wrath.
His arms and legs become the grass.
The one who came to kill me rots to soil.
And I live still.


В мак мене не розтерти. З дому мене не витравити.
Ось я тобі довіку – і хрест, і плаха,
цвяшок і домовина. Клятий фашистський виродку ти…
(«Русский военный корабль, иди нахуй»)

Хочеш землі моєї – чорне нутро набий собі та
здохни. Ставай для соняхів перегноєм.
Голос мій не зірвати. З хати мене не виселити.
Я тобі – бич і праща. Господь – за мною.

Сіють криваве сонце в полі, снарядом зораному.
Темні дими, що руки, стримлять угору.
Ось я. Я Київ, Харків, острів Зміїний – ворогові
поперек горла.

You will not like poppy seed grind me down,
Or drive me from home, I am here forever,
To you I am the plague, the cross on the door,
The nail and coffin. Cursed Fascist monster
(“Russian warship go fuck yourself”)

You want my earth: gorge on its dark guts
Die like an animal. Become the manure to sunflowers.
You will not tear away my voice. Drive me from my house.
For you I am the scourge and sling. The Lord with me.

They sow the bloodied sun in field, shell ploughed
The dark smoke, that is hands, streaming upward.
I am here. I am Kyiv, Kharkiv, Snake Island
Cutting across the foe’s throat.


Серпень не має серця – то хрест чи серп.
Бачиш: з грудей руків’я стримить назовні?
Розповідні, питальні та наказові
я розгубила, поки дивилась. Все.

В серпня немає серця – і слів нема.
Серпню снаряди вимісили обличчя.
Так достобіса виклично і оклично,
аж кровоточить на вишиванках мак.

Тягнеться голос вервицями фонем.
Репає шкіра – яблуко тихо стогне.
В серпня немає вічного і святого.
І в мене не…

August has no heart- whether a cross or a sickle.
You see: how its handle protrudes from the chest outwards?
Narrative, interrogative, imperative,
I was baffled watching. By it all.

There is no heart in August and no words either.
Shells kneaded the face in August
So the hell with the declamatory and exclamatory
Bleeding poppies onto vyshyvankas

The voice stretches with rosaries of phonemes
The skin creaks, the apple moans softly.
There is nothing eternal or holy in August
Or me either



Жовтень такий – ні запрати, ні виварити.
Збите яблуко, що збитий приціл.
У Богородиці танки на вивороті
ризи вишиті. І віск – по щоці.

Ружі, ножі, автомати Калашникова
сповиває у криваві шовки.
Бог, ніби повня, ростиме і важчатиме
в небі темному/під серцем тремким.

Серед боїв чи пустель озвіріємо ми.
Переплавимось на сталь. Повсякчас
котиться віск по обличчі Маріїному –
мов спливає почорніла свіча.

Пересипаються строфи в порожні оці
Осінь, як прив’язь на шиї, вкорочується:
жовтень такий..     


This October is  such it neither washes nor boils.
The battered apple that is a damaged crosshair.
In the Madonna tanks overturned,
Embroidered shirts. And wax on the cheek.

Rifles, knives, Kalashnikovs wrapped in bloodied silks
God as if full will grow and become heftier
In a dark sky
Beneath a tremulous heart-

In battles or deserts we become beasts.
Melt into steel. And always wax
Rolls down Maria’s face
As if a blackened candle floats.

Stanzas pour into the vacant eyes
Cartridges/capsules/eye sockets/bottles
And autumn like a halter round the neck shortens.
October is such…

Invitation to Write by Elżbieta Wójcik-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.

‘am I me now or a stranger?’

Invitation to write by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

‘They were confusing and impactful,’ Наlyna Huliieva soberly assesses the character of her poems. The speaker in one of her texts is observing herself carefully under cruel circumstances: ‘am I me now or a stranger?’ Let’s consider into what kind of strangers the events of our/our characters’ lives might turn us. Especially when we are seen through the eyes of our enemies, real or imagined.

To you I am the plague the cross on the door
The nail and coffin.

What images would your (your speakers’) enemies use to describe you? Or, rather, what images would you yourself use to distil the emotions shaped by the inimical circumstances?

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 twenty 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.


Наlyna Huliieva was born in 1993 in Ternopil Oblast in Ukraine and has been published in leading Ukrainian poetry journals. She has received several awards for her work. Her poetry collection ‘From the Nerve’ (2019) combined densely worked metaphors with the powerful emotions generated by the war that began in 2014. She is working on a further collection and notes that her work increasingly reflects her hatred of the invaders.

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

[1]   Mariupol means “The City of Mary”: the town is now occupied by the Russians has seen a vast number of deaths since the invaders seized the city in May 2022.

[1]   The Ukrainian military operation against Russia’s occupation of the Donbas region in 2014 was known initially as the ATO or Anti Terrorist Operation.

[1]   An orthodox festival and a day when Ukraine’s armed forces are celebrated.

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