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Stanzas for Ukraine – 24

 Dreams by Dmytro Lazutkin, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj

My four-year-old daughter asked me one day “Dad, how is it that we dream?”
Wasn’t she too young to be interested in concepts like this? I thought. The answer surely was no. But was I ready for such challenges as answering this question? Of course! And ultimately, I wouldn’t dodge such questions. However, sometimes easy questions only seem so.

I try to speak to her with maximum assurance possible, as if I understand perfectly what we are discussing. I am an adult. I must be authoritative in her eyes.
“It’s really all very simple” I say to her “to dream is to imagine that what you really long for has come true.”

Her face shone with happiness. “I dream that you have bought some ice cream and we have eaten it on the bench near the river. That we watch the sun setting behind the trees and you tell me where the wind comes from or about when you were a little boy”.

“Well, firstly, when I was a little boy” I say “something totally different interested me. I don’t know why. My father and me talked about cars, ships and football, but mostly football. We discussed goals, and pondered who would win the World Cup next. Brazil or Germany? Argentina or Italy? Why was Maradona so cool despite scoring the ‘Hand of God’ goal with a handball against England? Why does Franz Beckenbauer have more faith in Rummenigge, more than Rudi Völler? Why, if ten Ukrainians play in the USSR’s national team wasn’t it called the Ukrainian national team? And despite the fact that our goalkeeper is no worse than Rinat Dasaev, I’ll tell you that for nothing”.

The air raid siren interrupted our discussion. “What a horrible noise” my little girl commented. We needed to go to the air raid shelter. Although most of the people on the street kept going about their business. After all the probability the missile will hurtle right at us is not that high. Firstly, it could be shot down by the Ukrainian air defence. Secondly there are no military or industrial facilities in our area. However, after the shelling of the central streets of Vinnytsia and Kharkiv, the second argument doesn’t appear that persuasive. “Could a Russian missile hit us?” she asks.

A Russian missile could hit anywhere. Let’s get a move on. We catch up with two young mums with prams. They chat to each other while their babies sleep. Why hadn’t they left Kyiv? Why did thousands of people stay in the city despite the danger? What keeps them all here in a country that has become a war zone? Not wanting to leave their homes? A belief that the misfortune will pass? A firm conviction that the war will pass? An inability to realise that in the twenty first century all of this is possible?

Meanwhile a dog hiding in the shade of a lime tree begins howling alarmingly. It’s as if the hounds feel a kinship with the siren which signals that, somewhere over the Black Sea, a Russian armed forces aircraft has executed its combat mission, discharged its ammunition and can calmly return to its airfield. Or maybe not an aircraft at all but a submarine. And it was not aiming at us, not at people. It was just someone entering coordinates, just someone going through their routine, just dispatching death from point A to point B.

“What are you dreaming about daddy?”

I say that “I am dreaming the war is over and we don’t need to hide from shelling, and that you are still alive, and your sister and your mother and all the others are still alive.”

The path is littered with overripe mulberries which stick to children’s sneakers. My daughter leaves violet footprints as she walks. Several teenagers continue throwing a ball through a basketball hoop. Even if a bomb went off very close to them, they wouldn’t abandon their principled affair. You can hear them bickering loudly about whether the ball was out. We turn swiftly by a closed grocery shop. A scared flock of pigeons resembles a group of saboteurs exposed. The birds of peace have become uncomfortable in this city where, just a few months ago, they were preparing for battles in the streets and dug trenches, built roadblocks and dragged concrete slabs in place so that key roads through which Russian tanks might break could be blocked quickly if needed. It was frightening for everyone in those days. And that fear gave us added strength and determination. Engineers and builders, students, taxi drivers, shopping centre managers and hairdressers were all ready to take up arms. It was the first time in their lives that they had picked up a weapon for most of them.

Kyiv is gradually returning to the normal rhythm of life now that the worst is over. Even the missile strikes are perceived as a commonplace thing.

There aren’t many people in the air raid shelter situated in an underground parking lot. I start up a cartoon about fairies for my daughter on my phone. Most people around us are reading the news on their mobiles. The screens glow in the semi darkness. Information fresh from the front, news about our casualties, statements of international support, promises of weapons supplies. This is big politics – so much in our lives has become about big politics. Foreign strategic plans, someone’s ambitions on which, it transpires, so much depends and particularly whether we will be around tomorrow or whether all this will disappear.

After an hour the all-clear is given, the alarm is off. People hurry to go about their business. When we emerge from the shelter I head straight for the supermarket and buy two ice creams.

I want my daughter to know that dreams must come true.

Poems by Dmytro Lazutkin, translated from the Ukrainian by Stephen Komarnyckyj


заїхали танком у двір
не ходи тут
бо пристрелимо

так і сидів у підвалі
вдвох зі старою мамою
їли консервацію –
солоні огірки
мариновані перці

до вибухів звик швидко
за гучністю визначав
кому з сусідів не пощастило

два тижні мерз
два тижні боявся

холодна весна
дихала у міжребер’я
так ніби намагалася
дістати до самого серця

тільки б стара не померла
думав він
тільки б перетерпіла

хмари виповзали з укриття
ніби хтось випускав дим
з прокурених легенів

чужі голоси
цього разу були чужими як ніколи

і все буквально все –
буяло й ширилося
і стільки навкруги всього дивовижного –
аж очі розбігаються:

ось могила в міському саду
ось могила у ближній лісосмузі
ось ще одна могила – посеред клумби
де грунт особливо м’який

так мало землі для нас всіх
так багато нас для цієї землі
одного дня вони поїхали

розвалений паркан
який обіцяли поремонтувати
так і лежить


They drove into the yard on a tank
and said
don’t come here
or we’ll shoot

so he sat in the basement
with his old mum
eating conserves,
salted cucumbers
and pickled peppers

and quickly got used to the explosions
whose loudness defined
which of the neighbours had been unlucky

he froze for two weeks
was scared for two weeks

spring was cold
breathing between his ribs
as if trying
to pierce to his very heart

if only the old woman doesn’t die
he thought
if only she endures through this

clouds crawled from the shelter
as if someone blew smoke
from smoked lungs

strange voices
this time foreign as never before

and everything literally
raged and expanded
so much around it all here
so strange
wherever your eyes stare

here a grave in the city park
here a grave in the nearby strip of forest
here another grave in the flowerbed
where the earth is especially soft

there is so little earth for us all
and so many of us for this earth

one day they left
the broken fence
they had promised to repair
still lying there


здіймати руки
і відкривати долоні світу

вскривати душі
ніби консерви

ми добре вміємо
робити вигляд що
нам все вдалося

але перелітні птахи
падають на бетонні плити
оглухлими від
ракетних ударів

я запитую
мій друже
котрий пересидів
у підвалі
весь цей жах

що було
з вами?

це страх
тваринний страх
перед силою яку не можеш зупинити
перед кулями
які стукають
у бетонні блоки

страх втратити те
чим жив за що боровся

страх усвідомити
що все це не вартує нічого

що ви відчули коли
бомба впала поруч з вашим будинком?

чи знали ви
про що говорити
з тими
хто вдерся у ваш дім?

ви готові вбивати?

край хмари
чіпляється за дах

мова ночі
вишіптує слова ненависті

я продовжую
ставити питання

ти що

вигукує хтось

я репортер

не сумнівайтеся

я розкажу
всю правду


To raise the hands
and reveal their palms to the world

to open souls
like jars of pickles

we are quite capable
of appearing
completely successful

but migratory birds
fall onto concrete slabs
stunned by
missile strikes

I ask
my friend
who sat out

all this horror
in the basement
what happened
to you all?
the worst
he says
is fear
animal fear
before a force you cannot
before bullets
which thud
into concrete blocks

the fear of losing that
you fought and struggled for

the fear of realising
all this is worth nothing

what did you feel when
a bomb fell by your home?

did you know
what to talk about
with those who invaded your home?

Are you ready to kill someone now?

The edge of the cloud
on multi storey buildings
the language of the night
whispers words of hatred

I continue
to ask questions

what are you
a reporter?

someone exclaims

I am a reporter

and do not doubt

that I will tell
the whole truth


тeплий вeрeсeнь чудова пора для тих
хто прокидається просто нeба
нe маючи власних стін

ось вони ніжаться під сонячним промінням 
ось вони ходять по сухій траві яка прилипає до іхніх підошов ніби спогади про бeзтурботнe дитинство

і жінка що йдe парком
відпускає з рук доньку аби вона якнайшвидшe розлякала зграю голубів

час котрий нікому нe налeжить
прогрівається запальничкою
пeрша сигарeта
пeрша міцна кава
пeрші дзвоники у школі на пагорбі

і в кожній молитві більшe вдячності аніж зазвичай
і кожнe яблуко падає мов одкровeння

зірки в очах ніби дрібні монeти за які нічого вже нe купити
життя ніби скибка дині на тарілці осeні


the warm September is a great time for those
who wake beneath the open sky
not having their own walls

they bask under the sun-rays
walking over the dry grass
that sticks to their soles
like untroubled childhood memories

the woman walking in the park
lets go of her daughter’s hand
so that she can startle
a flock of pigeons as quickly as possible

time that belongs to no one
warmed with a lighter
the first cigarette
the first strong coffee
the first bells in the school on the hill

and more gratitude in each prayer than usual
and like a revelation each apple falls
the stars in those eyes like small change
with which you can already buy nothing
and life like a slice of melon on a plate in autumn


літери розпливаються
перед очима
і залишається лише здогадуватися
які слова ти хотів прочитати

обірвані вигуки машин
розчиняються у вертикальному небі
йдуть від нас по невидимих сходинках
над покинутими мостами і трасами вздовж узбережжя

ти притискаєш книгу до грудей
вчишся читати серцем
вчишся любити по пам’яті 
пригадуєш сказане

забуваєш написане
розумієш що не хотів нікого образити
але якщо вже так виходило
то казав: немає печалі між нами 
більшої ніж та яку може спричинити мовчання

падають груші у сиру землю
шелест листя нагадує шум радіохвиль
життя – це прямий ефір
нічого не виправити
нікого не повернути


The letters swim
before your eyes
and all that remains is to guess
what the words are you wanted to read

the broken screams of vehicles
dissolve into the vertical sky
they pass from us on invisible steps
over abandoned bridges and coastal tracks

you hug the book to your chest
learning to read with your heart
learning to love by memory
you recollect the spoken
and forget the written

you understand I did not want to offend anyone
but if it came out wrongly
I said: there is no sorrow between us
greater than that which silence might cause

pears fall onto the raw earth
the rustle of leaves resembles the whisper of radio waves
life is a live broadcast
where nothing is corrected
and no one returns

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.

‘how is it that we dream?’
Invitation to write by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

To answer his daughter’s question, opening his blog post and lending the title to our invitation-to-write, Dmytro Lazutkin offers: ‘to dream is to imagine that what you really long for has come true.’ For example: ‘one day they left,’ the first poem wishes, even if this dream and its fulfilment are complicated by the poem’s realization: ‘the broken fence / they had promised to repair / still lying there.’

Perhaps our dreaming for the purpose of this invitation-to-write might encourage us to consider entire lives… How is it that we dream about ‘life like a slice of melon on a plate in autumn’? Against the odds that ‘life is a live broadcast / where nothing is corrected / and no one returns’…

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-three 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


Dmytro Lazutkin is an award-winning Ukrainian poet, author, journalist, television producer and sports commentator who was born in 1978. He has authored 11 books of poetry and his awards for his multifaceted career include The Bohdan Ihor Antonych ‘Pryvitannia Zhyttia’ poetry premier and a bronze medal in the World Cup for kick-boxing and kick-jitsu. He led the largest collective singing of the renowned Ukrainian folk song Chervona Ruta by Volodymyr Ivasyuk in Severodonetsk, where over 5200 people sang the song in unison on the city square on 23 August 2021. In 2014 his poem ‘Requiem’ became part of an oratorio with music by Alla Zahaikevych dedicated to the heroes who fell in The Revolution of Dignity. Those heroes are known as the Heavenly Hundred and soldiers fighting the Russian army in East Ukraine at the time. The oratorio was performed in their honour on Sophia Square in Kyiv as part of the celebrations for the 23rd anniversary of Ukrainian Independence.

He is currently serving in Ukraine’s armed forces.

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

[1]   The area near Kyiv including Irpin, Bucha and other settlements which was occupied by Russia initially and saw large scale war crimes.

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