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Genres for War: Writers in Ukraine on Literature

Olga Kryazhich's destroyed . Photograph courtesy of Kryazhich. I was almost done with a draft of my novel when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Amid the destruction and devastation that followed, continuing with my novel felt impossible; I turned toward journalism, which had always been a part-time job for me. For seven months, I have been working as a war correspondent in Ukraine. I have found that I can only read war reports: I am constantly turning to On the Front Line by Marie Colvin. I have wondered the role of literature, especially in wartime: Are we simply supposed to let documentaries and daily news take over? Or do we find—and provide—an escape from the unbearable? I began to ask other writers these questions and was surprised by the variability of answers. Five Ukrainian writers from the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions—the areas devastated by the war—spoke to me about the genres they have been reading and writing during the war. In Kharkiv, a literature professor told me about his rare books being burned in the stove by the Russian military. He also told me about a Ukrainian officer seeking reading recommendations the day before being killed at the front. “I think that an epic work of literature will not come until after the war is over,” writes Serhiy Zhadan. On the other hand, says Lyuba Yakimchuk, “The task of poets is to put the unspeakable feelings in words.” Olga Kryaziach, whose apartment and books were […]

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