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A Writer’s War

Not all writers can continue their work – or even want to – when friends and family members are risking their lives against an invading army. Instead, they volunteer at the front, serve as cultural diplomats, and work to remove the occupiers' statues, museums, and street names.

Andriy Lyubka is an award-winning Ukrainian poet, essayist, and translator. The English translation of his debut novel Carbide, which depicts the efforts of Transcarpathian smugglers to dig a tunnel connecting Ukraine with the European Union, was published in 2021 and made the long list for that year’s EBRD Literature Prize. This interview took place during the annual Meridian Czernowitz literary festival (this year simply called “poetry readings”) in Chernivtsi, the first event of its kind to take place since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Kate Tsurkan: How have your writing habits changed since the start of the invasion in February? I know that much of your time is now consumed by volunteer efforts, but have you tried to find the time to write, if only for yourself?

Andriy Lyubka: Not really. I must confess that I don’t want to write anything new during this time, be it an article or a novel. After the invasion began, I became very disappointed with what I had been doing beforehand. I did a lot to translate and promote literature from the Balkan countries, especially Serbia, and was constantly being asked by newspapers from throughout the region to give interviews, write essays, and so on. But after the invasion started, a lot of press in Serbia was pro-Russian. The discourse in Bosnia and Herzegovina was mixed, and in Croatia the press tried to play it off as if they shouldn’t take sides. After that I understood that I didn’t want to continue writing and translating. It feels so far removed from the very real issues around us in Ukraine and the people who need help.

Instead, I dived into volunteer work from the very first days of the invasion. I began by helping refugees from the east find places to live here in western Ukraine. It was like CouchSurfing for people in need. Meanwhile, a lot of those trains arriving from the east had to be filled up with aid on their return trips. So I teamed up with other volunteers to get necessary items, such as medicine for frontline hospitals.

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