War Books: Documenting “the on-going aggression by Russia against Ukraine”

By Fr. Jeffrey D. Stephaniuk

Ganna Skorina is a researcher who has compiled an impressive list of books about the war in eastern Ukraine. She began this project in order to understand her soldier-husband. She writes on her Facebook page that from 2014-2019 there were nearly 600 literary projects by soldiers, military chaplains, civilian volunteers, military and civilian journalists, internally displaced persons, professional authors, families of deceased soldiers, and ordinary citizens of Ukraine.

For the year 2020, for example, 28 books were published in Ukrainian by soldiers and veterans, and 55 more by authors closely associated with the war, such as civilian volunteers. There were also 21 Russian language books by Ukrainian patriots, and Ganna mentions that last year there were 23 female authors of these war books.

“I want the general public to know that an incredible number of books have been published about the war, about the events in eastern Ukraine,” she writes in her Facebook group, Книги_про_війну  (Knyhy_pro_viynu; War books).

One of the soldiers, Serhiy Moroz, author of Aidar: Summer of 2014 states that he started writing in order to organize his thoughts: “This is my diary. I recorded the terrible events of the summer of 2014, which took place in eastern Ukraine. It was then that fierce and bloody battles for the territorial integrity and independence of our state took place along the entire frontline.”

Vitaliy Zapeka has become a successful author, first with his book, Tsutsyk (Puppy), describing the war from the point of view of a dog. His second novel is the satirical Heroi, Kheroi Ta Ne Duzhe (Our heroes weren’t really heroic). It follows in the general style of Jaroslav Hasek’s “The Good Soldier Schweik”, and more interestingly for Canadians, Earle Birney’s novel, Turvey, about a similar character in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. Maryna Riabchenko, a professor at the Taras Shevchenko University, emphasizes that Zapeka’s character, Shramko “is an authentic character of Ukrainian prose (who) displays within himself the traits of several Ukrainian volunteer fighters, who in 2014 had gone to defend their homeland, and who, as the real-life fighters constantly remind the general public, are not heroes but are merely those who faithfully carried out their assignments… and in their anti-heroism nonetheless displayed great heroism.”

Illya Titko, the author of Blood Formula, (Формула Крові), was a Senior-Lieutenant in the Ukrainian Armed Forces between 2015 and 2016. He volunteered for mobilization. In her introduction to Blood Formula, Olena Kusmirchuk explains her father’s motivation to write this book: “because all these emotions need some form of expression; otherwise, your memories can destroy you from the inside out.”

Martyn Brest, author of a trilogy on Ukraine’s infantry, writes about Titko’s memoir that “the book is hardcover, the Ukrainian language style is “hard” (i.e., very solid writing-translator), and it is about an extremely hard 13 months at the frontlines. I’m sure to spend the next two or three evening back in Donbas thanks to this book.”

Translations of these books are beginning to be madeinto other languages, including English. For example, there is “ISOLATION. Secret prisons of Donbas in the stories by people saved from torture and death” by Iryna Vovk and Daria Bura; and Carbide by Andriy Lyubka.

Here is anexcerpt of Illya Titko’s Blood Formula:

The birch tree… Every morning it was the first to greet me, whether in the manner of its warm welcome of leaves, youthfully rustling in the wind, or from the broad sweep of the branches as they waved to the quirky whisper of the wind in the crown of the tree. It didn’t seem bothered that cruel and destructive shards of steel had shredded its distinctive white and black bark all along the height of its core. The upper section of the trunk had been sheared cleanly away, as if with a sharp knife. Mangled, but surviving, the branches would make their little bows to me each morning; in greeting and gratitude for being rescued. I always felt peace and calm whenever I was near that tree. I’d even talk to it when I was at my most melancholy. I’d share my thoughts and impressions… I’d share with the birch tree how much I missed my family, to the point that I’d feel incapacitated by my homesickness… It responded supportively with silence and sympathy, displaying support for me through the cradlelike rocking motion of its branches and the melodic shimmering of its leaves. Such a reply always made me feel better. I would then go to where it was always difficult and foreboding. I would then go carry out my tasks. And the birch tree would see me off, cheerfully telling me, “Go, do what you must do. Everything will be just fine… (Берізка… Щоранку вона зустрічала мене першою. То ласкавим шурхотінням листків, то ніжним потріскуванням гілок, то примхливим шепотом вітру в кроні. Байдуже, що безжальним розпеченим залізом було пошматовано все її білокоре тіло. А стовбур трошки вище середини був зрізаний мов ножем. Понівечене, але ще живе гілля вклонялось мені щоранку, мовби вітаючи та дякуючи за порятунок. Біля неї завжди було спокійно ізатишно. Коли мені було особливо смутно, я розмовляв з нею. Подумки… Я розповідав берізці як нудьгую за рідними, як іноді мені непосильно важко, як скучив я за домівкою… А вона завжди мовчки та співчутливо слухала, час від часу підтримуючи мене колиханням листків або потріскуванням гілок. І тоді мені ставало легше. Я знову йшов туди де тяжкоі страшно. Йшов виконувати свою роботу. А берізка проводжала мене, ласкаво промовляючи: “Йди, роби, що мусиш! І все буде добре…”)

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