Europe, Russia & Eurasia, Human rights & justice, Security, Migration & borders, Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine, Munk School

The Value of Words and the Poetry of War: Five Ukrainian Poets Showcase their Experiences Through Their Poetry

“Who said that words have no value now?”

Yuliya Musakovska asked as she reads from her poem “Bundle of Grief” at CERES’ Poetry of War event. Five Ukrainian authors—Yuliya Musakovska, Iya Kiva, Oleksandr Averbuch, Daryna Gladun, and Oksana Maksymchuk­—many of whom were displaced from their homes, gave listeners readings of their poetry which provoked powerful reflections on the importance of poetry, arts, and culture during the time of war.

Kiva, who currently resides in Lviv after initially being displaced to Kyiv from Donetsk in 2014, remarked that “Wars don't just destroy our buildings, cities, and lives. It destroys our feeling of normality, our opportunity to feel happiness.”

Through poetry, complex circumstances are made approachable. Through poetry, we can share that which we struggle to otherwise speak.

This medium allows for spontaneous descriptions, not just of the physical surroundings of these authors, but also of deep, vulnerable, and raw emotions. In the destruction caused by war, these poets express the essence of their experiences through poetry, one of the most powerful interplays between the literary form and historical understanding that delves into areas of imagination, sound, and emotion usually inaccessible to other disciplines.

Artistic works are integral to a holistic understanding of the war, as they give voice to the everyman caught in the crossfire in a way that is different than a news report, prepared for international media, or other forms of written communication. As proved by the poets, poetry works as an individual account of events that can be heart-wrenchingly vivid and powered by intense, debilitating feeling that emphasizes and preserves truths about war that journalists and politicians may ignore or overlook.

Maksymchuk­ told listeners that she struggles to read her poetry untranslated because it feels too intimate in her mother tongue. So, as she spoke her lines in English, reverberations of her agony were felt and heard. To imagine the anguish in its truest form, when given only a sample of the reality, opens our eyes to the emotions and experiences of those in the ground.

These poets represent only a portion of the massive artistic output from Ukraine in response to–and in face of–Russia’s war on Ukraine. Gladun reminded participants that solidarity is immensely important during the ongoing invasion and that supporting Ukraine’s cultural front is a critical way of demonstrating that solidarity. Not only does it keep the culture and language alive and well as its keepers are bombarded, but it allows those on the outside who care about truth and justice to catch a glimpse of the truly traumatic reality that living in the eye of the storm presents.

To return to Yuliya Musakovska’s quote, it is clear just how valuable words are now.

Rewatch the event where the poets read their work and participated in a discussion.

To learn more about the authors and read their poetry, please follow these links:

Yulia Musakovska | “A Home to Freedom" and other poems

Book to purchase | untranslated: Жидівський король

Iya Kiva | A Portfolio of Poetry - translated by Amelia Glaser, Yuliya Ilchuk, Katherine E. Young, Riccardo Duranti, and Eugenia Kanishcheva in Tupelo Quarterly

Alex Averbuch | Relieving the Terrible Knots of History: An Interview with Alex Averbuch

Oleksandr Averbuch | Interview on poetry and the intercultural relations between Ukrainians and Jews

Daryna Gladun | peace, n. (by the author) and ambassadors of war translated by Tatiana Bonch - Tupelo Quarterly

Daryna Gladun | Poem PEN/Opp

Daryna Gladun | Poems Verseville Databasee

Daryna Gladun | Article from The Guardian by Charlotte Higgins “For Ukrainians, poetry isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity during war”

Oksana Maksymchuk | Poems

Oksana Maksymchuk | PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine - Nine Poems - Oksana Maksymchuk