A Humorous Ukrainian Writer, With Nothing to Laugh About
I had this idea that there were thousands of people stuck between the Russian Army and Ukrainian Army, with nowhere to go, and wanted to give a voice to those people.
In the book, your two main characters are just dealing with daily life; they don’t seem to care about politics or war.
People just want to survive. And people adapt to war, if it’s not destroying them personally. I went there three times, and I noticed that even the children could tell what rocket or mine caused an explosion, just by its sound. War became something banal, part of life.
Given you saw the conflict up close, did you ever expect this invasion?
No, until several weeks ago, I didn’t think it was realistic. And then I noticed that Putin became very old, very quickly, and started talking like Stalin before his death. Putin has a dream of recreating the Soviet Union, and he considers everybody who doesn’t love Russia, but understands the Russian language, as traitors. And he loves to kill traitors.
Understand Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is at the root of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine within its natural sphere of influence, and it has grown unnerved at Ukraine’s closeness with the West and the prospect that the country might join NATO or the European Union. While Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Since 2014, what effect has the upheaval in Ukraine had on literature in the country?
Before the war, there was no war literature. It was mostly sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll — and crime stories, of course. But this war created a parallel literature — literature written by war veterans, by volunteers. Those authors are probably already on the way to the front lines.
If Ukraine survives, it will create even more militant literature. And that doesn’t mean that the literature will become better. It just means that literature will be more politicized — like Soviet literature, but with a different kind of propaganda or patriotic ideas.
It sounds like that development worries you.
It does, because in Russia, traditionally writers are serving the government and its ideology. But in Ukraine, writers are serving themselves and their readers. I mean, the government never took interest in what writers were writing. That’s why we had so many books about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, and not many about Ukrainian history.