Kurkov, Stiazhkina discuss Ukrainian literature and the Russo-Ukrainian War

Nov. 30, 2021

By Christian Randolph ’22

On Wednesday, Oct. 27, authors Andrei Kurkov and Olena Stiazhkina and activist Maria Genkin discussed Ukrainian literature pertaining to the Russo-Ukrainian War in a virtual event titled “Literature at War: Writers on Russian-Ukrainian Conflict.” The panelists presented their works, compared and contrasted them with their contemporaries, and discussed how literature provides accounts of the conflict that are oftentimes contrary to what is presented in both Russia and the West. The event was moderated by Iryna Vushko, assistant professor of history.

Genkin opened the conversation by providing a brief introduction to the history of the war and giving insight into the current state of Ukrainian literature. She identified important works of poetry and prose, as well as firsthand accounts by veterans and displaced peoples.

Kurkov then briefly discussed his recently-translated novel “Gray Bees,” which will be published in the U.S. in 2022. Kurkov said that his book insight into the lives of civilians forced to live within a warzone. He emphasizes the perspective of Crimean Tartars, he explained, and noted that many Ukrainian authors fail to do so.

Stiazhkina presented her bi-lingual novel “Cecil the Lion’s Death was Not in Vain,” and said that her goal in writing was to represent and give a voice to the many unnamed casualties and peoples displaced by the war. Prior to the conflict, Stiazhkina wrote primarily in Russian. She discussed this development of her identity and her subsequent reclamation of Ukrainian as her native language. She shares this experience with many Ukrainians, she explained, who have come to question their cultural and linguistic allegiance to Russia.

The event concluded with a Q&A portion. Genkin asked the authors questions about the nature of the conflict, engagement by the international political community, the future of Ukrainian and Russian art, and issues of identity among Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Attendees asked questions about the authors’ personal experiences within the literary community.

“Literature at War: Writers on Russian-Ukrainian Conflict” was sponsored by the Program in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies.