TWO acclaimed poets who fled Ukraine just before the Russian invasion will give a fascinating insight into the war-torn country at Perth’s Ubud Writers and Readers festival.
Couple Max Rosochinsky and Oksana Maksymchuk had been diligently preparing for the invasion, even though they didn’t fully believe Vladimir Putin would go through with it. That all changed after a dramatic few days when Russia upped the military ante, so they hastily grabbed some backpacks and hotfooted it to the train station with their son.
“We didn’t say goodbye to friends – only to my father and his wife,” Maksymchuk says.
“As we were waiting for the train to Budapest at the gorgeous art nouveau train station in Lviv, I said to our son: look how eerie this is, the station is nearly empty now, yet in the wartime, it would be the most crowded place in the country.
“Just a week later, the Lviv train station did become the main hub for refugees fleeing the invasion, from the capital of Kyiv and from cities all over the Ukrainian south and east.”
Maksymchuk, who is from Ukraine, has a dad and stepmum in Lviv, while Rosochinsky is originally from Crimea, where his parents still live. It was annexed by Russia in 2014.
“We also have close family in the occupied Kherson, as well as in Kharkiv and in Mykolaiv, two towns affected by constant bombardment,” Maksymchuk says.
“And since we write and translate, we’ve collaborated with writers, artists, playwrights, and filmmakers from all over the country, a few of whom have lost their homes.
“Many of people we know are at the front, in the army or in volunteer battalions engaged in the humanitarian relief work and medical care. The whole society is deeply affected by this war – and as far as we know, intimately engaged in the defense effort on various levels, from donating money and time, to making much bigger personal sacrifices for the safety of their communities.”
Maksymchuk is the author of the award-winning Ukrainian poetry collections Xenia and Lovy, and her English poems have appeared in publications like the Cincinatti Review, The Irish Times and Poetry Review.
Rosochinsky’s poetry had been nominated for the PEN International New Voices Award and his poetry translations have featured in Words Without Borders and Poetry International.
The couple recently co-edited Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine.
“Words for War mostly constitutes a collective response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started in 2014,” Rosochinsky says.
“However, when we solicited the poems for the anthology in 2015, we found that some of the poets had written about other wars and conflicts: so poets Ostap Slyvynsky and Oksana Lutsyshyna wrote about World War II, and Kateryna Kalytko wrote about the Bosnian War.
“We chose to include poems about those other wars as a testament to poetry’s capacity to bring out universal features of human experience of catastrophic events, transcending a specific time, place, and context.”
Hailing from Crimea, Rosochinsky is a Russian-language poet, but stopped writing in Russian shortly after the annexation of his homeland.
About this time, Maksymchuk decided to break from writing in Ukrainian and switched to English.
She has just started working on a “multi-modal war dictionary” experimenting with hybrid forms of writing from poetry, flash-fiction and interview to memoir and news report.
So will they ever get back home to Ukraine with their son, or has the concept of home been destroyed by the Russian invasion?
“Mourning and commemorating our country’s tremendous losses, the destruction and violence it has endured, we can nevertheless also celebrate our people’s resilience, heroism, and beauty,” Maksymchuk says.
“Because it is not only their commitment to some abstract ideals of freedom, democracy, and human rights that inspires Ukrainians to push back.
“They are defending their communities, their values, and their way of life – all the things that make a place a home.”
The couple will be talking with Natalie D-Napoleon about their experiences at The Rechabite Hall in Northbridge on Sunday October 23 as part of the Ubud Writers and Readers festival. Also being interviewed at the Beacon of Hope talk is award-winning Iraqi poet Hassan Al Nawwab, who came to Australia to escape Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime. Tix at megatix.com.au
by STEPHEN POLLOCK