Sunday Reading: Literary Voices from Ukraine and Russia

This week, as we witness the horrific and destabilizing implications of Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, we’ve searched the archives and come upon a selection of pieces highlighting significant writing from that region.

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In “The Bard of Eastern Ukraine,” from 2016, Marci Shore writes about the Ukrainian writer and poet Serhiy Zhadan, whose novel “Voroshilovgrad” is set in Donbas, the region where Putin initiated his invasion of Ukraine eleven days ago. As Shore observes, with eerie prescience, Zhadan’s book, though set in 2009, “has become the novel of our present moment, an intimate sojourn in a long-neglected Soviet borderland that is now threatening to bring about the fall of Europe.” In “The Weight of Words,” Masha Gessen examines the moral authority of the Russian activist and fiction writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya. In “Under Siege,” Masha’s brother Keith Gessen considers the complicated legacy of the Russian novelist Vasily Grossman. And, from 2019, here is an excerpt from the Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky’s collection “Deaf Republic.” In his introduction, the poetry editor Kevin Young observes that Kaminsky, whose family fled Ukraine in 1993, writes about deafness and war in ways that arouse the conscience: “Kaminsky, who is hard of hearing himself, has the citizens of this republic speak with hand gestures and signs—some of which punctuate and animate the poems—as they resist a world of misunderstanding and military violence.”

David Remnick

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A poet writes deafness as a form of dissent against tyranny and violence.

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Photograph of Serhiy Zhadan

Serhiy Zhadan’s “Voroshilovgrad” is an unsentimental novel about human relationships in which, despite conditions of brutality, there is not a single act of betrayal.

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Woman sits smoking a cigarette at kitchen table with cup and saucer

One of Russia’s most famous writers confronts the state.

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Man in coat, hat, and glasses in front of smoking rubble.

A beloved Soviet writer’s path to dissent.

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