At the Grammys on April 3, 2022, Lyuba Yakimchuk read "Prayer" an affecting poem from her collection of war poetry, The Apricots of Donbas, a bilingual collection by award-winning contemporary Ukrainian poet Lyuba Yakimchuk. Born and raised in a small coal-mining town in Ukraine's industrial east, Yakimchuk lost her family home in 2014 when the region was occupied by Russian-backed militants and her parents and sister were forced to flee as refugees. Reflecting her complex emotional experiences, Yakimchuk's poetry is versatile, ranging from sumptuous verses about the urgency of erotic desire in a war-torn city to imitations of childlike babbling about the tools and toys of military combat. Playfulness in the face of catastrophe is a distinctive feature of Yakimchuk's voice, evoking the legacy of the Ukrainian Futurists of the 1920s. The poems' artfulness go hand in hand with their authenticity, offering intimate glimpses into the story of a woman affected by a life-altering situation beyond her control.
Ukrainian poet Iya Kiva... has bitter personal experience of this war. In February 2014, Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution saw Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych ousted from Ukraine’s presidency; soon thereafter, Russia forcibly occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula, which had long been recognized as Ukrainian territory. On the opposite side of Ukraine, Iya Kiva’s hometown of Donetsk quickly became—and remains—a battlefield between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian factions. Kiva was born and raised in a Russian-speaking environment in Donetsk, and she graduated from the local university. Nevertheless, she and her family took a pro-Ukrainian stance in the conflict. Friends and friends of friends were wounded or killed; one committed suicide. In the summer of 2014, Kiva was forced to flee Donetsk, leaving everything behind. Since then, she has lived as a war refugee in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. According to Kiva, she began to write “completely differently” after these events. In wartime, she writes, “luxuriant metaphors seem superfluous to me. Difficult times demand simplicity in speaking. But that’s just formal minimalism. I don’t mean semantic simplification. I mean something like the inability to put on a beautiful, expensive dress if everyone around you is a beggar.”
Poetically speaking, Kiva is something of a contradiction: a poet of contemporary Ukraine who most often expresses herself in Russian (although she also writes in Ukrainian); a once-formal poet who now frequently employs techniques of free verse, collage, and montage; a war refugee who by her own account can’t seem to right herself, even far from the front lines. (An excerpt from Women Writing War Redux: Ukraine’s Iya Kiva)
Click on the title above to read and comment on the poem.
With the unprecedented Russian invasion of her family’s homeland by Putin’s forces, Dr. Krystia Nora has stepped forward at solidarity rallies and peace demonstrations to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Ukraine.
Dr. Nora is an English instructor at the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), and a second generation Ukrainian American. While her poem is not a traditional editorial narrative with hard details about the situation in Ukraine and specifics about her family, it serves as a rhythmical expression of emotion about vulnerable loved ones facing the hardships of invasion by a foreign military.
The abstract nature of the poem’s metaphorical structure also serves as a unique description of what war means to the Ukrainian American community in Milwaukee, and the painful uncertainties that entangle them because of the love that bonds those relationships.
Click on the title above to read and comment on the poem.
Poet Ilya Kaminsky was born in the former Soviet Union city of Odessa. He lost most of his hearing at the age of four after a doctor misdiagnosed mumps as a cold, and his family was granted political asylum by the United States in 1993, settling in Rochester, New York. After his father’s death in 1994, Kaminsky began to write poems in English. He explained in an interview with the Adirondack Review, “I chose English because no one in my family or friends knew it—no one I spoke to could read what I wrote. I myself did not know the language. It was a parallel reality, an insanely beautiful freedom. It still is.”
Kaminsky went on to earn a BA in political science at Georgetown University and a JD at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. With Paloma Capanna, he co-founded Poets for Peace, which sponsors poetry readings across the globe to support relief work. He has also worked as a clerk for the National Immigration Law Center and for Bay Area Legal Aid.
With language at once ecstatic, plain, and infused with fairy tale, Kaminsky’s poems span ages and voices to summon the stuff of life: love, grief, joy, and laughter. “His poems move through the lives of others, known and unknown, connecting the sweet and bitter stories of lost worlds,” notes E.M. Kaufman in the Library Journal. Kaminsky is the author of Dancing in Odessa (2004), which won the Tupelo Press Dorset Prize, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, and ForeWord Magazine’s Best Poetry Book of the Year award, and has been translated into French and Romanian. Traveling Musicians (2007) is a selection of his poems originally written in Russian. His most recent collection is Deaf Republic (2019), which a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Kaminsky’s honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award, the Milton Center’s Award for Excellence in Writing, the Florence Kahn Memorial Award, Poetry magazine’s Levinson Prize as well as their Ruth Lilly Fellowship, Philips Exeter Academy’s George Bennett Fellowship, a Lannan Foundation fellowship, and an Academy of American Poets fellowship. He coedited, with Susan Harris, the Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (2010), and edited and co-translated Polina Barskova’s This Lamentable City (2010). He has also served as the editor of the online journal In Posse Review. He lives in San Diego.