Translated by Oksana Maksymchuk, Max Rosochinsky and Svetlana Lavochkina
A poet, playwriter and screenwriter and journalist, Lyuba Yakimchuk was born in Pervomaisk in 1985. Her full-length poetry collections Iak Moda [Like Fashion] (2009) and Abrykosy Donbasu [Apricots of Donbas] (2015) won prestigious awards, including the International Slavic Poetic Award (Ukraine) and the International Poetic Award of the Kovalev Foundation (USA). Since 2019, her play The Wall has been running at the Ivan Franko National Academic Drama Theater, the largest in Ukraine. She also authored the script for the film The Slovo House: An Unfinished Novel, reflecting on the literary life in the 1930’s Kharkiv. . Her poetry has been translated into eleven languages.
In the introduction to the volume, “Reaching a Common Language,” Yakimchuk gives the reader an intimate description of how her family’s life changed when Luhansk became occupied by Russian-backed militants in 2014: “In the evening, I talk to my sister. Anya is as scared as I. We use the same words to express our fears. And we use the same words to avoid talking about our fears.”
Written over a 10-year period and published just before Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the collection focuses on Yakimchuk’s heightened observations of life as she witnesses the ramifications of the occupation of Donbas. In the collection, the familiar images of the current invasion replay, from drones seen flying above in the poem “hiding together,” to a child witnessing the rape of her mother at the hands of soldiers, as in the poem “caterpillar,” to the donning of a bulletproof vest in the poem “prayer.” While the world has witnessed nine months of life at war through images and social media posts, Yakimchuk’s poems give the reader an intimate personal picture of the life of an average Ukrainian citizen under Russian occupation. It offers vignettes of Yakimchuk’s day to day world, as a mother, a daughter, a sister; as a poet, an artist, and as a Ukrainian.
The translations, provided by Oksana Maksymchuk, Max Rosochinsky, and Svetlana Lavochkina, are beautifully rendered, earning them runner-up status for the 2022 American Association of Ukrainian Studies Translation Prize.
he says that all shall be well
he says that all shall be well
he says: your school’s been bombed out
he says: we’re running out of food and out of money
he says: relief supplies from the white trucks are our only hope
he says: the relief has just been shot at us like projectiles
the school is no more
how come the school is no more?
is it empty? is it hole-ridden, or is it not there at all?
what became of my photo on the board of honor?
what became of the teacher who sat in the classroom?
he says: a photo? who on earth cares about your photo?
he says: your school has melted – this winter has been too hot
he says: I didn’t see your teacher, don’t ask me to look for her
he says: I saw your godmother, she is no more
drop all you have and run-
leave your house, your cellar with jars of apricot jam
and pink chrysanthemums on the veranda
shoot your dogs so that they don’t suffer
dump this soil, go
he says: you’re talking nonsense, we dump soil on coffins every day
he says: all shall be well, rescue is coming soon
he says: the relief supplies are on their way