The city of Lviv in western Ukraine has become a refuge and a waypoint for hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Even as Lviv itself comes increasingly under threat, its residents — including poets Danyil Zadorozhnyi and Yuliya Charnyshova — have participated in a massive volunteer effort to aid those fleeing Russia’s bombardments, sieges, and ground assaults. Between overnight shifts guiding new arrivals at the Lviv railway station and caregiving duties for the house pets they have taken in, Charnyshova and Zadorozhnyi have joined a wave of literary outcries against the war. Zadorozhnyi composed “Russian Warship, Go Fuck Yourself” in the early days of the invasion while Charnyshova turned to translation, bringing Zadorozhnyi’s poem into English along with one of her own works about the 2020-2021 uprising in Minsk, Belarus. The brutal repression of a new Belarus became part of the causal fabric behind the current assault on Ukraine, forcing Charnyshova and Zadorozhnyi to live and write through violence together first in her hometown and now in his.
We’re surrounded. I don’t believe it. I went out for a walk with a spare pair of underwear in my pocket,
(— she says, and they ask her, “is this all you’re capable of? this is manipulation”)
walking my dog, having left our address in the dog’s jacket pocket. I don’t believe it but
I cried when I saw my neighbors who were marching, whose names for all fifteen years
of my living there meant nothing at all, and I stood
in front of a man with a weapon, and I heard
how even cop cars beeped rushing by with a long-live-Belarus signal,
and there was one heart left for us all, and its beat.
In this game of table tennis, we were bowling pins, and we cried. There were many bottles
of champagne, not a single
Molotov cocktail. There were hands and embraces. There were bruises.
None of what they looked at, to put it bluntly, were they able to see, hear, or understand.
They never did find the right news channels to follow, never understood the situation.
They called our country’s regions their Federal Districts, our KGB officers “эшники,” our killers — “police.”
Reading aloud the lists of the dead, they mispronounced our names. They had no idea
where the emphasis might fall.
They wouldn’t consult the maps, they kept thinking they understood what had happened.
(We even liked it that way, we said the new pronunciations were musical).
And now they’re taking the flags off their profiles, complaining,
saying how upset they were by the failure of our revolution. They’re no longer reading
our news — they’ve had enough of the news that has happened to them.
No, I will not come to your poetry awards in Russia any longer.
Why don’t you come here instead and take a look?
Will you come out? Will you throw a ball off your balcony for us to play with?⠀
Do you get the idea? How this might feel — going out to protest — when you have two friends in the city, and they’re far away, they won’t go. If they go — they go with their families.
And every day you are thrown from the memorial of the murdered protester to a Sunday walk with your neighbors,
while you’re being followed by a shadow of a man who is
now starting to run, revealing the possibilities of his own big body.
You never dreamed this would happen, and you think—well, actually, that’s it, now you don’t⠀
You can’t think for shit.
expecto patronum. I repeat,
Why are you doing this? Why are you back in that twenty-year-old body, never not underweight according to the Body Mass Index,
kneeling in your long skirt on the damn Minsk pavement and trying
to light the wet wick of a candle,
no matter if there are,
gusting winds or if the temperature drops to fifteen below.
It would have been better for all this to be poetry.⠀
Opposite you there’s a van and it has tinted windows. You
press your feet into the skin of the pavement and look for a direction
to run in if anything happens. The clutch must be depressed.
You choose when to shift gears.⠀
What the hell is heroism? It is shattered minds,
ritual actions, mechanical motion.
This is our religion. If the murdered protester tells you, “go walk for an hour,
go light a candle,”
if he texted last year “I am going out” right before the police killed him — then this is an order to be obeyed. You go for a walk.
What the hell is heroism? Revolution
means you turn into a dog. Means you obey.
Means you don’t think. Means that your dissertation
no longer means anything. Means you’re just doing it, not thinking, but listening —
while you’re taking a lighter, striking a match one more time, breathing, checking the van with its tinted windows.⠀
Let me be clear: I don’t give a fuck about “companion species”
according to Haraway. I don’t give a fuck why the soul
of the heroine in Zamirouskaya’s novel remained in a dog.
Now you’re a dog. You’re twenty and on your knees on the damn Minsk pavement.
All you’re capable of is crying and licking some hands, a gratitude ritual. And that’s already
more than anything you could do before —⠀
Some days, I want to think, maliciously, that it will happen there, too,
where you are, and you’ll start googling “how to change citizenship”
while I sit here and comment with my guesses on which of you will make better use of it —
in your writing practice, the development of your technique.
That is true mastery, finally. At your age, it’s time to be more skilled.
But I will not think it. I don’t have the option.
What I am capable of is licking your hands / waging my tail / howling at night.
I can come, put my head on your knees.
I can ask you to read Donna Haraway aloud before bed,
not understanding a word, although knowing⠀
what made us truly happy
were the voices
of one another.
Siri, how do we turn into an epigraph
of Timothy Morton?
How can we come nearer than breathing,
closer than our own skin?
Translated by Yuliya Charnyshova with Elina Alter
Russian Warship, Go Fuck Yourself
Anti-lullaby sirens ring in your ears
like the water you cannot shake out,
like a parasite invading your brain
overloaded by news of advancing troops and photographs of the bodies of their dead soldiers, which have now been officially located
on my land.
Looking at them, I feel a pleasure I never wished to experience
My mind overloaded by instructions:
where to seek shelter and how to hide between load-bearing walls,
how to pack a bug-out bag,
and for those with kids — a bug-out schoolbag, while they were still going to school in recent months.
What might refugees need? Blankets, pads, clothes, toothbrushes, and so on.
Our night is overloaded with new terms
and insomnia: tape on our windows and humanitarian aid to the soldiers.
I remember Maidan 2013
and Belarus 2020 —
that kind of unity.
Day three of a full-scale invasion.
Even goddamn Bild had it right with its map of Putin’s plans.
US intelligence had it right.
Around four o’clock in the morning, February 24,
Russia attacked Ukraine
from the South, from the East, from the North,
“Belarus, when this is all over, we need to talk.”
In his head, “this is a military operation.”
For the rest of the world, the war is a war.
and without a single cause
other than news stories on Russian state television
about a barn allegedly shelled by the Ukrainian army in the Kursk region,
which the FSB called a “border checkpoint,”
although it seems to have happened in Gleiwitz.
Do Russians want war? It no longer matters.
Despite all those who went out to the squares of their cities to protest,
who came with their shame, powerlessness, and exhaustion
and landed in police vans.
I say “thank you” to those who went out to protest.
This all happened
thanks to the applauding patriots,
both true believers and those who are there for their Western real estate,
and those who are just doing what they’re told.
Thanks to the man-eaters and to the indifferent,
the troops of bots on social media and bought influencers on TikTok
all with the same text justifying invasion.
As they always say, “it was Ukraine that attacked Ukraine
and then attacked Russia
on the territory of Ukraine.”
A serial killer on a global scale
who took a country of 140 million, with nuclear weapons, hostage,
believing his own propaganda built on hatred and lies,
surrounding himself with ultraloyal security forces.
With all his insecurities, resentment, and fears,
he’s trying to stop time
and to make it run backwards,
trying to take over my homeland,
freeing it from me.
Look at the neighborhoods you shelled and at the kindergarten in Okhtyrka.
Look at the hell you created.
Watch the video of Russian prisoners of war
saying on camera that they didn’t know where and why they were sent.
That they are not welcome here and have no need for this war
to happen. We do not know if they are lying. They are asking their mothers to please bring them back.
You will all learn our geography — Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mariupol’, Melitopol’, Kherson, Shchastia, Stanytsia Luhanska, Volnovakha — you’ll learn.
The jokes about “Ukraine? Where is it? Is it in or near Russia?” will become a thing of the past.
Now it’s Russia that’s in Ukraine, or near it.
Like the world, split into “before” and “after.”
Like what we called the “Russian Federation.”
Like what we called the “Republic of Belarus.”
How ironic — the victorious country
of the Second World War
so close now to starting the third one.
In my window, in these days of pain, preparation, and service
there are two flags: one that is blue and yellow,
and the other is white, red, and white.
“I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine”
On the third day, in the Kyiv subway, where residents hid from shelling, a girl was born.
PornHub has restricted access to its site from Russia—unfortunately, that’s fake news.
News, news, news,
and a total lack of understanding of how it will end.
No text can be finished.
Not a single night can provide sleep.
On the first day, there was shock.
On the second, only rage and determination.
All of this is happening now.
Translated by Yuliya Charnyshova with Elina Alter