Serhiy Zhadan : a voice from Ukraine

Cover of ‘What we live for, what we die for’

This week, in their statement about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Committee for Literary Studies of the Polish Academy Sciences proposed the Ukrainian poet and novelist Serhiy Zhadan for the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Zhadan, a major literary figure, has remained in Kharkiv since Putin’s forces first invaded the country and his daily tweets (in Ukrainian) provide an important account of life under attack.

Cambridge libraries hold a great deal of Zhadan’s work.  This link will bring up all titles by him in the catalogue.  Note that while I use his preferred romanised form in this post (Serhiy), the romanised form in records for Ukrainian originals has him as Serhiĭ per Library of Congress transliteration.  The major of Cambridge’s holdings are of course in Ukrainian, but we do have some English translations too, including online access for Cambridge staff and students to his What we live for, what we die for : selected poems, Depeche Mode, Voroshilovgrad, and The Orphanage.  This last has been bought just today, so the link goes straight to the ebook rather than to the iDiscover record.

Among Zhadan’s most recent tweets was one that featured another major figure in Ukrainian modern culture: Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, the lead singer of the hugely popular group Okean E’lzy (my own first knowledge of Ukrainian was gained in order to be able to sing along to their songs, long before I was responsible for the UL’s Ukrainian collections).  Vakarchuk had brought in supplies for the military – radio transceivers and rifle sights – and stayed to meet local people and sing for them.  Just one month ago, the idea of these two (arguably the biggest literary and musical names in the country) meeting in bullet-proof vests in Ukraine’s second city on the frontline of a war to deal with army supplies and raise the spirits of a population under bombardment would have been beyond imagination and comprehension.

Zhadan (left) with Vakarchuk (right)

Whether the push for Zhadan’s Nobel nomination goes further, we shall have to see.  More importantly, we must hope for a time when he is free to write poetry and fiction again, when his updates on Twitter from a city under siege and a country under invasion are no longer needed.

The amazing members of the Cambridge University Ukrainian Society are continuing to hold regular gatherings to keep the war prominent in people’s minds.  They list their events on their Facebook events page but have also recently started a more detailed Google calendar on their blog here to capture other events in Cambridge.  Yesterday’s CUUS candlelit vigil ended with a lovely recital by the choir of Fitzwilliam College.

Mel Bach

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