An Urgent Mission for Literary Translators: Bringing Ukrainian Voices to the West


Last week, PEN America, a literary and free speech organization, organized a online forum with several Ukrainian writers, including Andrey Kurkov, President of PEN Ukraine. Kurkov’s novel ‘Gray Bees’, recently translated and published in English, is set in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine against the backdrop of a long-simmering conflict between separatists backed by the Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Kurkov said he knew several writers who had joined the military and others who volunteered to help deliver food and other necessities.

“This society is learning to live and survive in times of war,” he said at the event. “We are all focused on helping.”

Olga Livshin, a poet and translator who grew up in Odessa and Moscow and now lives in Pennsylvania, and her friend Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, a Ukrainian-born poet living in Arkansas, recently organized “Voices for Ukraine”, a trans- Atlantic Zoom Poetry Reading. The event brought together acclaimed Ukrainian poets, among whom Khersonsky, Yakimchuk and Vasyl Makhno drew, attracted some 800 participants and raised funds for Unicef ​​and for Ukrainian writers.

Some of the poets joined from Ukraine and read poetry written in response to the invasion.

“A lot of them are now in a basement, hiding,” Livshin said. “It gives them the opportunity to express themselves.”

Translators fluent in the Ukrainian and Russian languages ​​are also tapping into social media to give English speakers a real-time view of Russian and Ukrainian perspectives on the conflict.

On Twitter, an account called War in Translation has become a repository for English language versions of street graffiti, videos, poetry and social media posts. It was created shortly after the invasion by Noah Sneider, an American journalist who was covering the early Russian military campaigns in Ukraine, and realized there was an appetite among English speakers for messages reflecting reality. of the war. Within weeks, around 50 volunteer translators joined the project.

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