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On the cover
7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidans three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the countrys stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.


Ukrainian Culture

Entwining Tales with Serhiy Zhadan

Serhiy Zhadan is one of the most well-known and successful contemporary Ukrainian writers of today. His books have a tendency to fly off the shelves as soon as they are published regardless of the many languages they have been translated into and as one of the newest members of the ska band with the amusing name Dogs in Space, the crowds he gathers are always of the most interesting sort. Presenting his newest novel, Voroshylovgrad, at the National Parliament Library of Ukraine just the other day, Whats On got a few minutes of his time in between readings.

The Reading Hall in the library is absolutely packed. But this comes as little surprise, as Serhiy Zhadan is a best-seller among Ukrainian readers. Reciting the title and continuing to read, bursts of laughter dot the moments of complete silence, and everyone is captivated by the tale he is weaving. 

to Whats True
This new book of his is about a small town on the Ukrainian-Russian border where people are trying to find their place in the world in what seems like a very fascinating time. Bad language, psychedelic humour and minor characters, like guys sporting church domes tattooed all over their chests, make up the majority of this tale. But beneath the jokes and sometimes brutal irony that is the outrageous reality of life in Ukraine, lays the truth: an alluring country that, to this day, has been unable to overcome the Soviet ties that bind.  
The writer himself was but a young man during the Soviet era, and as a result, themes from this time often find refuge in his books. Criticised for his nostalgic portrayals of a hugely controversial time, Zhadan says, Its complete nonsense. I have a certain sentiment connected to my youth, yes, but none of it is connected to ideology. In fact, my last novel was about memory and how important it is to remember everything: because if you are okay with your past then youll have a good chance at your future.
While he is one of the most popular writers in Ukrainian literature today, Zhadan says his prose is not for everyone. Not because it is so intellectually outstanding, but because its specific and not everyone will like it, which I accept. Bearing witness to this tale today, there is the occasional gasp from the elder fractions at a particular word he has chosen. He explains that the fowl language is an essential part in many of his characters. And while he acknowledges the time and money people spend on his books, he also says, I have a certain audience now and they expect certain things of me: to adjust myself for the masses would be unfair.

Making Ukrainian Profitable 
Born in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, Serhiy Zhadan went on to study and now lives in Kharkiv. While both cities are dominated by Russian speakers, the fact that he both speaks and writes in Ukrainian already makes him a literary phenomenon. He cant take all the credit, however, as it was his aunt, Oleksandra Kovalyova, an author herself, who inspired him to become a professional Ukrainian writer. She was able to demonstrate to him that one did not have to speak Russian or surzhyk (the mixture of Ukrainian and Russian that is usually used in such eastern areas of Ukraine), to get by in the world. Literary Ukrainian was also an option.
At the moment, his professional resume consists of six works of prose and an even higher number of books of poetry and compilations. Winning various prizes all over Ukraine and Poland, he has proved that Ukrainian-language literature is not only popular but financially profitable. As proof after the presentation, almost all of his books have been sold and there is a very long line of fans waiting for an autograph from all walks of life. 
Young girls look at him adoringly as he poses with them for a picture, and when I ask him to fill me in on the secret to his success, he looks at me slightly surprised saying, I am where I am today because of people who believed in me. It was only after my first novels were published in Poland that German publishers became interested, and then a few Italian and British publishers followed course as well. Unfortunately, I cant say that this is the norm.

Beer and Prose
While it may be impossible for one author to shower attention upon the entire guild of Ukrainian literature, Im quite surprised that Serhiy Zhadan agreed to meet with me at all; and almost immediately after my request. Noticing my train of thought, he says, Ukrainian writers are reserved, they arent easy to contact. Literature is of course about writing but there is a literary process as well and that includes public activity. Despite the fact that many Ukrainian writers think sitting in a pub and drinking with colleagues is in fact a public activity, presentations, public readings, interviews, meeting with readers and so on are all essential parts of being a writer.
Without an agent, Zhadan has been dealing with the promotion of his books himself, something he admits takes a lot of time and energy. Hes done it this way on purpose, however, as he thinks that hiring someone to promote him would make the whole process
purely commercial and mechanic.
While he does seem to be overworked, he says being a Ukrainian writer feels pretty good. I work for no one, am completely independent, and depend on my own wishes and desires to create my own success. Wherever I go I feel completely free, and to tell you the truth I cannot now imagine myself being anything other than steeped in literature. 

Staying out 
of the Hole
As we talk, Zhadan seems inspired, like hes already got ideas for another new book. While that may be in the works, the real reason is that hes just returned from Ukraines biggest book fair a four-day long opportunity for Ukrainian publishers and writers to get together and talk about whats happening in the literary world as we know it today. The Lviv Publishers Forum makes us scholarly types feel as though we are needed, he tells me, because after these four days we all go back into our deep, dark holes for yet another year.
While the worlds biggest book markets like the one in Frankfurt focus mainly on selling the copyrights to international publishers, the biggest feature about the one in Lviv is that books are sold at hugely discounted prices. Zhadans latest book had a print run 5,000 copies which, by Ukrainian standards, is a pretty big number. But even still, selling your wares at a significantly lower rate than what theyre worth makes it tough for Ukrainian authors to make a living. Unfortunately, this European attitude toward publishing is one that has yet to catch on here in Ukraine, and is something Zhadan sees, if going to succeed, will need State intervention. Private initiatives can only take us so far, so if we want to attract European publishers, there needs to be a programme put in place by government that offers favourable conditions for Ukrainian literature copyright.

Dogs and the Press
While he understands what may be necessary for international success, Zhadan really tries to stay away from the political arena and has little in the way of positive reinforcement when it comes to conversations about the Kharkiv administration or the current president. And yet, there are also situations when he finds it difficult to remain impervious to what is going on around him; such as this summer in Berlin, where he was smack in the middle of activists protesting the oppression of Ukraines freedom of speech. 
But in fact, Zhadan can often be found among pages of various online posts and printed press where his comments about the latest news or current political event are right there in black and white. His reasoning is that, When politicians no longer form the moral authority of the people, they turn to writers, compelling them to do what they cannot.
But when hes not busy writing books or posting on blogs, Zhadan reveals that there is another aspect to his life that keeps him busy: collaboration with the Kharkiv ska band, Dogs in Space. We started working together just as an experiment but seeing as we fit together quite well and people actually like us, its turned into a long-term project! What their project entails is a mixture of Zhadans intellectual wit with the musical stylings of ska, and put together they have created a real underground kind of indie showpiece. Giving us a little taste of what goes on when Dogs in Space get together, Serhiy Zhadan raps his perfectly meted prose, stumbles once, but then picks it up right where he left off. And all at the insistence of his readers real lovers of Zhadan literature!

Kateryna Kyselyova

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  • When Walls Can Talk
  • Rights We Didnt Know We Had
  • The Path to Europe Begins Here...
  • Documenting Life
  • Head into 2014 Healthy

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didnt Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they dont understand the meaning of these words.

    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades childrens favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. Whats On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.


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