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Literature in Ukraine has survived over the decades despite years of censorship under the Soviet Union in particular – for example, the Performed Renaissance, a generation of Ukrainian authors in the 1920s and 1930s who died under Stalin. In the 30 years since Ukraine gained independence from Russia in 1991, it has experienced a revival of national identity and literature, with many new books written in Ukrainian (rather than Russian). ).
Today, as tension between the two countries has resulted in a Russian invasion of Ukraine, many readers seek out Ukrainian fiction as a way to engage with its cultural identity and people.
This does not replace staying informed about the conflict. But it can help forge ties and support Ukrainian literature. Fiction can be a tool for empathy, understanding and learning – plus, many of us learn best by reading, and we want to engage as much as possible.
So I gathered this list of Ukrainian books available in English translation. As always, too few books have been translated, and unfortunately, some works already translated are no longer available or are out of print. Also, when translation and accessibility are scarce, it often happens that authors of color and other marginalized authors suffer the most from this scarcity, so they are underrepresented in this list.
Gray Bees by Andrey Kurkov, translated by Boris Dralyuk
Sergey Sergeich just wants his bees to be okay. Close to fifty, this safety inspector and now beekeeper hopes to ensure their safety. The problem? His hives and beloved bees all live in the Gray Zone, which runs along the line in eastern Ukraine that is contested by Russian-backed militias. So he does what he thinks he has to do: before spring arrives and his bees wake up, he loads them into his truck and sets off on a trip to find an old friend in the hopes that his bees will find a place to thrive. It’s a charming, quiet story set against a dark backdrop of violence, military checkpoints, and combat.
Ukrainian Sex Fieldwork by Oksana Zabuzhko, translated by Halyna Hryn
Zabuzkho’s novel was released in 1996 in a storm of controversy and excitement, jumping onto the bestseller list and staying there for over a decade. The novel is told in thick, self-conscious prose, by a witty and passionate scholar working as a visiting professor of Slavic studies at Harvard. As she thinks back and distinguishes her abusive ex-boyfriend and their lopsided relationship, from his emotional abuse to the unhealthy way they had sex, she begins to untangle and expose the repression she felt as a Ukrainian woman, and how her oppression was attached to her country and her culture.
Life went on anyway by Oleg Sentsov, translated by Uilleam Blacker
A dissident, filmmaker and writer long opposed to the Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine, Sentsov was abducted in August 2015 from his home in Crimea and forced to face a Russian military trial. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and then spent 145 days on hunger strike. He remains in a prison camp in Russia, but these autobiographical stories of growing up in Crimea were read in international campaigns around the world to support the case for his release, and are now collected in this excellent collection from Deep Vellum, which was published in collaboration with PEN Ukraine.
A Biography of a Chance Miracle by Tanja Maljartschuk, translated by Zenia Tompkins
Young Lena grew up in a small town in western Ukraine that she nicknamed San Francisco. Growing up, she tends not to fit in, mostly because she is a sensitive soul determined not to accept the status quo at any cost. Maljartschuk represents and portrays Ukraine’s biggest problems through Lena’s stubborn refusal to accept them. Her only goal isn’t to lead a “dumb” life like those around her, and that involves everything from advocating for the underdog to adopting abandoned creatures wherever she goes. The novel is both humorous and harsh, surreal and satirical.
Sweet Darusya: A Tale of Two Villages by Maria Matios, translated by Michael Naydan and Olha Tytarenko
For no good reason, this 2003 book was only available in English translation in 2019. Maria Matios is an award-winning author based in Kyiv, and in this surreal novel she writes about the deep-rooted trauma of Ukraine and its people, through a family saga with overlapping plots and drawing on the country’s history. During the Soviet occupation of Ukraine, a young woman tries to overcome everything she remembers, the guilt she carries, memories of violence and horror. His unbearable headaches continue to pound as the story unfolds. The novel draws on the history of Matios’ own family.
La Moscoviade by Yuri Andrukhovych, translated by Vitaly Chernetsky
Andrukhoych’s second novel depicts a single day in the life of picaresque Ukrainian poet Otto Vilgelmovych von F. in 1992 Moscow. The poet and his friends spend the day getting drunk, wandering the city, fighting, meeting women, and stumbling into a variety of strange and unexpected adventures. Although it’s a silly day in many ways, it has many political implications – at one point Otto unexpectedly clashes with the KGB, and at another makes a triumphant speech calling for independence from the Ukraine vis-a-vis Russia, and the story is going nowhere no reader will anticipate.
A new spelling by Serhiy Zhadan, translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin
In these poems, Zhadan delves into everyday life during the Russo-Ukrainian War, showing soldiers, civilians, refugees and many others responding to the crisis. He paints scenes in lush, lively verse of struggle, change, moments of peace, and questions about home, exile, loneliness, and faith. This is just one volume in the Lost Horse Press Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry Series. Author Zhadan, who has a long history of active involvement in Ukrainian nationalism and protest against Russia, is also known for novels such as Depeche Mode and Voroshilovgrad, and translates German, English, Belarusian and Russian poetry in Ukrainian.
Our Others: Stories of Ukrainian Diversity Edited by Olesya Yaremchuk, translated by Zenia Tomkins and Hanna Leliv
Yaremchuk’s research, fieldwork and interviews are brought together in this book which presents stories and personal histories of 14 ethnic minority groups living within the boundaries of present-day Ukraine: Czechs and Slovaks, Meskhetian Turks, Swedes, Romanians , Hungarians, Roma, Jews. , ‘Liptaks’, Gagauzes, Germans, Vlachs, Poles, Crimean Tatars and Armenians. Especially in light of the current influx of refugees leaving Ukraine and the inequity of the consequences both within and at Ukraine’s borders as the conflict with Russia escalates, this book is an important and meaningful look at the Ukrainian multitudes.
Mondegreen: Songs about Death and Love by Volodymyr Rafeyenko, translated by Mark Andryczyk (April 19, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute)
This novel, soon to be available in English translation, tells the story of Haba Habinsky, a refugee fleeing to Kiev from the Donbass region. As he is swept up in a whirlwind of disorientation and dislocation, he must confront his identity and what it means to adopt a new language and a new city in the midst of conflict. Rafeyenko’s book is written in a lively, experimental style that examines the impact of cultural identity on our lives. The book is part of Harvard’s new library of Ukrainian literature.
Your ad could go here: Stories by Oksana Zabuzhko, translated by Halyna Hryn, Askold Melnyczuk, Marco Carynnyk and Marta Horban
This is an amazing collection of weird and twisted stories from one of the best Ukrainian authors. “An Album for Gustav” is a beautiful story painted around the 2014 advance on the Maidan – it’s a story of the growth of movements, of the feeling of history taking hold of a crowd of people gathering to protest and fight. In “Girls,” a woman contemplating going to her high school reunion thinks back to young queer love and the girl she once loved and may need to see again. These stories deal with femininity, motherhood, revolution, reality TV, etc.
Carbide by Andriy Lyubka, translated by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler
Protagonist Tys decides to dig a tunnel from the (imaginary) western Ukrainian town Yedmediv to Hungary in order to force the EU to admit Ukraine – by smuggling the entire Ukrainian population into one member country. He enlists a gang of experienced local smugglers – from a trafficker in human organs to a man determined to fly over the border – to help him. Obviously, this is all ridiculous, and this book is both funny and tragic as it tackles issues of nationalism, borders, European identity, Ukrainian nationality, and so on.
Bonus: Ukrainian books for children in translation
Sound: Hush…Bang…Pop…BOOM! by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv, translated by Vitaly Chernetsky
This lovely book, full of informative infographics, teaches curious kids about how sound works, from singing to the complex and accessible patterns of the ear to the music and melodies that surround us. And it’s not just noise as we think of it – the book also explores sign language, meditation, and various forms of silence. It’s a beautiful, fun book – and if you and your little ones enjoy it, you can also get the companion Sight: Glimmer, Glow, SPARK, FLASH!
Stars and Poppy Seeds by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv, translated by Oksana Lushcevska
Flora, the daughter of famous mathematicians, loves math. She loves to count. She likes to look at the sky and marvel, dreaming of one day counting all the stars in the sky. In this collage-like picture book for ages 3-7, Flora counts everything from poppy seeds to sea cows to peas. The book hopes to inspire children to find joy in math and includes sections on numbers and famous mathematicians that parents can share with their children.
You might also be interested in reading books to understand Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.