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Ukrainian contemporary poetry: names and verses

Poetry is an instrument that helps people reflect on things happening around. Thus, contemporary Ukrainian poets depict the current situation in Ukraine, talking about love, hate, other feelings, and connections between people. Read some of them, as well as about the writers, in this article.

Kateryna Kalytko

Kateryna Kalytko wrote 9 poetry books, and now is working on the next one, called “Open Fracture of the Voice.” In 2017 she won Joseph Conrad Literature Prize, and in May 2023, Kateryna won the American Pushcart Prize — she was recognised for her text “Having Lost the Keys” from the American poetry collection “Nobody Knows Us Here and We Don't Know Anyone,” and this is the first time that The Pushcart Prize has been awarded to a Ukrainian writer.

Not long is left until a kiss and the spring

Not long is left until a kiss and the spring.

The anxious rope of love tugged, tickling the throat.

All night the rain falls onto the roof, patterns, like dried peas.

From a distance one has sharper vision, so tell me, how

did you see each other when you looked almost point-blank

and the other could not stand it and lowered her eyes?

The red marks of winter, itchy skin, dry lips,

eyes tearing, voice uncontrollably

reaching a higher pitch. Not a kiss yet, but

in the short-lasting embrace it already feels too tight to breathe — the heart,

this combat Zeppelin, held up by hot air,

breaks through the sling of the body and frees itself.

And I don’t know how far it will flow into the rain, I haven’t had a chance

to name it.

If it finds its way,

then name it.

Translated by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna

This loneliness could have a name…

This loneliness could have a name, an Esther or a Miriam.

Regiments fall to the ground with an infant’s cry.

Words hardly fit between water and salt.

Under the flag at half-mast, hundreds of hoarse voices

laugh, pricked by the splinters of language.

This loneliness is vast, bottomless, and so chilling

that even a stranger turns away. Restless children wander

out of the school, stand by the sea, as if in front of a tribunal.

Dried tree branches crackle in the air like transmitters.

Somebody keeps calling out the name of the city turned into ashes.

This loneliness could be named Sevgil or Selima.

The names of the abandoned are salty and deep.

She comes out, fumbles with the knot

of her black headscarf; her lips are pale.

Who is there, she says, do you read me? Does anyone hear us?

Just a moment ago somebody called out our names.

Do you read me, son, try and listen to me, to me —

they have all left the shore, look for them in the sea.

Translated by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna

Serhiy Zhadan

Serhiy Zhadan is one of the most translated and recognisable Ukrainian poets abroad. He writes novels, poetry, and he is a leader in the musical band “Zhadan and Sobaky” and radio program “Zhadan is Talking,” in which he communicates with other Ukrainian artists and intellectuals. On March 2022 Polish Academy of Sciences nominated Serhiy Zhadan for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Third Year into the War

They buried him last winter.

Some winter too — not a snowflake, so much rain.

A quick funeral — we all have things to do.

Which side was he fighting for? I ask. What a question, they say,

One of the sides, who could figure them out.

What difference does it make, they say, same difference.

Only he could have answered, they say, now it’s he said-she said.

Could he? His corpse is missing a head.

Third year into the war, bridges are patched.

I know so much about you — now what?

I know, for one, that you liked this song.

I know your sister, I loved her once.

I know your fears and where they came from.

I know who you met that winter and what was said.

Three years of nights patched with ash and star light.

I remember you always played for another school.

And yet, who did you fight for in this war?

To come here, every year, to rip dry grass.

To dig the earth, every year — dead, heavy earth.

To see, every year, this peace, this ill.

To tell yourself, till the end, that you didn’t shoot

into your own. In the waves of rain — birds vanish.

I’d ask to pray for your sins, yet what sins?

I’d ask for the rains to stop — rains full of birds.

Some birds! It’s easy for them. For all they know,

there's neither salvation nor soul.

Translated by Valzhyna Mort

Lyubov Yakymchuk

Lyubov Yakymchuk is a Ukrainian poet, playwright, and screenwriter. One of her most famous works — a poetry book “Apricots of Donbas” — focuses on invasion, which Russia started in 2014 in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. At the 2022 Grammy Awards, Lyubov performed her poem "Prayer" in English as part of John Legend's performance of his song "Free."


our Father, who art in heaven

of the full moon

and the hollow sun

shield from death my parents

whose house stands in the line of fire

and who won’t abandon it

like a tomb

our daily bread give to the hungry

and let them stop devouring one another

and forgive us our destroyed cities

even though we do not forgive for them our enemies

shield and protect

my husband, my parents

my child and my Motherland

translated by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochynsky

Halyna Kruk

Halyna Kruk is a Ukrainian writer, translator, educator and literary critic. She has been vice president of the Ukrainian branch of the writer's organization PEN. In 2003, she was awarded the Gaude Polonia Fellowship by the Polish Ministry of Culture.

This year Halyna Kruk delivered a speech at the opening of a poetry festival in Berlin and stressed that it is very difficult for Ukrainian poets to use metaphors in times of war: “Now a fifth of my country is temporarily occupied. I regret that this is not a metaphor. People from the occupied territories are being killed, terrorised, taken to filtration camps in Russia, parents and children are being separated, and denationalised. No poetry has words for this. My Facebook newsfeed is full of photos of incredibly beautiful people — men and women — whose parents, children have been killed by Russia. This is not a metaphor. Facebook blocks or deletes these photos as sensitive information that could upset social media users. These people were not born to die in the war, did not get a higher education or a rare profession to die in the war, did not nurture their talents to die in the war. The loss of these people will always leave a gaping wound in our souls, in our culture, science, economy, industry, and society. This is not a metaphor. I don't know any poetry that can heal this wound.”

A Woman Named Hope

it rained for four straight months

knocking down crops, trampling gardens

they came as new recruits

diligently watering the roadside bushes

as long as they could to slow their march to foreign war

and none of us knew

where the war zone actually was

no one understood the true scope of the losses

when a woman called Hope came to lift our spirits

she had no intention of dying

each person, she told us, carries their own war

and a weapon

they’ll clutch to the end,

and victory is a whore — she doesn’t care where she lies

she belongs to anyone

and we listened to a roll of thunder leave her throat

while she sang to us strange marching drills and lullabies

every drop of her saliva a balm

containing the poison of love

because every woman, she warned, knows this kind of love

that brings her low, shoves a gun barrel in her mouth

and does not kill her. After, the rains pass through her,

troop after troop

washes away the blood.

Translated by Sibelan Forresterand Mary Kalyna with Bohdan Pechenyak

Yurko Izdryk

Yurko Izdryk is a Ukrainian writer, poet, visual artist and music composer. He was also an author of the literature magazine called ”Chetver” (”Thursday”). Yurko is also known for his challenging and vivid performances, and recently he played the main role in the Ukrainian movie “Felix and Me.”

Darkness Invisible

evil has melted away in our world, as ice turns to water

diffused invisibly, like mist in air

grope in the deepest, darkest of pits, your search will be futile

you cannot say evil is here, evil is there

for its spores are dispersed in the pores of the earth, even and smooth

you can meet it at any old time, any old place

for evil is not a big lie, but small shards, resembling truth

its metastases glitter like crystals in each one of us

for evil inheres in the reader — not the Vedas, the Bible, or the Koran

evil can’t lead, it lures — and each of us must decide

whether to go into battle, called by the beat of a drum

whether to head for the shimmering, coarse, bloody fraud

evil pleads for compassion, though it knows no compassionate ways

asks for a sacrifice, but won’t give a penny to anyone

for evil delights at the sight of the littlest tear on your face

though it really regards others’ tears as meaningless fun

just as black and white merge in a dance instead of a fray

just as prayer and profanity mingle within a gray din

evil can’t be discerned — like death seeded in you and in me

evil has merged with the world — it’s as if it were gone

while we two are together, I keep faith in light, love, and warmth

and in mercy, which conquers invisible darkness

the shadows will fade, evil will surface — pathetic, a thing of no worth

and we two will laugh, we’ll laugh right in its face

Translated from the Ukrainian by Boris Dralyuk

Oksana Zabuzhko

Oksana Zabuzhko is a Ukrainian writer, feminist literary critic, poet, essayist, publicist, teacher and political activist. Her novel, “Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex,” is the most translated piece of modern Ukrainian prose around the world, with translations available in 15 languages.

Her texts are adapted by numerous theatres in Ukraine, Europe and America. In 1994 Zabuzhko won a Fulbright scholarship and taught Ukrainian literature at Harvard and the University of Pittsburgh.

A Definition of Poetry

I know I will die a difficult death —

Like anyone who loves the precise music of her own body,

Who knows how to force it through the gaps in fear

As through the needle's eye,

Who dances a lifetime with the body — every move

Of shoulders, back, and thighs

Shimmering with mystery, like a Sanskrit word,

Muscles playing under the skin

Like fish in a nocturnal pool.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us bodies.

When I die, tell the roofers

To take down the rafters and ceiling

(They say my great-grandfather, a sorcerer, finally got out this way).

When my body softens with moisture,

The bloated soul, dark and bulging,

Will strain

Like a blue vein in a boiled egg white,

And the body will ripple with spasms,

Like the blanket a sick man wrestles off

Because it's hot,

And the soul will rise to break through

The press of flesh, curse of gravity —

The Cosmos

Above the black well of the room

Will suck on its galactic tube,

Heaven breaking in a blistering starfall,

And draw the soul up, trembling like a sheet of paper —

My young soul —

The color of wet grass —

To freedom — then

"Stop!" it screams, escaping,

On the dazzling borderline

Between two worlds —

Stop, wait.

My God. At last.

Look, here's where poetry comes from.

Fingers twitching for the ballpoint,

Growing cold, becoming not mine.

Prypiat — Still Life

It could be dawn.

The light, crumpled like sheets.

The ashtray full.

A shadow multiplies on four walls.

The room is empty.

No witnesses.

But someone was here.

A moment ago twin tears shimmered

On polished wood

(Did a couple live here?)

In the armchair a suit, recently filled by a body,

Has collapsed into a bolt of fabric.

Come in, look around. No one's here,

Just the breathing air, crushed

As though by a tank.

A half-finished sweater remembers someone's fingers.

A book lies open, marked by a fingernail.

(How amazing, this silence beyond the boundary!)

On the polished wood, two stains.

On the floor by the armchair an apple,

Bitten but not brown.

Yuliya Musakovska

Yuliya Musakovska is a Ukrainian poet and translator, whose poems have been translated into more than 30 languages, including Swedish, Polish, Lithuanian, German, Spanish, Bulgarian, English and Hebrew.

A Home to Freedom

The man that became my home

wants to become my freedom

but he's failing

He thinks that I'm



overwriting the words of familiar songs,

ravaging the principles of calligraphy,

distorting the words of prayers,

acting recklessly,

making a mountain out of a molehill,

crushing a fly upon a wheel,

and all that

How will our home have room for

so many great things,

so many phenomena and creatures,

so many implausible characters,

natural disasters and global issues

Our home is not a bottomless pit,

it cannot hold it all

it will explode and disappear off the face of the earth

There is only one solution:

it will learn to grow,

gradually growing and growing

until it fills everything around us

until it becomes freedom itself

Translated by Olena Jennings and the author

Marjana Savka

Marjana is a Ukrainian poet, children's writer, literary critic, publicist, editor-in-chief and co-founder of the Staryi Lev Publishing House, translator. In 2021 she was included in the “Top 100 Successful Women of Ukraine” rating in the Culture and Media category by “New Voice” magazine.

God’s Optics


as if on the margins of life

as if you were invisible

as if god’s optics weren’t aiming straight for your heart

let yourself

cry an ocean of tears

let the records play in your head

violating synchronicity

someone is deejaying badly

mixing your pain and light

someone is letting the paper boats

of your childhood into your blood vessels

they’re decorated in your handwriting

you carry

a whole flotilla of memories

sometimes it gets stuck

in one of your heart valves

and you feel

a subtle pain

a paper-thin

phantom pain of things past

you know

I’ve learned so little

but my palms are warm

all I can do is hold them

all I can do is hold them

against your chest

Translated by Amelia Glaser and Yuliya Ilchuk

Ostap Slyvynsky

Ostap Slyvynsky is a Ukrainian poet, essayist, translator, literary critic, and academic. His poetry, particularly, was translated into sixteen languages. Ostap himself translates books from English, Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Polish.

Lovers on a Bicycle

She rides sitting on the frame, like a bird

perched on a branch, puffed-up, mature,

with two clenched

knees that signal sweetly

to the truck drivers passing by.

Him we don’t see clearly, but we hear

his flask clanking against the seat with every

pedal stroke. He’s humming a ditty,

where did he pick it up, which war zone? No one’s heard it here.

She holds a handful of hazelnuts and feeds him

without turning — she passes them back and he

catches them with his mouth, which resembles

a fringed brown patch.

On the way back from the station she’ll be alone,

looking like a paper doll,

dry, straight, two-dimensional,

used to making do with this love, as she

is used to making a meal out of nothing —

a dash of tea, a couple of potatoes.

She will ride through the first bout of rain,

reeling with her feet the over-exposed film — an endless

blank frame, where he runs into the living room

and spins her in his arms.

So it goes, this empty language of love, bargaining with hope,

like a one-legged chair with a stove: let me be

at least until midday. I won’t

live through the night.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Anton Tenser and Tatiana Filimonova


She danced, since evenings were still warm,

and the world was being rolled up like

a carpet after a city festival,

and lights sparkled above red leaves.

She danced, because she wanted to turn back and

she knew you couldn’t resurrect things by imagining them.

She danced, because it’s better to remember with the body:

how she woke up, fell asleep

on the wet deck, waited for

things to be loaded. How she ran

after a floppy-eared dog, not wanting

to leave it to them.

She danced, because there are no more

places, stamps, return

addresses, banks, municipal headquarters, no more

street, water pump, half-painted

fence, soap dishes, brushes.

Everything is in a single moving point,

so compressed,

as a wrist where all the blood

has gathered.

Translated by Anton Tenser and Tatiana Filimonova

We believe these and other verses created by Ukrainians help you to reflect on the current events and live through difficult times. Take care!

With love, WU team

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