Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24th February 2022, author and poet Alexander Korotko began to set down as poetry the turbulent responses at the emotional, philosophical and simply human levels evoked by the resulting war. Thus, we read in the 88 poems in this volume – completed in just less than 100 days – of the seemingly endless wail of sirens; of sheltering in cellars and tunnels; of the celebrated Ukrainian steppe, churned by tanks; the dead – “our killed, have become our Saviour Angels”; and whole poems devoted to Irpin and Mariupol as the atrocities there and elsewhere became known. Korotko is not without compassion for the Russian soldier – “Russian soldier, what did you forget in my land? We had grief enough without you.” – and the soldier’s mother when she receives his dead body as “cargo 200”. Neither does he conceal his frustration with Ukraine’s allies – “we pay the West for help with blood, but the West makes no haste to deliver.”
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Alexander Korotko was born in Korosten, northern Ukraine, educated in Odesa, and now lives in Kyiv. A prolific writer of both poetry and prose, his work has been translated into numerous languages and he has received many honours and awards. The original language of the War Poems is Russian. As is typical of many Russian speakers in Ukraine, however, Alexander Korotko intermingles some Ukrainian words with the Russian.
For this three-language edition of War Poems, the English language translation is by Andrew Sheppard, the editor of East–West Review, the journal of the Great Britain-Russia Society. He has travelled widely in Ukraine during an association with the country extending back to 1997. The Ukrainian translation is by Olha Ilchuk. Born in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, she received her philological education in that city, moving on to Kyiv to study law. She has successfully practiced law for more than 20 years. She describes translation into Ukrainian of Alexander Korotko’s poetry and prose as “her passion”.
Endorsements and Review Quotes
“So here is a record of the reactions of the mind, heart and soul of a poet who felt compelled to believe the unbelievable, to write the unwritable. […] You are tempted to ask yourself the question that arises when looking at Goya’s Disasters of War – how could an artist experience and empathize with this depth of suffering while maintaining the strength and energy to record it so exhaustively, so precisely and with such emotional depth? Part at least of the answer for Korotko must be the love that lives on in spite of the pain.” Kate Pursglove, East-West Review
“If you want to know what the war is like for a flesh and blood Ukrainian, a poet of international standing who knows his native country and his people, read this book […] For all its unevennesses, Korotko’s War Poems is a masterpiece that will be read and pondered to futurity.” Patrick Miles, Calderonia
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