Reviews & Misc Justice

What is it Like to Live in Ukraine Right Now? – 3 Short Poems – Truth, Terror, Courage, Love.

What is it like to live in Ukraine right now? We need to listen now and then to people trapped “in the hour of war”. Poetry from Ukraine enables that.

What IS It Like to Live in Ukraine Right Now?

from IN THE HOUR OF WAR: Poetry from Ukraine, edited by Carolyn Forche and Ilya Kaminsky, Arrowsmith Press, 2023

What IS It Like to Live in Ukraine Right Now?

Seriously, what is life like in the Ukraine? Well, poetry from Ukraine can give us brief but potent answers.

Russian soldiers decide to entertain

Russian soldiers decide to entertain
other Russian soldiers by showing off our children’s photo albums

Hey, this one, see? In a bunny costume, an idiot
unlike me here in a military costume
and me again in a paratrooper’s costume
and me a sailor
bunnies they are a funny nation
and here he hugs the toy dog just like a girl
but I, yes, I, I had a long sword
and I had a gun
and I ran with a rifle
they these funny people hug dogs, what a strange pictures
they watch how the fire laughs

And so the childhood is flames and school years are flames
their charred particles fly up and drop on our faces scattered about
in the backyard

by Lesyk Panasiuk (a version by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky), part of the poem “Our faces, tossed about this land”, p22)

he asks, don’t help me

What is Life Like in Ukraine?

he asks, don’t help me

help the soldiers
I don’t need anything anymore
neither medicine, nor heat, nor light
nor a drink of water

the room I’m leaving is not this one
but the room of my body
they say that God doesn’t exist
that the One that ixists is human
but as a human – can he exist?
is his existence necessary?

they say that I’m at the end of my life

but I still don’t understand anything

last night it hurt so bad
that I forgot everything, even who I was
no heaven, no blessed darkness
all I saw were soldiersI felt their thirst in my bones

don’t come to help me
help those who still want to

make children


by Oksana Lutsyshyna, tr. by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky, “[he asks, don’t help me]” p41

Take only what is most important.

Take only what is most important. Take the letters.
Take only what you can carry.
Take the icons and the embroidery, take the silver,
Take the wooden crucifix and the golden replicas.

Take some bread, the vegetables from the garden, then leave.
We will never return again.
We will never see our city again.
Take the letters, all of them, every last piece of bad news.

We will never see our corner store again.
We will never drink from that dry well again.
We will never see familiar faces again.
We are refugees.  We’ll run all night.

We will run past fields and sunflowers.
We will run from dogs, rest with cows.
We’ll scoop up water with our bare hands,
sit waiting in camps, annoying the dragons of war.

You will not return, and friends will never come back.
There will be no smoky kitchens, no usual jobs,
there will be no dreamy lights in sleepy towns,
no green valleys, no suburban wastelands.

The sun will be a smudge on the window of a cheap train,
rushing past cholera pits covered with live.
There will be blood on women’s heels,
tired guards on borderlands covered with snow,
a postman with empty bags shot down,
a priest with a hapless smile hung by his ribs,
the quiet of a cemetery, the noise of a command post,
and unedited lists of the dead,

so long that there won’t be enough time
to check them for your own name.

by Serhiy Zhadan, tr by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps, “Take Only What is Most Important” p30


So – how would your answer?  What is life like in Ukraine … what IS it like to live in Ukraine right now?

See Also:

In addition to poetry from Ukraine, there is also poetry from Poland and poetry from the USA.
Wislawa Szymborska, poem: Cleaning Up The Mess(es)
Words We May Lose: “It took long to buy these words.”
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