War in Ukraine: Chronicle of a Besieged City

War in Ukraine: Chronicle of a Besieged City

Dhe Cossack hairstyle with the strand that Serhij Zhadan had shaved on March 15, in the middle of the war, in the middle of Kharkiv, can still be seen when we meet in early October in autumnal Frankfurt. The myth of the Cossack warriors is an important symbol for Ukraine in its liberation struggle. The Ukrainian Consulate is located opposite the hotel of the writer, who will be honored with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade on October 23. Flowers lie in front of the locked gate, blue and yellow children’s drawings and a picture of Saint Mary. “Even if there is war, the hipster hairdressers are open,” Zhadan posted on Facebook that March day with a photo of himself. An hour and a half earlier the sirens had been wailing over the city. Zhadan noted that Kharkiv was “sunny and empty” this morning. It has been three weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine. This spring in Kharkiv hurts.

Sandra Kegel

Responsible editor for the feuilleton.

Serhij Zhadan not only writes about how language struggles with the war in the afterword to his new book “Heaven over Kharkiv”, which will be published by Suhrkamp on Monday. The collection of Facebook posts that Zhadan has been writing for some time and that the book has collected from the beginning of the war is itself proof of this. This is Serhiy Zhadan’s reality not only since February 24, because in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine “there has been a war for eight years, the West just didn’t want to admit it”. The forty-eight-year-old sits in the busy hotel lobby, serious and focused on the moment. He is a writer and yet he has to put literature aside, at least for now. Because he lacks the language in view of the war. It’s “like you catch your breath, you can’t breathe, so the words get lost, fall apart, seem out of place”. The anger and the feeling of powerlessness are overwhelming at the attack on his country, but also because he has no tools to help him understand what is happening.

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