Translation: to and back


Poem appears below in English and the original Ukranian.

Translator’s note

Since February 2022, the metaphorics of Halyna Kruk’s poetry have undergone transformation on the way to nearing the genre of testimony. Kruk explains in her speech at the poetry festival in Berlin in June 2022 that metaphors have lost their power in front of what is actually experienced (Kruk, Halyna. “Krieg ist keine Metapher.” Zeit Online, June 18, 2022). The voice of the diarist of wartime has become the most important feature of literary expression. In her Berlin speech—just as in the poem to and back, written in spring 2022—Kruk warns the prosperous western world against erecting an emotional wall between Ukraine and itself. While addressing the Western audience, she tries to explain a painful feeling of irreparable loss—in our souls, in our culture, science, economy, industry, society —of men and women, someone’s parents, someone’s children, who were killed by Russia: “War creates a gap between those who have experienced it and those who are far from it; with each passing day of the war, I see that it is more and more difficult to explain to people from the outside what we feel here, on the inside. … Poetry acquires very peculiar forms—a spontaneous prayer, a stingy testimony, a lament or even a curse to the enemy. These are not the forms of poetry to which modern European culture is accustomed, they are functional and ritualistic, too primeval in their emotional coloring, too subjective, too pathetic, and intolerant” (Kruk, “Krieg ist keine Metapher”; my translation).

In her poem to and back Kruk writes about the unfitting of war in the eyes of Western world, even if the words for war may be found by survivors and those who have experienced it. Incompatibility of war and peace, of poetry and war calls for the memory to work in place of creativity. The healing power of poetry—as a witness of war crimes in Ukraine—is encoded in Kruk’s poems, written in the spring and summer of 2022.

—Lada Kolomiyets


to and back

I rode there – on sedatives,
back – on painkillers
there were no other routes

I felt so hurt, broken down
as if I could pierce the plane’s skin with my sharp edge,
the hotel interior looks perfect to the smallest detail,
and beautiful are the bodies of men and women, my interlocutors

war does not fit in with the world in peace
as mutilation with an evening dress:
too heavy a look
too sharp a word
too brutal a fact

we’d better close the eyes of death with your own palms, o dear,
‘cause you are brave enough, you are closer to it
for difficult conversations, we have a special person,
and a special room we have,
with a separate entrance and exit, so please do not do it here

beautiful young bodies jump into the canal waters,
thirsty for life and love, bathed in sunshine and laughter
perfect, daring as those pictures
from German pre-war leaflets about
a healthy mind in a healthy body

hand-picked grains they are, without any defect,
as once we were, poised, full of love

in the face of death, I am saying to you:
love me as if there will never be enough light
for us to find each other in this world

love me as long as we believe
that death turns a blind eye to us, that death does not see,
but spying is she, from now on – always and everywhere
and knowing that, we cannot come

the war cares about our future
that’s what they say
that’s how they see it

when you call from the war, I hear
the bird cries drown your voice, 
and I know the world still exists


туди й назад

туди їхала – на заспокійливих,
назад – на знеболювальних
інших маршрутів не було

чулася такою надщербленою,
що боялася пробити собою обшивку літака,
продуманий до дрібниць інтер’єр готелю,
красиві тіла співрозмовників і співрозмовниць

війна не пасує до решти світу
як каліцтво до вечірньої сукні:
надто важкий погляд
надто гостра мова,
надто брутальні деталі

закриймо очі смерті твоїми руками, люба,
ти зможеш, тобі там ближче

для важких розмов у нас є спеціальна людина
у нас є спеціальна кімната,
окремий вхід і вихід, не тут, прошу

красиві молоді тіла стрибають у води каналу,
спраглі життя і кохання, залиті сонцем і сміхом
досконалі, зухвалі, як ті,
із німецьких довоєнних листівок про
здоровий дух у здоровому тілі

добірні зерна без жодної вади,
як ми колись, певні себе, повні любові

перед лицем смерті кажу тобі:
люби мене так, ніби в світі більше ніколи
не буде достатньо світла, щоб ми віднайшлися

люби мене, доки нам здається,
що смерть закриває на це очі і не бачить,
але вона підглядає, відтепер – завжди і всюди
ми це знаємо, і в нас не виходить скінчити

війна дбає про наше майбутнє,
так вони кажуть
так вони бачать

коли ти дзвониш з війни,
тебе перекрикують птахи
отже, світ все ще існує



Halyna Kruk (1974) is an award-winning poet and prose writer, translator, and scholar from Lviv, Ukraine. She is the author of five books of poetry, An Adult Woman (2017), Co(an)existence (2013), The Face beyond the Photograph (2005), Footprints on Sand and Journeys in Search of a Home (both 1997), collection of short stories Anyone but me (2021), and four books for children. Her works have been translated into more than 30 languages, her latest poetry books in English translation are A Crash Course in Molotov Cocktails (2023) and Lost in Living (2024). She is a winner of numerous literary awards in Ukraine and abroad, among them The Sundara Ramaswamy Prize, The 2023 Women in Arts Award, The 2022 Kovaliv Fund Prize, The Best Book Award of BookForum 2021, etc. Halyna Kruk is a member of the Ukrainian PEN. Halyna Kruk holds a PhD in Ukrainian baroque literature (2001). She lives in Lviv and teaches European and Ukrainian baroque literature at the Ivan Franko National University in Lviv.

Lada Kolomiyets, DSc (Philology) in Translation Studies, Professor at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine, and Visiting Professor at Dartmouth College, USA, is an interdisciplinary researcher in linguistics, literature, and translation studies, a historian of translation, with several monographs, textbooks for graduate students, literary anthologies, book chapters, and multiple articles published in Ukrainian and English in the leading peer-reviewed journals. For her literary criticism and translations, she is a member of the National Writers’ Union of Ukraine (since 2018); she is working presently on the analysis of digital folklore as people’s cyberwar and translations of the wartime women’s poetry.

Translation: to and back

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