Article: Four Ukrainian Writers on Literature, Solidarity, and the Future of Justice

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Words and Bullets” is a project launched by the Ukrainian independent publisher Chytomo and PEN Ukraine with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). It is a series of interviews with authors and journalists who became soldiers or volunteers following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Chytomo’s editorial team remains in Ukraine, with no stable electricity and internet connection, as the country is attacked—all to keep informing the world about what is happening in Ukraine.

What follows is an edited selection from Chytomo’s interviews with writers on how they are coping with the invasion. You can read the full interviews on Chytomo’s website.

Victoria Amelina (writer)
How can writers talk about the war without glorifying tragedy? Why is it important for Ukrainians not only to win, but also to restore justice and fairness? What should be conveyed to foreigners now, and when will the de-occupation of the future become possible? All this was discussed with Victoria Amelina, a writer and founder of the New York Literary Festival in Donetsk region. 

I am trying to create a diary that through people’s stories and through my own, too, would reflect the situation on the front of proving Russian international crimes. There is a word, “justice,” in English. The working title of my diary is “The War and Justice Diary.” In Ukrainian there are two words [for justice]: spravedlyvist (justice, fairness) and pravosuddia (justice as the system of judgement), and this is a difference that gives food for thought. Quite often, these two notions would not correspond. Yet, in order to build the country we’re dreaming of after the victory, we need to reach the point where these two concepts would be the closest to each other, in terms of their meaning. …

If we win, but are not able to prove the war crimes and punish the guilty ones, this story won’t be over. There are people working towards this far-off justice. On the other hand, for this justice to be reached in the future, other people are fighting at the frontline right now. And if these people lose, there won’t be any justice. But they will win; they are already winning. The price of this victory is already so high that we must tackle both the courts and public opinion on the nature of Russian empire. (By the way, I don’t want to call it a federation. How is it a federation? It’s delusional to think that the Buryat Republic or Tatarstan really has a say in what is happening in this “federation.” Russia is an empire.)

If we don’t restore justice now, the Western world will change, too.

On the one hand, it is important to understand how it all is going to end. But I have no idea when the war will end. Because our war with Russia has been dragging on for centuries, with occasional breaks. Yet, my motivation is to keep documenting this fight for justice. The story of the fight on the battlefield will be better told by the veterans. What I want is to make a record of the less-popular side of this fight—to talk about those who, since 2014, have been gathering the proofs of Russian involvement and Russian war crimes (now we can surely say that those were even crimes against humanity) and those working, sometimes hopelessly, for the idea of justice.

Because it is also a war of values. It is a fight of democracy against an authoritarian regime. It is a war for the rule of law. Putin is trying to prove that all international institutions and international law do not matter and what matters is power. So, we have not only to defeat Russia, but to restore faith in international law.

If Europe becomes a territory where people don’t believe in the rule of law, why would we join it? If we don’t restore justice now, the Western world will change, too. If Europe swallows the fact that the crimes against humanity might go unpunished, this will irrevocably change Europe itself.

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Four Ukrainian Writers on Literature, Solidarity, and the Future of Justice