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Ukrainian Writer Andrey Kurkov Recalls Friend Victoria Amelina, Novelist Killed in Russian Airstrike

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We remember the acclaimed Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina, who died as a result of injuries from a Russian strike on a restaurant in Kramatorsk last week, which also killed 12 other people. Amelina was part of a human rights group, Truth Hounds, investigating Russian war crimes. Amelina’s friend Andrey Kurkov, a fellow author and the former president of PEN Ukraine, says the young writer’s death is just the latest in a long string of artists lost to the Russian invasion. “We don’t know when the war is going to end, but it will cost a lot for Ukrainian culture,” says Kurkov.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Ukraine. Overnight, a Russian missile strike hit a residential building in the western city of Lviv, killing four, injuring 32 others. Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine, an airstrike triggered a massive fireball in the Russian-occupied city of Makiivka. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed there would be a, quote, “tangible response.”

This comes as Ukrainians gathered Tuesday to mourn the death of renowned writer Victoria Amelina. She died as a result of injuries from a Russian strike on a restaurant in Kramatorsk last week which killed 13 people. Amelina was part of a human rights group, Truth Hounds, investigating Russian war crimes. She had been meeting with a group of Colombians at a restaurant in Kramatorsk when she died. She was remembered by her peers during a funeral service in Kyiv.

SVITLANA POVALIALIEVA: [translated] It was important to her to travel to the deoccupied areas and gather testimonies about Russia’s crimes and tell the world about it as much as she can. We did not only lose a writer and poet in her prime, but also a human rights defender, an honest and shining voice on the international stage.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Andrey Kurkov, one of Ukraine’s best-known authors, former president of PEN Ukraine. He was a friend of Victoria Amelina. His tribute to her in The Guardian is headlined “'Her smile sparkled even in the most difficult times.'” Andrey is the author of more than a dozen books, most recently, Diary of an Invasion.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! And our deepest condolences to you, Andrey Kurkov. She was not only a well-known writer, but a friend of yours. Can you tell us about Victoria Amelina, how she lived and then how she died?

ANDREY KURKOV: Well, she was a normal person. She actually looked very shy, when — if you just saw her in the street. She was nice, always smiling and shyly smiling person, who changed her, I would say, way of life several times, because when she was 14, she was taken by her father to Canada to immigration, and later, several years later, she decided to go back to Ukraine to her favorite and her own city of Lviv, where she studied computer sciences, and she became a very good programmer. And then she decided to quit the job and to become a writer, and she was writing poems, essays, and she published two novels.

But from 2014, '15, after the Euromaidan, she became very politically engaged, very socially engaged. She became member of PEN Ukraine. She immediately started organizing campaigns to free Oleg Sentsov from Russian prison. I am talking about a film director and writer from Crimea who was accused by Russians of terrorist activities, which was a false accusation, of course, and who spent five years in a Russian prison. And since then, she was actually more, I think, active politically and socially than literally, because she just didn't have enough time to write. And also, when she was wounded in Kramatorsk, she was there together with our colleagues from Latin America, from representatives of the pro-Ukrainian movement Aguanta Ucrania, Resist Ukraine.

And also, I mean, she died on the 1st of July, which is the birthday of another writer, Volodymyr Vakulenko, who was killed one year ago by Russian military and whose body she was looking for for several months before he was — his body was identified in November in the mass grave near Kharkiv region, city of Izium. And she recovered his last diaries that he hid under the tree, under the cherry tree, of his parents’ garden. Actually, several days before she was wounded, on 22nd of June, she was presenting the book, posthumous book, of Volodymyr Vakulenko, where these diaries were included.

So, she — I mean, I don’t know, because, I mean, she was one of the most active Ukrainian authors and, I would say, political and literary activists, yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Andrey, could you talk about — you’ve said — I mean, she was working on, since the invasion, documenting war crimes in Ukraine.

ANDREY KURKOV: Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: If you could say — she was working on her first nonfiction book, in English, about war crimes being documented by Ukrainian women. The book was to be titled War and Justice Diary: Looking at Women Looking at War. Could you talk about that?

ANDREY KURKOV: Well, this book was almost finished. I think it’s like 80% of the book, she wrote. She wrote it in English so that it will become easier accessible to the publishers abroad. But actually, last 18, 16 months, she was traveling all the time either to the frontlines, to the recently liberated Ukrainian territories, and then immediately to the states, to Europe, to report on the atrocities committed by the Russian army. And all this was for the sake of the book, which will be published, I believe. I don’t know yet the name of the publisher. But this was her last project, and it will remain her last project.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Andrey, could you talk about — I mean, she’s one of dozens of writers who have been killed, writers, filmmakers who’ve been killed since the war began. Could you talk about some of the others who have died in these months, over a year, since the Russian invasion?

ANDREY KURKOV: Well, we have about 30, or maybe probably already more, artistic personalities who became victims of this war, victims of Russian army shellings, or who were killed on the frontlines as soldiers. I mentioned already Volodymyr Vakulenko, who was author of books for children, who decided to not evacuate from his village, Kapitolivka, in the eastern Ukraine because of his severely disabled son, and who was first taken for questioning in the beginning of March and then returned home. And second time he was taken for questioning, and he was never seen again. And he was finally buried in December last year. And he’s remembered as one of the most sort of tragic victims of this war.

I can mention, of course, many others, including Yuriy Ruf, who was killed in action, also a poet from Lviv, who volunteered to become a soldier and who was fighting in eastern Ukraine. But, I mean, probably we will have a separate book with texts written by authors killed by the Russian aggression published in the nearest future. I mean, we don’t know when the war is going to end, but it will cost a lot for Ukrainian culture, obviously.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrey Kurkov, we talked to you just over a year ago. You were here in New York with a big PEN event. You were talking about your book Grey Bees, which is known all over. You’ve written a new book now. It’s called Diary of an Invasion. Explain how you started writing it. You went back to Ukraine after we spoke, and you just came back to Kyiv, as well. You were out of the country. Explain the situation for you as a writer in Ukraine now.

ANDREY KURKOV: Well, I mean, I do write diaries, but I was writing mostly articles and essays about what was happening from the very beginning of the war and also before the new invasion. And I was asked by my English publisher, Christopher MacLehose, to send him the texts, which I did. And in the end, actually, the book was published first in London in October last year. It covers the events in Ukraine from December ’21 ’til July ’22. And it includes also not only my diary notes, but also articles and essays that I wrote for international media and published in the newspapers like The Guardian, the Financial Times, or in the magazines like the New Statesman and Spectator. Actually, I continue to write essays about what is happening now, and probably they will be included in the second volume of the diaries.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrey Kurkov, again, our condolences on the death of your friend and a friend to so many, the Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina. Andrey Kurkov, one of Ukraine’s best-known authors, former president of PEN Ukraine. His tribute to her in The Guardian, we’ll link to, “'Her smile sparkled even in the most difficult times.'” Andrey is the author of dozens of books, including Grey Bees, his most recent, Diary of an Invasion.

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