International Women’s Day 2022: A Selection of Women-Authored Poetry and Prose from ‘Words for War’ and ‘The White Chalk of Days’

This International Women’s Day, we’d like to not only elevate the experiences and voices of women, but also continue our spotlight on Ukraine and Ukrainian voices by pointing readers towards just a few of the women poets, translators, and authors whose work is found in The White Chalk of Days: The Contemporary Ukrainian Literature Series Anthology and Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine. Both books, unprecedented collections of post-Soviet Ukrainian literature in English translation originally published in 2017, are available to read for free online here and here

The White Chalk of Days: The Contemporary Ukrainian Literature Series Anthology

A selection from the poems of MARJANA SAVKA

some woman…

Some woman

fails to astonish you

Sylvia Plath

drapes the windows

and listens to the sea

to her it seems

this all is just an imitation

in truth it’s not the sea

but just

sampled sounds

sound effects

no one tells the truth

to her

that there is no sea or wind

no fear

no pain

no rage

just simulations

of all feelings and hopes

other than one—

the hope of writing

to survive

either to die

or live

Translated by Michael M. Naydan


An excerpt from a short story by SOPHIA ANDRUKHOVYCH

An excerpt from An Out-of-tune-Piano, an Accordian

When air becomes denser to the touch, when celandine’s wet yellowness appears above pockmarked musty needles on the forest floor, when trash between the naked, sucked-bare pine tree trunks forms a white shimmer like giant flowers of a cosmic-sized apricot tree, then you can rest assured—the wandering ghost camp is already here, close by, in our forests. 

It’s your choice whether to believe in it, you can make your cute skeptical grimace: puffed lower lip like a moist cherry, an obstinate horizontal fold between the eyebrows, wrinkles on your little nose with its semi-transparent wing-like nostrils; now you’ll shake the morning dew off of them, spread them out sleepily—and take off into the air, into the light-blue broth of the sky, swimming next to Boeings and globs of sour cream. 

The night exhales the first mosquito swarms, opens its jaws full of warm muck. A coarse crone with a jelly-like body, nearly blind and hopelessly slow-witted—just think what its drunken grin and cloudless joy are worth. 

Flowers fall off pear trees with a dry rustle; self-satisfied caterpillars lazily munch on arugula leaves, and irises—these crystal ritual daggers—fold like origami, Japanese boats and lanterns, and shine from the inside with a meager cold light. 

Then you won’t be mistaken: the wandering ghost camp has arrived. An indistinct melody spreads above the trees, multiplied by echo—like a tune from a victrola or an old cassette player that constantly chews up tape. Girlish laughter resounds together with teenage shouts and giggles, with piercing playful cries. An insincere feminine voice declaims something solemnly into a microphone; you can distinguish lines of poetry, rehashed jokes, and mechanical reading off a page, but you can’t make out the words. Every evening up until late at night, when the cooperative dacha settlements die down, hold their breath, and their dwellers sidle up to one another in pitch-black darkness, their expansive bodies sun baked to a meaty shade of pink, the sounds of eerie amateur performance seep through the double panes. From the forest thickets a menacing stench and an otherworldly smoke come swirling, flashing with fuzzy shimmering lights that circle around the tree branches. 

You can never tell precisely where they are now—at Krasna Poliana, near Poroskoten, or in the Babka Valley [1] —their manifestations are omnipresent yet so uncertain, their music resounds, it seems, from tree trunk hollows and badger burrows, they spy on us from behind currant bushes, they rustle in the grass around the cesspit, their elongated greenish faces reflect in the glass walls of hothouses like in stagnant water. 

Everything quiets down only at dawn, when the contours of trees slowly become clearer, birds shake their wings and clear their throats, and the air gets saturated with nanodroplets of moisture, invisible beads of a necklace—they refresh and make things easier. The shroud of stupor and fear falls off, the gaze becomes clearer.

Translated by Vitaly Chernetsky

[1] Krasna Poliana, Poroskoten and Babka Valley are all places in Ukraine located west of Kyiv.


About The White Chalk of Days

The publication of The White Chalk of Days: The Contemporary Ukrainian Literature Series Anthology commemorates the tenth year of the Contemporary Ukrainian Literature Series. Co-sponsored by the Ukrainian Studies Program at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University and the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Series has recurrently organized readings in the US for Ukraine’s leading writers since 2008.  The anthology presents translations of literary works by Series guests that imaginatively engage pivotal issues in today’s Ukraine and express its tribulations and jubilations. Featuring poetry, fiction, and essays by fifteen Ukrainian writers, the anthology offers English-language readers a wide array of the most beguiling literature written in Ukraine in the past fifty years.

To read more of Sophia and Marjana’s work, among others’, please consider purchasing a hard copy of The White Chalk of Days directly from your local, independent bookstore or through, and continue to explore the finely curated selection of Ukrainian poetry, fiction, and essays featured in the volume at its dedicated site here.

Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine

A selection from the poems of LYUBA YAKIMCHUK 


nothing changes on the eastern front

well, I’ve had it up to here

at the moment of death, metal gets hot

and people get cold

don’t talk to me about Luhansk

it’s long since turned into hansk

Lu had been razed to the ground

to the crimson pavement

my friends are hostages

and I can’t reach them, I can’t do netsk

to pull them out of the basements

from under the rubble

yet here you are, writing poems

ideally slick poems

high-minded gilded poems

beautiful as embroidery

there’s no poetry about war

just decomposition

only letters remain

and they all make a single sound — rrr

Pervomaisk has been split into pervo and maisk

into particles in primeval flux

war is over once again

yet peace has not come

and where’s my deb, alts, evo?

no poet will be born there again

no human being

I stare into the horizon

it has narrowed into a triangle

sunflowers dip their heads in the field

black and dried out, like me

I have gotten so very old

no longer Lyuba

just a -ba

Translated from the Ukrainian by Oksana Maksymchukand Max Rosochinsky


A selection from the poems of KATERYNA KALYTKO

Home is still possible there. . .

Home is still possible there, where they hang laundry out to dry,

and the bed sheets smell of wind and plum blossoms.

It is the season of the first intimacy

to be consummated, never to be repeated.

Every leaf emerges as a green blade

and the cries of life take over the night and find a rhythm.

Fragile tinfoil of the season when apricots first form

along with wars and infants, in the same spoonful of air,

in the stifling bedrooms or in the cold, from which the wandering

beg to enter, like a bloom of jellyfish, or migratory blossoms.

The April frost hunts white-eyed, sharp-clawed,

but the babies have the same fuzzy skin for protection.

What makes them different is how they break

when the time comes for them to fall, or if they get totally crushed.

Behind the wall a drunken one-armed neighbor

                                                             stumbles around his house,

confusing all the epochs, his shoulder

bumps into metal crutches from WWI,

                                                a Soviet helmet made of cardboard,

and the portrait of a man with a glance like a machine gun firing

and hangers for shirts, all of them with a single sleeve.

So they will fall and break into pieces and fates

branches parted, fruit exposed to the winds.

The neck feels squeezed, in the narrow isthmus of the throat

time just stands still and mustard gas creeps through the ditches.

All of this is but a forgotten game we play in the family backyard,

hiding amongst the laundry that hangs outside

the world becomes more fragile at each moment,

                                                and when you suddenly embrace

through the cloth — you don’t know who it is,

                                                 and whether you’ve lost or found.

And the swelling parted body of war intrudes into a blossoming heart

because we didn’t let it enter our home on a cold night to warm itself.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna


About Words for War 

The armed conflict in the east of Ukraine brought about an emergence of a distinctive trend in contemporary Ukrainian poetry: the poetry of war. Directly and indirectly, the poems collected in this volume engage with the events and experiences of war, reflecting on the themes of alienation, loss, dislocation, and disability; as well as justice, heroism, courage, resilience, generosity, and forgiveness. In addressing these themes, the poems also raise questions about art, politics, citizenship, and moral responsibility. The anthology brings together some of the most compelling poetic voices from different regions of Ukraine. Young and old, female and male, somber and ironic, tragic and playful, filled with extraordinary terror and ordinary human delights, the voices recreate the human sounds of war in its tragic complexity. This book was co-published by Academic Studies Press and Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI).

To read more of Lyuba and Kateryna’s work, among others’, explore the volume in its entirety at its dedicated site here, or consider purchasing a hard copy of Words for War directly from your local, independent bookstore or through