“Feminists about the war” is a series of informal feminist talks. First-hand testimonies and thoughts of women active in civic activism before and during the full-scale Russia’s invasion are equally important as reports about political decisions.
In this material, you can read the conversation in text format. Also, you can watch the podcast with English subtitles on our YouTube.
Mano Glonti — poet, artmanager and creator of analog collages
Anna Gruver — poet, engaged in Jewish studies
Daryna Gladun — poet, researcher and perfomer
Mano: Hello everyone. Let’s get to know each other and tell a little bit about ourselves, who we are and why are we here today.
Daryna: Hi, I am Daryna, I’m a poet and a researcher, and I am from Bucha.
Anna: I am Anna, I’m a poet and a writer, I am engaged in Jewish studies, and I was born in Donetsk.
Mano:I am Mano. I believe I’m a poet and an art manager of a Ukrainian brand that makes embroidered shirts.
Let’s expand our introductions, to briefly let people know our stories since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.
Bucha, Donetsk and Kharkiv: lost home
Daryna: Up until the beginning of the full-scale invasion, I was enjoying the quiet life, working as a teacher in Bucha. Occasionally I went to the Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, where I was a junior researcher, and my days were… Well, I had one route to get to work at school, and the other route to get home from work.
I mean, I could change them, but these were some… That’s exactly why this lifestyle was interesting, because of how steady it was. For a long time, I resembled a bird, carrying straws in her beak, arranging everything to my liking.
After the beginning of the full-scale invasion I managed to visit, to live in, I don’t know, in 7 countries – I am now in the United States of America. I mean, I lived in Poland, lived in Germany, and spent some time in Norway. I mean, I am constantly moving, that’s it.
My flat in Bucha is damaged. It needs to be restored. You can toss your hand in the crack in the wall. I need to rebuild it. But for what money? We’ve been promised to have our broken windows replaced, and a marvelous news story was filmed showing how they do it. Somewhen in April, possibly in May. But guess what – my windows were broken, and broken they stay. You need money for everything…
But I’m searching for scholarships, and so, I received a scholarship in Germany, I went to Germany, I got a scholarship in Poland, I went to Poland, I was awarded a scholarship in the USA… If I will be awarded a scholarship in Australia, Oceania, or New Zealand – I am unstoppable.
Mano: You described yourself as a poet and a researcher, but I perceived you as an artist and a performer, based on what I know about you – I saw your performances…
Daryna: Well, I am an artist first and a poet second. But the text is the main media I work with.
I’ve been at a residence in Norway, where I went as an artist and performer – I knitted a scarf there. I also went to two residences, where I went as a researcher, I’m a literary scholar. On that particular one, I went as a writer.
Anna: For me, the war began long before the full-scale invasion. I mean, these are different levels, and probably, you can even imagine them as periods, I mean, as giant slabs of war.
For the ninth year, I have no home, for the ninth year I struggle to come to terms with my homelessness. I think it’s a really really long way…
There were some points when we thought that we know everything about ourselves, everything about our home, about our homelessness, but that is simply not true. Actually, full-scale invasion proved for the umpteenth time, that it is not true at all.
When the full-scale invasion hit, I was in Kharkiv with my family, and actually, almost all of my family was there, in Kharkiv. We are now in Kyiv.
For the second time, they came to my home, came to my home which is once again in the East, because it was a genuine home for my parents… And now I feel paradoxically homeless at home because Ukraine is my home. I’ve been studying in Poland, and I still do now, but I am in an individualized program of study (it is called IPS). That means I can study while staying in Ukraine. I feel like that’s the only place where I can be right now.
Mano: I am from Kharkiv, but I came to Kyiv 4 years ago. Now I’ve found a job that I like… But my parents stayed in Kharkiv, and the full-scale war found me in Kyiv…
I belong to these naive people that were sensing something in the air, but couldn’t believe that something could begin. I didn’t pack my things or anything… When everything started, I realized, that still, I looked at everything wrongly and naively. I felt a surge of energy, convinced that everything would be fine. Yes, I will stay in Kyiv, I thought. I will now put something in my backpack, we’ll go to the underground station – we’ll wait everything out. And I… when I heard that it was over, the war started, there are explosions, I couldn’t comprehend… At that point, I didn’t realize what it will bring… That was my reaction.
And then colleagues took me along to Truskavets, and from there I went to Lviv. It was tough to read the news and to perceive all the information, I greatly worried about my parents, because I have a younger sister, I have a brother – and they were all in Kharkiv. In the beginning, they didn’t plan to flee the city, then they started thinking about what to do…
They fled to Rivne. I visited them in Rivne, and then my parents decided that my sister and mother will go to the Czech Republic, we had acquaintances there. I was happy that thank God, no one convinces me to join them.
Then, unfortunately, this issue reappeared: my dad and brother asked me if I would go there and support them. So I went to the Czech Republic and spent some time there.
The feelings abroad
Mano: And I wanted to describe what you feel when you are there, and when you are here. How it was for me:
I went there, and I participated in the project of the girls that filmed women in the context of war. You know, I saw many similar projects, performance “She-war” by Kostya Vasyukov from Kharkiv… They take different archetypes of women and ask them to reflect upon their experiences of war. It’s funny that I am a refugee in that movie…
I told them that now I am in Prague, and I really want to return home. But as it turned out, that is not my story, as I came back. All my family members went abroad. I am Georgian, my relatives have Georgian citizenship, they are all abroad now.And they didn’t understand why do I come back here if my family is there.
I felt that if you are abroad, you feel like to some extent you’ve already lost your home, to some extent your language, your circle of friends, your ordinary life… And you are afraid that you won’t get it back.
When I returned here, I got it all back: I speak Ukrainian, I have my social circle, my people, something that at least resembles ordinary life. Yet, I am afraid that it will be taken away…
How did poetry change during the war?
Mano: During the full-scale war, I wrote several texts, but I don’t think of them as perfect. I don’t know how to find the right word for it… I don’t think of them as high-quality poetic texts… For me, it was more about emotions. When I felt particularly bad and when I thought that I need to dump it somewhere, that was one of my coping strategies.
Oddly enough, I mainly make paper collages, and I found it hard to search for the words, and the visual art helped me to express all these feelings… Usually, this feeling comes from the space around you: you fall into a certain state, and in this state, you start feeling some kind of metaphor, some image, it comes – and you write. Since the beginning of the full-scale war, I can’t re-enter that state, to allow myself to feel what surrounds me in space. I began doubting my ability to actually write something.
I wonder how it was for you? How do you usually write? And did it change now?
Daryna: My creative process has changed: before I wrote for myself. I still have several years-old texts that no one has seen… But then the war began… I was abroad alone… I first went to Kolbuszova in Poland, then I went to my Polish translator…
Next to Krakov… It was in Krakov that I wrote my first poem since the beginning of the full-scale invasion… It was cold, I felt lonely, I sat alone in the cold flat, I had two sweaters – and I had to constantly do laundry since I didn’t even have any spare clothes.
Coming from this, I started to write to, so to say, not to lose my mind…To stay in touch with myself, to convince myself that I exist, I am valuable, and my experience has the right to exist, and my safety is OK, that I am still whole – it took a long time for me. Among other ways, I did it via poetry – and my texts became my means of communication.
If up until the beginning of the full-scale invasion I created my texts as performances: if you get it, you get it, if not – not a big deal… The full-scale invasion began, and I stopped clinging to the artistry, to the image – I just let myself go. I needed to have my thought perceived unambigously by everyone that reads my text.
If I write about the enemy, by no means is it an abstract enemy – it’s a Russian soldier, text always mentions that they’re from Russia, that they will go to Russia, that it happens there… It has become essential, and it became important to convey. When I re-read my texts written in March, I can’t say that I am particularly satisfied with them, but I am not ashamed of them either.
Under those conditions, I wrote what I wrote – I perceive them as more of a diary, a document. For me, the time to estimate their artistic merit will not come tomorrow or the day after tomorrow… For me, they fulfilled their purpose by 200%. My mom started reading my texts, we had dozens of truly powerful discussions about our experiences and so on…
I would say that I significantly improved my relationship with mom, as I started writing something she began to read, she started responding and sharing. And under these circumstances… I believe that it’s the most important thing my poetry ever has done for me, and it never has done anything better…
I will recite a poem that we wrote together with Lesyk Panasiuk. It is called “to call everybody by their name”.
- three hundred nameless
carrying their names in hands behind their backs
bone to bone
muscle to muscle
we put the memory of them in our poems
- ones that were saved from life by death
their mouths holes agape
- outside it is not death that glistens with the whiteness of bones amidst tree leaves
you look closer
death it is
outside it is not death that blooms on tree branches
you look closer
death it is
outside it is not death that chirps like a bird amidst white branches amidst white blossom
you look closer
death it is
you that saved so many people from life
call everyone by their name
its mouth hole agape
- not the bones of the earth
not the blood of the sky
not the voices of the war
- who’s all our memory about then
and our words are about nobody
our bones our muscles and blood are about nobody
hair falls out nails break cheeks get sunken in the mouths
- bone to bone
blood to blood
death to death
for nobody for everybody
sticks to blood bones to tapwater to sand on the temple to fingers to nose to
the jaw to every skull
to hems of long skirts and pants like thistles begs
to keep it until better times at least in the mouth of one of the three hundred nameless
I look closer
death it is
Anna: I would say that war has probably returned many people to, let’s call it, traditional poetry. First, it is laden with traditional narratives. Second, it has a traditional syllabic structure, with painfully familiar rhythms. When you read the text that was written now, it seems like it was written about WWII. Speaking of the full-scale invasion, I had been in Kharkiv up until the beginning of March. In the middle of March, I was already in Dnipro.
Alex Averbuch organized a Zoom event where we recited poetry in Ukrainian, while translators recited them in Hebrew, and it made me feel uneasy. It seemed like I lost my abilities for the time when I was in Dnipro. I mean, Dnipro is roughly 4 hours away from Kharkiv, so it isn’t far… and I remember how a missile shrieked in the air above my head. It was during my first trip to Dnipro when I first heard the air-raid alarm.
And then, that same evening, my friend from Lviv called me. Then I calmly realized, that similar to different levels war had till that moment, we also have different realities of this war, different experiences. I understood: there is one reality of war in Kharkiv, another in Dnipro, and another, completely different, in Lviv. But still, it is war.
I mean, I was in Dnipro and I couldn’t get used to not constantly hearing the sounds of explosions. Instead, I heard the sirens that calmed me down, signaling that I am safe. It was a signal of the fact that you get warned of the danger, it’s important.
And the realities were so different… But even in Dnipro I couldn’t write, I mean I wrote one poem. Now I read it as a shriek… of some sort… I came to Lviv with almost zero belongings. I had a suitcase where… I have, you know… some ugly clothes you don’t actually like. I felt like I was always dirty, even though the dirt wasn’t real.
It isn’t about people that want to show you’re a refugee, even inside your country. But I remember going for a walk with a guy that I knew only from the Internet… It was the first time we met… What I had on was a jacket I always wore in the shelter in Kharkiv, you feel that this jacket is from there, and so are you. And here is the guy, wearing the coat, standing against typical Lviv background, and you walk and think: “I also have a coat” (smiles).
In Lviv, I felt that I can… I can speak. But I realized that I can speak in a completely different way than before. I started feeling a certain kind of anger, intellectual anger: I realized that now Russians deprive me of the opportunity to think in ways other than via brief messages.
To think deeper than with superficial metaphors, to think deeper than with poetry that stinks like it was pulled out of grannie’s closet, to think deeper… Though for us this poetry can… however superficial it may be…
I cried my eyes out after reading mediocre poems, as I realize how they work: they hit me where I need it… I remember that first moment when I sat and wrote for two hours straight… I began a cycle called “I just want to share a moment”.
It is called that way, because just before the full-scale invasion that one European from Germany sent me the photos of the Moscow Opera and didn’t write the name… I recognized it. “Moscow?” – I asked, and he said: “Yes, that’s your opera”. I have a poem about this. And I asked him if he understood what was happening. That Russia is at the door of my country, that it tries to take away my home for the second time…
The name of the poem comes from our messages. He answered: “I just want to share the moment”, meaning that music is cool, even in Moscow. And so I began writing a documentary, absolutely documentary cycle where I testify about what is happening…
I’m talking to you, fashion industry with your hands dirty and your cuffs dusted
I bought these heavy boots in Europe,
these heavy brown boots,
these comfy laced boots
in the spring of 2019 I left my e-mail at the counter
and this year I received notifications about discounts in the shelter as bombs were falling on the city,
Bright Gifts to Celebrate Her –
I got these e-mails when I managed to get a signal near the parking entrance.
I just want to share a moment:
Clad in them, I am now passing by
the dresses: diaphanous light dresses on the carcasses of the mannequins
pale horrified dresses pressed to the wall,
fade stung by the Sun’s sting, wartime city prayers,
some of the storefronts are boarded up
but no one
tapes crosses on this unprotected glass, why us? how are we guilty? mere dresses: petals on thin stalks of the racks, pale-green
— almost a ghost of the fabric
almost its worn mark behind the glass that vanishes in thin air of war,
the carcass of the mannequin resembling a female silhouette,
it seems like it doesn’t have a woman’s face but actually
actually it has the face of woman:
raped, tortured, mutilated, dead women.
Now the only season is war, and alive people, dressed in war uniforms,
ignore the world
of the imitation of beauty,
imitation of art,
imitation of flower fragrance in the bottle of perfume distilled from artificial privileges,
double glazing, Kristallnacht, a memory of Riefenstahl, co-co-co, Chanel.
The force will be released out of glass, out of the empty shell of simulacrum of beauty,
it will tear the polyethylene layer, when flowers are the only ones to explode,
and out of the rose water
and out of bottles in perfumeries hydrangeas, moss,
vervain, tulips, and tobacco will grow.
we will walk down the streets,
we, the nudity
we, the nerve
and no, it’s not the quotas we need, but the right to equality.
Mano: I’ve got a text that I called a documentary poem, and it was also written after the beginning of the full-scale invasion.
I wrote a text where not a word belonged to me. I watched the news on Suspilne, read media reports, and wrote down the phrases that were close to my heart. So, at first, I collected the material, and then, when I felt that yes, now I want to write a text – I opened my notes and created a text out of these phrases When we are talking about war, it is close to all of us, someone really feels and understands us – and for me, it was… yet another revelation…
I realized that people are in need of poetry, that’s it. Don’t know how it was for you, but all 27 years I walk on this Earth, I kept thinking: who needs that poetry… People aren’t capable of visiting performances, and can’t do anything aside from watching the news… but they do read poetry… That was the moment I realized it and wrote: “It turns out that poetry is the art for the toughest times…”.
Is it a pear or apricot tree?
These are three wounded people,
We’ve been under shellings
Since the first days of the war
At seven o’clock when we wake up
Go feed the cats
Rely on Motherland
Endure… a lot
To feel pure from inside
Recent air raid alarm
Screamed at me:
“Life is life!
Life goes on”
(I’m so happy for those
that can allow it)
There are timeless values
There is our country’s future – what a wonderful sound
This I would like to keep
Is it a pear or apricot tree?
These are three wounded people,
I’ll stay here till darkness
And then will go home
Do you see by the eyes?
I am recognized.
Feminism in the poetry
Mano: What do you think, do you need to publish a poetry collection in order to identify as a poet? Yes or no, and why? And how can we find out that a person is a poet – subjectively, in your opinion? This leads to another question: what is needed in order to identify yourself as a feminist?
Daryna: For me, it works like this, both about being a poet and a feminist: if you’re ready for that, and you think of yourself as a poet, you can then call yourself a poet. I believe that it is not even necessary to write anything.
I mean, if someone approached me and said: “I’m a poet”, I would believe them, even if they didn’t write a single text. I’m a feminist. I don’t belong to any movements. I mean, I collaborate with feminist organizations, but I act independently. I practice feminism and live surrounded by feminist ideas.
Mano: And what about the texts? Do you have feminist texts?
Daryna: That’s a tough one. I believe, from what I’ve written over the last three years, there are no non-feminist texts…
That’s a tough question. I never set a goal of composing activist poetry, so I’m not trying to infuse it with anything. At the same time, I write about my experience. I have plenty of texts about women’s experiences of my great-grandma, that fled for 3000 km during WWII, all whilst being pregnant with my grandma – that was how she met 1941.
She was still alive when… I mean, she died in 2011, and I remember her… Texts about granny’s experiences in the Soviet Union, how she had to move to get her documents and to be more mobile, to earn a living and help her relatives. About mum’s experiences, and the collapse of the Soviets… So, about all these women’s experiences.
It’s not that it’s easier for me to write on these topics. These women’s socialization is an extraordinary source, and that’s what makes me write about it. Maybe, you can call these feminist texts.
I have a text about a Russian soldier who inserts a menstrual cup in his vagina, because… … I have no idea what they have been doing in our apartments. I mean, they stole the laundry. That is just… I mean, that is such a shame… And that’s what I’m talking about. I understand that it’s not a feminist text, but when I get asked, I have this trauma. And the trauma goes like this: “Russian soldiers were rummaging in your cabinets with tampons and two menstrual cups. How do you like it, Daryna?”. And I’m like: “Whatever”.
That is more of my trauma, but that’s what I am thinking about when I am asked about feminist texts. I instantly go like: “And this text…”, and then I’m like: “Hey, it’s not a feminist text…”
Mano: I would say I’m a bit quiet when it comes to naming myself. I mean, I write poetry, but I think of myself as more of a failed poet, as I never managed to get published… I liked how Daryna said that you can say you’re a poet, and that’s it. – No one will question it.
I think that I am quiet regarding certain things. If I say I’m a poet, I do it quietly. Yeah. The same with being a feminist. Just like Daryna, I don’t belong to any organizations, but I think of myself as a feminist. That manifests in my personal everyday experience…
When I have to fight for the right to be who I want to be – that’s feminism. Unfortunately, I have a family that… My Georgian traditionalist, conservative dad with respective views, and so on… And I believe, that’s another way to show my position: I’m not saying: “OK, let it be”. Instead, I show that I have a right to something.
Inside my personal little world and in my life, it manifests through certain actions and acts… It can also show itself more, when I attend protests and meetings, taking a stand and voicing my views.
As for the texts, I also never regarded them through this lens, never thought of how feminist they are. I haven’t written activist poetry, either… Although I had a friend that said that the poet has to be popular when he lives because he needs to reflect upon the events that are happening now and cover these events. I don’t have plenty of such texts that were written after something happened, and I decided to speak about it right away.
Daryna: To identify oneself as a feminist when the patriarchy takes away your right to voice your views…
I was always amused by women that say that they are not feminists and attend antifeminist protests. I am like: “You do get that the fact that you are able to attend the protests is the accomplishment of feminism”.
That’s about your voice being important, about me being able to call myself a poet without needing to prove anything, because – guess what – my reputation lets me simply state it as a fact.
That’s it. It’s not about somebody being worse, no. It’s about me being human, me existing, me having rights, and me being the same as you. I am not second-rate, not “second sex” solely because that I don’t have a dick between my legs.
Mano: I often heard these phrases coming from my relatives, like: “If you were a boy… If only you were a man, then you…” But sorry, you’re a Georgian girl, and that’s why…
When you need to convince your dearest people that you have a right to something, and you have a right to express your views because you’re a woman.
Daryna: And you are entitled to speak because you exist – these are the basics of humanism.
I come from a highly traditional Ukrainian family. I was expected to achieve what a woman needs to achieve, according to patriarchal views. That’s why when I got divorced, I would say, my family didn’t meet it with a proper level of understanding. I constantly have to fight with them for every millimeter that doesn’t meet their expectations about what I need to be as a woman, for every millimeter that diverges from their ideal of the patriarchal woman, I have to fight.
Otherwise, not a month would pass, and here come the claws of the patriarchy. You constantly need to be like: “Yes, I am independent, and I earn my living”. And I will need to keep doing it, unfortunately.
Anna: Regarding your words – I believe that even if we don’t conceptualize it this way, still, we write feminist texts, as this is about the lens. Even if the given text doesn’t address women…
I had certain requirements for myself, criteria higher than those that I applied to others. I wanted to convince myself that I truly am a feminist. My changing point, after which I could finally identify myself as such, was when I translated from Polish an essay by Irena Krzywicka. She was a feminist at the beginning of the 20th century, during Interbellum. It was awfully interesting and awfully significant. Hers was such a powerful voice of her time, that it seemed that it sounds today. I had a feeling that she speaks to us now, and you can listen, I mean read and scrutinize the text, as if it was written today.
Then, during the Polish protests, there was a student strike. The only way to hold it was in the online format, meaning that we didn’t attend online lessons. Some of our lecturers supported us as well, but I thought we need to make it more heard in Ukraine.
I made a translation collection for Kyiv daily. Then they made a voluminous collection of contemporary Polish poetry composed by women. Then I realized that it was the first publication over the time of their protests. As a rule, contemporary Polish poets don’t post their poems on Facebook right away. For them, it seems peculiar: they publish their poems first, make a Facebook post second. I realized that my quick reaction made them, in turn, react really quickly. They send us the original texts, and the result of our collaboration was that we made the first such publication focusing on the protests…
Their symbol was a lightning bolt. I remember how the Polish poet who’s really important to me has written on her Facebook that a lightning bolt is always followed by thunder. Really powerful.
Maria Markevich has made a DJ set featuring the poetry from the cycle I wrote in 2018. It is called “One of us”, and I can call it feminist writing without a trace of doubt. It was both perceived and written as such text. It also tells about what my granny and my great-grandmother were experiencing and living through…
There is that one poem that still makes me hurt, this experience makes me hurt. It’s a poem about women working in mines. Mines and mining are thought of as not being a woman’s job. My poem even has that line: “It’s not a woman’s job, that mining – that was what granny said, pushing the wagon”.
As someone who is now interacting with the feminists from the USA, I believe, you get it… I’m not particularly enjoying this communication. Since they take different stances regarding the war with Russia, who should stop it, and so on… Yeah. In general, I noticed that the right movements are radicalizing.
Risks and threats to the feminist movement
Daryna: Both in the US and in Poland, right movements are really powerful. Wherever I went, it was everywhere. They either try to enforce a ban on abortions…
In the USA, you know, I live in Vermont, which is a liberal state, in New Hampshire. After the elections, abortions most likely will be prohibited here. I am not a US citizen, but once again, the US government is trying to fasten its claws in my vulva… That’s why my fears are not actually related to the feminist movement in Ukraine.
From what I see among women refugees and what I support myself – there is an unprecedented level of solidarity among women refugees. We are uniting. If someone has children, we are babysitting, when needed. Just because who will do it, who will help this woman, who else but me?
We also realize projects for women… In spring, I will make a project for three Ukrainian women-refugees-mothers which would be translated into English – and other women will make translations. It will center on the experiences of these women.
My fears are not related to feminist movements, much less in Ukraine. I am afraid of the radicalization of the right movements, about them gaining such power that would be difficult to counterbalance. Especially considering the fact that Ukraine currently receives a great amount of support coming from the United States and, especially, from Poland, where abortions are already prohibited. Where the right powers are incredibly strong, and dozens of our people live in Poland.
Once the war will be over, they will return – then we’ll have to do what it takes to prevent this turn from happening…
Anna: What particularly scares me about it – Daryna has already mentioned it – it’s a context of the solidarization of some kind. The fact is, it can work both ways.
When the solidarization with Russian women will be imposed on us, as it was done (sorry) by the Catholic church, but if it will be made from the feminist point of view…
When it will be ubiquitous, this “You are sisters, so unite! It’s about all of us”. And for us… These are the things we can’t discuss briefly now. So, I only want to briefly state this problem, as it will definitely be relevant, and it will come from Europe and the US. It will happen 100 percent…
These views are going to be considered progressive, and if you will speak up against them, you will be considered retrograde. And then we would have to explain: “We did read your Judith Butler, thanks a lot”.
It will be, actually, it’s gonna be tough. I want to say, that we need to create, we need to work at proving our intellectual ability. We can’t let these internal mechanisms create an internal enemy, we can’t let them ruin it. We need to unite about it, as it’s gonna be unspeakably tough, especially once the war is over.
Mano: It may sound corny, but I want to express my gratitude… I am honestly so proud of Ukrainian women and feminists. Even the obvious, yeah. The full-scale war begins, and the problems arise regarding, I don’t know…
Even the tips and posts on social media stating that due to the stress, you may experience vaginal bleeding, how to handle it, how to stop it, and free consultations for women – it was all so important!
Since it was so scary and unclear, and when you get support even in such little details, there is information and so on…
That’s it, something simple to say by the end… to say thank you. I think that we are going to make it, we can do it, because we are smart and brave.
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