Tonight we continue our conversation on Ukrainian literature which which we started last week with Iryna Starovoyt. With our guests Alena Muravska and Tobias Wals we focus on the question if Ukrainian literature has a recognizable voice and face which deserves to be heard outside Ukraine. This is closely connected with another question. Until recently Ukrainian literature didn’t attract very much attention. Russian literature from Alexander Pushkin to Joseph Brodsky dominated the scene. Who paid attention to Ukrainian poets and writers form Taras Shevchenko to Serhiy Zhadan? Definitely this picture is changing today, and rightly so. In the slipstream this raises the question what image of Ukraine slipped in our social imagination. Especially as, according to critics, Russian literature, even in all its greatness, gives voice to Russian’s imperial and colonial dreams, dehumanizing and demonizing Ukraine and the Ukrainians. In sum: translating and reading Ukrainian literature is also part of a cultural war, making room for Russia’s suppressed Other. This leads us to the third question of translation and fiction writing on Ukraine. Excellent examples are Tobias Wals’ novel Kiev op de bodem van een glas (Kyiv at the bottom of a glass) and his translations of novels of Serhiy Zhadan and the biography of Volodymyr Zelensky.
We discuss these questions with Alena Muravska and Tobias Wals. Alena Muravska, born and raised in Ukraine, has been living in the Nethelands for 20 years. Alena is of mixed Ukrainian-Tatar descent. She consciously experienced the aftermath of the Soviet regime and the first years of Ukrainian independence. In 2014, Alena initiated an Ukrainian literary club, where discussions and meetings with Ukrainian writers take place. Since Februari 2022, Alena has been speaking about Ukraine, Ukrainian culture and relations with Russia on various discussion platforms in the Netherlands (De Rode Hoed, de Balie), stimulating a direct dialogue between the Netherlands and Ukraine. Tobias Wals studied Russian and Eastern European Studies in Amsterdam and Slavonics in Leuven. He learned Ukrainian in nine months in Kyiv, where he accidentally ended up on his way to Russia. He made his debut in Tirade in early 2016, published several opinion pieces and works as a writer and translator. Het published Kiev op de bodem van een glas (2017) and recently translated with others Serhiy Rudenko’s biography of Zelensky and Vorosjylovrad of Sergiy Zhadan. His Dutch translation of Zhadan’s The Orphanage will be published soon. Currently Tobias is working on his PhD at the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History. His research concerns the German occupation of the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr and the mass murder of its Jewish inhabitants.