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10 authors shaping contemporary Ukrainian literature

The Kyiv Independent has put together a list of 10 interesting writers in Ukraine today, some of whose works are already available in English translation.

by Kate Tsurkan June 5, 2024 9:18 PM 11 min read
A collage of 10 authors shaping contemporary Ukrainian literature. (The Kyiv Independent)

The Kyiv Independent has put together a list of 10 interesting writers in Ukraine today, some of whose works are already available in English translation.

by Kate Tsurkan June 5, 2024 9:18 PM 11 min read
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Ukraine has a thriving contemporary literature scene with writers from across the country working in multiple genres. There’s a wide variety of texts for readers to choose from, whether they prefer the immersive realm of a science fiction novel or a work of thought-provoking literary criticism.

This persistence of literary culture during the full-scale Russian invasion serves as a testament to Ukrainian authors’ talents—bookstores continue to open across the country, and literary festivals and book events consistently draw major crowds.

The cultural renaissance underway in Ukraine post-2014 is also significant given Russia's centuries-long history of attempting to suppress the Ukrainian language and persecute Ukrainian authors through bans, imprisonment, and violence. Yet again Ukrainian culture is under threat, but many writers have either enlisted in Ukraine’s Armed Forces or taken up volunteer work to defend it.

Here’s a list of 10 interesting writers in Ukraine today, some of whose works are already available in English translation.

Serhiy Zhadan

A portrait of Serhiy Zhadan at the opening of the new bookstore ‘Sens’ on Khreshchatyk street in Kyiv, Ukraine on Feb. 16, 2024. (Dmytro Larin/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Ukraine’s most celebrated author today both at home and abroad, Serhiy Zhadan has become the voice of a wartime generation. Zhadan’s prose and poetry frequently explore themes of national identity and consciousness, as well as the impact of Russia’s war on the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.

In his novel "The Orphanage," the reader witnesses the start of the war in Donetsk in 2014 through the eyes of an apolitical school teacher. Zhadan’s novel "Voroshilovhrad" follows a young man who leaves Kharkiv for his native Starobilsk in Luhansk Oblast to assume responsibility for his brother's gas station after his disappearance while contending with local criminals who want to take control of it.

What makes Zhadan’s work so appealing to his fans is that he is constantly experimenting with new forms of storytelling. Before the start of the full-scale invasion, he penned an operatic libretto about Wilhelm von Habsburg, otherwise known as Vasyl Vyshyvanyi, an Austrian archduke who embraced the Ukrainian identity and fought for Ukrainian independence until his death in 1948 in a Soviet police prison.

Andriy Lyubka

Andriy Lyubka. (Andriy Lyubka / Facebook)

A talent across literary genres, Andriy Lyubka began his career with poetry before focusing more on fiction and nonfiction prose. His body of work has consistently been imbued with a sense of irreverence and humor even as much of it contends with the weight of searching for meaning in a complex and often cruel world. His satirical debut novel “Carbide,” which was published in English translation in 2019, follows a drunken history professor in a small Transcarpathian town who after the Euromaidan Revolution of 2014 naively enlists the help of local criminals to dig a tunnel into the European Union and smuggle all 40 million-plus Ukrainians into Europe.

His latest book of essays, "War from the Rear," released to wide acclaim in Ukraine in late 2024, details his adventures as a volunteer for the armed forces after the start of the full-scale invasion. The book recounts his experiences ranging from the comic to alarming not only purchasing but delivering hundreds of vehicles to the front line, all the while coming to terms with lingering prejudices (concerning religion, for example) that no longer apply when everyone is involved and doing their own part in the fight for survival.

Yuri Andrukhovych

Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych poses during a portrait session in Nantes,France on May 18, 2014. (Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)

Yuri Andrukhovych was a pioneer of Ukrainian language and culture even during the times of the Soviet Union, when it could land people in serious trouble with the authorities. In 1985, he co-founded the legendary Bu-Ba-Bu ("burlesque, balagan, and buffonada") literary performance group with Viktor Neborak and Oleksandr Irvanets. This ensemble boldly explored through the prism of the carnivalesque the cultural landscape of the Soviet Union’s decline and Ukraine’s push toward independence. Today, Andrukhovych's work continues to captivate readers, showcasing not only his lyrical wit but also his remarkable ability to interlace multiple literary allusions and important cultural and historical figures in his texts, situating Ukrainian literature within a larger European narrative.

His novel "The Moscoviad," translated into English in 2009, chronicles the absurd events of a single day in the life of a Ukrainian poet in Moscow as he tries to secure his passage back to Kyiv. This work has since become a cornerstone of postcolonial literature. "Radio Night," Andrukovych’s most recent novel that is currently being translated, has been described by the author himself as "a novel that has a sound." It follows the story of a former revolutionary who becomes the host of a radio program broadcasting music and poetry from a prison island.

Oksana Zabuzhko

Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko attends a press conference prior to the opening of the 74th Berlinale, Europe's first major film festival of the year, in Berlin, Germany on Feb. 15, 2024. (John Macdougall / AFP via Getty Images)

Oksana Zabuzhko is perhaps best known among foreign readers for her groundbreaking novels like “Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex” and “The Museum of Abandoned Secrets,” both of which address questions of personal and collective memory as well as that of national identity and consciousness. "Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex" is also a raw introspective of gender dynamics and power struggles in Ukrainian society through the stream-of-consciousness narrative of its female protagonist, while “The Museum of Abandoned Secrets” is a daunting multi-generational epic that reflects on important elements of Ukrainian history such as the Holodomor and the role of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

However, some of Zabuzhko’s most engaging work has arguably been done in literary criticism. The book “Notre Dame d’Ukraine: Ukrainka in the Conflict of Mythologies” examines the work of 19th-century author Lesia Ukrainka to illuminate aspects of Ukrainian culture and society that Russia has long sought to suppress. The book challenges the derogatory term "little Russians" used by Russia for centuries to describe Ukraine and highlights the richness of Ukrainian cultural identity that has persisted despite Russia's efforts to dismiss and marginalize it. With a foreign audience in mind, Zabuzhko recently wrote “The Longest Journey,” which breaks down the historical origins of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Irena Karpa

Ukrainian writer Irena Karpa attends the presentation of her recent novel, "Just Don't Tell Anyone About It," at the Vagabundo Underground Passage, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine on Sep. 5, 2022. (Yurii Rylchuk/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Beloved by readers for her unflinchingly bold, sensual, and provocative prose, Irena Karpa challenges the conventions of a society that in many respects remains deeply rooted in tradition. Despite—or perhaps because of—her audacious literary style, she has secured her place as one of Ukraine’s most popular authors. Having lived abroad for many years now, Karpa infuses her prose with a cosmopolitan sensibility that transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries. Her writing is enriched by its candid social commentary and a steadfast commitment to authenticity, creating a work that resonates deeply across audiences.

Her latest novel, "Just Don’t Tell Anyone About It” became a bestseller during the full-scale invasion. It tells the journey of Margo, a beautiful Ukrainian woman residing in Paris. Margo aspires to overcome her sex addiction to achieve a fairy tale romance with the man she loves back in Ukraine. Parallel to her personal struggles, Margo becomes captivated by the exploits of a vigilante in Kyiv who targets men guilty of abusing women.

Karpa’s literary prowess extends beyond fiction, though—her nonfiction prose includes the whimsical relationship guide "How to Get Married As Many Times As You Want." Recognizing the therapeutic power of writing, Karpa has also conducted writing workshops across Europe for the Ukrainian diaspora. Her commitment to healing through words culminated in the curation of a collection, "I (don’t) know how to write about it," featuring writing by Ukrainian women on the full-scale invasion.

Oksana Lutsyshyna

Oksana Lutsyshyna. (Oksana Lutsyshyna / Facebook)

Oksana Lutsyshyna, a celebrated novelist, poet, and literary scholar originally from Uzhhorod but based in the U.S., incorporates feminism as a cornerstone of much of her writing. Her female characters often take a stand in some form or another against the silencing forces of a patriarchal society. Most English-language readers were introduced to her work through her acclaimed novel "Ivan and Phoebe," which won her Ukraine’s prestigious Shevchenko Prize in 2021 and appeared in English translation in 2023. In the novel, Lutsyshyna portrays the gradual disintegration of a marriage in the 1990s in Uzhhorod. Ivan, the titular character, is a disillusioned former revolutionary who participated in the Revolution on Granite but is struggling to adapt to the mundanity of everyday life. Meanwhile, his wife, Maria, who goes by Phoebe, suffers as motherhood and an unfulfilling marriage swallow up her dreams of becoming a poet.

Lutsyshyna’s novel, "Love Life," published in English translation in 2024, delves into themes of self-discovery as its protagonist grapples with heartbreak and the challenges of establishing a new life in a foreign country. Lutsyshyna's work not only illuminates the personal struggles faced by her characters but also serves as a pointed critique of the broader societal norms that perpetuate gender inequality. Her heroines, while confronted with formidable challenges, are never portrayed as entirely helpless. They embody a profound realism in their suffering and an unwavering determination to live with dignity, showcasing resilience and strength despite the adversities they encounter.

Artem Chapeye

Artem Chapeye at Authors’ Reading Month in Wrocław, Poland in 2015. (Rafał Komorowski / Wikimedia)

While much of Artem Chapeye’s work is rooted in the Ukrainian experience, his left-leaning, anti-authoritarian perspective brings a universal appeal to his writing that will resonate with readers worldwide. His collection “The Ukraine,” which was published in English translation to critical acclaim in 2024, includes both fiction and nonfiction pieces that take the reader on a journey across Ukraine. In some stories, stereotypes about a stark divide between the east and west of the country are dismantled through interactions between characters from both regions. Terms like “Banderite” or “Makhnovite” suddenly lose their accusatory undertones with such encounters, and these moments emphasize the unifying factors of dialogue and open-mindedness as steadfast remedies to bridge perceived differences and guard against propaganda meant to divide a society. In other stories, inconvenient truths about corruption and poverty in Ukrainian society linger, serving as reminders that no country is perfect and that the pursuit of progress is an ongoing effort.

Since the start of the full-scale invasion, Chapeye has been serving in Ukraine’s Armed Forces.

Lyubko Deresh

Lyubko Deresh. (Lyubko Deresh / Facebook)

Lyubko Deresh shot to fame in Ukraine for his novel “Cult” when he was still a teenager. The novel is memorable for its exploration of societal taboos and is driven by a timeless struggle between moral dichotomies. Through his intriguing characters, Deresh’s novels have continued over the years to probe the existential depths of the human condition. His works have been widely translated into multiple European languages, but English-language readers will unfortunately have to wait a little longer before getting better acquainted with him. His latest novel, “Where the Wind Blows,” follows a beloved turned critically panned writer who, against the backdrop of Russia’s war, ends up accompanying a group of first-year university students as a gonzo journalist on a journey across Ukraine, leading him to engage with the world around him anew and try to better understand his role in it.

Since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, Deresh has been working as a volunteer and creative writing mentor for Ukrainians—including civilians, active military personnel, and veterans—who have witnessed Russian aggression.

Artem Chekh

Artem Chekh. (Artem Chekh / Facebook)

Artem Chekh’s success as a writer was cemented by his essay collection, “Absolute Zero,” a reflection on his military service in the Armed Forces of Ukraine from 2015 to 2016 that began as posts on Facebook. In the book, Chekh’s prose offers an realistic, unromanticized portrayal of life during wartime. At the start of the full-scale invasion in 2022, Chekh resumed his military service as well as writing stirring and sometimes unsettling reflections on war, including how he, as a soldier, has had to come to terms with the possibility of his death.

However, his literary talent is not limited to war commentary—Chekh also excels as a fiction writer. His bestselling novel “Who Are You?” traverses the tumultuous landscape of 1990s Ukraine and explores the relationship between a young boy and a veteran suffering from PTSD following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The novel has been adapted into the film “Rock, Paper, Grenade” by his wife Iryna Tsilyk. Chekh’s latest novel “Song of the Open Road,” which was released in 2024, is a historical adventure novel about a former Ukrainian serf who finds himself in the U.S. fighting on the side of the North during the American Civil War.

Oleh Sentsov

Ukrainian filmmaker, writer, and activist Oleg Sentsov, originally from Crimea, poses in the city of Kramatorsk, Ukraine on July 12, 2022. (Miguel Medina / AFP via Getty Images)

Better known in Ukraine and abroad for his work as a filmmaker, Oleh Sentsov is equally gifted as a prose writer. His narrative style has a unique and compelling immediacy that engages readers so vividly, that they feel as if they are seated directly before him, absorbed in the unfolding of his story. This remarkable ability to captivate and enchant his audience is a testament to his literary gift, transforming reading into an immersive, almost conversational experience. “Life Went On Anyway,” his autobiographical story collection published in English translation in 2019, recounts moments from his childhood into young adulthood that shaped him into the man he would later become. In 2014, Sentsov opposed the illegal annexation of his native Crimea and was jailed for five years in a Russian prison. “Diary of a Hunger Striker,” which was released in English translation in 2024, details his grueling 145-day-long hunger strike in an effort to secure the release of all the Kremlin’s Ukrainian prisoners of war. At the same time, the book is also a reflection on literature, music, and film. Senstov has also dabbled in fiction—his science fiction novel  “The Second One Is Also Worth Buying” is about an alien invasion.

Sentsov joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine following Russia’s full-scale invasion and has since released short films taken on helmet cameras from the trenches.

‘Everyone says culture has nothing to do with it. It does’ — Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Rafeyenko on Russia’s war
Ukrainian author Volodymyr Rafeyenko never thought he would write a novel in Ukrainian. He was a native of Donetsk, an eastern Ukrainian city where he grew up speaking Russian and completed a degree in Russian philology. Early on in his career, he was the winner of some of Russia’s

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