The Ukrainian novelist Victoria Amelina was hospitalized and remains in critical condition after a Russian missile struck a restaurant in the eastern city of Kramatorsk in Donetsk Oblast on June 27. She was dining with fellow writers Héctor Abad and Catalina Gomez, both from Colombia, who were also injured. The three have been active in war reporting and as peace activists. At least 12 people are known to have died in the attack and a further 60 were wounded.
Abad, whose books are published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the U.S., told El Pais, "“An explosion jolted us like a bolt of lightning. Time seemed to slow down as everything fell around us. My body was covered with dark splatters, so I thought I was injured, but I didn’t feel any pain. They say that when you’re hurt, sometimes there’s no pain. I stayed quiet. My ears were ringing – I still have it. People were screaming all around me from fear and pain. I somehow managed to stand up.”
Amelina has published several novels, though none yet translated into English and was expected to take up a position as writer-in-residence at the Paris location of Columbia University later this summer. She won the Joseph Conrad Literature Prize for her prose works, including the novels Dom’s Dream Kingdom and Fall Syndrome, and was a finalist for the European Union Prize for Literature and the UN Women in Arts Award. She is also founder of the New York Literature Festival, which took place in a village called New York in the Bakhmut area of Ukraine. Excerpts of her work have been published in English by Arrowsmith Press.
Starting in 2022, Amelina worked with Ukrainian NGOs, including Truth Hounds and the Center for Civil Liberties, as a field investigator of Russia’s war crimes in the liberated territories in eastern, southern, and northern Ukraine, including Kapitolivka near Izium, where she found the diary of the writer Volodymyr Vakulenko, who was killed by Russians. Her work in progress is a nonfiction book, Looking at Women Looking at War: War and Justice Diary.
PEN Ukraine said in a statement, "The shelling of Kramatorsk is another Russia war crime in Ukraine, as on 27 June 2023, the Russians deliberately launched their missiles on a civilian target in Kramatorsk where many people used to gather." PEN said it will offer updates on Amelina's condition as they are released.
Book Arsenal gathers literary community
The three writers traveled to Kramatorsk after attending the Kyiv Book Arsenal, the country's largest book fair, over the weekend. The fair offered more than 100 events and featured 200 speakers over four days in the capital. Several thousand people attended the event, including Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as 18 foreign writers, including Jonathan Littell, Peter Pomerantsev, and Witold Szablowsky. Yale historian Timothy Snyder gave a video lecture from the U.S., and Gvantsa Jobava, International Publishers Association vice president and publisher from Georgia, offered a seminar on international cooperation, according to Ukrainian trade journal Chytomo.
Bookstores served as the primary exhibitors, instead of publishers, as 80% of Ukraine's publishing and printing capacity is based in the eastern city of Kharkiv, which has been targeted by Russia during the war.
“During the last year of the full-scale war, no bomb, no siren air raid has deprived cultural, intellectual, and literary life in Ukraine. We can continue our existence,“ Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta, director of the Mystetskyi Arsenal, said at the opening of the festival.
Kateryna Ivanova, cofounder of the Knyzhkovyi Lev, an independent bookstore in Lviv, concurred. "In a broader sense, Kyiv Book Arsenal serves as a signal to readers in Ukraine and colleagues abroad that the Ukrainian book publishing industry is operational, and that, in itself, communicates a strong message," she said. "I believe that cultural events happening in Ukraine, despite all the odds, should excite, and we need this excitement."