Ukrainian novelist Victoria Amelina has died from injuries sustained from a Russian missile attack on the eastern city of Kramatorsk in Donetsk Oblast on June 27. She was 37.
At the time of the attack, Amelina was dining at a restaurant 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. A total of 13 people, including Amelina, died in the attack, and a further 60 were wounded.
As PW reported on Friday, the three were visiting Kramatorsk after attending the Kiev Book Arsenal, Ukraine's main literary festival. All three writers were heavily involved in peace advocacy efforts. From the start of the war, Amelina had worked with Ukrainian non-governmental organizations, 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. During her investigations in Kapitolivka, near Izium, she found the diary of the writer Volodymyr Vakulenko, who was killed by Russians. She was killed before finishing a work in progress, a nonfiction book called Looking at Women Looking at War: War and Justice Diary.
Amelina is the author of the novels Dom’s Dream Kingdom and Fall Syndrome and several books of poetry. She won the Joseph Conrad Literature Prize for her prose, and was a finalist for the European Union Prize for Literature and the United Nations 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. She expected to take up a position as writer-in-residence at the Paris location of Columbia University later this summer.
In May, Amelina attended the Prix Voltaire ceremony at the World Expression Forum in Lillehammer, Norway, to accept the IPA Prix Voltaire Special Award from the International Publishers Association on behalf of the aforementioned children’s author and poet Vakulenko. She had then brought the Special Award from Norway to Vakulenko’s parents in Kapytolivka, Ukraine.
"I am a Ukrainian writer speaking on behalf of my colleague Volodymyr Vakulenko who, unlike me, didn't survive another attempt of the Russian Empire to erase Ukrainian identity," Amelina said in her speech, which is available to view on YouTube (starting at the 14-minute mark). "The Ukrainian literary community is grateful for the award. This award is unique, meaningful, and moving to us, partly because no one out of hundreds of other Ukrainian writers who, like Vakulenko, were murdered throughout Ukrainian history ever received such an international award posthumously. I am sure that Volodymyr Vakulenko would like to dedicate this award to them too."
Georgian publisher Gvantsa Jobava, v-p of the IPA, was with Amelina during her speech. "I met Victoria Amelina, the Ukrainian writer and activist, in Norway," Jobava wrote in a social media post on learning the news. "We spent a very nice evening together, we talked about everything, about Georgia and Ukraine, about war, victory and peace, about life and death, about her activism during the war. We became friends, she became very dear to me. We met each other again recently in Kyiv, at the Book Arsenal festival. I was so happy to meet her again, she was everywhere, taking part in different events and panel discussions. […] She cared about everything not only around Ukraine, but about Georgia as well. Then she hugged me and left. During all this days we were hoping that miracle will happen, but it didn’t. […] Now I realized that by going to Ukraine I was given a chance to hug this talented, brave, dear woman one last time. My heart is totally broken."
In addition, Amelina spoke with Christopher Kenneally for the Copyright Clearance Center's Velocity of Content podcast last month. "When we spoke in May for an interview about the Prix Voltaire, I was left in awe of Victoria Amelina's quiet courage and fierce determination," Kenneally said. "As the worldwide outpouring of sympathy and grief online has shown, she was impressive in so many ways: a novelist and poet; a human rights activist; a Ukrainian patriot." A video excerpt of that conversation is available, in addition to the full audio interview and transcript.
"Ninety-percent of my friends are writers, artists and activists," Amelina said during the interview. Pointing out that they are targets of the Russian army, who are actively trying to destroy Ukrainian culture, Amelina remarked "This is quite an appalling thing to think about." Amelina went on to say that though she is a human rights activist, she wants the world to understand why the country is fighting so fiercely. "We cannot have any compromise. We cannot give up neither the Donetsk, Luhansk, nor Crimea, because we know what is going on there during the occupation. The occupation is something even worse than the war. This is where people like Volodymyr Vakulenko become helpless and be tortured and executed. To me, it is very important that the world hears us and understands this."