Culture Must Not Be Silent


A man of many talents, poet, novelist, essayist, translator, performer and director, SERHIY ZHADAN is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars of Ukrainian cultureand also of this year's Book World Prague. He was welcomed by hundreds of spectators and readers at the festival.

Serhiy was in Prague also last year when he performed with his group Sobaky. This year, in addition to the concert he also presented his new novel Internat (TheOrphanage). Friday's meeting with visitors to the fair was not just about writing, they discussed the direction of Ukrainian culture, aid and the current and futuresituation. Serhiy was very energetic, he spoke quickly, passionately, interestingly. He easily engaged the audience in the discussion. The otherwise shy audiencethen asked one question after another. It was no surprise that many of the visitors were Serhiy's countrymen who found refuge in the Czech Republic.

"From the beginning of the aggression, I had problems creating anything," admitted Serhiy. "The words were suddenly not enough, they were limiting. ButI remember very well the first moment when we started playing again and suddenly everything made sense. We played in the subway in Kharkiv where hundreds ofresidents were hiding. We had a guitar, we started singing, the kids joined in and I suddenly understood. I realised that even in the situation we were in, it wasnecessary to continue giving concerts and organizing meetings. Culture must not be silent; it must go on. When everyone is singing, there's energy, power."Serhiy's new novel Internat (The Orphanage) is set in eastern Ukraine and it is of course influenced by the war. 

"The main character goes to pick up his nephew inanother city, when a big offensive begins, which complicates his journey and changes him," revealed Serhiy and also reflected on the concept of hero and heroism."In Ukraine, heroism takes on a different dimension, actually many dimensions. A hero is a person who picks up a weapon and fights. But a hero is also a civilianwho saves others or a volunteer or a person who saves our cultural heritage, our monuments," Serhiy added and shared with the visitors a story of one heroismwhich may not look like heroism at first glance but it definitely is. 

"It is about my friend serving in the Ukrainian army. She learned that a group of people, bothadults and children, remained in the so-called grey zone between our and the Russian army far from Kharkiv. They didn't have time to evacuate and didn't knowwhat to do, where to go or whether to stay. She changed to civilian clothes, got to them and began to convince them that they had to leave everything and quicklymove to the Ukrainian side. They didn't want to go, they protested, they were rude to her, but she didn't give in. She took two children by the hand and left. Thanksto her insistence, the others actually left, too. They all managed to get to Kharkiv in time and were safe. My friend showed immense bravery and strength not onlyby going after these people, but also by persuading them to follow her. She wanted to save them no matter what and she managed it. And that too is heroism." 

The debate then turned to the question of the difficult position of the Ukrainian language. "There are people who live in Ukraine but don't want to speak Ukrainian.Abroad, people ask me in surprise if Russian and Ukrainian are so different. Ukrainian is our internal language problem," admitted Serhiy. Another question heanswered was about the Ukrainian young generation. What are they like? "Young people who are sixteen, seventeen, eighteen are just discovering Ukrainiannessfor themselves. It may be difficult to understand that until then they spoke Russian, watched the Russian program and only now they are discovering their history,a new universe, and starting from scratch, but it is so. They are just starting to realize who they are," explained Serhiy who is very active on TikTok where herecites his verses and has many young followers. 

Serhiy's view on the current and future Ukrainian literature, on how it was affected by the war, was alsointeresting. "A lot will be written about the war, it will certainly influence literature, but that time hasn't come yet. Now it is mainly poetry and short texts that arewritten. We need some distance for longer texts. I can see a lot of interest from abroad where they would like to know our view of the war, to see it in a differentway than through the news, but we can't fulfil this demand now. We need some time." 

Serhiy himself has published a book of Facebook posts that have a greatinformative value about the situation in which Ukraine and its people find themselves. "If someone had told me two years ago that I would publish a book ofFacebook posts, I would have laughed at them saying what would be the point of such a book. But now I know that the German publisher who wanted that booka lot was right. It was worth it. It showed the world the war from a different point of view than it is presented in the news."

Serhiy added that he greatly appreciatesthe invitation to Book World Prague because it is culture that helps nations to communicate and people to understand the situation. "Culture is important alsoduring the war. Especially during the war!"