Columbia University in the City of New York


Harriman Magazine
Photo of Victoria Amelina in front of a painting.
2024 Issue | Reflections
Remembering Victoria Amelina
by Andriy Kurkov

Victoria Amelina was slated to be the Harriman Institute’s 2023-24 resident in Paris.

During a war, time flies especially quickly. Almost all the news is from the front. Reports of missile and drone attacks on Kharkiv are replaced by reports of missile and drone attacks on Odesa—and so on, endlessly. In the whirl of this ever-changing, but constant destruction, I have the feeling that the tragic rocket attack on a pizzeria in Kramatorsk, in which the talented Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina sustained injuries that would kill her a few days later, happened a long time ago. In reality, June 27, 2023, was only a few months ago. On that date, Ukrainian literature was made poorer and lost one of its most talented and most active representatives.

Victoria Amelina was, first and foremost, a civil activist deeply concerned about her country and its future. In the short period between the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalation of Russian aggression, she managed to organize and hold a literary festival for children in New York—not the big American city but a small Donbas town founded by German Mennonites at the end of the nineteenth century. To the Mennonites, the name represented prosperity.

To save time on finding sponsors, Amelina spent her own money to create the event which, since 2021, has inspired and enlivened the residents of this little-known town. In its old cinema, writers, poets, and essayists performed and held discussions, and a new cultural community emerged before the eyes of amazed participants. The children of our Donbas New York started writing poetry and inventing fairy tales. They began to talk more often and more enthusiastically about the future, thanks to Amelina’s efforts.

But then the full-scale war came.

Now that Victoria Amelina is no longer with us, and the old cinema, which had become a cultural hub for New York residents, lies in ruins after the hit of a Russian missile, Amelina’s friends and colleagues are planning the future of this festival. It will be named after its founder, and Ukrainians have already collected enough money to stage it. The festival will take place, just as soon as the war ends, in the newly restored cinema; enough money has been raised to cover the renovation work as well.

As monuments to her short and bright life, Victoria Amelina left us with two novels, Fall Syndrome (2014) and Dom’s Dream Kingdom (2017), a children’s book, as well as some poetry and many articles and essays that demonstrate her great intelligence, self-irony, and courage—she was not deterred by the danger of combat zones, visiting them frequently, sometimes multiple times per month.

Her books are just beginning their journey to foreign readers. They are regularly reprinted in Ukraine, and I hope the same fate awaits them in other countries. If it were not for the Russian missile, the future would have us reading very different poetry and prose from Victoria Amelina. The business of documenting Russian war crimes, into which Amelina plunged headlong from the start of the aggression, greatly changed her attitude toward life and the world around her. This is evident from her last texts, filled with pain for Ukraine, for Ukrainians, and for the victims of war crimes, whose evidence she collected for future trials.

When I look at photos of her, including those from the Cartagena festival in Colombia, where we both spoke on behalf of Ukraine in January 2023, I cannot believe that she is no longer with us. It seems to me that she is nearby. Probably because I, like many of my colleagues, can very well imagine her reaction to any given situation—military or non military.

Amelina was a very open person. This openness disarmed her colleagues and at the same time facilitated complete trust in her. This trust, trust in Victoria Amelina’s every spoken or written word, remains to this day. ◆

Andriy Kurkov is a Ukrainian author and public intellectual. He was the Harriman Institute’s 2023 Writer in Residence.