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Opinion: Remembering Ukrainian poet Victoria Amelina

A woman holds a picture of Victoria Amelina, as pallbearers carry her coffin at the end of her funeral ceremony in Mykhaylo Gold Domes in Kyiv on July 4, 2023.
Sergei Supinsky
AFP via Getty Images
A woman holds a picture of Victoria Amelina, as pallbearers carry her coffin at the end of her funeral ceremony in Mykhaylo Gold Domes in Kyiv on July 4, 2023.

This is how Colonel General Andrey Kartapolov described the recent Iskander missile strike on the Ria pizza restaurant in Kramatorsk, Ukraine:

"The strike on Kramatorsk was a real beauty," the Colonel General told Russian state television about the rocket attack that killed 13 people, and wounded at least 60. "I bow my head to those who planned it," he continued. "Not a blow, but a song. My old military heart rejoices."

The writer Victoria Amelina was in the restaurant when the missile hit. She died from her injuries a few days later. Victoria Amelina was a novelist, but since Russia's invasion last year, she'd mostly written poetry.

"That's what war leaves you," she told the website of the Goethe Institut. "The sentences are as short as possible, the punctuation a redundant luxury, the plot unclear, but every word carries so much meaning. All this applies to poetry as well as to war."

Victoria Amelina had been working with the human rights group Truth Hounds to document war crimes, and preserve the works of Ukrainian artists who might lose their lives while the books, plays, and paintings into which they poured their hearts and hours are blown up and burned. She wrote for the PEN Ukraine website, "Now there is a real threat that Russians will successfully execute another generation of Ukrainian culture – this time by missiles and bombs."

This is from her poem "About A Crow," translated by Uilleam Blacker:

In a barren springtime field

Stands a woman dressed in black

Crying her sisters' names

Like a bird in the empty sky

She'll cry them all out of herself.

The one that flew away too soon

The one that had begged to die

The one that couldn't stop death

The one that has not stopped waiting

The one that has not stopped believing

The one that still grieves in silence

She'll cry them all into the ground

As though sowing the field with pain

And from pain and the names of women

Her new sisters will grow from the earth

And again will sing joyfully of life

But what about her, the crow?

She will stay in this field forever

Because only this cry of hers

Holds all those swallows in the air

Do you hear how she calls

Each one by her name?

"About A Crow." The name of the writer is Victoria Amelina. She died after a Russian missile strike in Ukraine. She was 37 years old.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.