Olena Herasymiuk

Ukraine

Olena Herasymiuk (born 1991 Kiev, Ukraine) studied literature in Kiev. 

In 2013 she was awarded the Ukrainian President’s Prize for Poetry, which she refused in protest against the Yanukovych regime. She is part of the younger generation of Ukrainian poets, whose work distinguishes itself through, among other characteristics, a newly awakening national consciousness. In her texts she often poses questions of the relationship between the self and the outside world.

For Olena Herasymyuk, that past seems particularly close. The poet and former military medic spent five years documenting the stories of Ukrainians who perished in Soviet gulags, casting light on a chapter of Ukrainian history that many forget or choose to ignore.

Together with Denis Polishchuk she initiated the project »Rozstriljanij Kalender« (tr. Execution calendar), which collects and publishes documents and information on the repression of Ukrainian intellectuals during the Soviet era. 

Millions of Ukrainians died or suffered from political repressions under the Soviet Union. But the subject of death and suffering is “taboo in Ukrainian traditional culture,” Herasymyuk writes in the introduction to “Rozstrilny Kalendar” (“Execution Calendar”), her 2017 book. “And this problem is not restricted to history.”

In 2014, Herasymyuk took part in a demonstration on Kyiv’s Independence Square in which she and others read the names of Ukrainians writers and intellectuals killed in Sandarmokh, a forest in northwest Russia in 1937–38, at the height of the Stalinist Terror. “A lot of people came,” Herasymyuk says.

In 2017, she joined the Hospitaliers military medical battalion in the Donbas. There, in June 2019, she took part in a special operation to capture Volodymyr Tsemakh, a man who allegedly played a central role in the Russia-backed militants’ downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Several months later, Tsemakh was released to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange.

This year, Ukraine awarded her the medal “For Saving Lives.” She also published “Prison Song,” a book of lyrical poetry drawing from her experiences in the war, to great acclaim.