• Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Serhiy Zhadan, a Ukrainian, won the German Peace Prize

on Jul 01, 2022

Serhiy Zhadan, a Ukrainian writer, poet, and musician, has won the German Book Trade's 2022 Peace Prize for exposing the sufferings of his countrymen caught up in a horrific war.

"We celebrate this Ukrainian novelist and musician for his remarkable artistic work as well as his uncompromising humanitarian position, which continually pushes him to risk his own life to help people devastated by war and thereby bring greater attention to their predicament," the award's judges stated.

Zhadan has specifically focused on Russia's initial invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014 in his novels, articles, poetry, and lyrics, illustrating how the ongoing war has wrecked people's livelihoods in the region.

The panel stated that he uses "a poetic and radical tone" to reflect on "how the people of Ukraine oppose the violence surrounding them, seeking instead to lead autonomous lives founded in peace and freedom."

'A person cannot live just through conflict.'

Serhiy Zhadan, who lives in Kharkiv near the Russian border, has started doing poetry readings in an underground subway station that also serves as a bomb shelter.

"A person cannot survive solely through combat," Zhadan remarked from the shelter in April. "It's critical for kids to be able to hear a word, sing along, and express a certain emotion."

The author, poet, essayist, and musician, born in 1974 in Starobilsk, Luhansk Oblast, in the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine, sets his stories mostly in Kharkiv and eastern Ukraine.

Despite growing up in a largely Russian-speaking household, he writes in Ukrainian.

At Kharkiv University, he studied literature, Ukrainian and German studies, and in the 1990s, he published his first poems and became involved in the cultural life of Ukraine's second largest city by organising literary and music festivals.

Zhadan's debut novel "Depeche Mode," which chronicles the turmoil associated with the post-Soviet era in his birthplace, was published in Ukraine in 2004 (the English edition was released in 2013).

He got the Ukrainian BBC's Book of the Decade Award in 2014.

After participating in the pro-European Maidan uprisings in 2013, Zhadan's latest novel, "The Orphanage" (Ukrainian edition, 2017; English version, 2021), reflects on the battle in eastern Ukraine's Donbas after 2014 — a territory that is currently the centre of the Russian invasion.

The novel is an allegory for an apocalyptic Ukrainian borderland forever under threat of Russian assault, telling the narrative of a teacher who must navigate the fog of a war zone to pick up his nephew from school.

In 2018, "The Orphanage" earned the highest prize for German translation at the Leipzig Book Fair.

An activist and an artist

Zhadan also writes music and sings in rock bands and has translated poems by Paul Celan and Charles Bukowski into Ukrainian. After Russia invaded Crimea and Donbas in 2014, his band Sobaki v kosmosi (Dogs in Space) toured the Ukrainian combat zone and performed for soldiers.

He has also assisted in the organisation of humanitarian relief for those caught in the crossfire.

He still rescues people from war-torn areas, distributes assistance supplies, and organizes concerts in besieged Kharkiv.

He frequently emphasizes the significance of winning for Ukraine. "If the Ukrainians are defeated, the majority of us will just cease to exist," he told DW in April.

Despite his surreal aspects and sardonic tone, his experience in combat zones has imbued his work with journalistic and documentary-like veracity.

Serhiy Zhadan has won the rare Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, following in the footsteps of the 2021 recipient, Zimbabwean filmmaker and novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga.

The €25,000 ($26,500) prize will be presented at a ceremony in Frankfurt's Paulskirche on Sunday, October 23.

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