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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Poems from the war

A book by poet and deputy commander of the OUN volunteer battalion Borys Humeniuk is launched in Kyiv
18 February, 2015 - 18:00
Photo by Artem SLIPACHUK, The Day

They say about the writer, deputy commander of the volunteer battalion OUN Borys Humeniuk that he has “run over the entire Ukrainian literature with his tank.” His Poems from the war is a quintessence of thoughts, feelings, and emotions connected with the war in the east and the first literary attempt to comprehend this new reality.

His poems are terrible and powerful, truthful and sometimes merciless, they have no false metaphors and phony pathos. These poems are real, like the author, a warrior and poet: “Gradually my white verse changes its face / The lines turn black because of rage / Get full of blood because of resentment / The poem gets wet and salted / Like the edge of the kerchief of a mother in grief.”

Borys Humeniuk was born in 1965 in Ternopil oblast. He is a poet, writer, and journalist. He has taken an active part in the Revolution of Dignity, and since June 2014 has been fighting in the east of Ukraine. In the end of July he was elected the deputy commander of the OUN battalion.

Humeniuk came to the launch of his book Poems from the war, published by the Yaroslaviv Val Publishers, from the frontline, having to return to his brothers-in-arms, defending Pisky in Donetsk oblast, two days later.


Borys, when you were going as a volunteer to the ATO area, you promised your journalist friends to write two articles a day: in the morning and in the evening. But you’ve written a book Poems from the war. How was it conceived? What do poems grow from at war?

“I thought I would never come back to writing poetry. In 1993 I published my first and, as I have thought till recently, the last collection, A way of defense. Later I wrote the novels Lukianivka and Island. Maidan, the occupation of Crimea, the events in the Donbas have changed everything.

“On June 22 we came to Berdiansk and this is where my war began. It was the meeting a volunteer from my native region, a very young fellow, that impressed and even touched me on the crossroads of the war. He was holding an automatic gun in one hand and a phone in the other hand. He was trying to write a message, but he couldn’t do this because of the automatic gun, which he was forbidden to lose hold of. The serviceman was squeezing the gun under his arm. My first poem was about this youth from Chortkiv town, Ternopil region, who ‘does not care about rhymes when he writes a message to his girl.’ I posted it on my Facebook page.

“A friend of mine, Ivan Andrusiak commented on it, ‘this is a bomb!’ That was what the beginning of this collection was like. I am a witness. I write about what I see. There are no rough copies or manuscripts at war. I write poems on my tablet and try to post them on the Internet whenever I have an opportunity to do this.

“The poems have become a kind of a therapy for me. Sometimes, instead of yelling or crying, I want simply to shoot the skies. Some people do so – fire from their automatic guns in the sky – I write verse.

“What do my poems grow from? From pain and feeling sad for those who were killed. My poems are also nourished by the love to my dear people, brothers-in-arms, and Ukraine. Poems are not born out of hatred.”

This is the second edition of Poems from the war. What are your plans for the future?

“The theater Mirror wants to stage a play based on Poems from the war. There is a title already: Checkpoint Ukraine. It is symbolical, because this is the last checkpoint before Europe Russians will fail to pass. But this is a bad time for artistic plans. I postpone making them till peaceful time. Today I’m a fighter. I live between the battles. My task is to fight and win.”


How did you get to the volunteer battalion? Why the OUN battalion, not any other?

“Because I was lucky to be born a Ukrainian. We, Galicians, are born members of OUN. We are 100 percent nationalists. I went to battalion Azov from Maidan. There were many people willing to join it, therefore with the consent of the combat of Azov battalion Biletsky a separate battalion Azov-2 was created, Azov-Sich, which served the basis for the current battalion OUN. It includes members of the First Kyiv Sotnia of OUN named after Konovalets. At the moment our Maidan Sotnyk Kokhanivsky is at the helm of the battalion.

“People of different nationalities, faith, age, and profession are fighting in the OUN battalion. On the whole, in the ATO forces, apart from Christians of all denominations, there are Muslims, Jews, representatives of the Native Ukrainian Faith, and even Buddhists. At the moment it is not religion or language that defines a patriot. An attribute of a patriot is a desire to protect Ukraine and the world from the evil embodied by Putin’s regime.”

Do ATO servicemen read verse, Shevchenko, for example?

“They read Shevchenko on a regular basis. Kobzar is our Ukrainian Gospel. It remains topical at any time. Maybe, some checkpoints are visited by poets who read poems to them, but our battalion is located in Pisky. At the moment there are no Ukrainian ‘cyborgs’ at Prokofiev Airport. Kadyrov’s contractors from battalion Vostok are stationed 100 meters away from our positions. We can hear their voices, prayers, we can even smell them. We are so close to the enemy that if it attacks, this will be a close fight, and we cannot use artillery, because it will hit ours. We don’t allow any journalists, moreover poets, to visit us, because it is extremely dangerous.”

Did your brothers-in-arms know that a poet was fighting next to them? Did you read your poems for them?

“It doesn’t mean what your occupation before the war was. Today you’re a fighter, a volunteer, and there is nothing more to say. In our battalion some have three higher education diplomas and some – three previous convictions. There are people who read Nietzsche freely and those whose educational level ended on ‘Ivasyk Telesyk’ [Ukrainian fairy tale. – Ed.]. Someone left a successful business at home, and someone – a house in a village. Now we are equal, we are warriors. That’s all.

“People have found out quite recently that I am a litterateur. I haven’t read my poems to my brothers-in-arms. How do you imagine this? Should I stand on a stool and read? Speaking seriously, I cannot read aloud some of my poems – I have my heart in my mouth. Not because they are brilliant, but because everything I wrote is the truth, real stories and real pictures from the war life.”

By Svitlana BOZHKO