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EKU English professor shines light on Ukrainian poetry and the power it holds during wartime

Dr. Brent Shannon's English 310 class finishes discussing their unit on Ukrainian war poetry
Olivia Doyle
/
WEKU
Dr. Brent Shannon's English 310 class finishes discussing their unit on Ukrainian war poetry

Here in Kentucky, students can safely walk from class to class. There is no concern that a bomb will be dropped onto a school building. However, in other parts of the world it’s not that simple.

For some students, like those who attend school in Ternopil, Ukraine, their experience is different. Air raid sirens often disrupt classroom learning and force students into bombs shelters. Liza Tvardovska is a translator in training and attends school in Ternopil. She said her experience in the bomb shelter is challenging.

Photo of Liza Tvardovska on a Zoom call
Olivia Doyle
/
WEKU
Photo of Liza Tvardovska on a Zoom call

“Shelter is a place where people are loud and interrupts each other. Our teachers, I don’t know, they are simply, literally, have no opportunity to give us this information and we just don’t like receive the amount of information that we have to.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine heavily impacted Tvardovska’s educational experience.

“I often have nightmares because of war. When like alarm starts I often wake up at night and I just can’t normally sleep and that’s what interrupts my studying and my normal life.”

After the full-scale invasion started over two years ago, Tvardovska said it greatly affected her learning. As a student, she finds inspiration from her mentor, who often uses poetry as a way to educate.

In Ukraine, poetry is a huge part of their culture. It impacts much of their lives and is used as a way to unite the people. Inspired by this culture surrounding poetry, Eastern Kentucky University English Professor Dr. Brent Shannon decided to integrate Ukrainian war poetry into his curriculum.

“And so I saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate how, here is a culture and a community that is using poetry to talk about the real world, you know, talking about death and war and fear and how this was changing their lives. Things that for them were incredibly real and incredibly important and that they chose to use poetry as a forum in which to express these ideas and feelings.”

He wants to share with EKU students the impact of the written word.

“We can see, regard poetry as a sort of communal act of resistance and defiance, that it can become a kind of political act. It can become a weapon of war. It is a voice through which you can resist against your oppressors.”

Ukrainian poets, especially in war time, insist upon their own culture and their own nationhood. A sense of national identity is central to the poetry Shannon is introducing to his students. Showing the impact poetry can make on an event as life changing as war can be a challenge.

To aid in this, Shannon invites Ukrainian individuals to speak to his students, allowing them to share first-hand knowledge of their experiences. One is translator Vira Hrabchuck, who has met with the class over Zoom.

“I think poetry for us is a lot of about a way to express yourself. A way to express your thoughts, your stand, your feelings, emotions.”

Hrabchuck grew up in Ukraine and works as a translator and educator. She takes every opportunity to share her perspective as someone living through the war.

Photo of
Olivia Doyle
/
WEKU
Photo of Vira Hrabchuck on a Zoom call

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be an alive Ukrainian scholar, student, and it’s my duty to also talk on behalf of those who unfortunately have perished.”

Hrabchuck said poetry for her is an important escape from the realities of war.

“It just requires a lot of focus and it helps me to zone out in many ways, like forget about the war, it’s my meditation. Translating poetry or reading poetry is my meditation for sure.”

Hrabchuck often has her students translate poetry and one of her students is Liza Tvardovska. She recently translated a poem by a popular Ukrainian poet, Vasyl Symonenko called “Perhaps the guns will cry again”.

Ukrainian poetry is often written so it can be relevant for decades to come. Many Ukrainians, like Tvardovska and Hrabchuck, feel connected to these poems.

For now, times remain uncertain as the war in Ukraine continues but the use and impact of poetry can provide solace to those enduring it.

Liza and Vira share stories about what a day-to-day class looks like
Olivia Doyle
/
WEKU
Liza and Vira share stories about what a day-to-day class looks like
Liza Poem.mp3
Vira Poem and Translation.mp3

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