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Serhiy Zhadan

SERHIY ZHADAN is an internationally renowned Ukrainian poet and novelist. He was born in the Luhansk Region of Ukraine and educated in Kharkiv, where he lives today. He helps organize local artists and musicians as volunteers delivering humanitarian aid in Kharkiv. He is the award-winning author of sixteen books of poetry as well as numerous prose works, and his books have been translated into over thirty languages. In 2022, Zhadan was awarded the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought, as well as the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for his “outstanding artistic work and his humanitarian stance with which he turns to the people suffering from war and helps them at the risk of his own life.” He is the front man for the band Zhadan and the Dogs.

VIRLANA TKACZ and WANDA PHIPPS have been translating Zhadan’s poetry since 2002. They have received translation grants from New York State Council on the Arts and the NEA Poetry Translation Fellowship for their work on his poetry. What We Live For/What We Die For, a book of his selected poetry in English translations by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps, was published by Yale University Press in the spring of 2019. In October 2023 Yale University published How Fire Descends: New and Selected Poetry by Serhiy Zhadan translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps and was nominated for the PEN America for Poetry in Translation Award. 

zhadan foto.jpg

Tkacz & Phipps translations have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies (see link). They were featured in bilingual reading by Zhadan and Yara artists in spring poetry festivals called: Zhadan and Friends since 2016.

These translations are also integral to several theater pieces created by Yara Arts Group.


Mariupol: Diaries of War and the Tree of Life (2024-)

Radio 477! (2021-2023) 

1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan & the Dogs (2017)

Hitting Bedrock (2015)

Underground Dreams (2013-2014)

Koliada: Twelve Dishes (2005)

Articles in English:
New Yorker - Marci Stone "The Bard of Eastern Ukraine, Where Things Are Falling Apart" Nov 28, 2016 
New Yorker on attack in March 2014
Forbes on Zhadan April 2015 
London Review of Books - Peter Pomerantsev "Ukraine's Mesopotamia" March 4, 2014

Olena Jennings "The Work of Serhiy Zhadan and the War In Ukraine" Aspen Review 2018
Mayhill Fowler on Zhadan

Serhiy Zhadan Wiki | Zhadan's Twitter Zhadan's Facebook

Zhadan's Poetry (translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps)
Alcohol (2002)

The green river water
slows in warm bends
fish zeppelins
scatter the plankton
and tired bird catchers
attempt to catch
every word.

Hold on to
the brightly colored rags and scotch tape
that bind the slashed wrists
of these heroic times.
One day you will turn off this radio,
you'll get used to her,
to her breathing
and, dressed in your T-shirt,
she'll bring you water in the middle of the night.

On the terrace the left-over cups of tea
are filling up with rain water
and cigarette butts,
you and I share a cold 
you and I share long conversations --
you don't notice the morning rain
you go to sleep late
and you wake up late
I write poems about how I love
this woman, and I invent
newer and newer words
to avoid
telling her.

translated from the Ukrainian by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps


Read Zhadan's poem "Headphones" 

published in New York Times Magazine

More & Reviews 

Take Only What Is Most Important (2015)

Take only what is most important. Take the letters.
Take only what you can carry.
Take the icons and the embroidery, take the silver,
Take the wooden crucifix and the golden replicas.

Take some bread, the vegetables from the garden, then leave.
We will never return again.
We will never see our city again.
Take the letters, all of them, every last piece of bad news.

We will never see our corner store again.
We will never drink from that dry well again.
We will never see familiar faces again.
We are refugees. We'll run all night.

We will run past fields of sunflowers.
We will run from dogs, rest with cows.
We'll scoop up water with our bare hands, 
sit waiting in camps, annoying the dragons of war.

You will not return and friends will never come back.
There will be no smoky kitchens, no usual jobs, 
There will be no dreamy lights in sleepy towns,
no green valleys, no suburban wastelands.

The sun will be a smudge on the window of a cheap train,
rushing past cholera pits covered with lime.
There will be blood on your heels,
tired guards on borderlands covered with snow,

a postman with empty bags shot down,
a priest with a hapless smile hung by his ribs,
the quiet of a cemetery, the noise of a command post, 
and unedited lists of the dead,

so long that there won't be time
to check them for your own name.


translated from the Ukrainian 
by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps

Take Only

they once lived in this building

see the fading red paint blistering on the window frames

it’s from those times when someone decided to put

them all into one building so that their breath could be heard

                                                                     in the hallways

breath like wind structured in fear

                                                as you look in the yard

you can see soldiers laying asphalt

and planting pines


            they were led out at night their dreams scattering

            from their shoulders like rats from window sills

            their grey shirts were soaked with sweat

            and yellow piss hid in their bodies

            like contraband

            those who led them out enjoyed the scent

                                                             of the night scene

            grey underwear wet with sudden awakening

            women with their faces smeared

            with makeup and fear


at the corner newsstand there’s warm lemonade

and sticky violet drops of syrup that pull your skin

and stick to your fingers and lips

bees brush against your clothing and eyelashes with their heavy


then the shadow of the building creeps up to your feet

                                                                  like a great flood


if only you could get home sooner and shut the door tight

turn the heavy black lock and fasten the chain

listen to the wind rattling the door jamb

and with your cheek

feel the sun beat

against the bare window


            they were led out

            quickly through the street

            before the black automobiles swallowed them

            so for a moment they were still breathing oxygen

            the oxygen of the building, holding it

            trying not to let out

                                    the smallest drop of freedom

            the smallest drop of hysteria


when you decide to separate words

into those you used at least once and those you’ve never touched

you will feel the silence that ripped apart

the heart of that night – the tortured circle

you sense each time you return to this place


because long ago fragments of hot lexemes

grew cold in mouths filled with fear

and the man with the serious expression

and his dark notebook and wooden pencil

left behind only silence

                                    that fell like a dead bird


it’s simple, such buildings exist

where the final border is particularly grim

where hell and the veins of underground ore are unexpectedly close 

where time sticks out like lumps of coal from the ground

where death begins and where literature ends.

translated from the Ukrainian by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps

The End of Ukrainian Syllabotonic Verse (2000)
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