Serhiy Zhadan. Photo by Kateryna Pereverzeva.S
erhiy Zhadan was born in the town of Starobilsk in Ukraine’s Luhansk region and has been a resident of Kharkiv since the early 1990s. He is among the most influential voices of Eastern European literature. Whatever genre he is working in—poetry, prose (including both fiction and nonfiction), or dramaturgy—he has been passionately, persistently, and systematically giving voice to the voiceless. His work focuses on the rejected, forgotten, and abandoned; he sides with the outsiders and the dispossessed.
Zhadan insists that he’s been writing one unified, uninterrupted, and continuous literary text. His writing is about the mapping of Eastern Ukraine—above all, the city of Kharkiv—which is, in his iteration, a modern Babylon. A literary scholar by training, Zhadan also accomplishes something significant and symbolic through his writing: he bridges present literary practices with the 1920s-1930s, a time of burgeoning literary activity and experimental pursuits in Ukraine. At that time, Ukrainian authors were often dispatched to write about Eastern Ukraine, and the intention of these expeditions was to cover the region and publish articles about it in the most prestigious literary venues. In a sense, Zhadan is restoring the Ukrainian literary tradition—something that had been interrupted by Stalin’s Great Terror—in his attempts to connect the past with the present.
In February 2022, Zhadan was on the road with his band Zhadan i Sobaky (Zhadan and the Dogs) when Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with its massive offensive in Kharkiv. He got off the train and, along with his band members, headed back to Kharkiv. He has spent most of his time since then in the city volunteering and supporting civilians and soldiers. (His reflections on the first six months of the war have just appeared in Germany and are slated to be published soon in English.) Zhadan regularly posts photos of undisclosed areas, various landscapes and cityscapes of Kharkiv and its vicinity, and finishes up his posts with “Tomorrow we will wake up one day closer to our victory.”