CONCORD, N.H. — Hanna Leliv will never forget Feb. 24, 2022: She woke up to five missed calls from her mom. Then the other notifications began pouring in and she realized that Russia had launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Instead of taking her two children to school, Leliv spent the day sheltering with her family at an underground parking lot, punctuated by the cries of the air raid siren.
It was only after a missile attack on the western city of Lviv in late spring that Leliv started looking for a way to leave the country, to shield her children from the mounting stress and anxiety of the war.
Since September, she has been translating war poetry and other texts from Ukrainian to English as a faculty fellow at Dartmouth.
Now she is bringing a collection of her work to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, alongside two other Ukrainian scholars and translators: Veronika Yadukha and Lada Kolomiyets.
They will present a selection of translated works on Monday evening, as well as a co-curated collection of war posters that show how graphic artists are responding to the war. Many of these artists are living and working in Ukraine, at times without water, power, cell signal, or internet access.
“I’m translating everything related to war to spread the word and to give English voice to Ukrainian poets and writers who reflect their personal experiences and also the collective experience in their creative work,” Leliv said.
One of the poets she works with travels to the frontlines of war, giving eyewitness accounts of the destruction and what it’s like to live under Russian occupation through what Leliv calls urgent poetry. Leliv views her translating work as a crucial way of spreading those first-hand accounts more widely. She believes poetry and literature offer an emotional and empathetic connection to English-speaking audiences.
She said being out of the country during the war makes her feel survivor’s guilt — but she believes translating war texts can help.
“What I’m doing here is very small and very tiny, but I still think that it’s an important thing in the long term — to show the world that we have a vibrant culture, that we have vibrant literature, and a diversity of voices the world has not really been hearing until now,” she said.
Leliv and Yadukha curated the exhibit of 20 war posters to bring attention to Ukrainians’ experience of the first year of the war. The posters begin with the first days of war when women and children were fleeing the conflict, and it follows the events of the year including the first exhumation of mass graves in Izium and the blackouts in November and December in Kyiv.
Yadukha said it’s a challenge to portray traumatizing events in a way that people can absorb, but she’s found the illustrations of real events can be more effective than straight news stories.
“They can read the text and they can grasp the idea maybe more deeply than if they see a photograph,” which can be traumatizing, she said.
“For translators, our mission is now to spread the word as much as we can and bring these voices because people believe in real stories,” Yadukha said.
When the war started, some Some poets and writers stopped writing altogether, Leliv said, as they struggled to make sense of the reality around them. But for others, Leliv said, the war sparked a period of intense output. “They feel this urge to document the reality and to give voice to people who might not be able to speak for themselves,” she said.
Translators often work against an inevitable sense of loss - not all aspects of the original text can be reproduced in a different language. Leliv said she manages this loss by focusing on the emotional impact of a text and its rhythm. Many Ukrainian poems are rhyming, she said, but she won’t always preserve the rhyme in English if reproducing it makes the poem sound funny or childish.
“If you read the poem in Ukrainian and it flows fast and it’s upbeat, then it also has to feel fast and sound upbeat in English,” she said. She’ll pay attention to her breathing as she reads the poem aloud in Ukrainian and check her translation to make sure the breathing pattern matches.
One of the poems she will read on Monday is by Ukrainian poet Artur Dron, called “The First Letter to the Corinthians.”
Love is patient. Love is kind
It is not jealous, is not pompous.
Love is terrified like a beast
but it perseveres.
Love could give up and abandon it all
but it perseveres
Sometimes, love has gunshot wounds to
its legs or bullet fragments lodged in
Tourniquets squeeze love’s legs,
or it has no legs anymore.
Then love’s friends carry love.
The poem, originally published by Circumference Magazine, takes a well-known verse from the Bible and transplants it into the context of war.
“It jolts you into this very violent reality that is happening right now in the 21st century in the heart of Europe,” Leliv said. “What I find so striking about this poem is that it talks about very violent things, but there is so much love in it.”
Ann Camann, the deputy director of the Institute of Politics, said the college hosts events like this to show “the human side of issues.”
“The posters are worth seeing,” she said. “They’re gorgeous.” Camann said several posters will be on display at the Institute following Monday’s program, but the college has not yet decided how long the exhibit will run, though exhibit of war posters is also available to view online.