3rd July 2023: A Statement from Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann on the death of our dear friend Victoria Amelina
Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann is shocked and appalled by the news that renowned Ukrainian author and human rights activist, Victoria Amelina, has been murdered by a Russian missile strike on a popular restaurant in Kramatorsk on 27th June 2023. Twelve other people, including children, are known to have been killed in this vicious attack. Sixty people were injured.
Victoria was a dear friend and much loved colleague. She has visited Dublin several times. Everyone who has met her, read her work or heard her speak here, has been moved and affected by her words and by her presence. At an Irish PEN event in Smock Alley during the Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival last October, she spoke powerfully and movingly about the Russian invasion of her native country, and of Russia’s intention to obliterate all traces of Ukrainian culture. She also described her own work in progress: War and Justice Diary: Looking at Women Looking at War, and her ongoing humanitarian work as a war crimes investigator with Truth Hounds.
During that same visit to Dublin, Victoria kept young children enthralled and entertained during a storytelling session at Pearse Street Library. Both of these Irish PEN events were supported by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature. At a Vicar Street concert earlier this year, organised by, among others, Fighting Words and Ukrainian Action Ireland, Victoria stilled the packed theatre with her words, redolent of her courage and determination to secure justice. Two of her essays in English were republished here last year: “Nothing Bad Has Ever Happened”, in the Irish Times, and “Homo Oblivious” in the Dublin Review of Books. Both of these essays predate the illegal Russian invasion of last February.
Although she was an award-winning novelist, Victoria set her own career aside, as many other Ukrainians have, in order to work for her country. She spoke of turning to poetry in the midst of this challenging work: ‘As if shells hit language/ the debris from language/ may look like poems/ But they are not/ This is no poetry too/ Poetry is in Kharkiv/ volunteering for the army’.
When asked how she managed to bear the emotional impact of dealing with atrocities on a daily basis, she said lightly of her and her colleagues’ hugely challenging work: ‘We hug a lot’.
Victoria was due to come back to Dublin in November, to moderate an Irish PEN/ Dublin Book Festival event exploring the role of culture in times of war and the absolute necessity to preserve it, describing writers as ‘caretakers of cultural memory’.
Philippe Sands says that Victoria’s death is “emblematic of a merciless and terrible war, prosecuted by men who feel no compunction acting in manifest violation of the most basic precepts of humanity. Victoria Amelina is gone, but she will always be present, her values embodied in the decency she represented and the accountability she sought. Her killing is a most terrible crime – her legacy will include a renewed and unbreakable commitment to accountability for those who perpetrate such horrors, in a land she cared for with passion and brilliance.”
Paul Muldoon writes: “Let’s be clear about this. This was not an accident. The type of missile used in this attack is deadly accurate. This was a civilian target and represents a war crime pure and simple.”
The world is a darker place today. Victoria Amelina, award-winning writer and war crimes investigator, has become the most recent victim in a long list of brutal war crimes perpetrated by Russia against the civilian population of Ukraine. Our sincere condolences go to her family, her many friends, and to her colleagues in PEN Ukraine and Truth Hounds. We call for an immediate end to such atrocities. (End statement)