The killing of Viktoria Amelina, who has died of injuries suffered during last week’s Russian missile attack on a restaurant in Kramatorsk, deprives Lviv, Ukraine and the world of an outstanding writer, an individual who reflected the best of modern Ukraine – humour, tenacity and warmth, coupled with a brilliantly open spirit and a courageous soul. Just a few months ago, at the Book Festival in Lviv, her beloved home city, she captivated us on life, love, family and crimes, her work on the coming War and Justice Diary: Looking at Women Looking at War. ‘They are targeting all of us’, she said in our public conversation, ‘and for me that is a genocide’. Her life was emblematic of remarkable Lviv, her 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.
Philippe Sands, July 3, 2023, 08h00.
Ukraine: PEN International mourns the killing of writer and PEN Ukraine member Victoria Amelina
03 July 2023 – PEN International joins PEN Ukraine in mourning the killing of writer, PEN Ukraine member and human rights defender Victoria Amelina, following a horrific Russian missile strike in Kramatorsk, Eastern Ukraine on 27 June 2023. Amelina was seriously injured and rushed to hospital in Dnipro. She passed away on 1 July 2023. She was 37 years old.
In a statement published on 2 July 2023, PEN Ukraine said:
‘With our greatest pain, we inform you that Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina passed away on 1 July in Mechnikov Hospital in Dnipro. Her death was caused by injuries incompatible with life, which she suffered from during the Russian missile shelling of a restaurant in Kramatorsk on 27 June 2023. We are announcing this news now when all Victoria’s family members have learned about it and with their consent (…). Victoria Amelina, Ukrainian writer and member of PEN Ukraine, who has been documenting Russian war crimes with the human rights initiative Truth Hounds, was in Kramatorsk with a delegation of Colombian writers and journalists. As they were having dinner at the Ria Lounge restaurant downtown, Russians launched a missile attack on this restaurant. Victoria was severely injured. Doctors and paramedics in Kramatorsk and Dnipro did everything they could to save her life, but the injuries were fatal and incompatible with life. In the last days of Victoria’s life, her closest people and friends were with her (…). For us, Victoria’s friends, and colleagues, it is very important the cultural initiatives set up by her, could last. Very soon we will share with you information about the ways you can support her life’s work.’
Romana Cacchioli, Executive Director of PEN International, said:
‘We are devasted by the killing of our friend and PEN member Victoria Amelina. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and loved ones during these terrible times. Victoria’s strength, selflessness, and determination in the face of adversity have been an inspiration to us all. As we grieve her loss, her words, writings, and voice will forever resonate with us. Today is a tragic day for the PEN community, who stands with everyone at PEN Ukraine. Those responsible for her killing must be brought to justice.’
Born in 1986, Victoria Amelina was a prize-winning writer and poet, and founder of the New York Literature Festival in the Donetsk region, Eastern Ukraine. Since the Russian Federation’s full-scale military invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Amelina had been documenting war crimes with the human rights initiative Truth Hounds, and notably uncovered the war diary of Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vakulenko, who was abducted by Russian forces on 24 March 2022. On 28 November 2022, after the Ukrainian army recaptured Izium from Russian forces, DNA analysis confirmed that the body found in grave N.319 in the woods of Izium was that of Vakulenko. Amelina had recently taken part in the first presentation of his war diary at the Book Arsenal literary festival in Kyiv on 23 June 2023.
PEN International has repeatedly called on the Russian Federation to immediately and unconditionally end its devastating war against Ukraine, including through a Resolution adopted at PEN International’s 88th annual Congressin September 2022, a statement marking a year of war crimes and resolve in Ukraine, and a Declaration of PEN International’s Writers for Peace Committee issued in May 2023.
Full statement available here: https://www.pen-international.org/news/pen-international-mourns-the-killing-of-victoria-amelina
(Statement from PEN International)
Members and Board members of Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann are appalled and devastated by the news that our dear friend, award-winning writer and war crimes researcher Victoria Amelina, has been injured in a Russian missile strike in Kramatorsk. We wish, as hard as we have ever wished for anything, that Victoria will have a swift recovery. Here is a statement from PEN International:
29 June – PEN International joins PEN Ukraine in condemning the horrific Russian missile strike in Kramatorsk, Eastern Ukraine on 27 June 2023. Twelve people had been killed and more than 60 wounded at the time of writing, including writer, PEN Ukraine member and human rights defender Victoria Amelina, who remains in hospital.
Victoria was in Kramatorsk with Colombian writer Héctor Abad Faciolince, journalist Catalina Gómez Ángel and politician Sergio Jaramillo at the time of the attack. The Colombian delegates sustained minor injuries… more on the PEN International website.
(for writers and journalists at risk)
NB: This list has been checked/updated as far as possible in August 2022
PEN International: The PEN Emergency Fund provides assistance to persecuted writers and journalists who are in acute financial need. For more information, please contact Aurélia Dondo, Europe Programme Coordinator at PEN International:
PEN America administer an emergency fund:
PEN America also has a guide to digital security/online harassment
PEN Finland’s Hate Speech Toolkit: https://www.suomenpen.fi/userassets/uploads/2021/06/the-hate-speech-toolkit-en-110621-web.pdf
ARTICLE 19 is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response which has funding for legal and protection costs for journalists, along with monitoring and advocacy. https://www.mfrr.eu
Front Line Defenders offers emergency assistance, financial support and training – including around digital security – to eligible journalists facing threats in Northern Ireland. Apply online: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/programme/protection-grants
Front Line Defenders also have a comprehensive list of other funding options on their website: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/other-funding-organisations
Human Rights Watch / https://www.hrw.org/human-rights-watch/hellman-hammett-grants
International Federation of Journalists / https://www.ifj.org/safety-fund.html
International Media Support https://www.mediasupport.org/what-we-do/safety-for-journalists/#safety-fund
Journalists in Distress network https://www.journalistsindistress.org/
This is a group of organisations who provide emergency support, many of them listed here. It might be worth familiarising yourself with this site prior to an emergency to identify which of the organisations are most likely to be able to help if and when needed.
Reporters sans Frontières: Assistance for Journalists
The Rory Peck Trust provides assistance and support to freelance journalists and their families worldwide: https://rorypecktrust.org/
They also have a risk assessment guide:
The Society of Authors runs The Authors’ Contingency fund. Writers can apply directly to the SoA for support:
PEN Finland’s Hate Speech Toolkit: https://www.suomenpen.fi/userassets/uploads/2021/06/the-hate-speech-toolkit-en-110621-web.pdf
Rory Peck Trust (see above):
The prize-winning Kurdish poet Ilhan Sami Çomak has been in prison in Turkey for 28 years, since he was 22 years old. During his confinement, Çomak has written eight award-winning collections of poetry. His first collection in English, Separated from the Sun, edited and with an Introduction by Welsh poet and translator Caroline Stockford, was published in September by Smokestack Books.
During his confinement, Çomak has become a highly-respected poet, with a growing international reputation.
Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann is honoured Ilhan Sami Çomak has accepted to be our first Honorary Member. Please find below Ilhan Sami Çomak’s powerful letter to Irish PEN members.
I think the reason why people make so many mistakes in life is that they have no access to the possibilities of words, to the opportunity to speak and write. In fact, speaking is a youthful behaviour, while silence is ancient. But it is this youthfulness, above all else, that has the capacity to change the world or us as people.
However you look at it, words and writing are the resistance point as we reach into the infinitely distant expanse that we call the future. When those of us who reject the tyranny of the present seek to invoke the new and beautiful, words are the most viable and humane invention we have at our disposable. I’m sure you already know this story, but I feel the need to share it with you again as it has had a great effect on me: According to belief, Saint Patrick prayed with such fervour and sincerity in the yard of the church on Church Island that the imprint of his knees was left in the ground stones. I think this is a very accurate representation of the proven power of words – be it prayers, poetry or novels – to bring about change and the place this has in our lives. That’s why I sincerely believe that words and writing are a critical factor in our tenacious grip on life.
As far as I can see, this is the reason why every poet and writer writes – more than anything, it is to change their life and themselves in line with their beliefs.
I write poetry for the sake of life and to stay alive, for my deep connection with life, because I miss life, because it brings life to my cell, because I love life and people with a passion and because I believe in life and myself. The continuity of this belief is all I have.
Discovering and understanding life through poetry, together with the persistence of my efforts, eventually altered me and my expectations from life. In fact, life has changed with me. Over these 28 years of unrelenting confinement, I missed life so much, I spoke of so many longings that in the end the longings took on a life of their own; with poetry, above all with poetry, I woke up to life.
Poetry took me by the hand; as I negotiated the unending contradiction of living between the heavy, poisonous pain of my experiences and the beauty and lightness of the things I wanted to experience, it gave me the acute insight I needed to keep my balance. It protected me from reality by supporting my dreams in the circumstances of this place, where time and space are defiled by constant repetition and high walls. The fact that I am still alive and well, despite all these years of unjust confinement, is undoubtedly due to my unrelenting efforts to reach the life envisioned by poetry, and through the act of writing about them, to reach all the things I miss. I may not have the fervent power of St Patrick, but I do have avid, tireless desires that know where and what they should gravitate towards. I want to live; that is why I cling to words and writing, the greatest invention of humankind.
Dear friends, despite this immense ordeal, my voice and my words crossed the seas to reach you. You called out to me with your friendship, taking my hand and my poetry. I see that as proof of poetry’s mighty heart, which can overcome any adversity. And I also see this call as a beacon, signalling that somewhere in every time and space there are warm-hearted people who know what is good, who create goodness and recognise the capacity of words and imagination to change the world.
It is an honour to be accepted as a member of Irish PEN. The step you have taken has given me great strength. Now I am closer to the outside, nearer to clean, fresh air. It’s beautiful to feel the warmth of your hand of friendship! I thank you with all my heart.
“Words and Bullets” is an online media project launched by the Ukrainian cultural and publishing media Chytomo and PEN Ukraine with support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). This is a series of interviews with writers and journalists who became soldiers or volunteers following the Russian invasion.
The authors and journalists featured in this project all see their lives as divided into a “before and after”. The explosions that rocked Ukrainian cities on Feb. 24 forever changed their personal trajectories. Some left their homes and rushed to save children or elderly parents, others joined the volunteer movement that helps supply the Ukrainian army, and many joined the Ukrainian territorial defense forces or the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The project started in June 2022, more than ten interviews with authors and journalists who became soldiers or volunteers due to the war will be published in Chytomo.
Some interviews are already available in English:
Award-winning Peruvian investigative journalist Paola Ugaz co-authored – with Pedro Salinas – a book entitled Mitad Monjes, Mitad Soldados (Half-Monks, Half Soldiers), in 2015. The book uncovers an alleged pattern of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse within the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a Peruvian Catholic organisation. Paola Ugaz has since faced numerous lawsuits arising from her reporting.
Please read more and latest news about her here:
We at Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann are delighted to continue our partnership with this diverse and vibrant festival. You can check out the full programme here: https://dublinbookfestival.com/explore-the-programme/
On the 13th November, the Sunday before the internationally recognised Day of the Imprisoned Writer, Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann will host the screening of a powerful documentary by Iranian human rights advocate Narges Mohammadi.
Entitled WHITE TORTURE, this documentary explores the devastating effects of solitary confinement on prisoners in Iran. Professor Roja Fazaeli, Associate Professor in Islamic Civilisations, Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, Trinity College Dublin, will introduce the film.
Dr Roja Fazaeli
Dr. Roja Fazaeli is Associate Professor in Islamic Civilisations and a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin. She has published widely on the subjects of Islamic feminisms, women religious authorities, women’s rights in Iran, and the relationship between human rights and religion.
You can find booking details here: