Lyuba Yakimchuk

- Ukraine -

Lyuba Yakimchuk is a poet, screenwriter, and playwright, born 1985 in Pervomaisk Luhanska oblast/Ukraine.
She is the author of several full-length poetry collections, including Apricots of Donbas, which is about people surviving a war. Apricots of Donbas received the International Poetic Award of the Kovalev Foundation (NYC, USA). This book was listed in the Top 10 books about war — Forbes magazine's rating in Ukraine.
Her poems have been translated into more than twenty languages.
Yakimchuk received several awards including the International Slavic Poetic Award, the Bohdan-Ihor Antonych Prize and Smoloskyp Prize – three of Ukraine’s most prestigious awards for young poets. In 2015 Kyiv’s NV magazine (Novoye Vremia) listed Yakimchuk among the one hundred most influential people in the arts in Ukraine.

She is the first poet performer at the Grammy Awards – in 2022 she performed her poem Prayer along John Legend and his project FREE dedicated to Ukraine.

At present (June 2022) Lyuba Yakimchuk is living in Vienna.

Svetlana Lavochkina, one of Lyuba Yakimchuk’s translators, shares special insights into the outstanding work of the poet. Following her serious and sensitive ideas on Lyuba Yakimchuk’s poetry really pays off. Svetlana Lavochkina, born in Eastern Ukraine, is a writer herself and translator of Ukrainian and Russian poetry. The author of ZAP (in German: Puschkins Erben, Voland & Quist 2019, shortlisted for Tibor Jones Pageturner Award in London in 2015; Die rote Herzogin, Voland & Quist 2022), living in Germany, writing in English, states:


“When asked what inspired her poems featured in this anthology, Lyuba told me that her poem ,Knife’ was born out of two revelations. The first during an everyday conversation when it struck her that the conjunction ,that’, ,ніж’ in Ukrainian, sounded as sharp as its homophone ,knife’. Also, she had so often heard the phrase ,Hold on’, meant to encourage war weary Ukrainians, that this well-meant encouragement lost its efficiency. Words themselves were drained of their ability to comfort and support a person on and off the page.

Two visceral experiences brought Lyuba to write ,Eyebrows’. While her family was living in her hometown, a place under continual gunfire, she found herself thinking what she would do if they died. 'Those who have never been in such a situation would deem thoughts like this inappropriate', she says. Some time ago, while perusing the archives of the futurist poet Mikhayl Semenko’s mother, Lyuba found a detailed description that appealed to her. A disinherited aristocratic woman in 1920s lights up a match, blows it out and paints her eyebrows black with the burned end. Out of these two components – ruminating on the possibility of her loved ones’ death, and painting the eyebrows with a burned match, she created a poem with eyebrows as mourning clothes.

A challenging element of Lyuba Yakimchuk’s poetry is the sharp rendering of her imagery, firmly rooted in Ukrainian word play. In ‘Knife’, in a murder’s stream of consciousness, Lyuba uses the word `мат´ – cursing or swearing. However the Ukrainian concept of `мат´ does not have the same intensity as the English word ‘curse.’ Slavic swearing is an entire subculture, nearly a macabre language of its own. Here, the translator must take an imaginative U-turn. What exactly are the subtitles in a murderer’s mind when his hands wield a deadly weapon? Not necessarily four-letter words. It might also be something absurd, childish, or innocent – all invoked to help kill the pain of conscience, to dull empathy for the victim. In this case, the innocent cruelty of the last stanza of an English nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’, closely convey what the poet was intending to say, putting all the absurdity, all the horror of the war in a nutshell.”

Yakimchuk’s awards include the International Slavic Poetic Award and the international „Coronation of the Word” literary contest. Her writing has appeared in magazines in Ukraine, Sweden, Germany, Poland, and Israel. Yakimchuk also works as a cultural manager. In 2012, she organized the „Semenko Year” project dedicated to the Ukrainian futurists, and she curated the 2015 literary program Cultural Forum „Donkult” (2015).


In an article, posted by Pauline Holdsworth on CBC (February 25th, 2022) Lyuba Yakimchuk reflects on war:

„Long before the contested Donbas region in eastern Ukraine was a war zone, she experienced it as a kind of paradise.”


„In the spring, I could see the wild apricots in bloom,” she told IDEAS host Nahlah Ayed.



When she was a child, the region experienced an economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union. To make a living, people in her town would pick apricots and sell them to conductors on the train between Moscow and Kyiv. 

,There was a Russian border near my town of Pervomaisk. One of my distant relatives said one time that after crossing the border, the apricot trees are nowhere to be seen.

Her long poem Apricots of Donbas (poetry collection Lost Horse Press 2021, USA) starts with the line ”Where no more apricots grow, Russia starts.”

,Now this territory is occupied. But the borders still exist, by these apricot trees … forever,‘ she said. 

When pro-Russian separatists took control of the region in 2014, Yakimchuk's parents tried to stay in their home in Pervomaisk. They planted potatoes under occupation and slept in the cellar with the potatoes when the shelling got worse. 

But like so many others, eventually they had to flee. For the last five years, Yakimchuk's childhood home has been occupied by a sniper. 

Her family made a new home in central Ukraine. But now, as Russia invades, the entire country is in danger. 


We will be witnesses“ the poet says – and goes on with the touching sentence: “Language is as beautiful as this world. So when someone destroys your world, language reflects that.


On February 24, 2022, Yakimchuk said she woke at 6 a.m. to the sound of shelling in Kyiv. 

,I have covered the windows with scotch tape to prevent glass [from] flying. Our neighbours came to us because our house is more secure,‘ she said. 

In her poem decomposition the names of places like Luhansk, Donetsk, and her hometown of Pervomaisk literally fall apart. 

,I decompose words to describe the decomposition of cities and towns, the decomposition of Donbas region, my little motherland,‘ she said. 

Yakimchuk's strategy of decomposing language is part of a longer tradition in Ukraine. 

,Her predecessor, the person that she is working on as a historian and a journalist and a literary scholar, is Mykhailo Semenko, a prominent Ukrainian poet who started this whole discourse about what he called destruction or deconstruction,‘ said Ukrainian-American poet and scholar Oksana Maksymchuk.