Yelyzaveta Zharikova

- Ukraine -

Yelyzaveta Zharikova is a Ukrainian poet, singer, songwriter, pianist and activist, who voluntarily took up arms in defence of Ukraine in the wake of Russian aggression.

Once a student studying at the Kyiv National University, Yelyzaveta attended protests at Maidan from November 2013. She and her friends saw a peaceful meeting turn into a fight for dignity.


Yelyzaveta holds numerous awards for her songs and poems. Among them: the all-Ukrainian literary competition “Vytoky” of the Ukrainian Ostroh Academy, and the author’s song competition “Language of the Heart”. Her poems were published in the almanac “Scythia”, the anthology “Euromaidan. Lyrical Chronicle (Discursus)”, and the Georgian-Ukrainian almanac “Language of the Sky”. At the end of 2021, the Ukrainian publishing house “Smoloskyp” released a collection of Yelyzaveta’s poems “Ants of Johann Sebastian”.

Since 2017, she has been the keyboardist and backing vocalist for Ukrainian dark-folk rock band Pororoka, attending numerous Ukrainian regional and charitable festivals. In 2018, Pororoka released a debut album in the format of a live-session video. In 2021, they released their second album, Polyn.


After the full-scale war began, Yelyzaveta stopped giving piano classes and instead joined the Territorial Defense Forces as a paramedic. Currently, her unit is on rotation after the service in Donetsk region. She fundraises and collects humanitarian aid, including vital medicine. Despite being under constant shelling on the front line, she continues to write poems in Ukrainian. They can be read on her Instagram page.

Good beasts of tragic reality 


The dry list on the "Wikipedia" page suggests: there are two loves in this person's life. The first is music, the second is words. In 2008, Yelyzaveta Zharikova graduated from the Severodonetsk Music School majoring in piano, and in the same year entered the KhNU named after V. Karazin in Ukrainian philology, and in 2012 she became a master's student at the Institute of Philology of KNU named after T. Shevchenko majoring in "literary creativity". But even if we did not know about the author's academic musical education, it becomes clear already from the first text: we are dealing with a professional musician: "a half-blind musician / will only place accents / clean up the parts / and smile with satisfaction / composing our scores / to a huge sheet music archive" ("subcutaneous ants"). And not only because of the deadlines: almost every poem in the collection can be sung. About how musical the poetry of Elizaveta Zharikova is, her vers libre will tell. Because vers libre speaks of the individual rhythm of the author. The poet destroys the idea that free verse is prose written in a column: 


"if you spin / around yourself / an axis will grow from the inside / won't let you stop / if you spin together / the axis is in the middle / then we separate / the axis dries up" ("boom- scratch-scratch").


If you read these lines several times, you start to feel dizzy. The illusion of movement is achieved thanks to repetitions: they create a special rhythm inherent in spinning in a circle. The verbs "spin" and "stopped" add dynamics. And returning three times to the word "axis" allows you to keep the center and maintain balance. Love of music and love of words are intertwined. With the help of this intricacies, Zharikova skillfully immerses the reader in her poetic microcosm.

Here are high matters and terrible mundanity, real time and mythological time. One of the paths you take while reading the collection leads to places where time and space do not exist. Sometimes it's as if you're standing in the middle of an empty land and re-explaining the world around you with the fears inherent in a primitive person: 


"something grows in the forest / wanders, walks like a sope / something big in the forest / scary" ("spine shivers").


Involuntarily, the thought of pantheistic poetry appears (and Bohdan Ihor Antonych is mentioned). However, in the case of Zharikova's poems, it is more appropriate to speak of an escape from the present, which reminds us of itself with the flashing of monitors and the clanking of weapons. Such an escape is not surprising. 

The reality that Zharikova writes about is not just unpleasant—it's scary. This is an echo of a traumatic past, a warlike present and a disappointing future. We learn a lot about the childhood of the poetess. At first it seems that these memories are ordinary, average, like everyone else's. But we understand: this poetic world is invented in order not to get a cut from the real world: 


"my father emptied many bottles / but the abyss never healed / neither from the outside nor from the inside" ("eSeSeSeRtse") 




"I only reach out my hand / to a little girl from a small village / in which everyone knows everything about everyone / and that's why they don't call the police / if they shout in our apartment" ("the last elegy to childhood").


So, the human world is cruel and unfair. Therefore, his tragic perception is the constant tonality of Elizaveta Zharikova's poetry. And if in childhood you can hide under a blanket or in the drops of imagination, growing up takes away such an opportunity. Zharikova does not believe in the high moral qualities of those around her, because:


"at four o'clock in the morning they will shoot the dogs / so you cover your ears / so as not to hear / the hollowness of March / the fragile barking of dogs / that subsides in the distance." 


We note the same repeated phrase "at four in the morning the dogs will be shot" - "descending sequence".


And if today the person in the poem saves animals, then in ten years he will prefer not to hear the barking, and in another twenty he will be absolutely calm about the horrors outside the window. This sequence is descending, because the person (and us) will be degraded in the future. In particular, Zharikova is talking about the degradation of values. Therefore, the poet seeks shelter in creativity, and also very often turns to animals. They are much better than humans.

And through such contacts, the poet's deepest personal experiences are revealed:


"Lord, send me in another life / I will be a warm dog / a warm dog's soul" ("it will be as it will be") or "I am a blind kitten / my eyes will mature tomorrow" ("... and don't let me sleep").


This is a reluctance to belong to the world of people in principle. Despair from powerlessness. Lack of a script with a happy ending. Therefore, a warning: Elizaveta Zharikova's poetry can lead to catharsis. 


Ilona Solovii, Kyiv

Originally published in Ukainian in УКРАЇНСЬКИЙ ЖУРНАЛ magazine no. 5–6|2022