Iya Kiva

- Ukraine -

Iya Kiva (1984) – Ukrainian poet, translator and journalist. She was born in Donetsk, in 2014, but as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war, she moved to Kiev, and in 2022 to Lviv. She is an author of poetry books: "Further from Heaven (2018) and "The First Page of Winter" (2019). Kiva has also published a collection of interviews with contemporary Belarusian writers about the protests in 2020-2021 – "Will Wake Up to Others: Conversations with Contemporary Belarusian Writers on the Past, Present and Future of Belarus" (2021). In 2022, her book of poems “A witness to namelessness," (translated by Denis Olegow) was published in Bulgaria; and in Poland – a bilingual book of poems "Black Roses of Time" (translated by Aneta Kamińska). She translates poems by contemporary Polish and Belarusian poets. As a translator and editor, Kiva collaborates with the PJ Library project in Ukraine. Iya Kiva is a laureate of the international poetry festival Emihrantśka Lira (2016), the Ukrainian poetry competition Hajvoronnia (2019), the award of the Smoloskyp publishing house (2018), the Metaphora translation award (2020); she is also a winner of the 2nd Poetry Tournament Nestor Litopysc (2019). For the book “The First Page of Winter” she received a special distinction from LitAkcentu (2019). Her poems have been translated into 33 languages. In Poland, they were published in "Babiniec Literacki", "Silesian Gender Zone", "ArtPapier", "Wizje", the zine "Papier w Dole" (translated by Aneta Kamińska), "Gazeta Wyborcza", "Pismo" (translated by Agnieszka Sowińska). "Helikopter" (translated by Tomasz Pierzchała) and in the anthology "Ukraińska nadzieja" (translated by Karolina Olszewska). She received a scholarship of the Gaude Polonia programme in 2021. Kiva is a member of the Ukrainian PEN Club.

I remember the first time I’ve read Iya Kiva’s poem – it was on the day the war fully escalated, on February 24th, I read it in the daily newspaper Wyborcza and it was translated by Agnieszka Sowińska. “Is there hot water running in our tap?” Asks the poet in the first line. No, wait. I’m reading once again. “Is there hot war running in our tap?”. A rhetorical device that will not work when translated into other languages but goes so well in Polish. This device presents in such a simple way what Putin has been doing with language – it serves him not only to distort history and reality, but also to deprive words of their value. His so called “special operation” is not only a lie, it strips away words from their true meaning, as Timothy Snyder wants, war ceases to be war and thanks to that it can do what it wants.


Iya Kiva has hit the painful balance point of war’s escalation. War that didn’t start on the 24th of February 2022, but has been going on for the last eight years: “eight years of saying: there is war in my house / to finally accept: my house is war.” Since Iya had to leave her hometown Donetsk, a city, which name has been changing repeatedly under yet another authorities. It was founded nearby a village Aleksandrovka (during the reign of Catherine the Great) by a Welsh man, John Hughes. He came to mine coal, which the authorities agreed to in exchange for the construction of a smelter, where railroads were built, which would soon connect the region in southwestern Ukraine with the rest of Russia. Hence, he was named Juzovka – the Russians pronounced Welsh man’s name in their own way. During Stalin’s reign it was renamed to Stalin, just like many other cities. Vladimir Uspensky noted also “Trock” in his book “Commander’s secret counsellor”, but there’s no proof for this and he hadn’t been in Stalin’s good graces for long. During times of Khrushchev, the dictator stopped being in vogue (for a while) and the city got its name from the river Donetsk. In 2014 Donetsk was invaded by Russian army and is not a part of so-called Donetsk People's Republic. As I am watching a Sergiej Loznitsy movie about Donbas, I can see people not trusting each other anymore, I can see them dying in the crossfire, I can see actors playing so well, I don’t even know that the game is. 


Iya had to flee twice – first time the went to Kiev, then Lviv. She used to write poetry in Russian, now – she only writes in Ukrainian. Time has passed relentlessly since the poem in Wyborcza, the war goes on. I discover Iya’s works and I fall in love. I fall for her telluric imagery. In a very present conversation full of references to superficial connections via chat and zoom. For poems full of wounds yet not bitter. After all, there’s a sense of lightness to this poetry. Despite all the pain. Iya is a poet of all senses, she tells what it is like to "hold the needle of silence in her mouth" and "repress the moisture of speech on the tongue

/ full of holes like a rusty bucket”. Whole world is ripping through her poems. Not just the war. There’s also a lilac flower that opened her a window to sleep. There’s “the lake flower” and chestnuts conducting “Haydn’s farewell symphony”. It’s a world of possibilities, where a heart opens itself to a beautiful, Tarkowski-like landscape.


Candles of Iya’s poems are lit. Candles of the letter “ї” written in cirilic. Is this a transcendental light? I ask Iya about her origins. She talks about her Jewish family from Berdychiv. I remember Stempowski’s essay on Berdychiv, about local tailors, who studied Marx sitting in their shops. After the war Stempowski never came back to Berdychiv but the image of Machnowiecka street remained "a measure of things, a kind of reed that the Angel of the Apocalypse orders to measure institutions and people”. A cousin of Iya’s grandmother died in Holocaust. History of Holocoust in Ukraine still hasn’t been described well enough. 


The poet identifies with Christianity though. I sense veins of Simone Weil’s ideas under her skin. A void filled with love. When the light is gone, and "we spread our hands like conductors / whose hands are replaced by hermit trees", the landscape seems barren, as in Eliot's work. However, there is no resignation here, we are still "looking for an orchard where they will speak / like blood in hearts cut out of paper”. “The soul loves in a vacuum”, said Simone Weil. Next to the war, there’s love dwelling in Iya’s poetry.


A couple of days after war escalation I received an email from Maja Zagajewska, and in that email – the poem from Wyborcza, the one I know so well. And I’m thinking what to reply. It is calm, it is ordinary. In the evening, I get invited into an unprecedented Zoom meeting – Voices for Ukraine – it was included into a series of meetings “Words Together, Words Apart” that was initiated during the pandemic. In the course of 48 hours, US-based poets – Olga Livshin (born in Dnipro) and Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach (born in Odessa) gathered Ukrainian poets and their translators for common poetry reading. Income from the reading was allocated for Ukrainian poets. 


I was invited for common poetry reading by Ilya Kaminsky – American poet with Ukrainian origins (Odessa). All of the poems were moving. I was also very impressed by Boris Chersonski, Ostap Slyvynsky, Ilya Kaminsky himself, whose poetry I’ve had known for many years, and Carolyn Forché who opened the evening gathering by reading a poem dedicated to Ilya Kaminsky. Amongst the poets invited was also Iya Kiva. She read the poem I had known so well…After this, I couldn’t fall asleep for a long time. It was 4 am when I opened my laptop and replied to Maja:



Yesterday we listened on Zoom as Iya Kiva

read a poem in Kiev where the golden

caps of the orthodox churches did not run to the shelters,

we listened from our homes,

nearly everyone, listened,

and we were all eyes, as if there was

nothing else, just eyes, as if we wanted

to protect her with our eyes with which we absorbed

every word while Babi Yar burned in the background,

but memory does not burn, we trust, memory is rustproof,

memory will survive, hibernate like a mole,

all of us, a thousand people on Zoom,

two thousand eyes, wanted to hold

an umbrella of air over Iya,

shield her with our gaze,

when she finished reading, I raised my head,

on the table was a book from the library,

Emil Cioran’s La Tentation d’Exister,

the hills held Bergen in their lap,

the first crocuses were in bloom, everyone

was looking forward to spring.

Essay written by ariel rosé

Translation by Frank L. Vigoda