When People Ask Me So How Do You Feel About the War in Ukraine? | Nicole Yurcaba

Contains references to violence and rape

A Ukrainian can be pushed down for a long time, but when his forehead touches the ground, he’ll rise up and no one will stop him.— an old Ukrainian saying

I think of Evgen, who, five years ago emailed a picture
of his grape-eye and the blood-creek cruising his face.

My father, 75, was in his bedroom, searching for his passport
and packing his suitcase, determined to die in the mother

country. I, at 26, postponed studying literature in Kyiv.
I think how many times I cancelled and re-planned.

It’s too unsafe, my father says. Listen to your father,
my mother pleads. Listen! I am always denied

home, return, chance, existence, identity. I am a woman
of two countries, but in one tanks roll through my wheat-

fields; my sunflower fields, now snow-covered, are imprinted
with artillery and bomb blasts, are stained with the lives

of brothers, of cousins, of sisters and century upon century
of rape and enslavement My willows bend and creak,

and I remember my grandmother, how she wiped tears from my cheek
and said You, like Ukrayina, are large and beautiful—

 a mystery no one’s meant to decode.

Writer’s Commentary

In a Ukrainian family that came to America as political refugees, I learned vast amounts of history. My family is very political, and from a young age I learned to debate not only American politics and history, but also international politics and history, specifically Russo-Ukrainian relations. Because of my family’s history in Ukraine and America, and as many of my family members were imprisoned in Nazi camps, I have a deep interest in World War II. Thus, I admire people like Horace Greasley who defied camp guards and high-ranking Nazi officers. More recently, because of my own desire to return to Ukraine—a return that has been delayed more times than I can count due to the current Russian invasion of Ukraine—my poetry has focused on what “home” is to people like me who live as part of a culture’s diaspora on soil where we don’t necessarily feel we have an identity.

Nicole Yurcaba, a Ukrainian-American writer, teaches in Bridgewater College’s English department, where she also serves as the Assistant Director for the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival. Her poems and essays appear journals such as The Atlanta Review, The Lindenwood Review, Chariton Review, Still: The Journal, OTHER., Junto Magazine, Whiskey Island, The Broadkill Review and many others.  When she is not teaching, writing, or traveling, or dancing to Depeche Mode and Wolfsheim in goth clubs, Yurcaba lives, gardens, and fishes in West Virginia with her fiancé on their mountain homestead.

 She is the Assistant Director of the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, on Twitter at @bwaterpoetfest and  Facebook at (Bridgewater International Poetry Festival).

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