Statement by Anna Starobinets about the war in Ukraine

Statement by Anna Starobinets about the war in Ukraine

This statement by the Cheuse Center's visiting writer, Anna Starobinets was published in Russian. (Source*)


“But who needs you, anyway!” say my elderly relatives. “Live quietly in Russia. Just keep your mouth shut.” Of course, they mean something else – that as long as I gag myself with a metaphorical handkerchief, no-one will threaten me – but there’s still truth in their words. I’m not needed any more. Not needed anywhere. Neither “here”, nor “there”. I’m not needed “here”, because I call the war what it is: war. Because I insist that the people of Ukraine are peaceful, not fascists. People who are being bombed by my own homeland, controlled now by a crazy psychopath. I’m not needed “there”, because now I carry the mark of Cain. Of someone who kills his own brother every day. Because I am from Russia.

What can I do? Stay in Russia, take to the streets every day with those who are brave enough? Get beaten in the face and kidney-punched? Get sent to prison for three years, or twenty years? Probably not twenty, of course. Three is more likely. And for the first offence, just two weeks or so. But I can’t do it. I cannot bear to leave my children. They have no-one in the world but me.

What can I do? Stay in Russia, and remain silent? Become part of it? No, I can’t do that either.

What can I do? Go elsewhere, lose everything? Everything except the shreds of my self-respect, and my children. That’s my choice. I’ve made it – and left.

I’ve come, first, to Sri Lanka. I booked and paid for this trip in the happy days before the war: I wanted to see the jungle animals, because my next Beastly Detectives children’s book is meant to be set in a jungle. Coconuts, apes, elephants, heat – I feel feverish; delirious. The jungles of Sri Lanka symbolize my homelessness. I see an elephant – and I remember I no longer have a home. I see a palm tree – and I remember I’ve given up my beloved apartment in Khamovniki, Moscow. Here I see apes – and there, my friends are packing up my life into cardboard boxes. I see snakes – and I have enough money for three months, at most. Coconuts, ripe to pluck – and I’ve left my parents and my friends. Here’s the new moon, lying on its back; and I have no idea what to do for the rest of my life.

From here we’ll move on to Georgia. Then, maybe, to Montenegro. Farther on, I see only fog: thick, like the mist above jungle pools at six in the morning.

This is the choice I have made. Silence, for me, is the worst. The only thing I can do well is string words together in Russian. That’s all I have. I’ll comfort myself that I can still do this when far away. Perhaps I’ll be more useful like this for toppling the regime, than if I shut my mouth or went to prison. Maybe the same children who read my Beastly Detectives will do something when they grow up. Since I couldn’t do it. Since we couldn’t.

With these words, I burn my bridges. My sympathy: for Ukraine. My respect: for those who remain, to fight on.

Ich hatte einst ein schönes Vaterland.
Der Eichenbaum
wuchs dort so hoch, die Veilchen nickten sanft –
es war ein Traum.
Das küßte mich auf deutsch und sprach auf deutsch
(man glaubt es kaum,
wie gut es klang) das Wort: “Ich liebe dich” –
es war ein Traum.

(Heine, 1832)

Anna Starobinets is an acclaimed, award-winning Russian novelist, screenwriter, and journalist. Best known as a writer of dystopian and metaphysical novels and short stories, she is also a successful children’s author.

*Source: This statement was posted in Russian on Facebook on March 11, 2022, and later translated into English by Muireann Maguire. The translator of Anna's book, "Look at Him", Katherine E Young, has a section on Anna on her web site and we cite that source reference. Here is the link.

Photo credit: Dmitry Rozhkov