Maria Galina speaks of the Russian language as a “trigger”

“People choose to speak Ukrainian rather than Russian,” says Maria Galina, a Russian author and poet in Odessa.

On Primorsky Boulevard in Odessa, January 30. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Multipedia

By Olivia Snaije | @OliviaSnaije

“I wanted to be with my people”

Maria Galina left Moscow with her husband and two suitcases in January for Odessa, the Ukrainian port on the Black Sea. “We decided to meet the war here,” she says.

Mary Galina

Poet, author, literary critic and translator from English and Ukrainian into Russian, Galina recounts Publication prospects that life is still relatively normal in Odessa, but schools are closed and, as DW News reported, the city is preparing for an impending battle and possible siege.

Galina and her husband, both of Russian nationality, are of Ukrainian origin. They had decided more than ten years ago to return to Ukraine, but only obtained a residence permit a year ago. Galina says she was in a hurry to cross the border before it closed. She says she knew war was coming.

“I wanted to be with my people,” she says. “If I stayed in Moscow, I would have felt deep guilt. This feeling of guilt can ruin people.

Galina, who writes science fiction and gives masterclasses on the subject, says her source of information about the impending war was the Russian speculative fiction she reads for her research.

“Since the Orange Revolution, there has been a lot of trash literature devoted to the war in Ukraine. This speculative fiction was a form of propaganda.

Indeed, in a chapter of the 2019 anthology The Post-Soviet Politics of Utopia: Language, Fiction, and Fantasy in Modern Russia (Bloomsbury/IB Tauris, edited by Mikhail Suslov and Per-Arne Bodin), Galina has written that mass literature is a good barometer of collective consciousness.

It focuses on two evolving trends in post-Soviet speculative fiction.

The first is an alleged aggression by NATO and the West towards Russia and the former Soviet states, in particular Ukraine. The second is nostalgia for a “Russian world” with contemporary protagonists capable of restoring it. Several books describe the return of Crimea and Ukraine to the Russian sphere. Following the country’s Orange Revolution in 2004 and 2005, a series of 15 novels entitled future warssubtitle A field of war: Ukraine, was published by EKSMO/Iausa.

Galina grew up in kyiv and then in Odessa, where she first discovered science fiction in a library, reading Ray Bradbury and the Strugatsky brothers. Unlike such content today, Soviet science fiction then was utopian, “with the promise of a bright future”.

After earning a degree in marine biology, Galina moved to Moscow, where she worked as a scientist and lived through the collapse of the Soviet Union. She then became a poet and fiction writer under the pseudonym Maxim Golitsyn, and then her own name. Galina also worked as a critic for the Russian literary periodical Novi Mir, specializing in fantasy literature.

In 2003 she was invited as an author to the Portal Science Fiction convention in Kyiv.

Maria Galina’s novel is here in its English translation by Amanda Love Darrahg of Glas

During the early post-Soviet years, she says, “the cultural space was the same. People still preferred to publish in Moscow because the audience was bigger. People tried to write in Ukrainian, but it didn’t happen often, it was a new phenomenon. In kyiv, she felt deeply rooted and began to return every year for the convention, during which she helped the organizers and befriended.

Galina became interested in Ukrainian literature, especially poetry, which she began to translate into Russian.

“Ukrainian literature was growing,” she says, “especially after the Orange Revolution. Young people were convinced that they needed their own literature. Literature builds national identity. The development of their literature had been artificially halted during the Soviet era. A whole generation of poets has been eliminated.

“Great Propaganda”

Under the Russian Empire, the Ukrainian language was suppressed, but at the beginning of the USSR, Ukraine and its language had a moment of freedom. In the 1920s, a generation of Ukrainian authors writing in Ukrainian flourished, producing experimental literature documented in Yurii Lavrinenko’s 1959 The executed novel (Smoloskyp). From 1930, however, Stalin again crushed Ukraine, suppressing, arresting and executing the intelligentsia.

“I asked the poet Iya Kiva what she was reading, and she mostly told me news. There is no time for reflection.Mary Galina

Ukrainian literature has developed rapidly, says Galina, with poetry currently being the strongest genre.

“The younger generation works with free verse,” she says, “inspired by German or Polish poetry, not Russian poetry.” Some poets, including Iya Kiva (see Katherine E. Young at Words Without Borders) – whose work she has translated into English as the journal’s guest editor Poem-write in Russian and Ukrainian. However, since the attack began in February, Galina says the Russian language has become “a trigger”, the language of the attack.

“It’s painful because it’s the language I write in,” she says. “People choose to speak Ukrainian rather than Russian. Many of my friends who used to communicate in Russian now use Ukrainian. All Ukrainians were bilingual. Now I think Ukrainian will grow and Russian will shrink. But let’s wait. The problem now is to end the war.

The Russian language has been a controversial topic in Ukraine for decades, much like language debates in Catalonia and Quebec.

Andrey Kurkov, one of the world’s best-selling Russian-language authors, who has chosen to stay in Ukraine with his family since the start of the Russian invasion – he communicates frequently these days with French and British radio – gave a lecture at the Ukrainian Cultural Institute in London in 2018 on the subject of language. Ukraine should appropriate its own distinct Russian-speaking culture, he said, and Ukrainian authors writing in Russian write about Ukraine, not Russia.

At Éditions Agullo in France, “Autochthones” by Maria Galina, translated from Russian by Raphaëlle Pache

Just before the February 24 invasion, Galina sent her completed poetry collection, her seventh, to her Russian publisher. She is now unsure of the release.

She continues to teach online science fiction lessons to Russian speakers in many parts of the world, but she cannot receive payment because her Russian bank card is blocked.

“I’m sitting like a maniac, obsessively scrolling through my smartphone,” she says. “I asked the poet Iya Kiva what she was reading, and she mostly told me news. There is no time for reflection.

Galina says she feels she can be useful to the West by talking about Ukrainian culture and literature. As a member of PEN Ukraine, she is engaged in their cultural resistance campaign.

Galina says she doesn’t know how she can help spread information about events in Ukraine to Russia, where she says her contemporaries, mostly intellectuals, are already aware of the situation. In a recent interview with Agathe de Lastyns on the French site, Literaryshe says she has kept in touch with Russian authors on social networks.

“Some are horrified by what is happening,” she said. “Many emigrated so as not to have to share the guilt of their state. Many others are intimidated.

But otherwise, for “people who watch television as their only source of information, there is enormous propaganda, very abrasive and very aggressive. It will take time. We will see how the sanctions will work.

At the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater on April 28, 2019. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Asergieiev


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About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a Paris-based journalist and editor who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post and The New York Times.

Sylvester L. Goldfarb