Nataliya Gumenyuk: “Western solidarity with Ukraine is great, but a cultural response is missing”


During the Arsenal International Book Festival in kyiv in 2021.

The Arsenal International Book Festival, which has been held since 2011 at the Mystetskyi Arsenal art center in Kyiv, had to be canceled in 2022 and until recently it was unclear whether it could resume this year. But, at the beginning of May, its coordinator, Yulia Kozlovets, announced that it would indeed take place, from June 22 to 25.

In addition to the book fair, it will include, as every year, performances and meetings – some sixty events are planned, in which one hundred and fifty authors will participate –, notably organized within the framework of a thematic program, including the curator, for this 11e edition, will be Nataliya Gumenyuk. Author of books (untranslated) on occupied Crimea or the Maidan revolution, contributor to the washington postof Guardian or New York Times, the Ukrainian journalist and documentary filmmaker is also co-founder of the Reckoning Project, an international initiative of journalists and lawyers aimed at documenting war crimes. She explains to the “World of Books” the reasons for her involvement in this revival of one of the symbols of cultural resistance in Ukraine.

Why was it important for the festival to resume?

We must be clear: the return of public events in Ukraine does not mean a return to normal. The situation is constantly changing, and it remains very critical. But, when someone wants to destroy you, the best response is to stay alive, and show it. Since the Russians want there to be no more Ukrainian life, we have to do everything we can, to return to some form of normality despite everything. This is part of our resistance.

In 2022, we were reeling from the invasion. But the festival plays an important role and it had to continue, if only to support the book industry, which has published less since last year – it’s more expensive, more difficult… And then, people here have a great need to talk to each other. They want unity, exchange, shared spaces. The festival is one of those places, I see it in my discussions with the people I want to invite. Whether it is the Jewish community of Dnipro, a poet who is currently fighting on the front line or a village leader in the Kherson region, everyone is showing great interest, everyone is very keen to come and talk to each other and to the public.

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How did you choose the theme of your program, “When everything matters”?

It has two dimensions. The first is very concrete. When your life is in danger, everything taken for granted is called into question. The fact of being able to breathe normally, the fact of having water, the fact of wishing good night to someone when, perhaps, there is going to be an attack… Everything takes on an unprecedented weight. Everything matters, really. It was just normal, it’s becoming urgent. You really feel the nerve of life.

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