Elena Zaslavskaya – poet and author of children’s stories – has changed her passport many times. She was born in the USSR, she grew up in independent Ukraine, she supported the struggle for the separation of Luhansk with the help of Moscow and she already has a Russian passport, the country with which she identifies. She is the poet of Luhansk and regularly goes to the front with other artists to harangue the troops fighting against kyiv. “We are a brigade of agitation, of traveling propaganda, through cities like Mariupol, Volnovaja or Donetsk,” he explains in a Moscow cafe during a short visit to the capital of his new (and old) country.
For Zaslavskaya, rhyming alongside the front is “a bittersweet experience.” She remembers “the exhausted faces of the doctors, the pain of the wounded.” But “songs and poems lift people’s spirits. They are war poemsbut not only: also love poems“. His work has been translated into German, French, Spanish, English, Lithuanian and Bulgarian.
“My first poetry is Russian and Ukrainian lullabies.” Instead, the last 10 years of his life have been an earthquake of blood and flags. It was in 2014 when she encountered the opposite of poetry: war. In her view, Ukraine adopted a series of laws that she considers “discriminatory against the Russian language and population” and launched “a punitive operation against Donbas.” In Luhansk, some did not support kyiv’s policy, and the war hit almost every family.
Zaslavskaya supported the self-proclaimed republics of Lugansk and Donetsk. Each of his trips is an adventure. “Sometimes there are no supports for the microphone and they screw it directly to the handle of a shovel, other times we run out of gas in the field and we have to ask the military for help; in the middle of the night we get lost on the road and then we go to at full speed in our car through a field where they are shooting,” he explains.
His poems were read for the first time in Spanish in 2015, with the conflict already underway: “In our wild fields / gray with ashes. / The stalks of prince’s feathers turned black. / Together with us our enemies will fall. / To our plains, to the land of Donbas.”