Sky Above Kharkiv
Dispatches from the Ukrainian Front
Imprint: Yale University Press
“A vivid, in-the-trenches report from a Ukrainian city and its ‘injured, yet unbreakable’ citizens.”—Kirkus Reviews
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Serhiy Zhadan took to social media to coordinate a network of resistance workers and send messages of courage to his fellow Ukrainians. What began as a local organizing effort exploded onto the international stage as readers around the globe looked to Zhadan as a key eyewitness documenting Russian atrocities.
In this powerful record of the war’s harrowing first four months, Zhadan works day and night in Kharkiv to evacuate children and the elderly from suburbs that have come under fire. He sends lists of life-saving medications to the West in the hopes of procuring them for civilians, coordinates food deliveries, collects money for military equipment, and organizes concerts. He shares photographs of the open sky—grateful for every pause in the shelling—and captures images of beloved institutions reduced to rubble. We’ll restore everything. We’ll rebuild everything, he writes.
As the days pass, the city empties. Friends are killed. And when images of the Bucha massacre are released, Zhadan’s own voice falters: I’m speechless. Hang in there, my friends. Tomorrow, we’ll wake up one day closer to our victory. An intimate work of witness literature, this book is at once the testimony of one man entering a new reality and the story of a society fighting for the right to exist.
“[A] personal record of the first four months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, recounting the shelling and killing but also resistance in Kharkiv.”—New York Times Book Review
“Costigan-Humes and Wheeler endearingly capture Zhadan’s wit and colloquial tone. . . . Language may not overrun mercenaries or shoot down missiles, but it can—when wielded by writers like Zhadan and so many of his compatriots—help defeat prejudice, ignorance, and skepticism, with words as well as arms bringing Ukraine one day closer to victory.”—Cory Oldweiler, Boston Globe
“Instead of high politics, this book is about endurance. . . . Every day since the Russian invasion [Zhadan] has posted informative, descriptive articles and poems on Facebook.”—Allan Massie, The Scotsman
“Zhadan’s "Sky Above Kharkiv" should be valued for preserving an important personal testimony from one of the most pivotal battles during Russia's all-out war against Ukraine.” -Kate Tsurkan, The Kyiv Independent
Finalist for the Witold Pilecki International Book Award, special prize category, sponsored by The Pilecki Institute
“This powerful book from Ukraine’s iconic poet-activist is at once a moving testament to the spirit of a nation that will not back down, an indictment of a bloody and unnecessary war, and a call on the rest of us to defend the principles of freedom and democracy wherever they are threatened.”—Anne Applebaum
“In this, his ‘diary for everyone,’ poet Serhiy Zhadan turns his Facebook posts into urgent wartime communiques in a language that digs through debris, sweeps up broken glass and records the valor of a city organizing to defend itself. His daily missives call for supplies, offer advice, issue warnings and preserve for posterity a record of ‘the chimerical, tenuous nature of danger and vulnerability.’ It isn’t meant to be poetry but poetry is everywhere within it. This is language with its breath held, language that, as the poet hoped, ‘stands up to silence and death.’ As Zhadan says of Ukrainian poetry, Sky Above Kharkiv ‘stitches up the body of history, holds everything together, doesn’t let us forget a single thing.’”—Carolyn Forché
“The indefatigable Serhiy Zhadan is writing against death. His love-letter-in-posts to the people of Kharkiv will live far longer than Putin’s regime—as well as—let us all desperately hope—his example that real toughness does not emerge in coldness and cruelty, but in solidarity and kindness.”—Marci Shore
“This is a sobering eyewitness account of the Russian aggression that turned the peaceful skies over Ukraine into clouds of fear and death. But more than that, it is a story of Ukrainian defiance and resistance, recorded in real time in the online posts of one of the country’s leading intellectual and cultural figures, who refused to abandon his city during the most dramatic months of the war. Sky Above Kharkiv conveys the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainians—revealing why they did not surrender, and why they will win.”—Serhii Plokhy, author of The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History