The Ukrainian PEN Centre is part of the network of PEN International, the activity of which is based on the 1921 PEN Charter and aims at protection of freedom of speech and expression, support for imperiled and persecuted authors, defense of language and cultural rights, and promotion of humanist values through culture and literature.
The Ukrainian Centre of PEN International was formally established in the autumn of 1989 within the walls and under the patronage of the Writers’ Union of Ukraine; and admitted to PEN International in the spring of 1990. The tangible existence of PEN Ukraine – its dynamic activity – commenced with the election of Myroslav Marynovych as the president of the Centre in 2010. Since then, the activity of the organization has been systematic on both international level as well as national resulting in implementation of various projects and their adequate media coverage.
At present PEN Ukraine unites 128 members; its chief governing body is the general meeting; operational management is delegated to the Executive Board consisting of eight persons chaired by the president and two vice presidents. The activity of the Ukrainian Centre of PEN International is regulated by the officially registered Statute and legally confirmed status of an NGO. General nature of activity is determined by the Charter of PEN International (founded in 1921), which declares its principle aims: to defend freedom of speech and expression, advocate the rights of minorities, help persecuted writers, support cultural diversity, and assert humanist values by means of culture.
During 2011-2017, PEN Ukraine realized a range of short-term and permanent projects, which include: representation of Ukraine on the 78th PEN International Congress in South Korea (M. Marynovych, 2012), 80th Congress in Kyrgyzstan (A. Kurkov, 2014), 82nd in Galicia (M. Riabchuk, A. Kurkov, G. Bekirova; 2016); successful lobbying for arranging the next 83rd Congress in Ukraine – in particular, inviting the president of PEN International John Ralston Saul (Kyiv & Odesa, 2015), director of International Relations Department at PEN International Dru Menaker (Kyiv, 2016), and executive director of PEN International Carles Torner (Lviv & Kyiv, 2017); annual arrangement of regional conferences of Central and Eastern European PEN Centres within the framework of the Lviv Publishers’ Forum; annual organization of PEN Ukraine’s Yuri Shevelov Prize (awarding ceremony and media coverage); annual arrangement of PEN’s Vasyl Stus Prize (awarding ceremony within the framework of the Book Arsenal); annual organization of the New Voices competition initiated by PEN International, PEN Ukraine’s president participation in anniversary events organized by Polish (2015), Slovak (2015), Romanian (2017) and Croatian (2017) PEN Centres; representation of Ukraine at the Writers in Prison PEN International sessions in Rotterdam and ICORN in Lillehammer (Halya Coynash, 2014 and 2017); annual International Writers’ Meeting in Bled, Slovenia (A. Kurkov); the OSCE conference “Media freedom in volatile environments” in Vienna (O. Panych, V. Yermolenko; 2017); numerous trips and addresses of PEN members in different regions of Ukraine, etc.
Since 2014, PEN Ukraine has been drawing attention of the international community to the events in Ukraine, occupation of the Crimea and Ukrainian political prisoners in Russian jails, in particular through the following statements:
– To prevent the escalation of violence: Statement of the Ukrainian Centre of PEN International PEN Club, Eurozine, 23.01.2014;
– Free Ilmi Umerov! Stop Political Terror in the Crimea! aimed to prevent political repressions on the peninsula;
– Open Letter to the Dutch colleagues addressing the local referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association;
– Statement in support of the Ukrainian journalist and member of PEN Ukraine Mykola Semena;
– Regular informing of foreign partners and international community on the case of the Ukrainian writer and film director Oleg Sentsov, who was illegally imprisoned in Russia, as well as lobbying international campaign for his release.
At present, the most significant achievement of PEN Ukraine is the arrangement and hosting of the 83rd PEN International Congress in Lviv on September 18-22, 2017. From the very beginning, this event was considered as a unique opportunity to raise Ukrainian issues on the international level: the question of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and the occupied territories, highlight the topical problem of refugees (internally displaced persons) and draw appropriate attention to tragic fate of ethnic, lingo-cultural and religious minorities in the Crimea, namely the persecuted Crimean Tatars. In the course of the Congress, in addition to traditional plenary sessions, commission and committee meetings, 27 supplementary events open to general public, especially youth, were organized. These included concerts, exhibitions, lectures, panel discussions, literary meetings and poetry readings involving the Congress delegates. The paramount event of the Congress was a multimedia Empty Chairs evening dedicated to imprisoned and persecuted authors, where Oleg Sentsov’s case was presented as well as a documentary about him and a fragment of his play. Moreover, Serhiy Zhadan declared his poems and DakhaBrakha performed their renowned compositions.
The Congress turned out to be not only an event of cultural significance, but also political – expression of international writers’ solidarity with Ukraine, which has been in the state of unannounced war with Russia since 2014, having suffered, along with military belligerence, powerful propagandist and defamation aggression. The embodiment of the international solidarity reflected in the official theme of the Congress: Reclaiming Truth in Times of Propaganda. As virtually every successful international event, the Congress contributed to assertion of Ukraine’s positive image in the world, promotion of Ukrainian culture, communication of information about Ukraine through opinionated and creative environments represented at the Congress by leading writers from different countries of the world.