Stand up for truth and justice: VI Regional meeting of PEN Centres took place in Uzhhorod

Stand up for truth and justice: VI Regional meeting of PEN Centres took place in Uzhhorod

On August 25-26, VI Regional meeting of PEN Centres, established and organized by PEN Ukraine under the support of PEN International, New Democracy Fund, Danish Cultural Institute, and the Institute for Central European Strategy took place in Uzhhorod.

Established in 2014 as the meeting of Central and Eastern European PEN Centres, this event became a platform for mutual support and discussing challenges to the freedom of speech and human rights in the respective region. Despite the violent war, launched by Russia against Ukraine, the VI Regional meeting took place this year as well.

To express their solidarity with Ukraine, the representatives of six PEN Centres came to Uzhhorod: Tomica Bajsić (president of PEN Croatia), Kätlin Kaldmaa (president of PEN Estonia), Inga Gaile (president of PEN Latvia), Marek Radziwon (president of PEN Poland), Taciana Niadbaj (president of PEN Belarus in exile), and Hanna Nordell (director of PEN Sweden).

Andrii Kurkov, president of PEN Ukraine, spoke at the opening of the VI Regional meeting of PEN Centres.

"All European countries now became neighbours of war. War is another name of Russia. Just like USSR brought war to Prague and Budapest, Russia brought war to Georgia, Moldova and now Ukraine. If you are not Ukrainian and you don't live in Ukraine don't think this war is not yours. Now at the time of global processes everything becomes global, also Russian agression in Ukraine is a global aggression. Global agression against European values, against democracy, against freedoms and human rights. The human rights are taken away in this war together with human lives. Nothing remains on the burned down Ukrainian soil except ruins and ashes. But Ukraine resists and will resist this aggression. Ukraine is fighting back and is not going to give up. Ukrainian writers are also standing up to the challenges of this war. The words are not bullets, just the opposite. The words can heal wounded. The words can keep the spirit up. The words can explain. And that is why Ukraine now needs not only arms and ammunition but also words, words of empathy and understanding coming from every country of Europe, from every country of the world. Ukraine needs to hear these words of solidarity and the words of hope," he pointed out in his speech.

Two discussions were held within VI Regional meeting of PEN Centres: The Power of the Past vs the Poison of the Past: How should we grow the future of Europe, relying on common history (moderated by Ostap Slyvynsky) and Role of intellectuals in wartime (moderated by Ola Hnatiuk).

On top of that, the meeting included a series of public conversations with Ukrainian authors, activists, and human rights defenders. Alim Aliev, human rights activist and Deputy General Director of the Ukrainian Institute, talked about the situation with the freedom of speech in the Russian-occupied Crimea and the role of cultural diplomacy in wartime. The couple of Ukrainian authors Yuliia Stakhivska and Oleh Kotsarev told the audience about their life in Uzhhorod where they had forcedly moved from their hometown of Bucha. Kateryna Yesypenko, human rights defender and wife of Vladyslav Yesypenko, a politically imprisoned journalist from the occupied Crimea, spoke of the case against her husband, occupiers’ "justice", and the struggle of the political prisoners’ families for the liberation of their loved ones. Ukrainian author Andrii Lyubka talked about how the war had made him to put writing down and start raising funds and delivering cars for our military at the frontline as a volunteer.

Also, the participants of the meeting visited the humanitarian centre "Committee for Medical Aid in Transcarpathia", a shelter for mothers and children who lost their homes in the Eastern regions of Ukraine because of the war, and the organization "Creative Volunteers of Uzhhorod" that arranges useful entertainment for temporarily displaced children where the writer and president of PEN Estonia Kätlin Kaldmaa gave them a workshop on storytelling.

At the end of the meeting the participants approved and signed the final resolution named "Stand Up for Truth and Justice". It expressed their solidarity with Ukrainian cultural community, Ukrainian authors and Ukrainian people who defend their independence, right for peaceful life and freedom of expression.


"Our meeting was not only an opportunity to express solidarity across borders, but also a chance to get to know each other so that we might better understand the situation faced by temporarily displaced people in Ukraine, the work of Ukrainian aid organisations and volunteers, sheltering the temporarily displaced people and children in need. Members of PEN Ukraine are themselves often part of these communities.
We express our deep admiration for the ability of Ukrainian society to organise itself and for the great dedication of volunteers. We are deeply moved by the personal stories of the writers, human rights defenders, and humanitarian aid volunteers we witnessed at the meeting. We want to tell our PEN members and their communities not only about the suffering, but also about the heroism of the ordinary people of Ukraine," the final document states.

Moreover, the signatories urged the world to call Russia’s war against Ukraine exactly the war and struggle with the Russian propaganda, which the imperial stereotype of "the great Russian culture" serves for as a tool.

"We must stand up for truth and justice. We believe in freedom of expression and justice. Let us demand the trials of war criminals. Let us call for an immediate and unconditional end to the war by the Russian Federation," the participants of the VI Regional meeting of PEN Centres emphasised.

The full text of the resolution is available here.

Photos by Nataliia Bodnar and Maksym Sytnikov
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