‘It is not the right moment to try and understand Russians.’ Sophia Andrukhovych In Dialogue With Orhan Pamuk

Rodina Iryna
Rodina Iryna
Communication manager
‘It is not the right moment to try and understand Russians.’ Sophia Andrukhovych In Dialogue With Orhan Pamuk

In order to comprehend the events of recent days, PEN Ukraine has launched a series of conversations entitled #DialoguesOnWar.

On July 8, Sophia Andrukhovych, Ukrainian author and translator, held a conversation with Orhan Pamuk, author and Nobel Prize winner in Literature. This is a transcription of key moments from their conversation. You can check out the recorded conversation here.

Orhan Pamuk: Hello, I am very pleased to have this conversation. I am here, in my summerhouse, in Istanbul, away from the town. I want to ask you, Sofia, where are you now? Where were you when the war started and what were you doing at that moment?

Sophia Andrukhovych: Hello Orhan, hello everyone, thank you so much for having me. I was living in Kyiv when the war started. I have been for 17 years. I was born in Ivano-Frankivsk, a little town in the western part of Ukraine. And after the first week of the war, my family and I fled there. It all started when I woke up at 5 in the morning. I never wake up that early. I had this awful feeling I could not explain. I was just lying in my bed listening to silence. Then suddenly I heard an explosion and felt trembling. 

Orhan Pamuk: Were you expecting something like this to happen when you went to sleep that night?

Sophia Andrukhovych: Yes. We were warned by the American and British governments. We knew that Russian forces were near our border. In a way, we were somewhat prepared, but you can never really prepare for something like this. I woke my husband up and told him that the war had started. Then immediately I thought, is our daughter going to school that day? Probably it was my conscience trying to make everything normal. Only then I understood: nothing will be the same anymore.

Orhan Pamuk: Did you immediately wake your daughter up? 

Sophia Andrukhovych: Yes, I started packing things because we were hoping to flee on the first day. That’s when she woke up, and I tried not to scare her and to explain what was happening. She’s 14, so she was aware of the news.

Orhan Pamuk: And the explosions were continuing?

Sophia Andrukhovych: Yes, every 20 minutes or so. Although my memory may have changed a little. The sirens were on. We were told to hide in the bomb shelters because staying at our flat was dangerous. One of the shelters was the Kyiv Metro. I think you have been to Kyiv and have seen it yourselves before.

Orhan Pamuk: Yes, how far away was the subway station from you?

Sophia Andrukhovych: About 5 minutes. It was so unrealistic. This huge underground space is filled with hundreds of people. They were sitting so close to each other, with their cats and dogs. They were shocked. However, when I started to watch the people, I was surprised to notice how calm they were. They came with their suitcases, bags, and chairs, but they were very composed.

Orhan Pamuk: Back then, how long did you think the war would last?

Sophia Andrukhovych: I had somewhat naïve thoughts. I could not imagine that now, in our times, something like this could happen. When it started, I hoped that the world would not allow this. I hoped that other countries would interfere and influence the situation in some way. I hoped such an atrocity would be stopped. Now I see how naïve I was. 

Orhan Pamuk: What did your husband say? If you were writing a novel set in that particular moment, what would the conversation between the two of you be like?

Sophia Andrukhovych: I asked my husband’s opinion on the situation. We talked about the Ukrainian troops, the people who volunteered and joined the Armed Forces, who took up arms to fight for our country. We also talked about what we had to do to stay alive. Those first days were mainly about surviving. 

Orhan Pamuk: How long did you stay in the subway station that day?

Sophia Andrukhovych: About 6 hours. It became very tiring and depressing. We saw elderly people, sick people, and little crying children. So we decided to return home. 

Orhan Pamuk: Sorry to ask, but were there toilets or food in the Kyiv Metro?

Sophia Andrukhovych: There was one toilet for this huge crowd of people. So, it was not very convenient. Every family had its food. But from the very beginning the desire to help each other, to make this situation easier, was obvious. Sharing food and helping people next to you with medicines felt like saving lives. It started then, and it is still going on, this willingness to help and to support.

Orhan Pamuk: It is so great to hear about this solidarity. But were there people who were acting egotistically, on their own? Sorry for this question.

Sophia Andrukhovych: I am sure there were, but I have not met them. I saw only kindness.

Orhan Pamuk: What did you learn about humanity throughout this process? 

Sophia Andrukhovych: I have learned that humanity is kinder than I imagined it to be. But at the same time, I saw these horrible things going on: Russians killing, raping Ukrainians, ruining our cities. Of course, this radicalises Ukrainians. People cannot simply be kind when something like this is going on. We become tougher. We see everything in black and white. It is a survival mechanism working like that. When you are in danger, when it comes to life and death questions, you cannot perceive shades.

Orhan Pamuk: You are telling us very interesting things. Are you keeping a diary?

Sophia Andrukhovych: I am writing essays, and those essays are my diary. I did it every couple of weeks and I noticed that every essay was like a chronicle of what was happening to me.

Orhan Pamuk: During this whole time, including the moment just before the war, did you regret not doing something?

Sophia Andrukhovych: I do not think I have regrets about the time before the war. But, possibly, I have regrets about not doing enough during it. At the same time, I know it has to do with the radicalisation I mentioned before. You always demand from yourself to be the best, to be like the people you see and read about in the media. You constantly feel like you are not enough, and this is a humbling experience. You have to remind yourself every day that you can do only what you are capable of doing. 

Orhan Pamuk: I understand. Besides the aggressive Russian army, what are you most angry about?

Sophia Andrukhovych: Maybe I am angry at the Ukrainian government for not doing enough before the war. They were warned about the situation and they could organise things more efficiently to save more human lives. But I also understand that these people were also experiencing something like this for the very first time. So, even though I am angry, at the same time I understand that it could be worse. They do what they can.

Orhan Pamuk: Do you have any family members or friends who died in the war?

Sophia Andrukhovych: Fortunately, I do not. I know many people who lost their homes, fled the country and were injured. But no one among my relatives and friends was killed. Except for Roman Ratushnyi, about whom you have probably heard. He was the son of my friend, a Ukrainian writer Svitlana Povalyaeva. I have known him since he was a kid. 

Orhan Pamuk:  Are you a different person now? Or are you the same person who has been through a radical experience?

Sophia Andrukhovych: I would not say I am different. It is rather a question of trauma. I am fortunate not to be traumatised in a way that would make me a different person. I am the same person, just with a much deeper experience and a constant feeling of death being close to me, to my loved ones, to everyone in Ukraine. Our life will never be the same anymore. Ever.

Orhan Pamuk: What is the side of your life that you miss the most?

Sophia Andrukhovych: I miss not having innocent dreams about the future anymore. I am sorry Ukrainians are so traumatised now that I do not know how we will manage this trauma. How much work do we have to do to overcome it and how long will this work take. Children who lost their parents and vice versa. People who lost their homes. Raped women and children. I cannot imagine how we, as a society, can cope with it. Although I believe that we have to do it eventually. There is no other choice.

Orhan Pamuk: What do you dream of most now?

Sophia Andrukhovych: I dream for the war to end. 

Orhan Pamuk: Of course. And after it does, what do you dream would happen?

Sophia Andrukhovych: I suppose the best thing would be to see that my country is not endangered anymore. And to see that all of us have embraced our Ukrainian identity. This war is against our identity. It has been going on for hundreds of years. It has traumatised us before, and we have not worked through those traumas. Trauma is an awful thing, it does not allow us to live our lives fully. But at the same time, it can bring a new realisation of who you are, a new understanding of this particular moment in your life, and the things you cherish.

Orhan Pamuk: How come Russians are seemingly ignoring this war?

Sophia Andrukhovych: Russians see Ukrainians as second-class, lower-quality Russians. When they started this war, ironically, they made many Ukrainians realise that we are not the same. We do not want to be with them. We are our own people. While this war is an unnatural and awful thing, it made many of us realise, on a deeper level, our path. It strengthened our identity. I know for sure that for many Ukrainians at the moment it is better to die knowing who you are than to be with Russia.

Orhan Pamuk: Do you have strong negative feelings against the Russian people?

Sophia Andrukhovych: I do. I think it is natural. It is not the right moment to try and understand Russians. For me, it is way more important to analyse processes that are going on within ourselves, and in our society. 

Orhan Pamuk: Who do you blame the most in the international community? Who is the most cynical? We are addressing writers, intellectuals, and journalists.

Sophia Andrukhovych: I would rather not name the exact people whom I blame. But the support we have now is not enough. The war is going on, and we cannot see the end of it. But at the same time, I realise that the world is united around Ukraine. I see this huge sincere help, and I feel it.

When the war started, the Russians wanted to destroy us completely. If Ukrainians did not want to be close to Russia, it was better for them not to exist at all. But it did not work the way the Russians wanted it to.

The huge interest in Ukraine brought by the full-scale invasion is very important. Everyone who has some kind of influence should try and learn more about us. To translate Ukrainian authors, to find out more about our history, to understand us better. The main thing is that we are noticed now. I hope this interest will only grow in the future.

Orhan Pamuk: I am shocked that such a war, just like WWII, is happening so close by. Due to this war, I now observe the Ukrainianness of the Ukrainian people. Besides the war, the nation is flourishing. 

Edited by Cammie McAtee


Rodina Iryna
Author - Rodina Iryna
August 1, 2022
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