February 15, 2017

Ukrainian writer detained in Belarus


Serhiy Zhadan after being beaten during protests in Kharkiv in 2014. Photo via the Book Haven.

Last week, the prominent Ukrainian poet, novelist, and dissident Serhiy Zhadan was seized by government security forces in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, held overnight, and ordered to leave the country.

As Radio Free Europe reports, Zhadan—who was in Minsk attending a poetry festival—was woken at his hotel by Belarusian KGB agents at “around 2 a.m.” and taken “into custody… where he spent the rest of the night in a cell.” According to Zhadan, who recounted his ordeal on Facebook, the agents delayed telling him that that he had been banned from traveling to Russia, and, by extension, to Belarus, because of his alleged “involvement in terrorist activity.”

Not too long later, however, Belarus’s Interior Ministry canceled the ban, and Zhadan was released from custody after an unpleasant night behind bars. He returned to home to Ukraine on Sunday.

It’s not the first time that Zhadan has been targeted for his political activities. As has been recounted by Sally McGrane in a 2014 New Yorker profile, and by Andrew McGrath at MobyLives, Zhadan was beaten by pro-Russian demonstrators in 2014 while he took part in anti-Yanukovych protests on Freedom Square in Kharkiv, and it’s not implausible that he was attacked at least in part because his fiction and poetry address political subjects. Like Melville House’s own Alexei Nikitin, he has written about the effects of the economic strife of the nineties on the current political climate. “In the nineties, the industrial and the agricultural economies collapsed entirely,” he is quoted by McGrane as telling a German news program. “Now that there’s some degree of stability, people are afraid of losing what little they have. That’s why they’re willing to put up with corruption.”

Three years later, Yanukovych is gone but the culture war continues to play out between Ukraine and its neighbor and erstwhile conqueror. As the Guardian’s Danuta Kean reports, Ukrainian publishers are now speaking out against a new ban on importing Russian books, raising uncomfortable questions about when sanctions against Russia’s imperialistic incursions become a form of censorship.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.