This a discussion with Alyona Silina about the Ukranian SFF scene.
Alyona, please present yourself to our readers (information about yourself and your activity in SF)
I am cultural manager, book reviewer, curator of the Literary Union “Star Fortress”, which promotes speculative fiction (SF&F literature) in Ukraine.
Also I take part in the organization of the Festival of SF&F literature and imaginary worlds LiTerraCon (2015-2017). Creates special projects about speculative fiction at the festivals „Book Arsenal”, “Book Forum Lviv”, Zaporizhzhyan Book Toloka, events at the festivals “Kyiv Comic Con”, Cherkasy Book Festival and some others.
I am grateful to my husband, writer and journalist Oleh Silin, who helped me with information about the history of Ukrainian SF&F.
Please try to make a brief introduction on the Ukrainian SF history.
Unrealistic elements can be found in the Ukrainian literature of XIX – beginning of XX centuries. We can call as “pre-fantasy” some novellas from “Vechory na hutori bilya Dykanky” (Evenings on a Farm Near Dykanka) or “Viy” by Mykola Hohol, “Konotopska vidma” (The Witch of Konotop) by Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko or “Lisova pisnia” (The Forest Song) by Lesia Ukrainka.
One of the first Ukrainian SF novels in modern concept of SF was the utopian novel “Sonyachna mashyna” (The Sun Machine) by politician Volodymyr Vynnychenko published in 1928.
Some other notable novels from the dawn of Ukrainian SF are “Hospodarstvo doktora Galvanescu”(The Farm of Dr. Galvanescu) by Yuri Smolych, where writer tells about the brave Soviet agent who destroys the zombie-necrotic experiments of Dr. Galvanescu in Romania, and two works of Volodymyr Vladko – neoludditic novella “Idyt robotari” (Roboworkers are coming) about using robots as strikebreakers in capitalistic USA and “Argonavty Vsesvity” (Argonauts of the Universe) – about first Soviet expedition to Venus.
Due to the severe censorship in the USSR only few themes were allowed to be used in SF: Soviet expeditions, power of Soviet science, confrontation with “The capitalist and imperialist West”, Communism in the future (distant or not). Fantasy was prohibited at all. Another side of the USSR impact on writers were supporting and forming all-Union Russian language environment, so authors who wrote in Ukrainian language became minority in the Soviet Ukraine. There were only few names in the late Soviet time, the most known was Oles Berdnyk – writer, visionary and dissident.
In 1991 Ukraine restored Independence, but mostly continued to be a part of the Russian language book market. Many Ukrainian authors continue to write in Russian and try themselves at Moscow publishing houses. Some of them succeed, and only after their success in Moscow became renowned in Ukraine after that. This generation is best represented by Henry Lion Oldie, Maryna and Serhii Diachenko, Andriy Valentynov or Oksana Pankeieva.
As a parallel process was growing authors, who wrote in Ukrainian language, and new publishers. Since 1998-2000, the Ukrainian book market has formed, and new names began to appear. It was the time of “chimeric prose” (fantasy-like gothic/mystical novels) created by Yuri Vynnychuk, Halyna Pahutiak, Lyubko Deresh or Maryna Sokolian, but with few SF and alternative history works of Tymur Lytovchenko and Vasyl Kozhelianko.
The situation has dramatically changed in 2014 after annexation of Crimea and War in Donbas against Russian-backed separatists. The import of books from Russia was strictly limited, and this „gap” was filled with new novels by Ukrainian authors who had been waiting for their chance for a long time. About some of them you can read below.
Which are the most popular SF magazines and fanzines (printed and online) in Ukraine?
There is only one SF magazine still printed in Ukraine – RBZh Azimut.
As for fanzins, “Babai”, the fanzin of dark/horror prose is irregularly published. Almanacs from the Literary Union Zoryana Fortetsya (Star Fortress) containing mostly soft SF and irregularly published too.
In the near past in Ukraine was issued printed magazines Realnost Fantastiki (Reality of Fantastic, closed in 2009), Ukrayinskyi Fantastychnyi Ohliadach (Ukrainian SF Observer, closed in 2012) and webzines Svit Fantasy (World of Fantasy, now web-portal about Fantasy) and “Das Ist Fantastisch” (paused since 2020).
Which are the SF&F Clubs that have regular meetings?
Many of Ukrainian SF&F Clubs were the legacy of Soviet system of All-Union Council of Science Fiction Fan Clubs. The widespread use of the Internet and a certain bureaucracy within the clubs led to outflow of their members and difficulties in recruiting new people. After the severance of relations with the post-Soviet fandom in 2014, most of the clubs ceased to exist. The only club remaining is “Portal” club in Kyiv.
The new generation of fans prefers to create groups on Facebook and chats in messengers.
Which are the most important local and national SF&F associations?
As I said before, we have a few online associations in Ukraine.
Literary Union Zoryana Fortetsya (Star Fortress) was founded in 2008 and initially unites authors of SF&F short stories. A lot of writers, who have been started from short story contests of Zoryana Fortetsia, are remarkable creators of SF&F now. Moreover, members of Union join special SF&F programs on the main literary festivals in Ukraine. Also the Union issued almanacs and short story collections, and, in general, promotes reading of SF&F in Ukraine.
Babai (named after the horror personage of folklore) – is an online union of dark/horror fiction. This society creates short story contests of horror fiction, issued fanzines and short story collections.
Stephen King Club, as the name suggests, joins fans of the one famous writer. This club makes events and meetings at literary festivals.
Fantastyka.UA is a big facebook group, unites readers and some writers of SF&F.
The youngest one, Kublo Khymer (Chimeras Den) unites creators of dark fantasy and alternative fiction, but welcomes any other SF&F writers from Ukraine.
Which are the printing houses that publish mainly SF and Fantasy?
There is only one publisher, who works with Contemporary Dark Fantasy – Dim Khymer (Chimeras’ House). This publishing house is located in Vynnytsia and was created in 2019 by couple of writer Viktoria Hranetska and Vlad Sord, writer and veteran of Ukrainian Joint Force Operation in Donbas region.
A lot of publishers have in their portfolio some SF and Fantasy series, but publishing SF&F books are not their main activity.
It is interesting that publishers try to find target segments in SF and Fantasy literature and work mostly with it. Zhupanski publisher issues alternative dark fiction, Vivat and Assa choose young adult fantasy from Ukrainian authors and in translation, KM Books works with urban fantasy and foreign books, which was filmed; Navchalna Knyha – Bohdan (Bohdan’s Education Books) primarily translates classic and contemporary Science Fiction, KSD (FLC – Family Leisure Club) tries to publish everything, but mostly known as Stephen King representative and publisher, who starts long series but cancelled it after two or three issued volumes.
At the same time, a science fiction / fantasy book may unexpectedly appear in any publishing house, like Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Publishing or Pidruchnyky i Posibnyky (Tutorials and Manuals).
Which are the most popular SF&F conventions in Ukraine? What are their main attractions?
There are no SF&F conventions in Ukraine at the current time.
Before 2014 there were a few conventions, but all of it was generally oriented on Russian language post-Soviet fandom. After 2014, the old ones were closed, but two brand new conventions were created – LiTerraCon and Brama (The Gate), which were oriented on Ukrainian authors and Ukrainian readers. Unfortunately, political and economic instability led to their closure.
The SF&F literature has strong promotion at the biggest literary festivals in Ukraine, such as Kyiv Arsenal Book Fair, Lviv BookForum, Zaporizhzhian Book Toloka and so forth. Each listed festival has a special SF&F program, in other words, SF&F convention inside a big festival.
SF&F special programs are held not only at literature festivals. Kyiv Comic Con, Interactive Fantasy Festival “Al Mor” (mainly cosplay and live quests), KyivSteamCon also host book presentations, meetings with authors and live meetings of SF&F fans.
Who are the main author names in today’s Ukrainian SF&F?
It’s a hard question, because Ukraine has a lot of interesting authors now, but I’ll try to briefly introduce some names.
Yaryna Katorozh writes “Palimpsest” – an epic classical fantasy in her own world, where people of ruined Patria state fight for independence against the Belata empire.
Volodymyr Yeshkiliev writes in different genres from space opera (“Farengo” trilogy) to alternative history, but in this various decorations he mostly talks about gnostic conception Hidden Knowledge.
Svitlana Taratorina is the author of urban detective fantasy “Lazarus”, set in Kyiv of the beginning of XX century, where humans and un-humans (folklore personages) live together.
Ihor Silivra rediscovers steampunk for Ukrainian readers and writes about Ukraine from a parallel world, where electricity is a kind of prohibited magic.
Volodymyr Kuznietsov in “Mutїny” makes a hard mix of space opera, science fiction and Lovecraftian horror about war against Mi-Go in the distant future.
Dara Korniy’s novels are a mix of urban fantasy and love story books.
Volodymyr Arieniev is the author of many novels in classical and contemporary fantasy settings, which addresses to the teenagers’ audience.
Natalia Matolinets creates young adult novels that are set in contemporary Europe (Lviv, Prague, Budapest) and Austria-Hungarian Empire from alternative history.
Petro Yatsenko writes in different genres, not only SF&F, but his steampunk biography of Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky (Ukrainian writer of XIX century) and “Magnetism” – dark magic story of a girl, who leaves occupied Donetsk and tries to find herself in Kyiv is truly remarkable.
Iryna Hrabovska is author of “Leoburg” – a mix of alternative history, steampunk technologies and gothic-style detective.
Pavlo Derevianko‘s debut novel is fantasy, set in Cossack times with magic and Mystery Orders.
Novels of Oleksiy Zhupanski and Yevhen Lir have some Lovecraftian inspiration and tell about eternal necrotic Soviet totalitarianism (“God Bless You! Black Gensec” by Zhupanski) and forgotten myths of Ukrainian south steppes (“Khassara” trilogy by Lir)
Natalia Shcherba is well-known author of Chasodei (Timewizards), a series of novels for young teenagers. She’s translated into Polish, Czech and Hungarian languages.
Also you can find the “42 SFF writers about Fantastic, Literature and Everything” project at the Star Fortress site http://starfort.in.ua/category/42-fantasty It’s in Ukrainian, but with portraits and many pictures 🙂
Give us some names of SF&F Ukrainian graphic artists.
Ihor Baranko – one of the famous artists, who creates graphic novels. He works with “Les Humanoïdes Associés” from France and “SLG Publishing” from the USA. His magnum opuses are “Maksym Osa” about mystical adventures of zaporozhian cossack Maksym, and “The Horde”.
Another great artist is Vladyslav Yerko, illustrator of “Harry Potter” series, “Snow Queen” of Hans Christian Andersen, books of Paulo Coelho and so forth.
There are few artists, who creates comics from Ukrainian history in different alternative timelines: Oleksiy Chebykin (“Daogopak” – Zaporozhian Sich in steampunk), Oleksiy Bondarenko (“The Will” – Ukrainian People’s Republic times with steampunk and zombies), Yevheniy Tonchylov (“Cyberland” – Ukrainian neon 80’s with high tech and without Soviet Union).
Andriy Dankovych is the creator of the original comics ”Sarcophagus” and “Pestilence” in the style of a pencil drawing. These comics were exhibited at ComicCon in San Diego. Oleksandr Koreshkov is the author of “Among Sheeps” – very Orwellous comics series.
Serhiy Krykun works in dark horror style.
I should mention some more book illustrators: Ihor Dunets, Oleh Kinal’, Iryna Hurina and Yaryna Katorozh (Yaryna is not only a writer, but a graphic artist too).
And last but not least two sculptors, who work in dark (fantasy) style: Vague Sadan and Kostyantyn Zorkin.
What makes Ukrainian SF original?
Ukrainian SF&F are revisioning of their history and post-Soviet legacy, so that writers try to find truly original Ukrainian themes.
Firstly, it is Zaporozhian Sich times, cossack war history and war magic. There were many legends about kharakternyks – cossacks with supernatural abilities. The most famous is about Ivan Sirko, cossack military leader, Koshovyi Otaman of the Zaporozhian Host. Ukrainian writers create some fantasy novels based on real/alternative history and cossack legends.
The use of Ukrainian folklore is the second popular trend in fantasy nowadays. Forest, water and field spirits, Ukrainian spell and witchcraft – writers use this almost forgotten legacy for both classical and urban/contemporary fantasy. “The Forest Song” tradition now received a second wind. Moreover, Ukrainian folklore inspired Brazilian filmmakers who created the supernatural TV-series “Unsoul” (portuguese: Desalma). Close to folklore is using the pantheon of Slavic gods, but it is almost unexplored territory for Ukrainian authors, which is only now being reopened for writers and readers.
The Chornobyl disaster is widely known around the world, and this catastrophe became the starting point for many SF settings and book series. The famous one – “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” – was created by Ukrainian game studio GSC Game World.
As you can see above, the popularity of dark prose is growing now. This can be attributed to historic events that are taking place today.
Reflections on the totalitarian experience go well with Lovecraft’s motives and fantasy, where heroes fight for freedom against empire. Bordering with “Sovereign democracy” state, which denies the existence of Ukrainian nation, and fight for identity start new trends. Firstly, it is SF and urban fantasy settings of hybrid war, where truth is flexible and news is news are deadliest than multiple rocket launchers. Secondly, it’s military (+horror) fiction based on Donbas war experience.