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Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov honored with German award

Manasi Gopalakrishnan
November 28, 2022

The acclaimed author is being awarded the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis for his book "Diary of an Invasion," chronicling Russia's attack on Ukraine in early 2022.

Picture of Russia-born Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov, wearing a black polo neck shirt.
Russia-born Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov recognized for his book chronicling Russia's invasion of UkraineImage: DW

"On February 24, 2022, I wrote hardly anything," Kurkov writes in the preface to his book, "Diary of an Invasion."

"Woken by the sound of Russian rocket explosions in Kyiv, I stood at the window of my apartment for about an hour and looked out into the empty street, aware that the war had begun, but not yet able to accept this new reality," he continues.

Chronicling the war

Kurkov's "Diary of an Invasion," the author says, is both his private diary and a personal history of the war.  It tells stories of his friends, but also of strangers and acquaintances and generally of his adopted country, Ukraine, where his family moved from the then Leningrad (today's Saint Petersburg) when he was two-years-old.

The diary also chronicles events that happened at the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. Every chapter of the book has a date telling the reader when it was written and describes the lives of the locals and the political situation that is dominating their minds.

The early entries, for example on December 29, 2021, describe the COVID situation changing from Delta to Omicron, whereas the one on February 23, 2022 — a day before the invasion — details Russian President Putin's announcement of deploying Russian troops on the Ukrainian border.

"For the first time, tension is felt in Kyiv. But there is still no panic."

The entry dated February 24, the day of the invasion, is brief: "Between telephone conversations last evening, I was preparing borscht for some visiting journalists. I hoped Putin would not disrupt our dinner. He did not. He decided to hit Ukraine with missiles at 5 am this morning …Now we are at war with Russia."

Ukrainian artists react to Russian invasion

Shortly after, in a discussion with DW, Kurkov called for decisive action from Western countries against the Russian invasion. "A clear reaction would force Putin to either stop completely or initiate a long pause before any further action. Unfortunately, as writers and generally as artists, we have very little influence on the situation compared to our colleagues during WWI. The written, and spoken word has lost its significance. That does not however mean that we must stay silent."

A Russia-born Ukrainian

Born on April 23, 1961, Andrey Kurkov is one of the best-known authors and intellectuals in Ukraine.

He knows 11 languages, but writes mostly in Russian. Kurkov has authored 19 novels, including the internationally acclaimed "Death and the Penguin" (1996), "Ukraine Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev" (2014), originally published in German, and "Grey Bees" (2020).

The jury of the Geschwister Scholl Prize honored Kurkov's work by stating that his "'Diary of an Invasion' marks a tribute to a work that can be read both as a haunting chronicle and as a critical contemplation of a political and civilizational catastrophe."

In his book, the jury said, Kurkov closely examines how the war has changed people's lives. And while the author reflects on his own history as an ethnic Russian living in Ukraine, he also confronts the readers with Ukraine's history of oppression that has nevertheless given rise to a political tradition of individualism and liberalism.

In his "Diary of an Invasion" as well as its 2014 precursor that focused on the Maidan protests and Putin's annexation of Crimea, "Andrey Kurkov demonstrates a high degree of intellectual independence and moral responsibility in the struggle for a life of freedom and self-determination that fully accords with the spirit of Hans and Sophie Scholl," the jury concluded.

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The Geschwister Scholl Prize

Kurkov will be honored with the Scholl award on November 28 in Munich.

The prize was instituted by the city of Munich and the German association of booksellers (Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels) in the 1980s and is awarded in memory of siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl's legacy of freedom.

The Scholls were members of the Weisse Rose (German for "the white rose"), a group founded in 1941 by students and teachers at the university of Munich who opposed the Nazi dictatorship.

Members of the Weisse Rose distributed pamphlets and pasted posters with slogans like "Down with Hitler" and "Freedom" on public buildings, first in Munich, and then in cities as far as Hamburg and Berlin.

In February 1943, Hans and Sophie Scholl were distributing pamphlets at the university's main building and were arrested when Sophie was caught throwing a pile of flyers down a balcony. They were sentenced to death and executed a few days later.

Edited by: Brenda Haas.

Manasi Gopalakrishnan
Manasi Gopalakrishnan Journalist and editor from India, compulsive reader of books.